Learn Everywhere– pathway to privatization?

A proposal from the Department of Education (DOE) Commissioner Frank Edelblut, known as the “Learn Everywhere” program, would require public high schools to award academic credit for programs that students attend outside of school at private organizations. The State Board of Education will vote on the rules that would authorize the program at their meeting on June 13, 2019.

At a meeting in Dublin on May 15th, the Commissioner told a group of residents that the Learn Everywhere program is a pathway to “choice”, according to NHPR:

“Within our current system, we need to infuse choice options,” he said, pointing to his initiative ‘Learn Everywhere‘ to allow students to get credit more easily for activities outside the classroom.

The Learn Everywhere program would outsource public school courses, allowing private organizations to offer public school credits.  

Privatizing public high school courses

At the May State Board meeting, the Commissioner stated that Learn Everywhere would not cost districts and would instead save them money. However, this assertion has received significant pushback from some State Board members and members of the public, as public school districts would be responsible for all costs associated with special education accommodations:

“I think it’s important to recognize that there will be cost to a district if they are going to try to utilize these programs. I’m not saying they shouldn’t, but I think it’s fair to say that there are costs,” Board member Helen Honorow told the Commissioner during their State Board of Education meeting in May.

At the Dublin meeting, the Commissioner said that one way that districts could save money would be through “shrinking” programs offered in their public high schools and sending students to privately-run Learn Everywhere programs:

New Hampshire Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut was in Dublin on Wednesday night to encourage residents frustrated with their school district and property taxes to consider school choice.

Edelblut praised efforts in cash-strapped and shrinking schools to combine ages in classrooms, a practice Dublin has had for years, and he encouraged residents to think about how choice – in curricula and in schools – could encourage students’ curiosity.

On May 16th, following the Dublin event, the DOE linked to a Foundation for Economic Education piece in a post on social media, noting, “Let’s have the courage to embrace innovation in education.” In the article, “unschooling” proponent Kerry McDonald advocates for “innovative programs” as catalysts for the privatization of public education:

Any meaningful and lasting transformation in American education must come from the private sector. …To enact real, scalable change in education—just as Whole Foods did with the organic food movement—entrepreneurial parents and educators will need to imagine and implement new models of learning. These models must be rooted in the time-tested principles of free-market capitalism”

In February, the Union Leader featured McDonald’s letter of support for Learn Everywhere. McDonald praised Learn Everywhere as a way to “loosen the grip of schooling on education” through the creation and expansion of new, private education providers in the state.

At the State Board’s March meeting, Chair Drew Cline expressed similar ideas and told the Board that Learn Everywhere could present organizations with the opportunity to create a new “market” for academic programs.

How Learn Everywhere works

Students would be able to take any of their public school courses–including core courses like math, science, and Language Arts–through Learn Everywhere providers. Organizations like the Girl Scouts, Big Fish Learning Academy (a private school in Dover), Outward Bound (an out-of-state wilderness program), and other private businesses have voiced their support of the program and have indicated that they would seek State Board approval to offer high school credits. There is no limit to the type of organization that would be able to apply–private schools, for-profit organizations, religious organizations, and out-of-state and online programs could offer programs for public school credit if approved by the NH State Board of Education.

Districts would be required to “accept at least one third, and may accept as much as 100% if approved by the superintendent, of the total number of credits required for high school graduation, if requested by a student,” according to the draft rules. Although the language is not clear due to punctuation, the explanation in the State Board of Education meetings has been that school districts would be required to accept up to ⅓ of the credits awarded by a Learn Everywhere provider.  

Learn Everywhere Programs would have to meet the Minimum Standards for Public School Approval (Ed 306.31 through Ed 306.48)–not the state’s minimum academic standards that public high school courses must meet in addition to individual students, through their demonstration of competency on the NH’s statewide assessment. We will be digging deeper into the Minimum Standards for Public School Approval and what they mean for our students, families, and for potential Learn Everywhere providers next week.

Next Steps

The State Board is accepting public comments on the rules right up until their vote on June 13. The program must be approved by a majority of State Board members. If it passes, the rules are sent to the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (JLCAR) for approval. If passed, JLCAR is likely to vote on the rules at their meeting on Friday, June 21, and will hear public comment on the proposed rules.

Parties can submit electronic testimony to Angela Adams at angela.adams@doe.nh.gov or can testify in person at their meeting at the Department of Education office in Concord. If you’re interested in sharing your comments at the meeting, check out our tips here.

Do you have questions about this or other education-related topics? Email us at staff@reachinghighernh.org!

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