UPDATE: The NH State Board of Education unanimously voted to table the PragerU application. They are expected to revisit the application at their meeting on September 14, 2023.
On Thursday, August 10, the NH State Board of Education (NH SBOE) will vote on whether to approve a conservative activist group’s application to offer public school courses in New Hampshire, according to the board’s meeting materials.
PragerU is a media company that offers “edutainment” to counter “the dominant left-wing ideology,” according to the website. The company is seeking approval for its financial literacy curriculum, a series of fifteen, 5-minute videos with a single automated test at the end to check understanding.
The company is seeking approval to offer the course in New Hampshire as part of the Learn Everywhere program, which allows the NH SBOE to unilaterally approve curriculum, and mandates that public schools grant credit for those courses, regardless of whether the content of those courses aligns with the school’s curriculum or learning standards.
Despite the lack of practicing certified teachers and teachers with content area expertise on the program approval committee to ensure that it aligns with New Hampshire’s standards and competencies, Commissioner Frank Edelblut is presenting the application to the NH SBOE on Thursday, August 10. If approved, public schools in New Hampshire would be required to grant graduation credit for PragerU’s edutainment modules.
PragerU has recently launched a national petition to offer conservative curriculum, which includes history, civics, and financial literacy. Florida, which has made headlines for its recently adopted, pro-slavery academic standards, has approved PragerU’s history curriculum for use in the state’s public schools.
The NH SBOE is expected to vote on the program at their meeting on Thursday, August 10.
The approval process
According to the application packet, there were no practicing certified teachers or teachers with content area expertise on PragerU’s Learn Everywhere program approval committee. The two members of the committee were Timothy Carney and Dr. Nate Greene, both employees of the NH Department of Education.
According to the Department, they contacted “multiple” educators, but were not included because of “the lack of reasonable availability” to review the application. The application was considered complete on July 3, 2023, and the NHED reviewed it “on or before July 10,” leaving at most, 7 days, for the program review process. It gave educators less than a week to respond to be involved, not to mention that it was the week of a federal holiday during summer vacation when schools are closed, raising questions about what the Department can, and should, consider a reasonable timeframe for feedback.
Content area experts are crucial to the review process to ensure that any state-approved curriculum is high-quality, robust, and aligned with New Hampshire learning standards. The NH Department of Education should explain why the expedited turnaround time precluded the inclusion of content area experts and Extended Learning Opportunity Coordinators in the review process to help NH SBOE members and the public understand the rationale.
The NHED employees who were a part of the review committee raised questions and concerns about PragerU’s content; specifically, that the material is not aligned with academic competencies and that the single assessment at the end would not ensure that students mastered the content:
“There are no competencies associated with the course, however there are learning goals associated with each video. There is only a single assessment at the end of the course and the assessment itself is not competency-based. A concern I would raise is whether students would just go directly to the assessment at the end and Google the answers to each question, thereby earning a 0.5 credit without demonstrating that they understand the financial literacy concepts. Given that financial literacy is such an important subject area for students at this time, it is imperative that programs ensure students have mastered financial literacy competencies… “
“The video courses have a lot of material and appear to cover several different state’s standards. My only concern is that the course does not include a set of competencies that are tied to the assessment and that a single assessment administered online in this manner does not ensure that students have mastered the content.“
PragerU responded by creating four general competencies to fit their existing 15-video, canned curriculum and shifted the assessment questions:
“We have addressed the comments to the best of our ability given our current tech. stack and believe we have good solutions. We have structured the videos to be under four competencies. While we cannot do assessments at the end of each module currently, we have changed the assessment to be aligned with the competencies and upped the amount needed right to prevent someone from failing a competency and still getting credit. We’ve also addressed the parent attestation and student evaluation.”
Despite PragerU’s response, the reviewers’ concerns about assessment and content quality remain.
PragerU is a media company founded by conservative talk show host Dennis Prager that creates “edutainment,” or educational entertainment. According to the website, PragerU “offers a free alternative to dominant left-wing ideology in culture, media, and education.” Some of the most popular videos, according to the website, include “Was the Civil War About Slavery?,” “The Inconvenient Truth About the Democratic Party,” “War on Boys,” and “Is Islam a Religion of Peace?”
According to USA Today, PragerU has repeatedly presented disinformation, with civic groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League criticizing their videos, describing some as a “dog whistle to the extreme right” and “filled with anti-immigration and anti-Muslim rhetoric.”
What is Learn Everywhere?
Learn Everywhere is an administrative procedure that allows the NH SBOE, a board of six members appointed by the Governor, to approve high school curriculum. Once approved, schools are mandated to award high school credit for those courses, whether or not they align with the school district’s approved curriculum, academic standards, or local competencies.
State lawyers raised serious questions about the program’s overreach and breach of local control when the rules that created the Learn Everywhere program were under consideration. Despite legal concerns and “overwhelming” public opposition, the NH SBOE adopted the rules. Since then, Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut has touted it as a success, even though there has been low interest in the programs.
The program has faced public opposition for the ways in which it outsources and privatizes public education, restricts local control, and widens the opportunity gap for students. Because state funding for public schools continues to be extremely low, Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut has said that by encouraging students to take classes at private and nonprofit organizations, districts would be able to cut programs offered at their local public schools.
Read more about Learn Everywhere:
- Low interest in Learn Everywhere programs: Eight students received credit last year; Four programs will not seek reapproval
- State Board of Education: Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules’ objections to Learn Everywhere based on “incorrect understanding” of laws and rules
- Legislative oversight committee issues preliminary objection on Learn Everywhere rules
- SB140, a bill to preserve local control in education, vetoed
- State Board narrowly approves Learn Everywhere, Chair asserting that local control “is a myth”
- State Board approves Learn Everywhere rules while acknowledging “overwhelming” public opposition
- Questions and answers about the proposed Learn Everywhere program