Learning everywhere ups chances for learning somewhere

Matthew Ladner

Earlier this month, the New Hampshire State Board of Education adopted rules for a program that could eventually allow community organizations to offer programs that grant high school course credit.

As you might imagine, no small amount of controversy ensued.

The state’s public school advocacy organizations oppose the initiative, while the New Hampshire Business and Industry Association, the Boys and Girls Club, FIRST Robotics, New England College, the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center and the Aviation Museum of New Hampshire support it.

This initiative is not without precedent. New Hampshire policymakers in 2018 created a pathway called “Learn Everywhere” that would allow organizations other than schools to provide educational programs resulting in high-school credit in public schools. Here is how the New Hampshire Department of Education explained the program:

Today, the State Board of Education (“SBOE”) is the credentialing oversight board for teachers and schools. The SBOE credentials teachers in New Hampshire to be able to teach in our public schools. The SBOE also authorizes schools in New Hampshire to be able to provide an opportunity for a comprehensive adequate education. Learn Everywhere simply unbundles education and says, rather than authorize only entire schools, the state will authorize educational programs to offer part of comprehensive adequate education. If the SBOE credentials teachers, and if the SBOE credentials schools, why not also simply credential a course or a program as well?

A long list of questions has probably already popped into your head regarding just how this is going to work: Who can offer Learn Anywhere programs? How do we know the students are learning? How will this program impact school funding?

The New Hampshire Department of Education addresses those questions here, but the short answers are: Programs accepted by the State Board of Education can offer Learn Anywhere programs; evaluation is key to the application process but is likely to vary by program; and the program will have no impact on school funding.

It will be fascinating to see how the New Hampshire experience unfolds. It’s important to note, however, that the United States has trended in the direction of multi-vendor education for many decades without mechanisms to grant credit. This chart from the Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project is food for thought:

Source: Brookings Institution

So, my guess is that high-income parents are not shelling out $8,000-plus per year to be frivolous. This is a voluntary exchange, so they obviously value the enrichment services. If you have the sinking feeling that a gigantic equity issue is staring deep into your terrified soul, it’s only because you do in fact have a gigantic equity issue staring deep into your terrified soul. This is a huge and inevitable debate for policy and philanthropy.

The question, How do we know students are learning anything in Learn Everywhere programs?” raises a fundamental question: How do we know students are learning anything in traditional high school classes?

Mind you, I’m not claiming that kids don’t learn things in traditional high school classes. One of the fundamental reasons state policymakers created standardized accountability exams is because grades weren’t to be trusted – valedictorians getting put into remedial coursework, etc. Right about now, standardized testing is getting on the American public’s last nerve.

The New Hampshire State Board of Education should have an interesting time sorting through that, but this is an interesting project to keep an eye on. A wise man once said that not all schooling is education, and not all education is schooling. The Learn Everywhere program has the potential to formally recognize that fact. The devil is in the details, but color me interested in how this unfolds.

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Doug Tuthill June 24, 2019 - 8:01 am

Great post Matt. The inequity in access to out-of-school learning opportunities is a topic we need to write more about. I don’t see how we can address this inequality of opportunity without the use of Education Savings Accounts. We are deluding ourselves when we pretend that equalized state funding formulas and supplement education programs such as Title I are solutions.

Matthew Ladner
Matthew Ladner June 28, 2019 - 10:55 am

Thanks Doug and I agree. There are going to be limits to what can be done to expand opportunity, but we are currently nowhere near those limits now.

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