Op/Ed: Kids already learn everywhere, so let’s give them credit

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As any parent will tell you, learning doesn’t end when the school day ends. Not all kids thrive in a conventional classroom—some earn their marks after the dismissal bell through service, sports, nature, or the arts. Why shouldn’t their learning count for graduation credits?

That’s the game-changing proposal that New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu and Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut have dubbed Learn Everywhere. This first-in-the-nation approach would allow the State Board of Education (SBOE) to license community educational programs.

Commissioner Edelblut was inspired to launch Learn Everywhere when he observed a robotics team at the Central School in Manchester still working on their robots around 8:30 p.m.

The team captain approached Edelblut and asked for his help to keep the school open past 9 p.m. He said, “These kids have been learning. They’ve been doing programming, engineering and everything else, (but) that doesn’t count. They’re going to go home and do their homework because that didn’t happen between 7:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. inside the walls of the school.”

Edelblut realized kids ought to get credit for these after-school activities, and Learn Everywhere was born.

Under Learn Everywhere, applicants will outline their proposed programs, including the suggested credit and how student progress will be monitored and assessed. At the end of a program, students will receive a certificate of completion and a grade to submit to their home district for credit. Annually, each program will report participation information to the state.

This innovative policy has been a long time coming in New Hampshire. In 2005, the state mandated that high schools award credit for students’ mastery of material, rather than hours spent in class. This marked the first-ever statewide effort to create a competency-based education system.

In 2008, the NH Department of Education (NHDOE) introduced Extended Learning Opportunities (ELOs), which allow students to earn credits outside the classroom in school-approved settings. ELOs are competency-based and aligned with a student’s interests; options include apprenticeships, community service, online courses, and performing groups.

Clearly the “Live Free or Die” state has a strong history of educational innovation. However, implementation has been spotty at best. These new opportunities have only been available to students in districts taking advantage of the state-granted flexibility. Learn Everywhere builds on these past efforts and brings flexible learning opportunities to every student.

Learn Everywhere empowers families to make decisions that work for them. A competitive gymnast, for example, could receive physical education credits for her afterschool gymnastics program, enabling her to use the school day to take another class or study to make evenings less stressful (all schools have study halls in all time blocks). Frazzled parents hauling kids from one activity to the next will appreciate the newfound flexibility Learn Everywhere gives them.

Teachers will also benefit. Like students, teachers often feel railroaded by the current system. Learn Everywhere will give teachers the incentive to create unique after-school learning opportunities. Their innovative efforts outside the classroom will make them better teachers inside the classroom, benefiting all students.

The icing on the Learn Everywhere cake? Granite Staters can receive these benefits for no additional cost. The program involves no unfunded mandates on districts. The SBOE will approve and monitor providers like it currently licenses charter schools. Students are already learning in after-school programs. Learn Everywhere simply captures that learning and applies it toward graduation credits.

For low-income families, there are numerous options available at little to no cost. For example, the New Hampshire Institute of Art has a Youth Arts program that offers scholarships and pledges that no student will be turned away due to a family’s inability to pay. Boys and Girls Clubs, the YMCA, and other community groups typically offer similar options. Moreover, some programs—such as internships and apprenticeships—are paid and may lead to future employment. With Learn Everywhere, students can earn high school credits for taking advantage of these opportunities.

We live in an exciting world where technology is creating new opportunities every day. The education system needs to catch up and ensure students are benefitting from these advances. With Learn Everywhere, New Hampshire will provide a model for all states to follow.

20170912 ColleenforwebsiteColleen Hroncich is a senior fellow specializing in education policy for the Commonwealth Foundation, Pennsylvania’s free-market think tank.

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