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Curriculum Opinion

How New Hampshire High Schoolers Can Earn Credits Essentially Anywhere

By Rick Hess — January 27, 2022 7 min read
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New Hampshire’s Learn Everywhere program, adopted in 2020, offers one intriguing approach to rethinking high school. It creates a process through which any public or private organization in the state can apply to offer high school credits to students. I recently had the chance to talk with New Hampshire’s education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, the architect of Learn Everywhere, about the program and how it works.

—Rick

Rick: What is Learn Everywhere?

Frank: Learn Everywhere is a program that allows students in New Hampshire to earn high school credit for learning that takes place outside of the school instructional environment. Often in education, new programs begin with an idea. The program is then built around that idea and rolled out to students, schools, or whomever. Learn Everywhere is different, however, since it starts where children are already gathering, such as a sports program, science museum, or boys and girls club. We then look to see what is being learned in those settings and find a way to make that count. This is a really important difference. This is not a “build it and they will come” approach. It is an approach that discovers what is interesting and engaging to students and then captures that as learning.

Rick: You’re frequently credited as the creator of Learn Everywhere. What gave you the idea for this program?

Frank: One evening, around 8:30—still not sure why I was there so late—I was visiting Memorial High School in Manchester. When I arrived, I was greeted by a group of about 25 students all busily engaged in their FIRST Robotics Program. Some of the students were programming in JAVA to get their robot to navigate some obstacles. Others were in the shop working with two volunteer engineers from Bosche building a robot. Toward the end of my visit—it’s now around 9:30—a young lady came up to me and said, “Commissioner, you’ve got to help us. The school closes at 10 p.m., and we need it open until 11 p.m.” My first thought was, “Ding, I win.” I have students begging me to keep the schools open longer. My second thought was that these poor children were going to return home at 10 or 11 at night and then do two hours of homework, because the learning they had just been engaged in for the last five hours would not count.

Rick: Is there a guiding philosophy behind the Learn Everywhere approach?

Frank: This effort is a reflection of our belief that children are inherently curious learning machines. Before our “littles” even show up for school, for the most part, they have mastered an oral language. There was no formal instruction or teacher that made that happen but rather the inherent curiosity of the child engaging the world around them. The same holds true for our secondary children. Imagine dropping three high school students off on a city street corner and telling them you will pick them up four hours later. They will not wait around for someone to give them an assignment or tell them what to do. I guarantee that they will start to explore the world around them. Somehow, we have reached a place where learning is expected to happen between 7:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. in a specific location. Learn Everywhere does not follow that belief.

Rick: How do students earn Learn Everywhere credits?

Frank: The mechanics of the program are pretty straightforward. The state board of education essentially credentials a course or a program. As students complete the program, they are awarded a “certificate of credit” that they can redeem at any New Hampshire high school for credit. The mechanics, however, do not tell the whole story. Learn Everywhere is not a zero sum game of “this or that” but an expanding universe of “both and” that creates more options for students and districts. Imagine that you have an aspiring cellist who, because of her love of music, is practicing after school for five hours a day to become the next Yo-Yo Ma and is earning a certificate of credit from a local music program that she can use to satisfy her music credit for graduation. That student may also want to participate in a band class in school with her friends, essentially earning another music credit. She may, however, want to use that band period as a study hall to do her homework so she can practice more at home. She may also want to use that band period to explore some other course of interest, like taking French, so she can speak with Yo-Yo Ma when she gets to meet him. The additional credits she earns from Learn Everywhere allow her this flexibility.

Rick: What’s the process for organizations that want to be approved to offer Learn Everywhere credits?

Frank: The Learn Everywhere application requires programs to identify the courses that they will be offering, how the program works, and how the students will be assessed to determine that they have met the New Hampshire competencies for that course. Because this is a competency-based program, credits are awarded based on mastery as opposed to seat time. One program that helps illustrate this concept is a book club offered by Signum University. In this program, students read books and then have Socratic-type conversations about those books led by a Signum professor. The professor keeps track of the various competencies that students must demonstrate mastery of, and when a student has mastered all of the required competencies for the course, they are awarded the certificate of credit. One student may reach mastery after one novel, and another may participate for longer to get there. A key point I emphasize when speaking with the programs is, “Don’t ruin the magic.” Students are there because they want to be. Who would not want to read fantasy literature like Harry Potter or classics like Pride and Prejudice and discuss them with friends? We work with programs to understand what students are learning and how we can capture that learning. We work hard to avoid changing the program and making it more like school.

Rick: How do the Learn Everywhere finances work?

Frank: The Learn Everywhere program itself has not directly touched education funding. New Hampshire has an Education Freedom Account program, and Learn Everywhere programs can qualify as eligible providers. This allows participating parents to use state education funds to enroll in Learn Everywhere programs. As Learn Everywhere grows, we expect more and more districts to take advantage of the program. For example, one of our districts offers a computer programming course. It is only able to offer it to students every other year and it is the most failed course in the district, not because it is difficult, but because it is so unengaging that students simply check out. We are working with a local eSports program in this district to create a Learn Everywhere opportunity that will allow the district to offer students a computer programming class through an eSports program. And, through the state board of education approval process, the board looks closely to make sure that programs are accessible to as many students as possible. Many programs have no cost to students, like the Boys and Girls Club tech program or the First Robotics engineering program. The board looks for scholarship and other opportunities to make sure that we are not creating barriers to access.

Rick: Have you encountered much pushback to all this?

Frank: Of course, when we were developing the program, all of the usual suspects thought it was a terrible idea. Education is a sector that is particularly resistant to innovation or change. I think that is because those who chose the vocation generally liked the traditional instructional model and were successful in it. That makes it very hard to see it from another’s perspective. That is part of my job, to help people see the vision and help them to get there. And I see that happening, both in New Hampshire and across the country. Districts in New Hampshire are now seeing Learn Everywhere as a tool in their toolbox to offer to their students and families. I have also heard that as many as 12 other states are looking at similar programs.

Rick: Do teachers benefit from Learn Everywhere?

Frank: Through Learn Everywhere, we have created an entrepreneurial ecosystem for our teachers. Often, teachers will express frustration. They entered teaching because they wanted to open up worlds to students. But the rules overly constrain them, and they are frustrated that they cannot achieve that goal inside the system. What I tell them now is that they can still teach physics from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. inside the “box,” but from 3:00 p.m. to the late bus, they can run their own physics course and they can write the script for how that will work.

Rick: Are there any not-so-obvious ways in which Learn Everywhere changes schooling?

Frank: Learn Everywhere offers fertile ground for assessment innovation. These programs are not going to assess students using the typical and traditional approaches. For example, we have had discussions about a program with Fish & Game and the Turkey Hunters Association for a PE credit. It seems unlikely that the Turkey Hunters Association will be giving students a multiple-choice test to assess mastery of competencies.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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