Exploring Education: 'Learn Everywhere' in N.H.

Aug 19, 2019

We conclude our "Exploring Education" series with the N.H. Department of Education's Learn Everywhere program.  This initiative would allow the state school board to approve credits for students' outside experiences, from internships to dance classes.  Supporters say the goal is wider academic and economic opportunity, but many teachers and local administrators are opposed. 

GUESTS:

  • Frank Edelblut -  Commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Education since February 2017. Edelblut formerly served as a Republican member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives. 
  • Sarah Gibson - NHPR Education Reporter.
  • Dr.  Carl Ladd - Executive Director, New Hampshire School Administrators Association, a former superintendent and teacher in grades 6 through 12.  He has also served as a school board member.

READ the DOE primer on its Learn Everywhere program.

NHPR's Sarah Gibson reported on educators' concerns about the Learn Everywhere program.

Transcript:

This is a computer-generated transcript, and may contain errors. 

Laura Knoy:
From New Hampshire Public Radio, I'm Laura Knoy and this is The Exchange. For many months now, New Hampshire Commissioner Frank Edelblut has promoted an initiative called Learn Everywhere. It's the idea that mastery of subject matter can happen anywhere, not just within classroom walls. Learn Everywhere would allow the State Board of Education to credential a range of organizations and businesses who offer learning opportunities outside of school and give students credit. Earlier this summer, the board approved the program, but then the legislature pushed back. Lawmakers are reacting to overwhelming opposition from the state's education community groups representing teachers, school boards, principals, superintendents and others. Today, in exchange, what Learn Everywhere is all about and why it's generated such strong feelings. It's the last in our summer series exploring education.

Laura Knoy:
Our guests in the studio are Frank Edelblut Commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Education since 2017. He also served as a Republican member of the New Hampshire House. And Mr. Edelblut. Nice to see you. Welcome back. Also with us, Sarah Gibson NHPR education reporter. And Sarah, thank you for helping us out for sure. Also with us, Carl Ladd, executive director of the New Hampshire School Administrators Association, a former superintendent and teacher. He's also served as a school board member. And Carl. Good to see you. Thank you for being here as well. Well, unquestionably, just a couple minutes at the top of our show, if I could, getting your description of this initiative. And just first of all, before we get into the details, what's the overriding philosophy, commissioner, behind this?

Frank Edelblut:
Well, so this is an idea that really germinated. When I first took this role and I started to jump into the role as the commissioner and looked around the state and saw how our students were performing. And obviously, we all want our students to perform at their highest potential. We want them to have bright futures. And one of the things that I observed was a growing disparity that happens in our education system. You know, and essentially what's happening is kids who come from disadvantaged backgrounds are performing less than half as well as our standard students. Now, bear in mind, across the whole system, we're at about 50 percent proficiency on our statewide assessments. But our students from disadvantages, you know, are less than half of that in terms of their performance criteria. And so you start to ask a question like, why is that? And what can we do to close the gap with the gap? Use me. And so as I began to study the statistics and study really a lot of the work that the state has done already in this area, we know that those students don't perform as well in the traditional classroom setting.

Frank Edelblut:
They struggle in that environment. And so we've known all along that we want to try to create alternative learning options for them to try and help them get to better outcomes as students. And so that's really kind of the genesis of Learn Everywhere. And when we kind of pulled this thing together, the idea was how do we accelerate these opportunities for our students because we're doing a lot of this work in our schools already. And so what we're trying to say is how can we take the state apparatus and help it kind of help the schools achieve these outcomes for our students. And so that's really what we've done. I mean, we know that kids are basically learning machines. I mean, these kids, before they show up at five years old in kindergarten, or at six year old in kindergarten, I mean, they've already aurally mastered a language. If they come from a dual language family, they can speak two languages and they haven't even been in school yet. So these are learning machines.

Frank Edelblut:
And our job as educators really is to find ways to nurture the curiosity, to nurture the opportunities for them to have successful outcomes. And all of the research points to the fact that when students are engaged in their learning, they do better. They learn more things. Right. And so what we want to do is find ways to create opportunities for students to be engaged in what they're learning so that they can get to a bright outcome.

Laura Knoy:
I want to ask you about this achievement gap. And Commissioner, is that gap and it's big. I hear you on that. Is it due to the structures of education or is it due to other factors? We hear about kids coming to school hungry so they can't learn. They haven't slept well because of family issues. They may have untreated mental illness. They may be homeless. Educators tell us that these social problems are a big part of the achievement gap. So I wonder what you think. Is it that learning is is boring and it's inside the class and it needs to be opened up? Or is it that these kids are really struggling with family issues and social issues?

Frank Edelblut:
Or is it a combination of all of those factors? Right. I think it would be naive to try and overly simplify a very complex human problem. Right. When we're dealing with humans, stuff is messy, it's complex, it's very organic, and so what we really need to do is to put everything on the table in terms of trying to find opportunities to bring students to bright futures. The goal is not to try and find and pinpoint the specific thing. You know, for 40 years, educators and education as a system has gone through a numbers of reforms. Right. They have the next great thing. And I hear this all the time and you end through the reading, you can see it. People say like, oh, well, if we just do this, then everybody will be OK. Inevitably, what happens is we we add some success to some people in that cohort, but then we drop some. So what we've seen is over 40 years of all this experimentation, by oversimplifying the problem, by imagining that there is kind of one solution that's going to make it work for everybody. We haven't moved the needle. Right. And in fact, in New Hampshire, we see that disparity gap growing. So it's really needs to be a. All options on the table for students.

Laura Knoy:
One more question, Commissioner, and then I want to bring in our other guests and our listeners as well. As you know, New Hampshire already has an established program called Extended Learning Opportunities (ELOs). These allows students to get credit for apprenticeships, sports, internships, online courses. We've received a lot of questions from our listeners before the show, Commissioner, about ELOs and what Learn Everywhere would mean for them. I want to share just one or two of those with you, one listener wrote: Instead of diverting funds, money, resources would be better spent assisting schools without the ELO programs. And another one wrote: Why is the state bypassing local control and relegating ELOs to the trash bin? What about that, Commissioner? Money and resources be better spent beefing up this current ELO system that we already have in our schools. What do you think?

Frank Edelblut:
Well, so I love ELOs and ELO is our kind of a bit of inspiration for this program as well. And if you recall what I said, as we're tried to accelerate these opportunities for our students in New Hampshire last spring, I had the opportunity to participate in a graduation ceremony at B.A.E. Systems. It is a program that they have for called Women in Technology and they recruit high school young ladies out of high school. They spend 16 weeks in a program at B.A.E. learning all kinds of great stuff. Like they'll build bread boards and they do robotics. They learn engineering leadership. And they're mentored by some very strong female engineers that are really giving them inspiration. In that graduation, they had 24 young ladies who are participating. Two of the young ladies actually got credit for that and they received their engineering credit. 22 did not receive any credit for that simply because the school didn't either have the mechanisms or the insight or whatever it was. I don't. There's no militant there. They simply didn't get credit for it. And my sense is that if it's good learning, like, let's make sure that it counts, let's open up opportunities. And there's an interesting story I had. A young lady who created a video for us where so she was in school suffering from a lot of anxiety, suffering from a lot of stress in that environment of schooling. She really needed some help. And the school really reacted well and created a lot of flexibility in her schedule.

Frank Edelblut:
So she would go to class in the morning and in the afternoon she was just doing VLACS classes, online, classes at home and what she discovered through their process. So she was performing very poorly in school. What she discovered is she goes she had a lot of success in VLACS environments. And she's like, she's thriving. She's learning, she's growing. She realized in her own words, she's like, I'm actually pretty smart. And she took that success and she brought it back into school. So the success that we created for her here bred success in all of those other domains. So this environment where she otherwise was not succeeding in all of a sudden and created an environment in which she could thrive and she could succeed. This young lady finished her academic requirements an entire year early, spent her senior year, wrote a book about it. And she's a freshman,she's a rising sophomore at U.N.H. this year. So what we're trying to do is create environments that allow students to succeed, because the thought process is if you have success, it breeds and it spreads. When you have failure, it tends to also breed. And so we're trying to create opportunities where every student can find their niche. Every student can find that thing that they can excel at and they can be successful and not have, you know, just one academic environment Kind of define who you are.

Laura Knoy:
And VLACS just for listeners. Is Virtual Learning Academy online, online classes already accepted and accredited in everything within New Hampshire's school system. In that B.A.E. example you gave, commissioner, that's really interesting. So you said there were 22 young women ready - 24 -two got credit from their local schools. Twenty two did not. Was it because they didn't have an ELO coordinator at their school? Was it because the school said, no, it's not good enough? What was the reasoning behind that?

Frank Edelblut:
So when I went back and I talked to some of the superintendents of the schools where the children didn't get credit for it, the feedback was, well, we never even thought of that. Right. Like, it just didn't dawn on us that this could be a good opportunity and it could work for the school. So I think what we have to do is, again, just put all options on the table, make sure that no opportunities for learning are left behind so that all students get a chance to basically have a a bright future. Again, what we need to do is we need to be nurturing that inherent curiosity that exists in kids. Right. And help them to to thrive in that environment.

Laura Knoy:
And Carl Ladd I want to bring you into this. I know you've have a lot of feelings about Learn Everywhere, but just focusing in for a moment on these extended learning opportunities, as we said, these are already established school districts do them. They allow some of the same opportunities. How do you see ELOs and Learn Everywhere differently? Because on the face of it, they sound kind of the same.

Carl Ladd:
Well, I think that the... Everyone agrees in concept with what the commissioner has proposed. When he first rolled this out to me was a half an hour before the governor's inaugural address and said that we were going to be talking about Learn Everywhere. And when I asked him about the program and he explained it much as he did just now, and I said, so basically what you want to do is you want to take ELOs and compress the accelerator. You want to press the accelerator. You want to move this faster. And he said, yes. That's what we want to do. And so I said, in concept, that sounds perfect. It's what we have been trying to push for as well. But the devil is in the details. And that has been the story of this whole process.

Laura Knoy:
What kind of devils are you seeing Carl?

Carl Ladd:
Well the the devil in the details has always been that the state is going to be granting credit rather than the local school district and the state is going to be the one who's vetting the program. The state is going to be the one who's going to be overseeing the learning of students. That that creates a problem. We have extended learning opportunities in school districts now.

Carl Ladd:
I was in the building when these things were implemented. We established policies for all of the way that these things could work because we not only want to engage students. We want to make sure that they are safe and that they are in an environment in which they are safe and that real learning is occurring.

Laura Knoy:
So you want a little more oversight it sounds like Carl, at the local level, rather than having the state board say, yeah, this program is OK.

Carl Ladd:
We have maintained right from the beginning. If the state wanted to vet these programs along the lines of what the commissioner has outlined in the Learn Everywhere process and hold that as a warehouse of information, these are all accepted programs. These are the competencies that they meet. These are the safety requirements that have been met. And you can then choose these choose from any of these and have your students participate because we have vetted them. Because part of the problem with many school districts in New Hampshire is they do not have an ELO coordinator. They have ELOs occur in all schools. At varying levels, but there may not be one person to coordinate. There may not be one person to that.

Laura Knoy:
So stuff falls by the wayside. Like the example that the commissioner gave at B.A.E. systems. There's just not somebody who has the time well to manage this program.

Carl Ladd:
Well, the B.A.E. example is an interesting one. The commissioner uses it quite a bit. There were 22 there. There may have been some misunderstanding about whether or not credits could be awarded. But my sense is from talking to superintendents who've been involved in this is that students didn't ask.

Carl Ladd:
There was no request for credit.

Carl Ladd:
There was no there was no opportunity to for the school to say, yes, we will award these credits and work with you around this. So I think that some of this is a communication issue. Some of it is a capacity issue. And some of it is the fact that local school districts are responsible for the children in their care, and they should be the ones to ensure that their educational, social and emotional needs are all being met. It's their responsibility, not the state.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and we got a lot of questions from listeners around those lines. But Sarah, I want to bring you in. How much is Learn Everywhere a pushback to schools being slow to accept ELOs or not paying attention or not funding the coordinator position or just not really being aware that they're even out there?

Sarah Gibson:
Yeah, I would say probably to some extent. I mean, the commissioner has said that ELOs are the kinds of programs on the kinds of kind of encouragement to students to explore outside, outside learning to explore their passions. But they're not necessarily ramped up at the level that would that would allow New Hampshire to see big changes in student achievement gaps, et cetera. So so we certainly don't have ELO coordinators at every high school. However, there is someone designated that nearly every high school to kind of manage ELOs. So it could be the guidance counselor who is likely already quite taxed.

Laura Knoy:
2 to 300 kids already. Right. It's a big job.

Sarah Gibson:
Yeah. So. So I think asking them to coordinate ELOs that that is an additional burden for them. However, some successfully do that. I mean, there are certainly schools that don't have ELO coordinators that still are allowing students to get credit for outside learning, overseen by a credentialed educator overseeing to some extent, you know, by that guidance counselor or that kind of point person in the school. So. So most schools do have a person you can go to if you want to pursue an ELO. Whether or not that person's entire job is to coordinate ELOs is a different question.

Laura Knoy:
Well, we heard from Carl Ladd and we've heard from a lot of people in the education community, Sarah, that they're frustrated. This feels like a loss of local control. How do you read that? Local control? It's kind of a mantra here in New Hampshire.

Sarah Gibson:
It's certainly as. And, you know, I'm thinking back to one of the state board of Education meetings where Chairman Andrew Cline said local control, it's a bit of a myth. I mean, the state board of Education and the Department of Education and the federal government have a lot to do with how education happens in every single school in New Hampshire.

Sarah Gibson:
However, there is a strong sense from school districts and school boards that there that, you know, they're the safe safeguarding some of their, uh, I would say some of their standards. And they're also ultimately the final decision makers in terms of the kind of diploma they give to a high school senior to say, you got educated here and you're prepared for the next step.

Laura Knoy:
What that graduation requirement looks like, what that diploma looks like. We will talk a lot more after a short break. Stay with us. This is The Exchange on NHPR.

This is The Exchange. I'm Laura Knoy. Today, our summer in-depth series on education concludes with Learn Everywhere. We're finding out what this initiative for outside the classroom learning entails and why it's been controversial. And we've been hearing from you. Our guests are Frank Edelblut, commissioner of New Hampshire Department of Education since 2017. Sarah Gibson NHPR education reporter. And Carl Ladd, executive director of the New Hampshire School Administrators Association. And all of you. Before we go back to our callers, I did want to just pull out a couple more details from our conversation earlier in the show. And Commissioner Edelblut, one of the biggest push backs I've heard against Learn Everywhere is the idea, it's not so much outside the classroom learning, it's the idea that the state board says who's legit and who isn't. And as you know, local districts are really upset about that. They say that's a loss of local control and they want to be responsible for saying this program is legit. And this one isn't. So what do you think about that?

Frank Edelblut:
Yes. So I think that that's a great point and a great topic to have on the table. And when we put that topic in context, we have what we have to remember is there's really a lot of agreement around the learning opportunities for students. So let's not put sometimes I've called them adult rules, the adult issues in front of students getting to bright futures, because the ultimate goal really is that we want every student in New Hampshire to really have the best opportunity for learning to get them to their top of their game. And so when we talk about control, let's not lose sight of the fact that kids are involved here. Right. It's one thing to have control. It's another to make sure that kids have good outcomes. And so when I think about it, you know, the state board and myself included, we want the same things. We want students to have good learning opportunities where they're actually learning stuff. Right. That stuff that's going to stick with them forever. I mean, if I were to ask you, can you tell me what the quadratic equation is, you probably would have a tough time doing it, but you quote unquote, learned it when you were in school.

Frank Edelblut:
Right. Did you learn it? If you learned it and you don't have it anymore, what happened to it? Right. So we want kids, we want strong academics. And what we find in a lot of these programs is because of the nature of the learning, the academics comes along with it. And students really get the deep learning that we're after for the students. We want safety for students, of course. And so all of the rules around us have been programmed to make sure that kids have good academics, they have safety, they have good experiences. One of the features of the program that I think is not often talked about is we've got a when a program comes in, it will be evaluated for academics. And that evaluation team includes certified teachers and includes extended learning, you know, opportunity coordinators, because we want that input from the field in terms of what can make this thing successful and what will make it difficult to be successful. So we want to make sure that all students get access to these extended learning opportunities.

Laura Knoy:
Well, I'm glad you mentioned sort of who's going to evaluate, you know, this program is OK. This doesn't look academically valid. So you're saying, Commissioner Edelblut, that under Learn Everywhere, if it were to become sort of on the books, a team of people, not just the state board which is appointed, but a team of educators would give their stamp of approval to this program A but not program B.

Frank Edelblut:
What I would tell you is that this program has more guardrails than a traditional ELO in the school, in the sense that it is being evaluated by ELO coordinators, by certified teachers in the in the domain area. Then it goes through a public process, since it's really the state board that gives the blessing after it's been through this validation process. So there's a lot of guardrails. If someone thinks that we're gonna be putting a program in place that is not going to serve students well, there's that public option to come in and voice your displeasure with it. That doesn't exist at the school level. Right. So this has more, you know, guardrails than the traditional programs do already.

Laura Knoy:
Well, we did receive a lot of questions about that. So I'm glad you mentioned that. We heard from listeners one said how Learn Everywhere credits and education assessed and evaluated in regard to their value as compared to academic work. Somebody else asked, how can rigor be maintained? Will everything count? If not, how will the experiences that count be determined? Will actual trained educators with academic credentials be involved in the process of developing this program, it sounds like you're saying, yes, they will.

Frank Edelblut:
And then the last aspect of control that I want to jump in on really quickly is just we talk about the diploma, right? So this is actually just about students earning credits towards those minimum standards. But nothing has been taken away from the local schools in terms of defining what their graduation requirements are for their students. Right. So we're helping students to earn credits leading to that minimum requirement. And that's 20 credits. But every school district is requiring generally more than that 24, 25, 27 credits in order for that student to graduate from that high school. And those are the local control decisions where they're deciding and they're making the determination. What are those credits that we want our students to come out with? So I think we're kind of capture the best of both worlds of what we're trying for.

Laura Knoy:
Ok, Sarah and Carl. And then let's go to our listeners. Lots of people want to jump in.

Sarah Gibson:
Sure. Well, to the point about vetting, I have heard some major concern from educators about that vetting process. Certainly there are rules outlined in the proposed and Learn Everywhere proposal that there is a vetting process, that it goes through both a team and then to the state board of Education. However, right now, educators don't feel as though they have a big enough spot at the table regarding the vetting process. So. Right. So my understanding of the rules is that one ELO coordinator, these are the people who in many ways have have the best sense of how outside of the classroom up opportunities that can happen. So one ELO coordinator out of all of the states, ELO coordinators and one educator, should their schedules allow, are part of that team. And I think there has been real concern from both ELO coordinators and educators. You know, we're thinking about this. We're living this and breathing this every single day. And yet, if our schedule doesn't allow, we might not even be at that importing important meeting to make sure that all of the all of the standards are really met by this entity that wants to provide Learn Everywhere credits. Additionally, I think there is some concern that even though there's an opportunity for the public to voice their concerns about a Learn Everywhere entity. There have been a lot of concerns voiced to the State Board of Education about Learn Everywhere. And yet the state board of Education is moving forward with it. So I think some people are concerned that despite despite the avenue of kind of airing their grievances about a potential entity, at the end of the day, the state board of Education will move forward.

Laura Knoy:
So slow down there a little bit there That seems to be the sentiment. We appreciate the idea of some of these groups engaging in education. But educators that you hear from , Sarah say, we'd like you to slow down. We'd like you to listen a little bit.

Sarah Gibson:
We'd like you to listen. But also we'd like there to be more clarity in the rules that educators, probably more than two, are really embedded in every step of this process of credentialing, essentially Learn Everywhere entity.

Laura Knoy:
Commissioner Edelblut, and we'll get your thought on that. But I will let Carl jump in too.

Carl Ladd:
Well, I think one thing that we have to remember is we're looking at this very 80 pages of minimum standards that public schools have to meet in order to be approved by the state. This Learn Everywhere program is going to be approving programs that grant credit and our students are going to be attended in a few paragraphs. And the oversight that the commissioner has spoken to in the law and everywhere rules. There's also a caveat in there that that group will not be held up if in ELO coordinator or a teacher cannot attend whatever meeting they're holding in order to vet these programs. So I think there is some concern that if we are going to schedule these oversight meetings or these vetting processes during the school day, then teachers would have to leave school during the school day in order to come to Concord to vet these programs. There always costs involved in any of these issues, whether it's substitute teachers, whether it is transportation, whether it's safety issues.

Carl Ladd:
Free is never free. It doesn't matter what context that is. There is no such thing as free, and we all know that.

Laura Knoy:
What do you mean by that? Carl?

Carl Ladd:
There's been a lot of discussion that this is going to be. An opportunity to close the achievement gap and to close the inequity gap that we have between district's poor performing districts by the measure that's been instituted by the state and by the feds, not by the local school districts, but, these poorer districts, wealth-wise, somehow this is supposed to close that socioeconomic gap. The reality is that while B.A.E. is a great industry, great business for our state to have, a student in Pittsburg is not going to be able to avail themselves of an opportunity at the B.A.E. Students in the Lakes region, the southwest, the north country, are going to have a difficult time going to where these industries are based in the south, central and south eastern regions of the state. We are going to exacerbate this gap, rather than close it. There are not.... Having been a superintendent in the North Country for many years, working with businesses as they left, over time, it's been very difficult for us to place our students into places where they can have these learning opportunities. I think that the idea is absolutely correct, and I really wish that we could get to the point where we would talk about what is going to make sense for all kids in the state of New Hampshire. We all want bright futures for our kids. I've been in education for 30 years. I have been fighting for bright futures for my kids that entire time. You talk about the last 40 years, an oversimplification is that over 40 years, the needle hasn't moved.

Carl Ladd:
Over 40 years we have put more and more and more requirements on the local school districts and the local communities. That's why we have 80 pages of minimum standards. That's why we have a law book that is about eight inches thick. Just of education laws that we have to follow just in the state of New Hampshire. So it's an oversimplification to think that the schools are the obstacles to students achieving bright futures. Schools have been in the forefront of that for years.

Laura Knoy:
And schools have been asked to take more and more the role of social workers because of some of those deep underlying problems that these lower achieving districts have and the kids who attend those schools. And I think the commissioner did, Carl, at the beginning say obviously Learn Everywhere isn't going to solve, you know, homeless kids, hungry kids, kids who have drug addicted parents. But why not try and at least open up some really amazing opportunities for those kids? You mentioned the North Country. You know. Sure. A kid from Pittsburg isn't gonna be able to go to B.A.E. systems down in Nashua. But might that example inspire a kind, a company in the north country to say, cool, look what's going on at B.A.E maybe we can do something similar for our kids in Pittsburg. Obviously, it's not B.A.E. but, you know, there's plenty of organizations and businesses there that might be inspired to jump in.

Carl Ladd:
And again, I don't disagree with that and I don't disagree with the concept. What I disagree with is the fact that ELOs were put into place about 15, 20 years ago with little support from the department over all of that time. And if we really want to press the accelerator on ELOs, we should be beefing up the system that we already have in place. We have over 7000 kids last year, high school kids, who were involved in an ELO of some sort. Whether it was an internship, a capstone project, VLACS, which is considered an extended learning opportunity, according to the rules that we have to follow in the state and VLACS is also working on a whole new career pathway system that we should be encouraging and supporting.

Carl Ladd:
I think that schools in New Hampshire are recognized nationally as being in the forefront of innovative learning. We have a lot of constraints within the public school system. Some are rules. Some are just what we are faced with. You know, the opioid epidemic that has raged through our state does not just affect the local community and adults. It affects kids. At every level.

Laura Knoy:
And we've talked about how, again, schools are being asked more and more to pickup social work and help these families real quickly. And then I'm feeling kind of bad not freeing our listeners into this because we've got some folks with great comments. But this gets back to that first comment. Commissioner Edelblut, that I read from that listener ELOs. Everybody's on board, extending learning opportunities. Why put all this time and energy into Learn Everywhere? Why not just go to every district and say, you know, we love this ELO idea, here's some help, here's a person, here's some cash. Go for it. So why start something new?

Frank Edelblut:
Well, it isn't something new. It's an accelerant to what is already a known entity. And it works. I mean, so if you think about it, what are the resources that at the state level we have under our control? Like I don't have the ability to write a check to every school to hire and ELO coordinator. But I do have the ability to take those state resources that we do have and put them behind the schools by helping them to accelerate these opportunities. So in effect, what we're doing is we're just saying how are we going to deploy the state resources that we do have in order to make this, you know, more successful, to basically be able to make this accessible to schools. And when we think about, you know, free is free, I mean, nothing is free. And I agree with Carl that, you know, free is never free. But what it is, is how do we deploy the resources that we do have? You know, we invest heavily in our education system. We want to make sure that those investments are going to those programs and those things that are going to give us the best kinds of returns on our funding. And so that's really what I see this doing as I see myself accelerating the opportunity. We know, you know, unequivocally that the current system is leaving kids behind. So we also feel like there's a bit of a mandate to be able to try and help those kids help close that disparity gap. And again, I believe that it cuts across all the different areas that we've talked about. And this is one component. But it's important that this component as well move forward. And so we're trying. To do that.

Sarah Gibson:
Well, I think I think part of this discussion and part of this disagreement is around the fact that we do or do not have about ELOs in the state. It's a little bit unclear. Seven thousand is, I think, an underestimate for how many students are participating in ELOs here in New Hampshire every year. We don't know how many more students are doing those because we don't have great data on ELOs yet. 7000 sounds like a lot. There are, I believe, around 50,000 high schoolers and we don't know how many more are participating in those things. And so I think part of this this argument would maybe be solved by having much better data on how many students are participating in the ELOs.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and some listeners may think, wow, ELOs, I never even heard of that. So I appreciate the point, Sarah. Go ahead, Carl.

Carl Ladd:
I think to feed off what Sarah was saying, there is a limited capacity within the department to oversee the current system. They have a definite lack of personnel. And I think the commissioner would agree with me on that. We have schools that have not been visited for school approval long past their cycle. My concern is, is the DOE really going to have the capacity to oversee and track the data from these new programs. This is a new program and this is a new way of counting credits that we've never had in this state. The state has always had the authority to mandate what. But they have never gotten into the business of telling us how.

Laura Knoy:
So we received a question from a listener about the cost to your department, Commissioner Edelblut, asking how does the department plan on regulating this program when they are understaffed and underfunded? So to Carl's point, yeah, go ahead.

Frank Edelblut:
Yes. So we have capacity at the department with the resources that we have and the activities that they're focused on. One of the things I did when I first came into the department was a restructuring to be more efficient, to be able to deploy resources well towards those objectives. That is one of the things that I have spent my life doing, is trying to organize an organization, or organize an institution to be effective in terms of what it is doing. And so that's what we've done. We feel confident that we're going to be able to execute on this mission and we're excited to do that. And one of the things that's key is notice all the conversation is not about bright futures. It's all about the how. Right? And so, like, let's just keep students at the forefront of this conversation.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and I'm thinking we could have five more conversations on this. So maybe we'll look into some of that in future shows.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange. I'm Laura Knoy. Back to our conversation now about Learn Everywhere, an initiative where the state school board would credential out of class activities for school credit. We're digging into some of the details. Tom is in Portsmouth. Hi, Tom. Thanks for calling in today. You're on the air.

Caller:
Hi. How are you? This is a question for the commissioner. At the same time that you've been pushing Learn Everywhere, there's been a concomitant crackdown on pure professionalism. You have new standards that are in place and you seem to be emphasizing proper teacher behavior, credentialing, professionalism. How can you do that at the same time as exposing students through this program that essentially people who are not going to be regulated, who are going to be beyond the reach of the Department of Education? Let me give you an example. A teacher in any school district is pulled over for a DWI. There will be almost immediate consequences. People will know about it. Steps will be taken at a local and perhaps the state level to address this issue. That will not be the case for the hundreds of individuals who may be teaching - and I put that in quotations - the students through the Learn Everywhere program.

Laura Knoy:
Well, Tom, thank you for the call. And Commissioner Edelblut, we actually did. Part three of our series was on teacher professional development, training, education. And teachers do feel like they have very high standards. They have to meet credentials, papers, degrees, professional development. We did a show just last week on a new law that says they have to take two hours of suicide prevention training. Everybody in the school, the janitor, lunch ladies, everyone. So what about that? Tom seems to be saying how unfair demand so much of teachers in the schools and he feels very little of these outside the classroom educators. I just wonder what you think.

Frank Edelblut:
Yeah. So I really see this kind of a both/and type of an opportunity. So on the one hand, Learn Everywhere is really trying to accelerate opportunities for our students to get to bright futures. But at the same time, we're trying to elevate the professionalism of our educators. I think that what Tom is referring to is we put in place a code of conduct and a code of ethics for our educators, which we previously did not have. That was work that had started previously under Commissioner Berry. How we continue that through and we now have that in place. And I think what happens is. So I myself am a CPA and I have a code of conduct. I have ethical standards that I'm required to live up to. And when those kinds of infrastructure things are in place, it actually elevates the profession and creates that professionalism in terms of the environment that the educators are operating in. And so I think it's a both/and it's not a either this or that. It's like we're trying to we're pushing on all kinds of levers throughout the system to try and help the system move forward.

Laura Knoy:
So will people who conduct programs under Learn Everywhere be under that same code of conduct that teachers have to be under?

Frank Edelblut:
So they're not under the code of conduct as the code of conduct is dealing specifically with educator credentialing types of issues. But they are under the section at the RSA 189-13A requirements in terms of, you know, mal behavior toward students or those types of issues.

Laura Knoy:
Background checks and so forth. Speaking of that suicide prevention show, every single person in the schools now is gonna take two hours of suicide prevention training, lots of bipartisan support for this. A lot of people say was a long time coming. If someone at the McAuliffe Shepherd Discovery Center or the Boys and and Girls Club, or B.A.E. Systems, or the YMCA, if they got approved by the State Board under Learn Everywhere, would they have to undergo two hours of suicide prevention training like the teachers have to?

Frank Edelblut:
So that is not contemplated in the rules as they're articulated. But bear in mind that they Learn Everywhere a program is for public school students. Right. So those students are already in a full curricular environment where they have the credentialed educators that we're trying to elevate who have been trained in suicide awareness and are be able to respond to that.

Laura Knoy:
Okay. Tom, thank you for the call. Go ahead, Carl.

Carl Ladd:
I do have a question and we've raised it several times. Who is ultimately going to be liable for schools, for student safety when they are at these workplaces in these Learn Everywhere programs? Is it going to be the state who's going to be responsible or is it going to be the school district or is it going to be the parents who signed their kids up? I think that, you know, we're we're often painted as administrators and educators as being the obstacle. We're not the obstacle, but we're the ones that have to implement this. And educators have to be the ones to deal with the students within the classrooms and within their school settings.

Carl Ladd:
So these questions are incredibly important and they are necessary in ensuring that our kids do have bright futures because you cannot get to the what unless you deal with the how. And that is where the devil is in the details of how do you get there. We all have the same goal. And the commissioner and I have had this conversation many, many times. We have the same goals we want. Same thing's for all kids. We just need to make sure that we're on the same page in ensuring that the kids meet those bright futures in a safe and viable way.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and a listener did write us what safeguards will be put in place considering the requirements of teachers. Background checks. Code of conduct training. Credentialing. So can you talk, Commissioner, a little bit about just them, the safety aspect of this when you're sending kids out to, not extended learning opportunities, Learn Everywhere that has been credentialed by the state board?

Frank Edelblut:
Right. And we care about the safety of students no matter what environment they're in. I mean, we have safety concerns even when students are in schools as we know that, you know, stuff happens. So through the rules we have, you know, put in requirements that deal with the RSA 189-13A requirements which are, you know, criminal violations. We have background checks, we have liability insurance requirements. So we have put what we think are the appropriate safeguards around the programs to make sure that, you know, our students are going to be safe, but we're going to open up worlds to them through the learning opportunities that we can bring them.

Laura Knoy:
Speaking of the different organizations that might want to get involved, you know, you mentioned B.A.E. systems. Couple of the names have come up. Sarah, who have you heard from that is excited about Learn Everywhere that hasn't maybe been able to get enough in terms of extended learning opportunities out of the system as it exists now? Who's interested in engaging with this?

Sarah Gibson:
Sure. So there is a fair amount of support from business and industry groups here in New Hampshire. And one of the things we haven't talked about yet, that regardless of whether or not Learn Everywhere it moves forward is a workforce shortage in New Hampshire. And that's something that schools are thinking through, that the GOP needs to think through, that New Hampshire as a whole is thinking through. What do you do with the fact that there are not enough skilled laborers, skilled workers in New Hampshire for some of these higher tech jobs, often quite well-paying? How do we bridge that gap? And so one of the hopes with Learn Everywhere. My impression is, is that it could help get students excited about some of these industries that really have a workforce shortage here in New Hampshire. And I certainly heard that enthusiasm from Jeff Rappsis, he's in charge of the aviation museum. They do already work with public schools. They're already partnering with teachers in the Manchester region and with students there, but felt like Learn Everywhere, if it were approved, would be an opportunity for them to expand their programming and get students excited in an industry that actually has its kind of facing a hiring crisis in the coming years. Not enough pilots, not enough engineers. What would it look like for those students to kind of get hooked when they're 16 and know they want to pursue that path, maybe even get a scholarship from a local company to return after college? So I think there is that that optimism among some members of business and industry.

Laura Knoy:
Well, Tom, thank you again for the call. And a couple of comments from our listeners. On Facebook a listener commented, The Learn Everywhere program sounds somewhat like a classical apprenticeship program of the sort that led to a very good standard of life for the working middle class. This person says this is an excellent idea for the economically challenged areas of the state. Carl,I"m going to throw that to you. Here's someone who says, hey, this sounds great for the very people that you were concerned about when you worked in the North Country.

Carl Ladd:
And I think that we already do apprenticeships. There are apprenticeships available for students in the North Country and all across the state. I think it's a question of how can you accelerate that in a way that benefits all students, not just those who can afford to be part of that program. We have emphasized the necessity of making sure that there is equitable access for all students. And I think that there are apprenticeships. Are there enough of them? No. But we also have a declining population in the state. We have an aging population in the state. We have a lack of businesses in certain regions of the state. Other than tourism. And there is only so much you can do with tourism.

Laura Knoy:
Mary in Concord writes The Learn Everywhere programs only have to meet what are called, quote, minimum standards. School districts often have standards that are more extensive than the minimum standards than what the state requires. Mary says, so a school be forced to accept a credit, say, in math that meets the state's minimum standards, but might not rise to the level of what the school district wants students to meet before getting graduation credit. A school's reputation for rigour could be undermined. Mary, thank you. And Commissioner Edelblut, I did get a lot of questions from listeners beforehand, sort of along the lines of what Mary says. Let's say someone has that engineering opportunity to be a systems or another engineering firm. And the state board says that's. Right. Your math credit is taken care of, but the school district may say that's not Algebra 2. I can't check that box for you. So how do you resolve that?

Frank Edelblut:
Well, so the example probably isn't the best because if it's Algebra 2, it's pretty much 2. And we have you know, we do have the academic standards that are in place now. Schools are allowed to have additional they can go above those minimum standards, Tasmania and they can, but that's where that would come into their graduation requirements. So they may say, like, OK, yes, you've brought in this, you know, Algebra 1 credit from the Kumon Learning Center in Nashua, New Hampshire. But we have these additional requirements for graduation that you're going to have to satisfy in some way. So, again, we've preserved kind of that local control for those schools to define what that local diploma looks like. And and I don't and I think it's appropriate for them to do that definition.

Well, Sharon on our Facebook live feed commented, In addition to the clear potential conflict of interest of businesses providing extra curricular activities for students to receive credit to satisfy school requirements without oversight from the school. Sharon says there is the basic concern that this program is especially beneficial to families with means who can afford to supplement their children's basic education with this kind of extra curricular programming. Further, she says, it contributes to the idea that everyone needs recognition in a formal way for the things they do. Developing a lifelong learning, lifelong love of learning results from making the learning a pleasure in itself, not because it's recognized by an established institution. Lots of points there from Sharon maybe to you first. Sarah, the idea that I have heard this concern before that Sharon raises that even the learn ever was promoted is closing the achievement gap between poor students and middle and upper income students. The concern that I have heard quite a bit is that it will actually help those with means more. So I wonder what you've heard and I'll let you jump in to commissioner. Don't worry.

Sarah Gibson:
Sure. Well, I think outside learning opportunities such as ELOs can certainly close the achievement gap. I mean, we've seen some of the poorer schools in this state have fantastic ELO opportunities that are kind of the pride of that district. And thinking about Pittsfield, they unfortunately had to cut their ELO coordinator recently, because of budget concerns about Hinsdale still has a great ELO coordinator there who's recognized by the state for it, for doing such great work and really partnering with community members to make sure students can pursue their passions outside of school. So I think this model, you know, there's argument about whether or not we're growing the ELO model here or actually reinventing the wheel. But this idea of outside learning can certainly serve students who aren't being served out or have limited opportunities in their schools. I certainly have heard that that concern that a dance class or a Chinese language class or horseback riding costs, a lot of those do cost money. And that the parents who are kind of advocating for their children to get credit are they are more likely to, you know, go to the school board and say, hey, you say this doesn't fulfill the algebra requirement, but we think this Kumon class does.

Sarah Gibson:
And then there's kind of that rift between still that rift between parents and the school board over whether or not that student should get credit. So I don't think it totally solves some of these concerns. And I have heard that that anxiety from educators and parents that it doesn't actually solve the economic equity gap. That said, we've seen examples of outside learning, certainly doing that.

Laura Knoy:
In ELOs, which are these established programs that we've talked about. But go ahead, Commissioner, I heard this from a lot of listeners that this, in fact, will make the academic opportunity worse than better.

Frank Edelblut:
Yes. So I would actually tell you, I think it's the opposite. If you look at the academic opportunity now, we've got a lot of private for pay types of educational opportunities. So, for example, if you want to go to a Derryfield, maybe the cost is forty thousand dollars a year and that's a high lift for most families. But if a Kumon math program costs a hundred thirty five dollars a month, there's probably a lot of families that may be able to access a program like that. And I think it's interesting because Sarah, you know, weighed in with an example from a not for profit. And that's another area where we where we have had a ton of support, you know, whether it's the McAuliffe Shepherd Museum or the national or the New Hampshire Institutes of Science or the Aviation Museum. So these nonprofits who work with these same kids every single day are chomping at the bit to try and create and offer opportunities for students to be able to be successful in those environments. And so I'm not trying to say that we have completely solved. But we have broken down a ton of disparity barriers that exist today. So this is opening up worlds. It's not the whole game. And I'm not gonna leave anybody on the field. Right. But we have opened up the world to many more families as a result of these kinds of programs..

Carl Ladd:
Nonprofits doesn't mean that they're not going to charge something.

Laura Knoy:
But there might be a sliding fee for lower-income families and so forth.

Carl Ladd:
There could very well be. However, some of these families that we're trying to engage do not have the money even for a sliding scale. And they rely on the school districts not only for their education, but they rely on them for food and safety. Those are those are concerns. Those are real concerns that New Hampshire families face every day. And I think that the idea that free is going to be free is not the case. And if we have to. Parents have to pay, then that means that there is going to be inequity in the system. And that's just the way it works.

Laura Knoy:
Robin sent us an e-mail. He says, What I wonder is with kids pursuing all their outside learning, when and how do they learn history, algebra, literature, geography, etc. Teaching time is finite. More of this means less of that. Robin, thank you very much for that e-mail. I hear the music playing. I'm so sorry we are not going to get a chance to to address that question. Do you want just real quick talk about Robin's question? I mean, just more more time on extended learning or how.

Frank Edelblut:
It's a decision for students that are already in the school system doing therefore I mean, an example, I'll tell you a quick story. So eight thirty at night. I'm in Central High School and I've got 20 kids working on the first robotics team. You know, some kids are programming in Java. Some kids are, you know, working with Bosch engineers. And they were they were kids were like, you know, you gotta, commissioner, you got to help us. The school closes at 9:00. We open. We need it open till 10:00. I'm like, first of all, I win when kids are begging for school to be open. Secondly is the work that they're doing, the programming, the learning, the engineering, the learning from Bosch engineers about the stuff that wasn't going to count. They were going to have to go home and do their homework. And so what I'm saying is they're already in the school learning. Can we capitalize on all these learning opportunities that happen all over the place for these students?

Laura Knoy:
Well, and we're going have to revisit this because there's a lot more we could talk about. Thank you, everyone, for coming in. I really appreciate it. Thank you so much. This is The Exchange on NHPR.