CONWAY — Conway School Board member Mark Hounsell pledged “to fight with all my being” to stop the state Department of Education’s proposed “Learn Everywhere" innovation because it takes away local control when it comes to students earning credits towards graduation. He called it “the biggest threat to public education” he'd ever seen.
At the Feb. 25 school board meeting, Hounsell and his colleagues agreed to write a letter to the state to oppose the initiative created by Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut and unveiled last month.
Hounsell said Edelblut and the state Board of Education “seem to be aggressively pursuing" an unfunded state mandate that competes with local control.
“What the local districts need is more funding from the state as we continue on the clear path of Conway’s community-developed strategic plan,” he continued.
“The new state rules and proposal will give more control to the state DOE. It will also require districts to award high school credits to any program, from anywhere, that can get a state department approval, regardless of whether it passes the rigors of our local high school," Hounsell said.
Fellow board member Randy Davison agreed, specifically on the legislative section “Ed 1406.02 Issuing Credit for Graduation.”
In it, it says that "certificates shall be used to grant credit for graduation," adding that "approved New Hampshire schools shall grant students with valid completion certificates high school credit leading to graduation in the area enumerated.”
“I’m very concerned by this,” Davison said. “Only local school districts should have authority to grant credits toward graduation.”
He added: "I think it’s not in the best interests of public education.”
In January, during a visit to the Sun, Edelblut spoke about the new innovation.
“Learn Everywhere is basically an opportunity to try and capture all student learning,” he said. “This really comes out of a couple of observations that I’ve had from going around the state and talking with different people.”
He added: "Learn Everywhere is a program that really tries to capture learning that is taking place in our communities, all over the place.”
Advancing New Hampshire Public Education, a website that advocates to improve public education, also opposed Senate Bill 435, which was passed by voice vote by legislators last spring.
The website was created and is run by Bill Duncan, a retired techology entrepreneur, who was born in Boston and lives in New Castle. He received the National Education Association of New Hampshire’s 2014 Communications Award.
On his website, Duncan stated: “Legislators and school administrators probably did not realize the trap that had been laid for them until the state Board of Education approved the initial draft of the rule required by that sentence.
“Under the proposed rule, the state board grants itself the authority to make use of the diploma issued by any local school board in New Hampshire. How is that possible? The state board would accredit (the rule calls it granting a ‘license’ to) any for-profit or non-profit group with a presence in New Hampshire, giving it the authority to issue academic credits which must be accepted by any New Hampshire high school," he continued.
"The process is something like authorizing a charter school, but where a charter high school grants its own credits and diploma, ‘Learn Everywhere’ groups, as they are called, would have the authority to create credits in Laconia, Bow, Salem, Hanover or anywhere in the state.”
Hounsell had written Edelblut the previous week, saying, “I respectfully ask that the state board of education not go forward with this proposal.
“At this time, the Conway School Board has not taken a formal position regarding the proposals. I expect in the near future we shall. I also expect our position will not to be in favor.”
Reaching Higher NH, which has a mission to foster and support public education, raised concerns on its website recently, saying that "Many noted (at the Feb. 14 meeting) that by giving the State Board the authority to grant academic credits, the Learn Everywhere program would supersede local control.
“There is a wide range of existing opportunities for students to earn academic credits learning outside of the classroom, including Extended Learning Opportunities (ELOs), the most frequently referenced, and many members of the public expressed concern that Learn Everywhere would jeopardize those programs,” Reaching Higher NH noted.
In a follow-up interview, Hounsell urged the community to rally to stop the innovation.
“It is clear that Learn Everywhere is Commissioner Edelblut’s personal and highest priority project,” he said. “In addition to meeting one-on-one with the state board of education members to make the case for his program, and giving presentations urging supporters to communicate with the board, he organized some ... relatively thin supportive testimony (at a DOE public hearing on Feb. 14). Two students who testified told others at the hearing that the commissioner had coached them personally in his office. At least one parent said he had contacted her to ask that she testify in support of the program.”
According to Hounsell, “The essential difference between Learn Everywhere and ELO’s is that Learn Everywhere is a program of private groups that precludes participation or decision-making by local school boards."