AFT-NH Testimony before NH State Board of Education on proposed changes to the Learn Everywhere rules
Submitted by Debrah Howes, President, AFT-NH
Thank you, Chair Cline Members of the State Board of Education
My name is Debrah Howes. I am president of the American Federation of Teachers – New Hampshire. I am here to speak on behalf of our 3700 members across the state. Our members include PreK through 12 public school educators and support staff, university faculty as well as town employees. I am here today to address the proposed changes to the Learn Everywhere rules.
In the Granite State, it is the duty of the State Board of Education to oversee the state’s education system. I think we can all agree that the main focus of that education system is the students, the quality of their learning experiences and whether they are thriving in their educational environments. In its own mission statement, the State Board states it aspires “to provide leadership, support, and oversight of the state's education system to ensure that every individual acquires the skills and knowledge to succeed.” That is truly a worth goal!
With such a duty to focus on students, their learning, and their well-being, it is disappointing to see this proposal for revised rules for the Learn Everywhere program. Of course, many were greatly disappointed earlier this year when this board voted to approve the application of PragerU’s Financial Literacy course for high school credit through the Learn Everywhere program, despite its clear lack of academic rigor. Student learning wasn’t the primary focus that day!
Given the State Board’s mission, one might expect that proposed revisions to the rules for Learn Everywhere would strengthen academic rigor and ensure students are in safe, inclusive, and welcoming learning environments. These proposed changes fall short of that mark.
- Changing from a “program approval committee” to an “academic evaluation team” comprised mainly of NH Department of Education staff has the practical effect of making it easier to review applications in the short time frame required by the regulations the department itself wrote. Does this benefit students, ensure academic rigor of all Learn Everywhere programs and make sure that students can thrive in these learning environments? This change does not address those concerns, but it should get the outside vendors and education service providers an answer more quickly.
- Changing the criminal records check requirements to make them optional for providers is clearly a step in the wrong direction if the focus is student well-being. Currently Learn Everywhere program providers are required to have a background check policy and to prohibit anyone charged with or convicted of serious crimes from instructing or otherwise working with students. Under this proposed change, providers could forgo background checks as long as they informed parents in writing that they do not provide them. Student safety is not something that ever should come in behind the convenience of outside service providers or Concord bureaucracies. Criminal record checks of all employees and volunteers who have contact with students in person or online is essential.
- Changing the initial approval period for from 1 year to 3 years for Learn Everywhere programs means it takes longer before the State Board of Education looks at any form of feedback on whether a Learn Everywhere program is working as it was planned. Initial approval is based on a plan. That renewal is based on actual experience. Granting longer initial approvals delays any needed adjustments after reflecting only kind of data collected, the student surveys. This means if students express a concern it will take longer to get addressed. This change might be good for programs, but it is not good for students.
When the State Board of Education gives its approval to a Learn Everywhere program, or any program, it tells parents that program fits with its mission. It is saying this program has academic rigor, will help students learn and thrive. If it doesn’t, it shouldn’t get State Board approval. These proposed changes to the Learn Everywhere rules don’t help the State Board reach that goal.
I urge you to reject these proposed rule changes.
President, AFT-New Hampshire