Imagine an education ecosystem where students get academic credit for taking piano lessons, attending courses at a science museum, or even playing AAU basketball. This is now a reality for families in New Hampshire, and policymakers in other states should pay close attention. The Granite State’s trailblazing Learn Everywhere program is finally off the ground after facing “fierce opposition from Democrats and many educators for nearly a year.” Originally passed in 2018, the policy allows students to earn academic credit for learning that happens outside of classroom walls.
Learn Everywhere is the brainchild of New Hampshire Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, who was inspired by an after-school robotics program led by local engineers in Manchester. What Edelblut observed while watching that program is a rare sight in public education: kids buzzing with excitement and deeply engaged in substantive learning with members of their community.
Commissioner Edelbult was bothered by the fact that not all of them would get credit for this program under the state’s Extended Learning Opportunities policy, which was deferential to school boards and thus at the mercy of local politics. But, now thanks to the Learn Everywhere program, that’s all changing as school districts are now required to accept credit for state-approved courses.
Under the program, both individuals and organizations—such as non-profits, tutors, and museums—can apply to the State Board of Education for approval. Applications are evaluated based on numerous factors, including provider qualifications, expected outcomes, and student assessment plans. The state’s Department of Education will also conduct a monitoring visit before its full five-year approval is granted to providers.
This inclusive approach to credentialing could open up a world of possibilities for kids to earn school credit outside conventional classrooms. For example, a local orchestra could set up a music course or a computer programmer could teach kids how to code. Teachers are also free to create their own programs, which might be targeted to disadvantaged students or perhaps teach a skill they’re passionate about.
In December, the New Hampshire Academy of Science—an educational non-profit with professional-grade science equipment—was the first provider approved and can now offer several courses for credit, including Physics Research and AP Biology. Since then, the State Board has also approved programs offered by Seacoast Science Center, the math and reading education company Kumon, North Main Music, and others.
To be sure, Learn Everywhere’s policy isn’t perfect. One problem is that no portion of the state’s $19,283 in per-pupil education funding supports it, meaning families have to pay out of pocket for any program fees or rely on discounts if they can’t afford to.
But there are a few reasons why policymakers across the country would be wise to follow New Hampshire’s lead.
Most importantly, Learn Everywhere recognizes the critical role that communities play in educating kids and the program leverages the expertise of local artists, scientists, entrepreneurs, and others. Research indicates that students benefit from culturally enriching field trips, which this model takes to a whole new level. While some of this learning is already taking place, a state-administered policy could help expand opportunities, and if the state were to allocate education dollars to the program it would ensure access for all kids.
Additionally, Learn Everywhere is designed for students who are still enrolled in public schools, which could help grow momentum for additional innovation within public K-12 education. Despite decades of expanding school choice policies, the vast majority of students in the U.S. are still enrolled in public schools. Providing these families with meaningful education options will only enlarge the political tent for reform-minded policymakers who need as much support as they can get.
Lastly, while Learn Everywhere doesn’t affect funding for New Hampshire school districts, it’s not hard to imagine how it could save money for schools or even taxpayers. When students are learning in the community, there’s less strain on staff, which could help free up time and resources for other uses. It’s also easy to see how some rural school districts that struggle with talent acquisition would benefit from tapping into the existing human capital in their communities.
Learn Everywhere is a glimpse into the future of a more personalized education system in which students are actively learning in their communities. State policymakers across the country should examine New Hampshire’s program and follow the state’s lead in recognizing that education is more than just direct instruction and textbooks—learning can happen everywhere.
A version of this column first appeared in RealClearEducation.