CONCORD — As the state Board of Education prepares to vote Thursday on a controversial “learn everywhere” program, the associations representing the state’s teachers, administrators, special educators, school boards and principals, along with the League of Women Voters, have all weighed in against the idea promoted by Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut and endorsed by Gov. Chris Sununu.

Thursday’s vote comes after months of public hearings and debate on a plan to allow academic credit for extracurricular activities that meet the approval of the state Board of Education, while bypassing local school boards and educators.

In a letter to the Board of Education released on Tuesday, the top education groups were united in their criticism of Edelblut’s proposal.

“We believe that as proposed, the ‘Learn Everywhere’ rules trample local control, are highly skewed toward wealthy families, grant graduation credits from non-accredited, non-credential sources, and provide little oversight and limited protections to students with disabilities and their families,” the letter states.

It’s signed by Jane Bergeron-Beaulieu, executive director of the Association of Special Education Administrators; Barrett M. Christina, executive director of the School Boards Association; Carl Ladd, executive director of the School Administrators Association; Ken Page, interim executive director, Association of School Principals; and Megan Tuttle, president of the NEA-New Hampshire teachers’ union.

Instead of approving Learn Everywhere, the group of education professionals urges the board to support an existing program known as Extended Learning Opportunities.

The League of Women Voters echoed that theme in their statement, pointing out that “New Hampshire’s public schools already award credit for work done outside the traditional high school program, including Extended Learning Opportunities coordinated by the local high schools.”

“We urge the State Board of Education to support learning opportunities such as these rather than the ill-defined Learn Everywhere proposal.”

Edelblut defends

In a recent interview, Edelblut defended Learn Everywhere as a way of standardizing extracurricular credit opportunities across the state, using the Women in Technology internship program at BAE as an example.

“I’ve got 24 young women working at BAE for 16 weeks. They come out of school at 1 p.m. and go over to BAE for a program. They have a tremendous experience, getting exposed to technology and learning all kinds of different things,” says the commissioner.

“When I did an informal survey of the educators who were there, there was one school that was granting the students credit, but the majority of schools were granting no credit to the students. So it either is learning or it isn’t learning. Why is it that one school allows the student to get engineering credit working at BAE, and other schools don’t recognize that?”

The problem, according to critics of the program, is that approval of credit will be out of the hands of the local school districts that are accountable for the quality of the high school diploma that is granted.

Edelblut says those fears are misplaced, because the decisions will be made by equally competent educators at the state Department of Education, based on a rigorous application process.

“The Office of Instructional Support at DOE would be responsible for accrediting the programs because we want to make sure the students are getting good learning opportunities as well,” says Edelblut. “And that office is staffed with individuals who have worked for decades in the New Hampshire public education system. They have the ability to evaluate a program and determine if good learning is taking place.”

Local control at issue

The coalition of education officials opposing the new program calls it a violation of local control, stating that, “Learn Everywhere breaches the authority of school boards and communities to determine the qualifications for credit-bearing courses and ignores the teacher credentialing process and school accreditation procedure that the state administers, trampling New Hampshire’s longstanding tradition of local control.”

Edelblut says such criticism ignores the “guardrails” that will be in place to ensure the quality of any course or activity accepted for high school credit.

”They have to get approved by the state Board of Education,” he said. “The program and faculty have to be vetted. It has the right kind of guardrails. We don’t want to credential programs that are not effective for students.”

According to the Department of Education, activities that could become eligible for academic credit include “an aspiring actor, dancer, or musician performing in an arts program; a student receiving after-school math tutoring at the Boys and Girls Club; or a part-time internship at a local manufacturing company that leads to acquired skills.”

“Learn Everywhere offers New Hampshire students a 21st century educational system that extends well beyond the four walls of a classroom,” said Gov. Chis Sununu.

“Bolstering innovative proposals such as Learn Everywhere, which recognize that a one-size fits all approach does not work for every student, is key to the success of our children. This program opens up a myriad of opportunities for students in New Hampshire to pursue educational paths that encourage their passion to learn and best fit their needs.”

Vote on rules

Edelblut presented the initial rule proposal in December, followed by public hearings in February and March. The vote Thursday will be on the final rules.

If the State Board approves the rules Thursday, they’ll be sent to the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (JLCAR) for review. If the BOE does not approve the rules, they’ll be sent back to the Department of Education.

Once submitted to JCLAR, the committee will consider the proposed rules at its next meeting. If opponents of the program fail to sway the vote on the Board of Education on Thursday, they can be expected to take their case to JLCAR as early as June 21.