Education Week - April 5, 2017 - 7
Course Access: A Different Way to Expand School Choice?
Some states already
offer the option
Plans to expand school choice from
President Donald Trump, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos,
and Congress have largely focused
on high-profile measures like vouchers and tax-credit scholarships. But
there's another option for the Trump
administration to promote, one that's
supported in multiple sections of the
Every Student Succeeds Act and that
many states are already using.
Course choice, also known as
course access, allows for parents
and students to select various preapproved courses beyond what their
districts normally offer. The courses,
many of which are taught online,
can include everything from university classes and SAT preparation to
DeVos highlighted course choice in
an interview earlier this year with
Town Hall, a conservative news website. And one of her early hires at the
U.S. Department of Education, Michael Brickman, wrote about the benefits of course choice when he worked
at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute,
a Washington think tank that supports educational choice.
States can choose to set aside 3 percent of their Title I money under the
"direct student services" provision of
ESSA for course choice, among other
programs. States could also potentially use Title IV block grants authorized (but not yet funded) for states
to provide well-rounded educational
programs and school improvement
programs under Title I to boost
"It's something that I think DeVos
could make a very big difference on.
She could just talk about it," said Max
Eden, a senior fellow at the right-leaning Manhattan Institute. "There is no
political risk to pushing it. And there
is only credit for encouraging it."
A Complex Course of Action
But there are challenges related to
course choice that several states and
districts have faced. These include
the quality of the courses themselves, decisions on building appropriate funding mechanisms, barriers
to access because of a limited teacher
workforce or limited internet access,
and the difficulty of tracking student
performance in the courses offered.
John Watson, the founder of Evergreen Education Group, a research
and consulting firm, said course
choice can be a "tremendously powerful" tool to help a variety of students
access such courses as advanced calculus and world languages that they
otherwise couldn't take.
But, he said, "I think it's far more
complex than school choice. ... You
hold the possibility of very rapidly
upending funding and accountability
mechanisms that are very much built
around schools and districts, and not
individual course providers. Schools
are more than just a collection of
Photos by Jerome Pollos for Education Week
By Andrew Ujifusa
& Liana Loewus
FROM TOP: Senior Todd Ott
takes notes in a dual-credit
class at Prairie High School in
Cottonwood, Idaho. Through
Idaho's course-choice model,
all 7th through 12th graders
have $4,125 to spend on any
high school- or college-creditbearing class they choose.
In rural Cottonwood, the coursechoice program enables many
students to take courses they
wouldn't otherwise be able to
take, proponents say.
courses kids are taking."
Defining course choice itself can
be tricky. Reports from the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a
research and advocacy group founded
by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush that
supports course access, and Evergreen
Education list 15 states that offer
course choice in some form.
Although most programs are still
relatively small, their size and scope
vary. Arizona's online instruction program, for example, enrolled 46,900 individual students.
How the money flows (and how
much there is) also varies. In DeVos'
home state of Michigan, for example,
online providers set the cost of individual courses, although payment
must be made regardless of whether
a student completes the course.
Helping Postsecondary Outcomes
Idaho has been experimenting
with course-access models for several
years now. Its newest program, Fast
Forward, provides a window into the
challenges and opportunities in providing such course options.
Fast Forward began this school
year, and uses a simple funding structure: Every 7th through 12th grader
now has $4,125 to spend on approved
high school and college-credit-bearing
courses of his or her choice.
Students can select overload
courses, which are high school classes
that go beyond a student's regular
courseload, or dual-credit courses,
which offer college and high school
credits simultaneously. Students
can also take college-credit-bearing
exams, such as Advanced Placement,
International Baccalaureate, and professional-certification tests for such
varied fields as welding and nursing.
The Fast Forward program is part
of ongoing "statewide efforts to really focus on how do we get more
kids to graduate and go on to some
postsecondary endeavor," said Matt
McCarter, the director of student
engagement, career, and technical
readiness for the Idaho education
department. Unlike in some other
states, the Idaho course-choice funds
can only be used for advancement-
not for remediation or credit recovery.
The legislature appropriated
$6 million for the program for fiscal
year 2017. The state education department estimates that it will cost
closer to $11 million for the year,
however, given that about 25,000 students are participating. The state's
rainy-day fund will back up the excess cost.
At Westside High School in Dayton,
Idaho, nearly all students are taking
advantage of the Fast Forward funds,
according to Principal Tyler Teleford.
He said that's in part because a majority of teachers there are certified
to teach dual-credit courses-a push
that began even before Fast Forward.
Students across the state attending
schools without certified dual-credit
teachers have the option of taking online courses through the Idaho Digital Learning Academy, a state-run
Overall, the Fast Forward program
has been well-received, said Dave
Harbison, the communications director for the Idaho Education Association. "We don't have any evidence
on the back end yet that it's really
been successful, but as it ramps up it
seems to be going well."
But the Idaho program does come
with risks. Students who fail a course
using Fast Forward dollars cannot
tap into their aid again until they
pay for a class out of pocket. A failing
grade also goes on a student's permanent college record.
"I don't want to push it and say
it's right for every kid, because it's
not," said Suzi Quintal, a counselor
at Prairie Senior High School in Cottonwood, Idaho.
And sometimes students who take
overload courses and get too far
ahead can feel unmotivated by their
junior or senior year, said Teleford:
"I've seen grades plummet."
In addition, the program can put
pressure on already-overworked
school counselors, who must communicate with families about course options and help keep students on track.
It's clear that some districts are
better-equipped to support students
in the program than others. But according to the Idaho education department, initial evidence suggests
that middle-income districts are taking part in the program more often
than wealthier districts.
"It's great. It means [it's helping] the middle-class families who
... would otherwise be struggling to
send kids to college," said Tina Polishchuk, who coordinates the program.
Louisiana also has a high-profile
course-choice program, in which
about 25,000 students are participating. The state has funded it at
$7.5 million, divided proportionally
among all public schools depending
on their enrollments in grades 7-12.
Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat,
is advocating for another $10 million
to be added during the upcoming legislative session.
Students can take classes from approved public and private universities, technical colleges, the Florida
Virtual School and other online providers, and even business and industry groups, such as Associated Builders and Contractors.
In both Idaho and Louisiana, state
education department officials say
the prospect of being able to use
federal dollars toward course choice
wouldn't change their existing programs much. But it might allow for
some additional services.
Ken Bradford, the assistant superintendent for the Louisiana education department's office of content,
said the direct-student-services
funds could help bring foreign-language classes to elementary schools
and algebra to middle schools. And
it might pay for tutoring across the
grade levels. "But our state coursechoice program would probably be at
a maintenance level," he said.
'Where We Need to Go'
Regardless of where the money
comes from, Cynthia Posey, the legislative director for the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, said course providers must be closely vetted up front.
"We don't have a problem with children getting quality instruction. But
not all instruction is created equal,"
In New Mexico, the state's online
course-access program has allowed
more Hispanic children in particular
to take AP courses, said Chris Ruszkowski, the state's deputy secretary
of education for policy and programs.
The state also is engaging its top
teachers in creating course content.
But right now, although the state
collects completion rates and grades
for IDEAL, the state's course-access
program, parents and the general
public in New Mexico don't know,
for example, whether students using
course-access money to take Advanced Placement classes are passing
AP exams at a lower or higher rate
than students in other AP course formats. Ruszkowski sees tackling that
issue as a next step for IDEAL.
"That is not data that New Mexico
has traditionally collected and reported. But I do think that is where
we need to go," Ruszkowski said
In its draft ESSA plan, New Mexico
does plan to use the direct-studentservices set-aside for course access
for dual-credit and credit-recovery
courses, among other programs.
EDUCATION WEEK | April 5, 2017 | www.edweek.org | 7
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - April 5, 2017
Education Week - April 5, 2017
ENDREW F. RULING
High Court Ruling Firms Up Goal Posts On Spec. Ed. Rights
Teachers Not Shying From Political Topics
New Dimension to Kansas’ Funding Puzzle
Title II Funds Facing the Ax Under Trump
School Rape Case Inflames Immigration Fight
News in Brief
States Get More Leeway on Identifying ‘Dropout Factories’
Course Access: A Different Way To Expand School Choice?
Sydney Bruner, a junior at Prairie High School in Cottonwood, Idaho, studies for a class presentation. The state is one of several that offer course choice.
No Link Between Test and Principals’ Success, Study Shows
Teacher-Prep Slow to Embrace Social-Emotional Learning
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Digital Tools Target ESSA Parent-Engagement Mandate
After-School, Summer Learning Efforts at Budget Risk
Special Education Rulings Put High Court Nominee on Hot Seat
Greg Richmond: Why I’m Worried About the Future of Charter Schools
Scott Laband: We Must Not Abandon Teacher Evaluation
Kenneth Ward: Mentoring: A Common-Sense Solution for At-Risk Youths
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Van Schoales: The New Teacher-Evaluation Laws: Education’s Pyrrhic Victory?
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - School Rape Case Inflames Immigration Fight
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - 2
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - 3
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - News in Brief
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - Report Roundup
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - States Get More Leeway on Identifying ‘Dropout Factories’
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - Sydney Bruner, a junior at Prairie High School in Cottonwood, Idaho, studies for a class presentation. The state is one of several that offer course choice.
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - No Link Between Test and Principals’ Success, Study Shows
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - 9
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - Teacher-Prep Slow to Embrace Social-Emotional Learning
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Digital Tools Target ESSA Parent-Engagement Mandate
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - 12
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - 13
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - 14
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - Special Education Rulings Put High Court Nominee on Hot Seat
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - 16
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - 17
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - 18
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - 19
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - 20
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - 21
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - Scott Laband: We Must Not Abandon Teacher Evaluation
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - Kenneth Ward: Mentoring: A Common-Sense Solution for At-Risk Youths
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - Letters
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - 25
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - 27
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - Van Schoales: The New Teacher-Evaluation Laws: Education’s Pyrrhic Victory?
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - CW1
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - CW2
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - CW3
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - CW4