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Let Me Repeat Myself Once Again: Colorado Needs Course Choice

It has been said far more than once: “Repetition is the key to learning.” Given the number of times I’ve been told the importance of cleaning my room and eating my vegetables, my parents are firm believers in this statement.

But hey, little Eddie gets it, too. Sometimes you have to make the same point over and over again — in new and creative ways, or just to new audiences. The lesson applies today to the subject of Course Access, or Course Choice.

Back in 2012, my Education Policy Center friends published the paper “Online Course-Level Funding: Toward Colorado Secondary Self-Blended Learning Options.” The idea? Allow education funds to be unbundled so students can take a portion of the money to complete their learning path with their own selection of quality course providers.

At the time Minnesota, and especially Utah, were the models for Colorado to study and follow in order to ensure a highly flexible and student-centered system of funding and delivering education. Many kids get all they need from their home secondary school — whether it’s traditional public, charter, or private; brick-and-mortar, online, or blended.

I told everyone a year later (2013) that the time was ripe for Colorado to follow the lead of Louisiana, another state that leaped to the head of the class in this area of Course Choice. Earlier this year, my hopes were raised at some potential real progress in this area.

The repeated question for Colorado is: Are we primarily about funding school districts, or about funding students?

Lessons learned from other states’ experience shows there’s a real demand among students and families to have portable shares of funds they can use to purchase a foreign language or advanced math course of the type that’s either not available or doesn’t serve them well in their current setting. The student may be bored and seeks the chance to accelerate her education, or he may need some credit recovery to catch up and graduate on time.

Yes, other states can be green. Why not Colorado?

That illustration comes from a great new Education Next piece by Julie Young, founder and CEO of the Florida Virtual Academy. She not only makes a strong case for the potential of Course Choice policies that promote equity by better reaching individual students’ learning needs, but also reminds that what comes after the policy’s adoption matters even more:

Course Access doesn’t stop when the governor of a state signs a bill into law. The hard and exciting work is just beginning for departments of education, districts, and schools. Just like successfully adopting blended learning requires more than just unpacking and handing out tablets, successful Course Access needs thoughtful planning and execution.

Young hones in particularly on three districts — one from Texas, two from Louisiana — that demonstrate the real promise:

  • In the Dallas area, the Plano School District has created a sustainable course choice model “offering flexibility for Olympians staying on course for graduation, a path to early graduation for the highly motivated, and a means of ensuring that students can take the courses they need, when they need them”;
  • Suburban Ascension Parish has built a thriving partnership with manufacturing businesses, “giving students the chance to be trained during high school, graduating with a diploma and a respected industry credential”; and
  • A rural Louisiana school district, Winn Parish, overcame its previous inability to provide foreign language instruction now gives students access to high-quality Spanish and French courses to meet state requirements.

Interestingly, the Foundation for Excellence in Education also recently released a guide to how school districts “can make the most of Course Access,” featuring the same three districts and seven others.

Say, wouldn’t it be nice if the next edition featured one or two Colorado districts? I know, you’ve heard it all before. But it’s for the sake of your learning. Correct that: It’s for the sake of every student’s learning.