Don’t look now, but a bigger, faster and potentially more far-reaching wave of educational choice is rolling in as we’re still grappling with basic questions about vouchers, tax credit scholarships and charter schools. Lucky for us, a new guide from the Fordham Institute offers a heads up on the complications with “course choice” so its promise can be fully realized.
Released today and authored by Michael Brickman, Fordham’s national policy director, “Expanding the Education Universe: A Fifty-State Strategy for Course Choice” arrives as school choice begins to give way to educational choice on a more fundamental level.
“Rather than asking kids in need of a better shake to change homes, forsake their friends, or take long bus rides, course choice enables them to learn from the best teachers in the state or nation,” Brickman writes. “And it grants them access to an array of course offerings that no one school can realistically gather under its roof.”
To some extent, course choice is already happening. Students in many places can take dual enrollment courses. Florida offers a vast course menu through Florida Virtual School. Louisiana adopted a course choice program two years ago. It’s just a matter of time before other states and/or school districts seize the day in a bigger way, and some, like Florida, are already taking a closer look.
The bottom line: students will increasingly be able to choose a course here and a course there, from an exploding number of providers. That will increasingly be true no matter what school they’re in.
That’s the upside. The downside? All kind of prickly questions have to be tangled with, from funding and access to eligibility and accountability. Brickman offers a rundown of five big ones, with potential directions, complications, tensions and tradeoffs. For example:
Who can be a provider: “Parents and kids will naturally want the widest possible range. Districts, however, will tend to favor tighter limits, whether out of concern for quality control or to minimize competition with their own offerings. States will also have to balance the desire to serve more children with the political headache that inevitably comes when ‘controversial’ course providers are included. Or they may leave such decisions to districts or entrust them to third parties.”
Who pays them: “Does the child’s school district pay the cost? Does the state? The parents? Who decides what price is reasonable? How many kids can take how many such courses? Who controls this money? Who generates it?”
Then there’s this fun one: “What if Molly takes all but one or two of her courses from course providers? Is she still a student of Madison High School? Does it still confer her diploma? Is it still the school’s job to determine whether she has truly fulfilled state or district graduation requirements? If not the school, then who?”
And some thought school choice was complicated.