The debate about the next wave of educational choice – allowing students to select not just their schools but individual courses – is likely to surface again in Florida, which already has a course choice program on the books.
The Legislature created the Florida Approved Courses and Tests Initiative in 2013. Under the current law, the initiative is set to go live during the 2015-16 school year, but more legislative changes would likely have to be made before then, including a system for funding the courses.
While the effort has gotten a lot of press because it would allow high school students to take Massive Open Online Courses for credit, there’s more to it than that. Some Florida school districts have already begun experimenting with MOOCs.
But making the leap from using them as a type of course content (the way some teachers might use Khan Academy lectures) to treating them like a full-fledged education provider, and figuring out how to fund, regulate and hold MOOCs accountable can create a broader platform for course choice.
One of the architects of last year’s law, Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, said the goal is not just to offer MOOCs for credit. It’s to bring in new providers that break the traditional mold.
Imagine students selecting a mix of classes tailored to their interests, some online, some in-person, and moving through them at their own pace. They may be taught by Florida-certified teachers, or adjuncts approved by districts.
“We’re moving away from the JC Penney model of education, to the Amazon model,” Brandes said. “We have an old institution that now has to respond to the changing marketplace.”
Last year’s legislation led to a study by the Florida Department of Education that could serve as a road map for tackling some of the thorny questions ahead.
The new courses could be funded through the state’s existing model for virtual education, but lawmakers would need to tweak some definitions. They’d need to figure out testing arrangements, since the law limits MOOCs for credit to subjects like algebra and biology, which come with mandated end-of-course exams. They may also need to expand eligibility for online courses.
The report also notes that “K-12 students experience more success if their local schools provide face-to-face support for their students taking MOOCs. This could include providing learning coaches, teachers, aides and other classroom resources.” A new report released Thursday by Bellwether Education Partners makes a similar point, suggesting a lack of “interpersonal supports” could explain some high school students’ struggles in early experiments with using MOOCs for remediation.
Course choice wasn’t an issue in the recently concluded legislative session, which focused on an overhaul of the state’s accountability system and a series of other major school choice initiatives. But it’s not likely to stay off radar for long.
Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, who sponsored last year’s virtual education legislation in the House, said lawmakers would likely look at the necessary legislative changes next year.
“I think it’s going to happen,” he said. “I think that it is going to require some tweaks, and a change in our mindset.”