Editor’s Note: A guest post by Trent Hill of the Pelican Institute. This piece originally appeared at the Pelican Post.
As of the beginning of this year, there were more than 19,000 courses delivered through the Course Choice program in Louisiana, an eight-fold increase1 from the previous year—the program’s first. Louisiana’s education system may not be known for cutting-edge technology, but the Course Choice Program is a departure from the norm in that it is both innovative and successful.
Milton Friedman once said of education, “Education spending will be most effective if it relies on parental choice and private initiative—the building blocks of success throughout our society.” Course Choice is the revolutionary education tool that Louisiana parents and students can use to ensure that they get the high quality classes they deserve, even if the local public school does not offer them.
Students in Louisiana have the chance to use the Course Choice program to enroll in either online or face-to-face classes. The program is not a luxury, nor is it only beneficial to those planning to attend college. For example, in the 2011-12 school year, 106 school sites statewide did not have a teacher on-site who was certified to teach Algebra 1.2 Now, thanks to Course Choice, students can enroll in a course that will allow them to get credit for this class even if there is no teacher at their school with the relevant certification.
Students attending C, D, or F-rated public schools can choose to take classes through Course Choice at no cost. Students attending A and B-rated public schools can enroll in classes through Course Choice provided that the particular class they want to take is not available through their school. This means providing accredited classes from proven providers, online or face-to-face, that students would otherwise simply not have access to.
Education monopolists have committed themselves to opposition of this program, but families all over the state are seeing how well it works—which is why enrollment is skyrocketing. The cost is low, the programs are proven to work, and there is an expansive list of providers and classes to choose from. Providers must also go through an intensive selection and review process according to state education guidelines. The end product is this: providers competing with one another and greater choice in the realm of education means that students and families win.
Dual enrollment is one of the most exciting aspects of Course Choice—giving students the ability to be enrolled in college credit-classes while attending high school. Louisiana ranks forty-ninth in the nation for the percentage of public high school students who receive college credits3. Course Choice can ensure that those who want to are able to get a head start in earning college credits.
For a long time, there has been concern in Louisiana about the number of students with access to high quality education, either because of a lack of options at the high school level or because students are not able to be successful at the college level. Currently, almost half of public schools do not have access to AP courses4. Course Choice means that bright students at schools without AP courses can still take those classes. Test preparation courses are also available through Course Choice, which can help students to boost their test scores. Additionally, high school students aren’t the only ones who are eligible to use Course Choice. Core Academic Courses are innovative programs available to younger students, including foreign languages classes for middle school students and gifted-student programs for elementary school students.
Course Choice isn’t just for the college bound, though. There are intensive remedial courses available for students who are struggling to achieve the grades they need. These classes provide more one-on-one attention for students who are at risk of not graduating. Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses are also available, which involves hands-on coursework, internships, and apprenticeships in a wide range of industries. This is an underutilized educational opportunity in Louisiana and Course Choice is opening the door to a whole new range of opportunities for students.
Course Choice has been attacked by opponents of choice in education as providing options only for the rich, even though the cost of the program is low or sometimes free. They have also attacked the providers, describing them as “profiteers” who are making money off of students. But the truth is that many of the providers are non-profits and even the for-profit ventures often offer money-back guarantees if the student does not achieve the desired results at the end of the course.
Our state legislators may be asked to defund this program by supporters of the status quo. But if Louisiana wants to become a high quality education state, this innovative program could be exactly what is needed. It is a revolution of choice that gives students access to a greater range of high quality educational opportunities.