Look to Course Access to Expand Students’ Horizons

In a September 10, 2014 op-ed in the Chicago Sun-Times, I write about how course access policies offer new horizons to students. In particular, I explore how Michigan implemented course access to expand online learning opportunities for students across the state.

The takeaway? Course access is a powerful tool to make particular courses available to students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to take them. In the case of Donza Worden, who I profile in the piece, this meant taking advanced courses in finance that his small rural high school could not offer. Worden went on to complete college in three years, and then to pursue a career in banking. But online courses can also provide access to more basic courses that colleges expect high school students to take. For example, only 53% of students in Illinois attend a high school where calculus is offered. And in New York City, nearly half of high schools do not offer physics. Course access policies can start to correct these gaps and level the playing field for students who end up attending schools with more limited offerings in such core subject areas.

In essence, course access policies establish state-level programs that provide students with expanded course offerings across learning environments from diverse, accountable providers. These programs promise to offer students expanded curricular programs and alternatives that meet their individual learning needs. Participating students have the right to enroll in qualifying courses outside of their school, receive state funding, and earn full class credit for courses completed through the program. In a report released this July Digital Learning Now!, a national initiative advancing state policies that create a high-quality learning environments, profiles 12 states that have introduced elements of such legislation so far.

In this election season, candidates and lawmakers should take note of this encouraging trend and make haste to build more and better course options for students regardless of zip code.

Read the entire op-ed on how to expand course access policies here.

-Julia Freeland

This first appeared on the blog of the Christensen Institute.

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