Good Information is the Fuel That Makes Good Policies Like Course Choice Work

Today we move beyond the growing annual celebration of National School Choice Week (and fun pictures from my Education Policy Center friends’ Thursday night event). Now right in front of us stands Digital Learning Day and the growing reminder that we need to expand the notion of school choice to include course choice!

Nearly two years ago now, my senior education policy analyst buddy wrote a paper calling for Colorado to adopt a system of course-level funding. Back then, Utah was the pioneer model for creating such a system to offer students more flexibility and access to quality learning options. Now Louisiana, Florida, and even Michigan are on board with course choice programs, too.

In a nutshell, the idea is to allow some public funds to become portable, directed by the student to choose one or more (mostly online) courses to round out their education. Part of the student’s formula money goes outside the district of enrollment to “purchase” the course(s). What a great idea, but working out some of the details requires a little extra brain power and elbow grease. How do you create incentives for success? How do you effectively share accountability among student, educator, and provider? Etc.

Writing for Education Next, Thomas Arnett identifies another challenge to overcome: poor or inadequate information about the quality of digital courses. Fortunately, he also offers a reasonable three-step solution:

  1. “[W]e need entities that are independent from course providers to measure and certify student learning” — including but not limited to state end-of-course exams
  2. “[W]e need a system for providing both expert and user reviews of course choice options, similar to those available from Consumer Reports,” mentioning Learning List as one emerging possibility
  3. “[C]ourse choice policy should pay course providers not by the number of students they enroll, but by the number of students who complete the course with satisfactory levels of academic achievement”

When it comes to information about online learning, don’t discount the role of local media either. The Center for Education Reform has some advice for “digiformers” based on a newly-released analysis of how key newspapers and other outlets report on issues related to the “digital learning revolution.”

Because when it comes to delivering the best results for students through effective teaching and innovative policies, having good information at the fingertips is crucial — for parents, for policymakers, and for you and me!