Louisiana Successfully Revamps Course Choice: Pay Attention, Colorado!

After an earlier hiccup left the innovative program’s status in doubt, I’m excited to see creative Louisiana leaders get the go-ahead for a new plan to launch Course Choice in 2013-14. The state’s Board of Education yesterday approved $2 million in funding for a pilot program that enables secondary students in schools graded C or below to take an approved course from one of 40 different public or private providers. (Other students are only eligible to select a course if their school doesn’t offer the subject.)

Three of the leading national advocates in the digital education arena — the Clayton Christensen Institute, Digital Learning Now, and iNACOL — teamed up to celebrate the news, explaining what the program really offers:

Students will be able to select courses from a state-managed catalog. Although some will be offered entirely online, many will use a blended learning model to combine the best of face-to-face instruction with the best of online learning. Students will have access to courses they might not otherwise be able to take. Through innovative career and technical education courses, internships and apprenticeships, course choice programs help motivate students to graduate high school on time or early – and often times with college credits. [link added]

The Louisiana Supreme Court earlier ruled that the program’s reliance on the general public school funding formula made it unconstitutional. All the students who previously signed up for Course Choice were required to re-enroll. Money state Education Superintendent John White helped to scrape together from a special oil and gas trust fund has now been approved.

To be sure such a program will start off small, and there is no guarantee of success. But it’s hard to dispute that Course Choice in some form is part of the future wave that customizes student learning based on mastery of material rather than rigid old seat-time rules. Now we have someone besides Utah to model after, in pursuit of student self-blended learning options. Part of Colorado’s own digital learning policy road map and all that, right?

Louisiana definitely outpaces Colorado on this front. If true Course Choice — student-directed, not district-controlled — were in the Senate Bill 213 “Grand Bargain,” it might be a sign of a more palatable tax increase rather than the light-on-reform approach before us today. But it represents one of those innovative strategies to promote educational opportunity that Colorado ought to revisit if this year’s tax hike initiative fails to recover from its slow start.