Should I Get My Hopes Up about Colorado Course Choice Once More?

Hopes were a little high last May when I offered K-12 online pilot program ideas in the wake of House Bill 1382’s adoption. My Education Policy Center friends have been talking about the promise of Course Choice and course-level funding for a few years now.

It sure would be nice to see Colorado take even a small, clear step in the direction of greater flexibility and student access to learning opportunities. But reading the recently released HB 1382 task force report and its underwhelming recommendations gave me the deep sense that even my modest hopes may have been misplaced.

Sigh. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again…. It’s hard for a kid my age to be patient and persist rather than to quit.

But a new blog series by Evergreen Education Group’s John Watson has helped to fire me up again. Part 1 covers the common basic elements and key policy decisions related to adopting Course Choice. Part 2 explains the difference between having a policy and a program — summarizing the key facets of the seven states’ Course Choice programs.

I told Colorado in June 2013 to wake up and pay attention to Louisiana’s Course Choice program. I’m perfectly fine repeating myself. Look at the Louisiana Course Choice fact sheet, and tell me why we shouldn’t open a very similar door for many Colorado students?

To follow these other states’ lead, Colorado would have to change how students are counted, ensure the funds can be shared among chosen providers, and allow a student’s dollars to be divided further than they can be today. A state office might be needed to oversee and advertise a program. This approach may include some technical challenges, but whose interests would our state be helping by pursuing true Course Choice?

In particular, a significant benefit awaits high schoolers across the state. The opportunity to stay enrolled and participate in the local brick-and-mortar school of their choice, while having a fuller range of courses to select that fits their learning path: whether it’s core or elective; online, blended, or face-to-face; Advanced Placement or remedial; academic or career-oriented. Many may not need the alternative, but for others it would help level the playing field. Students could take ownership by making choices and directing the funding.

No doubt there are careful policy considerations to be given regarding how to implement and phase in Course Choice. But the fact that no significant numbers of policymakers appear to be even talking about this approach is quite startling. While I’m trying to see whether there are any chances to get my hopes up again, I’ll just wait for Part 3 of Mr. Watson’s Course Choice series.