Last week, ExcelinEd’s Digital Learning Now initiative released the 2014 Digital Learning Report Card.
Each week, we are sharing a state story from the Report Card on the EdFly Blog. These posts highlight progress and share success stories from individual states across the nation. Stories are based on interviews with policymakers and stakeholders and are published in collaboration between Digital Learning Now and Getting Smart.
Today, we look at Course Access in Louisiana.
A few years ago, Louisiana recognized a great need to give all students access to inspiring courses and educators. In response, the state pioneered the Louisiana Course Choice Program (also known as Course Access).
This began in 2012 when Louisiana lawmakers passed HB 976 to address multiple elements of education reform, including Course Access. Louisiana’s program originally targeted students in low-performing schools, but the program has since expanded to serve all Louisiana students. After three years of experience and improvements, the Louisiana Course Choice Program today serves as a national model.
Expanding Options While Maintaining Accountability. Senator Conrad Appel, Chairman of the Louisiana Senate Education Committee explained, “The overall goal was to reform education top to bottom with the thought that the old way of doing business was not successful. We wanted to highlight three principles across the board – accountability, higher expectations and parental choice.”
Louisiana students can use the Course Access to choose from hundreds of online and face-to-face courses offered by over 37 active providers. Families use a simple statewide online catalog of free courses to access learning opportunities that may be unavailable or underserved at their current school. Through the program, students are able to take everything from Advanced Placement French to ACT Prep to vocational classes.
Both providers and courses are thoroughly vetted to ensure quality. The Louisiana Department of Education manages the application and selection process for course providers, each of which must be approved by the Board of Secondary and Elementary Education. Thanks to this process, the state has become known as a leader for implementing high-quality courses and accountability for the course providers. In 2014, the Louisiana Course Choice Program was highlighted in ExcelinEd’s white paper, “Leading in an Era of Change, Making the Most of State Course Access Opportunities.”
In 2014-15, the hard work of State Superintendent of Education John White and the Louisiana Department of Education led to student enrollments in more than 19,000 courses, greater than a 700 percent increase in one year.
Leading the Way. In recent years, Louisiana has learned that the critical challenges once a Course Access program is operational are:
- Maintaining quality of the courses during the school year and
- Communicating to school leaders, school counselors and stakeholders the educational, funding and portfolio benefits Course Access offers.
In order for any Course Access policy to be successful, students and parents must be aware their options. Counselors must be trained and knowledgeable of courses and providers so they can help students select the right courses. Schools must integrate the program into their school enterprise models to provide opportunities for all students. Lastly, state departments of education must create accountability models that ensure high-quality providers and courses.
About the author
Erin Lockett is a Senior Policy Analyst at ExcelinEd, focusing on Course Access in the Innovation Policy set. Her work includes Innovation sessions and annual Pre-Summit workshops at the National Summit on Education Reform, convenings, thought leadership, and white papers on Course Access and Personalized Learning. She graduated from George Washington University’s Trachtenberg School for Public Policy and Public Administration with a Master’s in Public Administration, focusing on nonprofit management.