Imagine an education system where we go beyond school choice, where we give families a choice over courses. Not simply the courses available in their schools, but every conceivable course that could be offered – languages such as Chinese, technical courses such as welding, rigorous academic courses such as Advanced Placement calculus, or even music from Julliard.
Such options allow us to tap into student abilities and interests that we otherwise may never have known even existed. We unlock potential and create opportunities. Technology makes this possible. Every school, or for that matter every living room, has access to an unlimited number of courses. All that is required is for states and school districts to open the digital spigots so students can access them.
Louisiana has become a national trailblazer in this effort by providing a record number of students with course options. And its success has attracted attention across the country. On February 3, Louisiana Assistant Superintendent Ken Bradford testified before a U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee on his state’s accomplishments, including details on the rollout of the Louisiana’s Course Choice Program.
The following is an excerpt from the written testimony Bradford submitted for the hearing:
Louisiana Course Access
Ensuring our students have access to the appropriate coursework is necessary to make Jump Start work. Louisiana’s education legislative reform package in 2012 included student Course Access legislation. Course Access (called Course Choice in our state) enables Louisiana families and students to select from hundreds of online and face-to-face courses not traditionally offered by high schools and middle schools. In this age of innovation in education, we can’t accept these limitations on the growth of our children. If Louisiana and the rest of the nation are to compete in the 21st century, we have to get beyond the limitations of the traditional schoolhouse and provide each student with an education that meets with their vision of life beyond 12th grade.
Course Access is a critical component of Louisiana Believes, our state’s plan to allow every student a pathway to college and a professional career. These Course Access courses offer students opportunities to pursue college coursework, Advanced Placement courses, and career training that prepare them for opportunities after high school. Louisiana high school students now have access to hundreds of dual enrollment courses at the state’s four-year universities. Course Access also allows middle and high school students the ability to earn course credits via the Internet. The state has over 20 online providers that offer an array of courses geared to preparing students for 2-year and 4-year college.
Students are also gaining access to career courses leading to valuable Industry-Based Credentials through the Louisiana Community and Technical College System campuses. There are thousands of student enrollments through the LCTCS including Welding, Occupational Orientation and Safety, Oxyfuel Systems, NCCER Core Training (construction), General Electrical System Diagnosis, and Introduction to Industrial Instrumentation. Other course providers include LSU, districts, Florida Virtual School, Sparx Welding.
Louisiana students now have access to:
- Foreign language courses impossible to staff and offer in rural areas;
- Career and technical education courses culminating in industry-valued certifications for
high-paying jobs (e.g., welding);
- AP and college courses to get a head start on a college degree (e.g., Bard College offers
liberal arts seminars for high school kids in New Orleans);
- ACT prep courses to increase chances of qualifying for a state scholarship; and
- Math courses using Khan Academy.
Louisiana’s Course Access legislation passed with – and continues to enjoy – bipartisan support. We’re seeing broad support for course access around the country, from Texas to Utah, Florida, Rhode Island and Minnesota.
Thanks in part to these reforms, in the past 3 years Louisiana student achievement has seen nation-leading improvement:
- For the 2014-2015 school year, students have enrolled in 20,000 courses to date through Course Choice, an increase from 2,362 course enrollments in the 2013-2014 program pilot.
- Thousands of students in Louisiana are currently pursuing a high school diploma through one of 34 approved Jump Start graduation pathways. Jump Start Regional Teams are currently developing 20 additional pathways to submit for approval this spring.
- Data from the College Board shows the number of Louisiana students scoring 3 or higher on Advanced Placement (AP®) exams, earning college credit, has increased 24.6 percent, the highest in the nation from 2013 to 2014. The rising number of students participating in AP is leading to dramatic increases for African-American students, who have realized increases of more than 30 percent in tests scoring 3 or higher from 2013 to 2014, and 89 percent increase over the last two years. Likewise, the number of African-American high school students taking AP® tests increased 137 percent over the last two years.
- Research from Columbia University shows that many students who otherwise had not planned to take the ACT, especially those from low-income backgrounds, score unexpectedly well when given access to the test. Since Louisiana began requiring all public high school students to take the ACT series in 2013, the state has seen a dramatic increase in the number of seniors earning qualifying scores for a state scholarship. The number of seniors earning a qualifying score has increased by more than 6,000 since 2012.