K-12 Course Choice: The Next Evolution in School Choice?

A fundamental tenet of parental choice in education is that students’ learning opportunities should be personalized rather than limited based on where their parents can afford to live. Online (or virtual) learning takes this concept even further by removing both geographical and temporal constraints.

This month The Evergreen Education Group released its 11th annual Keeping Pace with K-12 Digital Learning report. Findings were presented at the iNACOL [International Association for K-12 Online Learning ] Blended and Online Learning Symposium in Orlando.

Online and blended learning (a combination of traditional in-classroom and online learning) are important and growing parental choice options. According to Keeping Pace approximately 315,000 students in 35 states are attending fully online schools, an increase of more than 6 percent since the 2012-13 school year (p. 5).

The desire for greater personalization in learning is likely a large reason why.

In the typical classroom setting governed by seat-time and other requirements students must try to master the knowledge and skills they need based on someone else’s schedule. Online learning turns that dynamic on its head since students learn at their own pace, taking more time to master course material if they need it but not being held back if they don’t.

In other words, individual student achievement—not what time the bell rings—is the driving force behind solid online learning programs (as opposed to programs that simply treat technology as a faddish classroom add-on).

Another encouraging trend is the growth of online course choice policies.

Fully 11 states allow students to choose the courses they need and want from a variety of providers, according to Keeping Pace (pp. 59-63). States with the best programs include Florida and Utah for encouraging  a variety of providers and course options for students, ensuring parents and students, not school districts, are in charge of choosing, and for funding providers based on successful student completions, not seat time.

While still in its relative infancy, K-12 online course choice represents a welcome antidote to the one-size-fits-all approach to education typified by efforts such as Common Core “national” standards.

Course choice also carries significant potential to improve the overall quality of academic courses by introducing competition, which carries with it powerful pressure to provide high-quality, low-priced offerings. Such competition would also go a long way toward minimizing the sheer volume of courses with inflated titles (not to mention price tags) and deflated rigor.

Vicki E, Alger is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and Senior Fellow and Director of the Women for School Choice Project at the Independent Women’s Forum. She is the author of the Independent book, Failure: The Federal Misedukation of America’s Children.
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