NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Course Choice Policies

February 11, 2014

"Course choice" policies expand options for students, says Thomas Arnett, a research fellow of education at the Clayton Christensen Institute.

Over the last few years, Florida, Texas, Utah, Michigan and Louisiana have begun using "course choice" policies, providing state funds for students to take individual classes from both public and private entities. Several of these courses are offered online, while some use the traditional classroom format.

These policies open the door to a wide array of classes to which students may otherwise lack access, be they electives or AP courses or foreign language classes. Even for schools that do offer many of these classes, not all students will be able to take the courses at the time offered by their individual school. By employing course choice, students have more options and can take those classes from an outside provider.

Concerns have emerged over the quality of these outside courses, but Arnett offers a way to deal with that potential pitfall: getting more information into the hands of the "buyers" of these courses -- students and parents.

  • Independent entities should measure the efficacy of course providers and the level of student learning in these classes. All of this data should be provided to the public.
  • A review system -- not just from experts, but also from users -- would provide more comprehensive information to parents and students. or Angie's List would be good models for this, as they provide detailed and personalized reviews rather than solely standardized measures.
  • Funding for these courses should be distributed based on all of this information. Paying course providers based on performance rather than number of enrollees would incentivize teacher performance.

By instituting these types of information systems, states can offer students greater choice with confidence that measures are in place to incentivize high-quality classes and teaching.

Source: Thomas Arnett, "Creating a Good Course Choice Market," Education Next, January 31, 2014.


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