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iNACOL Report: Online Learning Can Close The Opportunity Gap

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Course Access programs allow students to participate in part-time online learning. Half a dozen states have taken steps to expand access, particularly for high school students, to advanced courses, electives, world languages, and career and technical courses. According to a report issued by The International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), Course Access, "Is a mechanism by which students can gain equitable access to a variety of courses in a programmatic effort to increase access, quality and equity in public education."

Most school districts report that they currently have, or plan on adding part-time online learning options. Course Access takes that idea a step further; it is state initiatives that authorize a group of diverse providers, ranging from individual teachers to national organizations, to provide public school students with expanded course offerings.

The iNACOL policy brief, Course Access: Equitable Opportunities for College and Career Ready Students provides an overview of Course Access as a state policy solution to opportunity and achievement gaps in K-12 education. The brief suggests that Course Access can easily and affordably extend access to quality college and career preparation to every high school student in the country. For example, few high schools can afford to offer all 32 Advanced Placement courses and 6 world languages, but with Course Access it is provided and cost effective. In addition to these suggestions the brief includes model legislative principles for state Course Access legislation.

The iNACOL report recommends that Course Access initiatives should prioritize poorly served students, should use a rigorous review and authorization process, and should be based on sustainable funding that encourages completion and achievement.

"The funding model should allow for progression and funding based on demonstrated competency, not seat time," and according to the brief, "Courses should have clear, explicit, mastery-based learning outcomes, and the funding model should reward providers for student attainment of these outcomes."

While districts should not be able to limit student learning options, the expansion of online learning options requires that students are connected to guidance and support services. The iNACOL brief mentions options that could be used in tandem:

  • Local support: The student's home school may retain a portion (e.g., 10-25%) of the student's funding for the course to cover a relative share of costs for services such as assessments, counseling, custodial, and administrative functions. (For example, in a state with an average expenditure of $9,000, one of six classes would be worth $1500, 85% of that would be $1275).

  • Online support: One key lesson learned in Louisiana was the importance of the counseling program set up to provide technical assistance to school counselors, students, and parents. Course Access program counselors work with school counselors to make them aware of the program and course options, and to ensure that courses selected by students and families are educationally appropriate, logistically feasible, and keep the student on track to an on-time graduation. (For more, see DLN paper on Guiding and Personalizing College & Career Readiness.)

The release of iNACOL's brief follows Digital Learning Now's Leading in an Era of Change: Making the Most of State Course Access Programs released last summer. This white paper recommends that multi-state networks share the burden of course reviews, while encouraging reciprocity of teachers and approved providers across state lines.

A group of Stanford Students developed A Framework for Selecting Quality Course Providers at Competitive Prices which builds on Louisiana's market-oriented pricing strategy.

Ken Bradford, leads Louisiana's innovative Course Access program. He said the goal is, "To provide high-quality educational options to students in both rural and urban areas of the state that currently do not have access to the classes they need to prepare for college or a career."

For more on Course Access, see:

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