Recently, the Foundation for Excellence in Education released a paper about how states across the country are implementing course access programs. Course access programs allow students to direct a portion of their annual per-pupil funding to approved course providers outside of their traditional school and receive credit if they successfully pass the class.
In twelve states and numerous school districts, course access programs are providing students with an opportunity to experience a wider variety of classes than they usually would. In Louisiana, students are using their funds for career and technical certification programs; in Minnesota, students are getting back on track in high school through an online credit recovery program; and students in rural Texas are preparing for the University of Texas through tailored online coursework.
These programs are beneficial not just to students, but to school districts as well. It can be resource-intensive for a school to create a whole class to meet one child’s interests or readiness for advanced coursework. With course access, a student interested in taking AP Calculus could just head to the school’s library and log into any number of courses offered by universities or other providers.
On the flipside, course access programs also offer school districts an opportunity to earn additional revenue. Teachers can create courses that other students from around the state can attend, and schools can charge for them. Schools that have invested in a highly specialized teacher for a foreign language or advanced math or science course can help defray the cost by having that teacher create an online version of his or her courses.
Such a program would do a world of good in Missouri. Most discussions about educational issues in the state usually involve St. Louis and Kansas City, but it’s easy to forget that more than 97 percent of the land area in Missouri is rural. While 476,765 students attend school districts classified as urban, 383,883 students attend school districts with a rural classification.
Students in rural districts often lack access to advanced math and science courses, Advanced Placement courses, diverse foreign languages, and technical skills training. This puts rural students at a disadvantage. A course access program could greatly expand these students’ horizons.
In an increasingly tech-oriented age, course access is an inevitable step. I hope Missouri join states around the country in this emerging trend.