Today’s post was written by guest author Sara Frank Bristow.
As of March 2013, eligible Louisiana students now have the opportunity to select their own online and face-to-face courses from a wide range of private providers through the Course Choice program. Act 2(2012), presents a shift in direction for virtual schooling in Louisiana, whose Department of Education (LDE) has offered supplemental online courses through its Louisiana Virtual School (LVS), which is expected to close at the end of this school year.
Forty-two course providers in 92 locations are approved to offer about 1,500 online, blended, and face-to-face courses through the Course Choice program including K12 Inc., Florida Virtual School, Sylvan, five public school districts and every public college and university in Louisiana. Course Choice offers opportunities for tailored learning pathways to students, especially those in poorly performing schools or whose schools do not offer the desired courses. All course providers are required to support state content standards, common core state standards, and career and technical education (CTE) course guidelines, among other requirements. It relies on a performance-based funding model where 50% of course costs are paid to the provider upon student enrollment and 50% paid upon course completion according to the published course length; providers may still receive 40% if a student eventually completes and receives credit for the course (e.g. prior to leaving the school or graduating).
The student course-level choice model has been implemented in states like Utah and Florida with funding following the student. The Louisiana Course Choice program will remain under scrutiny for some time, as there is as yet no example of a state replacing its state virtual school with such a system, which has then resulted in improved student outcomes.
The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) has authorized each provider for three years, and will monitor and evaluate each one “in a manner in which student achievement is the predominant criterion” – student success on exams and in subsequent career achievement are cited, as are logical course pathways. Providers must show positive student academic gain with proven assessment methods for each course offering as well. Whether the right performance metrics are available, and how they are then applied, will be of great interest to K-12 online learning advocates in the coming years.
Teachers unions challenged the constitutionality of the law, and specifically around the funding. A judge ruled the program unconstitutional, saying that the funding method unconstitutionally diverts public funding to private enterprises. The BESE is moving forward, and registration for school year 2013-14 opened in March.