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Course Access policies focus on equitable learning

iNACOL report offers recommendations to implement policies that help students build college- and career-ready skills

course-accessThe answer to ensuring that all students have equitable access to the courses that will prepare them to be college- and career-ready could be found in a state policy known as Course Access, according to a new report from the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL).

Federal data indicates that only 50 percent of U.S. high schools offer calculus and just 63 percent offer physics, meaning that students in the other 50 percent of schools don’t even have the chance to enroll in these advanced courses. But Course Access policies, funded by public education dollars, would ensure that all students have equal access to the online, blended, and face-to-face educational opportunities that help them become college and career ready.

This lack of equitable K-12 course access persists in college and through to the workforce, according to the report, which notes that minorities and underrepresented student groups traditionally have low access to high school STEM courses, and, therefore, are underrepresented in STEM professional fields.

Students often lose interest in STEM fields as early as middle school, and research shows that sustaining STEM interest through high school is a big predictor of college and workforce STEM participation. But Course Access can change that by offering consistent learning opportunities that sustain student interest in STEM.

(Next page: How Course Access expands opportunities for all students)

Classes offered through Course Access pass state academic and quality standards and can be offered in online, face-to-face, and technical formats.

Students could opt for Course Access if they want to take a specialized class, such as Mandarin Chinese, not offered at their school, which is often the case for students in rural districts. In addition, Course Access is an option for students who wish to take Advanced Placement or other college-level courses not offered in their district.

This approach also offers potential for increased personalized learning strategies.

The report outlines two recommendations to help state education leaders craft policies to address sustainability, equity, and funding as they relate to Course Access.

Address quality and accountability

“Courses must be reviewed for alignment to academic standards and quality of instructional design and must be evaluated for successful student learning outcomes,” according to the report.

Data on outcomes should be used to evaluate program effectiveness, and these evaluations should, as recommended by the report, include “multiple outcomes-based performance indicators to provide transparency and accountability.”

Establish sustainable, performance-based funding models

This action “is critical,” according to the report.

“The most sustainable funding model for Course Access is one in which the funding follows the student at the course level,” the authors note. “An appropriation-based funding model may be more politically viable because it avoids potential pushback from local districts, which prefer not to watch limited education funds follow their students to a different provider. However, such a model is not a good long-term solution because it relies on year-after-year support from legislative appropriators. To truly sustain Course Access, education funding should follow the child enrolled in the courses, although a portion of per-pupil funding (10-25 percent) should stay with local districts to support administration and counseling functions.”

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Laura Ascione

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