Guest post by Steven Baule, Superintendent at Muncie Community Schools, Indiana: School choice as we conceptualize it currently may be a thing of the past. Instead, course choice may become more important (see this overview of the course choice concept). It is no longer enough to have access to the school that the parents want Johnny or Susie to attend. That school now must be willing to allow Johnny to take agriculture courses or Susie to explore Mandarin even though no one else in the school is interested in those courses. Most high schools have a demand driven schedule, meaning that students effectively determine the courses offered in majority rules sort of way. If 20 or so students don’t request a given course, it isn’t offered. However, parents and some legislators are now saying, "hold on, make that available."
Louisiana, for example, created public school "course choice" in 2012 in order to enlarge offerings available to students. According to The Baton Rouge Advocate, this policy has increased the number of African-American students enrolling in dual credit courses by 137% and the number moving directly from high school to college by 16% (read more here) Indiana passed a similar bill in the spring of 2017 allowing for course choice in HEA 1007. Although the method of delivery for courses selected by parents isn’t specified, it does clearly state online delivery is acceptable. Florida, Texas, Utah and Michigan also offer course choice options for families.
The vast majority of these programs are tied to online offerings. As states provide more opportunities for this type of choice, third party course providers have direct access to funding sources traditionally reserved for public schools. Schools must figure out a way to partner with these providers to expand their course catalogs or create their own programs. Some public schools are offering their own programing to compete with vendors. As smaller schools struggle to maintain adequate staffing to teach advanced courses, these third party agreements may help them expand their offerings for all students.