Districts Leading the Way on Course Access

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Today's guest blog post comes from our friends at the Foundation for Excellence in Education and EducationCounsel and relays information about the Course Access programs. This information was initially made available to the AASA Large Countywide and Suburban District Consortium, and we felt our general membership would appreciate the information, as well.

Districts across the country face a host of pressures to meet the needs of today’s students and harness the opportunities of the 21st century. Superintendents need to think about meeting new rigorous college and career ready standards, customizing and personalizing learning experiences, closing long-standing opportunity and achievement gaps, creating advancement opportunities for teachers, and leveraging innovative technologies – not to mention stretching tight budgets. Navigating these currents requires creativity, flexibility, and a willingness to do things differently. New “Course Access” programs present an opportunity for states and districts to do just that.   

Course Access is a state-level policy that provides public school students with expanded course offerings across learning environments from diverse, accountable providers.  Participating students have a right to enroll in qualifying courses and earn full class credit for courses completed through the program. Many Course Access opportunities are delivered online, but some states also allow for in-person and blended Course Access options. 

Patrice Pujol, Superintendent in Ascension Parish, Louisiana, explains, “Districts today have to think creatively about budgets, including how to address a growing array of student interests and needs in the most effective and efficient way possible. That requires you to think outside the four walls of your school and to consider other partners in the effort.” Ascension is working with a local industry certification provider and utilizing Louisiana’s Course Access program as a cost-effective and efficient way to provide new career and technical education courses to its students to give them a new opportunity to graduate with a high school diploma and an industry-recognized credential. 

To illuminate how leading districts are making these programs work, the Foundation for Excellence in Education and EducationCounsel recently released Leading in an Era of Change: On the GroundIt profiles nine districts and one charter management organization across seven states utilizing Course Access or Course Access-like strategies to maximize the use of resources, better serve students, and ensure districts are evolving with the needs of the 21st century student.  

Importantly, these profiles demonstrate that Course Access can look different in different contexts.  For example, the paper shows that rural and remote districts tend to use Course Access to offer core curriculum (particularly for hard-to-staff subjects like world languages), while larger districts tend to use Course Access to serve certain populations of students more effectively (e.g., students who want to accelerate through AP or dual enrollment courses, students who need to catch up, and students with specialized interests).  But, as Patrick Murphy, Superintendent in Arlington County, Virginia, observed at the paper release event, "Regardless of what environment you come from, Course Access is going to be the future of K-12 education. State policies are needed to create a structure enabling school districts to connect their students with high-quality courses.”

States are responsible for creating Course Access policies and the infrastructure that supports them (e.g., provider review and approval processes, a consolidated online course catalog).  But districts are often the key to the success for students, both as to serve as potential providers of Course Access opportunities for out-of-district students and to support their own students enrolled in Course Access courses.  

The innovative school systems profiled in the paper demonstrate what’s possible through Course Access – which we hope will serve as inspiration for districts and states alike.   

Resources to learn about Course Access include: 

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