A new state law will allow students in C-, D- and F-rated public schools to pursue all but one class outside of a traditional school setting, a state official said Wednesday.
“Through the course choice program, Louisiana students will no longer be forced to learn only within the four walls of their school,” Ken Bradford, assistant state superintendent for content, said in an email response to questions.
Penny Dastugue, president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, agreed.
“It is probably the most powerful parental engagement tool that has ever been created,” Dastugue said in a telephone interview on Wednesday.
“The parents and the students together with the counselor get to decide what is best for each student,” she added.
Bradford and others discussed the issue during a 50-minute webinar for educators to spell out details of a little-noticed but significant part of one of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s public school overhaul bills.
The Louisiana Legislature in April approved the measure, which is part of a bill now known as Act 2.
However, most of the attention was focused on another provision, which is a statewide expansion of Louisiana’s voucher program.
Less noticed was the “course choice program,” which is now sparking a wave of questions from superintendents, guidance counselors and others.
The first webinar for educators was held on Wednesday, which is earlier than state officials planned.
Another webinar is planned for Thursday.
In addition, information sessions are set for July 23-26, including gatherings in Baton Rouge, the New Orleans and Lafayette areas, Lake Charles, Alexandria and West Monroe.
The course choice program takes effect for the 2013-14 school year.
About 380,000 students attend C-, D- and F-rated schools in Louisiana, or 54 percent of the total.
How many will take advantage of the new way to take classes is unclear.
State Superintendent of Education John White said the law means Louisiana will be the first state that allows some students to tailor their education plans, with public dollars paying for individual courses.
It will also pave the way to dramatically change how some students pursue their high school diploma, and how much time they spend in a traditional school.
Under the plan, online schools, business and industry groups, teachers and colleges are being asked to submit proposals for courses.
Those proposed courses, including tests, will be reviewed by department officials, an independent panel and the state’s top school board.
State officials insist that providers will be thoroughly vetted before they are authorized to teach a class that will go on a student’s transcript.
During the webinar, Bradford said in response to a question that a student enrolled in “course choice” only has to take one course at his or her school.
Asked to elaborate later, he said it is “conceptually possible” for a student attending a C, D or F public school to enroll in multiple “course choice” classes outside of school that his parents and counselors conclude is the best option to prepare for college or a career.
For instance, a student could attend one course at school and pursue other high school credits the rest of the school day through a combination of online and in-person classes.
But Bradford said that also assumes online firms and others will offer a comprehensive list of courses initially, which is iffy.
Dastugue noted that some schools in Louisiana do not offer algebra II.
“If you have a group of students who want to go in a different pathway now they are not bound by what that school offers,” she said.
“This easily has the potential to transform education more than anything else in this bill,” Dastugue said.
The classes could be taught online, in person or both.
The law is also supposed to provide more course options for students who want to graduate early, earn college credit or pursue career classes.
Brigitte Nieland, a vice president for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry who specializes in education issues, said the course providers will give students in low-performing schools access to top-flight teachers in Louisiana and elsewhere.
“It is one of the reforms passed that every kid can take advantage of without an income requirement,” Nieland said.