Starting next fall, Louisiana will contract with local individuals, businesses, and nonprofits to offer K-12 students academic courses, training, and apprenticeships beyond the classroom in an effort to support innovation and entrepreneurship.
Big names like Sylvan Learning and the Princeton Review are vying for selection to the Course Choice program, alongside individuals and smaller start-up companies.
“This Course Choice was so under the radar,” said James Gilmore, founder of Bayard Management Group, LLC (BMG). His company applied to offer internships and business classes such as ethics and communication. “It’s so sad that in all of the fight between teachers and tenure and all of the headline news, no one was talking about this great, innovative program.”
Twenty-nine prospective providers applied between the state’s Department of Education requested applications on July 17 and this paper’s print deadline. The DOE planned to close applications on Oct. 12.
“The main hope is to give more students the opportunity to be prepared for attaining a college degree or career after high school,” said Barry Landry, a DOE press secretary.
A Look at the Offerings
Providers offering apprenticeship programs and dual enrollment make up a smaller number of applicants than wholly online providers. BMG wants to offer online, face-to-face, and hybrid courses with an emphasis on apprenticeship and internships.
“When you marry education and experience, you get a more-equipped and more-aware citizen or youth,” Gilmore said.
Gilmore interned in Washington, DC when young, and has noted gaps in human capital development between youth and working adults. One of the company’s strengths, he says, is his decade-long experience placing professionals in various positions and writing career plans for teens.
“The goal is for every child to go to college, but also to ensure that every one of them is prepared,” Gilmore said. “We can’t set that expectation if we’re not preparing them.”
Another applicant, Apex Learning, is a well-known purveyor of standards-based digital curriculum.
“One of the challenges of any classroom is that each student is starting at a different point and has a unique set of needs,” said Teri Citterman, an Apex Learning spokeswoman. “Apex Learning online courses provide direct instruction and formative and summative assessment, allowing each student to move at his or her own pace, spending as much or as little time as needed to master the material. The classroom teacher is able to engage one on one with each student, using real-time data to monitor student progress and performance and determine the best way to help each student achieve.
Apex credits its courses with graduation rate increases in multiple districts, including Boston, and decreases in dropout rates in Denver.
Funding Follows the Student
The Course Choice program includes two classifications of students: “eligible funded” and “eligible participating.”
Funded students are those attending a school the state rated C, D, or F. They can enroll on the taxpayers’ dime for any class they qualify for, Landry said. Participating students are those attending A or B schools; they must pay tuition unless their school does not offer they course they want to take.
Providers can charge up to 15 percent of Louisiana’s education funding formula per class, the Minimum Foundation Program. MFP varies depending on where the student lives, but it averages approximately $10,900. Providers will receive 50 percent of the tuition from the state when the course starts and the second 50 percent when the student successfully completes it.
Eleven potential providers listed face-to-face instruction in their applications, nearly 20 offered online courses, and nine offered hybrid instruction (a combination of online and in-person).
Twelve of the current applicants offered Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses, and several include industry certifications and technical training.
No applicants have been approved yet, Landry said. They must undergo “a rigorous interview process,” and the department will then recommend applicants to the state board of education, which will consider the list at its December meeting
“Every year we’ll open up the program to hopefully offer more innovative programs and courses aimed at getting students more college- and career-ready,” Landry said.
List of and links to Louisiana Course Choice Applications, Louisiana Department of Education: http://www.louisianaschools.net/coursechoice/submitted_applications.html.
Image by Douglas Sprott.