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Aurora Institute

Course Access: Expanding Horizons for College and Career Readiness

Education Domain Blog

Author(s): Dale Frost, Maria Worthen, Susan Gentz

Issue(s): State Policy, Redefine Student Success

Too many students today lack access to the courses they need to be successful in K-12 education. In the United States, only 50% of public high schools offer calculus and only 63% offer physics. These numbers point to a large discrepancy in access and equity for all learners. Schools or districts may be unable to offer certain courses for students because of a lack of resources, staff, or demand.

Course access offers an incredible opportunity to end the inequitable barriers students face to access high-quality college- and career-ready coursework. In addition, it is an important tool that supports personalized and competency-based learning pathways.

What is Course Access?

Course access is a statewide program that provides public school students with expanded course offerings across learning environments from diverse, accountable providers. It is a mechanism by which students gain access to a variety of courses in a programmatic effort to increase opportunity, quality, and equity in public education.

What Do High-Quality State Course Access Policies Look Like?

States can provide more equitable access to opportunities that prepare students for success with Course Access. High-quality state course access programs have the following key elements:

Equitable Access—All public school students are eligible to access courses in multiple modalities from multiple providers. Districts cannot deny a student’s enrollment in a course without a legitimate, educational reason. Providers must comply with federal and state disability laws and materials must be accessible to everyone.

Sustainable and Performance-Based Funding—Funding covers the cost of delivering high-quality content and instruction and is sustainable because it follows each student—at the course level—to the course provider. Provider payments can be tied to student outcomes, with the goal of improving student achievement.

A Focus on Quality—The state evaluates providers and courses for alignment with state academic standards and nationally-recognized quality standards (e.g. iNACOL’s National Standards for Quality Online Courses). The state makes data on course and provider quality publicly available to students and parents and enforces rigorous, ongoing provider accountability.

Communication with Families and Teachers—The state ensures proactive communications to students, families, teachers, and school counselors so they understand the opportunities available within the program.

Which States Have Course Access Programs?

Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin have Course Access programs.

All of these states allow students in any district to access supplemental courses through a statewide online course catalog, with sustainable funding that follows students at the course level to course providers. These states base funding on successful student outcomes, such as course completion. Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, and Texas approve and evaluate course providers in accordance with iNACOL standards.

Where Can I Learn More About Course Access?

The iNACOL report, Course Access: Equitable Opportunities for College and Career Ready Students, provides more information on this topic, including model legislative principles for high-quality state course access policies.