Families may like their school but want more options; that’s where course choice comes in

Course choice, also known as course access, allows parents and students to select various pre-approved courses beyond what their districts normally offer. The courses, many of which are taught online, can include everything from university classes and SAT preparation to welder training.

Editor’s note: This commentary from Rick Hess, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, appeared today on edweek.org.

The debate over school choice has long featured strident rhetoric about union lackeys and privatizers. But now, after millions of students spent a year or more in off-and-on home schooling and makeshift arrangements like learning pods and virtual camps, many once-stark distinctions have blurred.

Yet, that has helped make other things clear. For one, it’s illustrated how the familiar school choice debate can miss much of what’s important to families.

While there are plenty of families who want to move to a different school, for a variety of reasons, polling also consistently shows that over 70% of parents are satisfied with their child’s school. Of course, this doesn’t mean they like everything about their school. They may want choices that amount to something less than moving from school A to school B.

Even pre-pandemic, parents who liked their school might have still grumbled about its reading program, math classes, or lack of Advanced Placement options. Now, with so many students forcibly acclimated to remote learning—which frequently involved a mélange of academic options, providers, and supports—many parents have asked: Why can’t a student choose to take advantage of such opportunities without changing schools?

Well, they should be able to, and they increasingly can. One tool for extending such incremental choice is “course choice,” state-level legislation that allows families to choose to stay put—while also tapping into instructional options that aren’t available at a student’s school.

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