Missouri misses Course Access moment

By:

Jun 4, 2015

This year, Missouri legislators had a chance to become national leaders in providing their students with access to new learning opportunities. On April 30, the House passed a bill to create a statewide Course Access program with a favorable vote of 110 to 40. Sadly, however, that bill stalled in the Senate as the legislative session came to a close in late May.

Missouri students deserve every available opportunity to pursue their educational goals. To this end, Course Access programs can have substantial, positive effects on students’ learning outcomes. Consider, for example, these stories from students in nearby states where Course Access programs are available.

When Elaine Nielson started taking Geometry in 8th grade, she found herself frustrated with math. It wasn’t that the class was too hard; rather, she was bored almost to tears because her teacher was spending time going over Algebra problems that she had learned back in 6th grade. As Elaine’s parents considered how best to help their daughter, her father remembered hearing about the Utah Statewide Online Education Program. Through that program, Elaine was able to take Geometry as an online course during her second semester of 8th grade while completing the rest of her courses at her neighborhood brick-and-mortar school. The following year, Elaine again completed her math course requirements through the Utah Statewide Online Education Program, which gave her extra time in her schedule for band, choir, and a role in her school’s spring musical.

For Donza Worden, a student at De Tour High School in the upper peninsula of Michigan, online learning put his “senior-year slide” in reverse. He was interested in finance and accounting, but less drawn to electives like art and music that his school offered, so his teachers encouraged him to enroll in online courses that their small, rural district didn’t have the staff or funding to offer. Between an off-site apprenticeship with a financial company and two online college courses—in English and Accounting—he managed to graduate ahead on credits and with an internship under his belt. Donza went on to Albian College and graduated summa cum laude in three years . He then took time to travel before joining Robert Baird’s investment banking division in Chicago.

But while students like Elaine and Donza in Utah and Michigan have the flexibility to take courses at times and in formats that align with their individual goals, many students in Missouri don’t even have access to some of the standard courses they need to take in preparation for college. Across the state, 30 percent of high schools do not offer chemistry, 46 percent do not offer physics, and 56 percent do not offer calculus. All of these courses could easily be made available to every Missouri student through a statewide Course Access catalog.

In this day and age, a student’s education need not be limited to the four walls of the classroom, nor to the lines drawn around his school district. Unfortunately, Missouri policymakers missed an important opportunity to make this a reality for their students by failing to pass a bill to create a statewide Course Access program. Hopefully, the legislature will consider Course Access again during next year’s session.

Thomas Arnett

Thomas’ research focuses on the changing roles of teachers in blended-learning environments and other innovative educational models. He also examines how teacher education and professional development are shifting to support the evolving needs of teachers and school systems.