Course choice: putting school choice on steroids – Michael B. Horn, podcastED

horn2Perhaps the most far-reaching education legislation in Florida this year isn’t getting much attention, overshadowed by bills like the parent trigger. But buzz or no, the quietly cruising “course choice” proposal is on the leading edge of a revolution in online learning.

It takes school choice and “puts it on steroids,” said Michael Horn, a leading thinker on digital education, in the redefinED podcast below.podcastED logo

The course choice bills in Florida are sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach. They would allow providers from virtually anywhere to create state-approved courses in K-12 and higher ed, and students from virtually anywhere in Florida to take them.

Together with other online learning advances, the bills will have repercussions on how, when and where students learn; how they’re tested and funded; and how school districts fare against growing competition from charter and private schools. Things like course choice and MOOCs, Horn said, “just blow up the geographic … scheme we’ve had for where someone goes to school.”

“So actually, wherever you are, you can get the best class for you. And there will always be that for you. Because you may love the MIT course. I may love the one that has a couple Sal Khan videos … But why shouldn’t we have that best experience for us?”

This doesn’t spell the end for school districts, Horn said. In fact, it could give them a boost.

Many private schools are “more conservative and risk-averse” than public schools, he said, while many charters focus on an “integrated learning experience” that may not sync with a la carte courses. That may give school districts an opening – if they do it right, and if they’re given flexibility.

The brave new world, though, raises big questions. Who will manage the explosion in learning options? Who will help parents navigate them? “This is where it gets super interesting and super unknown at the same time,” Horn said.

Students will probably still need a home base, he said. A school of record could help ensure the student gets the full school experience, while pieces of that experience are farmed out through performance contracts. As for helping parents: Horn said he envisions the emergence of different rating services, “Rotten Tomatoes of education that start to pop up and give you expert advice.”

All this may be dizzying for a world that has yet to acclimate to vouchers and charter schools. But at the end of the day, Horn said, developments like course choice hasten the evolution of a system that puts more emphasis on time than mastery – and that’s a good thing.

When the focus is mastery, he said, “Children can get what they need when they need it.”

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BY Ron Matus

Ron Matus is director for policy and public affairs at Step Up for Students and a former editor of redefinED. He joined Step Up in February 2012 after 20 years in journalism, including eight years as an education reporter with the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times). Ron can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 451-9830. Follow him on Twitter @RonMatus1 and on facebook at

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