Classes a la carte: States test a new school model

Thu Dec 6, 2012 11:40am EST
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By Stephanie Simon

(Reuters) - Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White has a problem with schools.

They're too confining, he says. They trap kids in chairs, in classrooms, in the narrow bounds of an established curriculum. So White and a handful of fellow revolutionaries have begun pushing a new vision for American public education.

Call it the a la carte school.

The model, now in practice or under consideration in states including Louisiana, Michigan, Arizona and Utah, allows students to build a custom curriculum by selecting from hundreds of classes offered by public institutions and private vendors.

A teenager in Louisiana, for instance, might study algebra online with a private tutor, business in a local entrepreneur's living room, literature at a community college and test prep with the national firm Princeton Review - with taxpayers picking up the tab for it all.

The concept alarms many traditional educators. They fear public schools will lose funding to private vendors and will end up with such crimped budgets that they won't be able to provide a full range of academic classes, much less extras like sports, clubs and arts. That, in turn, could accelerate the exodus of students and the cutbacks in funding.

Teachers, superintendents and school board members also warn that an a la carte system could leave behind children from poor or unstable homes who may not have computers to take online classes, transportation to reach far-flung vendors, or adult guidance to help them sort through a dizzying menu of options. The system also has the potential to leave students unsupervised for large chunks of the day, which could raise safety and discipline concerns.

"We're really concerned about equity," said Don Wotruba, deputy director of the Michigan Association of School Boards. "There will be haves and have-nots."   Continued...