As news reports will remind you daily, education today in the United States is facing some of its most serious challenges. While extracurricular activities like music, art, and physical education were the focus of past budget cuts, the more recent crisis is taking aim at classes for advanced and gifted students. The Wall Street Journal recently published an article about Advanced Placement students taking courses online after the traditional AP classes were cut from their schools. So if you find yourself seriously thinking about online classes for your child, whether out of necessity or choice, how do you get the appropriate credit at his or her school? The first challenge is to find a quality program with quality people. You’ll see why this matters beyond the obvious reasons as you read the below advice that we give to the parents of our students.
Officially approved course. Whenever you are trying to establish credibility for someone, it helps to have someone who already has credibility vouching for that person. That’s why in a courtroom, some people make good character witnesses, and others, not so much. It works the same way with online high school classes. Teachers and administrators just don’t have the time or resources to review in detail every program that is presented to them for consideration. So it helps if they can look to an authoritative body that has already done the analysis. When the College Board, for example, audits an Advanced Placement curriculum and lists it on their Web site as an approved online course, you know you’ve found a program that not only meets the rigorous requirements of the audit process but also puts you in a good starting position to make the case for credit.
For online classes not specifically designed to prepare for AP exams, there are respected institutions that schools look to for help in assessing their quality. For example, check out educere.net, which is used by many districts throughout the US to provide courses not offered through their schools. This and similar portals review online courses according to their own set of strict criteria.
Track record. There are two different types of track records to look for. Obviously, you want a program with a history of excellence. When you find one with core people and a curriculum that have stood the test of time, you know you’ve probably found a quality provider. In addition to looking for longevity, ask to speak with parents of current and former students. Ask about alumni. It’s nice to hear that this one went on to Harvard and that one went on to Yale, but let’s get real. These might have been smart kids who would’ve done that anyway. The real question is, what more have these students been able to accomplish as a result of taking this online course that they would not have otherwise? When an online provider can stand up to this kind of scrutiny from you, they are more likely to do the same when being considered for credit by your child’s school.
The second kind of track record is whether or not the provider has successfully assisted parents in getting their online courses accepted for credit. While the exact process will differ from school to school, the essence is likely very similar. School personnel need to be persuaded that the online course material meets their standards for the credit you are seeking. Just like with a good attorney, experience goes a long way when offering proper counsel to parents on what evidence to present to whom. Think of it this way. If you’re on trial, do you want a lawyer whose past clients are all in jail? I think not.
Find an ally. No matter the course, when trying to receive approval for credit, you absolutely need to find someone at your school who is forward looking to discuss this with. It could be a guidance counselor or other administrator. Ideally, it would be someone who’s handled similar situations before with positive outcomes. This is the person who is going to help you navigate the path to approval. If you’re fortunate, the process might involve meeting with the appropriate decision maker from the school; sharing detailed information about the course curriculum, online provider’s history, and any official stamp of approval from an authoritative body; and presenting examples of your child’s work, including scores and grading methodology. More typically, you’ll need several meetings with the same or more people to address follow-up questions and requests for additional information. As you might imagine, it behooves you to keep a detailed file right from the beginning, and also to be nice. Not a pushover, but definitely nice.
Communication. So you’ve presented your file full of evidence, and your school is still not sure about whether to give your child credit. What do you do? It may be time to step back from being the information middleman and let the educators talk directly to each other. Do your part to introduce and facilitate communication between your school’s decision makers and the right people from the online course provider. That would be your child’s principal instructor (a quality program would have assigned one) or someone else who can speak intelligently and in detail about the course curriculum. If you are successful in gaining credit for the online class, then counselors or administrators at your child’s school will want to stay in communication with you and/or the online course provider to get regular updates on your child’s progress. Communication is essential throughout this whole process, so make sure you choose a provider who is willing and able to make themselves and the necessary information available whenever they are needed.
What has worked for you in trying to get an online course approved for credit? Share your best advice here.