February 1, 2013 | 10:30 AM | By Gina Jordan

Researchers with the James Madison Institute argue that schools work better when students have more options for their education.The group released a policy brief, Expanding Students’ Learning Options, to coincide with National School Choice Week. The Tallahassee think tank is an advocate for limited government.The brief features six case studies of students involved in alternative forms of learning. All have unique schedules and reasons for not going the traditional route.“Florida students need greater access to digital, charter and private schools, and every combination in between,” Mattox said. “The stories from our featured students demonstrate that school choice makes a world of difference.”The brief offers lessons from the six cases:

Digital learning offers an advantage to Florida students because they can choose any path they want and learn at anytime, anyplace, and at any pace. There are no “old school barriers.”
Florida’s Corporate Tax Credit Scholarship program gives students from low-income families access to more challenging opportunities at private schools.
Dual enrollment programs and charter schools do away with the concept of “one size fits all” schooling systems.
Public school students are benefiting from options like virtual classes. They’re also benefiting from competition that’s making public schools better.
When people become accustomed to viewing education in new and unconventional ways, they often become adept at seeing economic opportunities where others might not see them.
Until every Florida student can receive a high quality, customized education free from funding discrimination, Florida policy makers have a lot of work to do.

Speaking at a presentation about the brief, Mattox said we need to be going “in a direction toward customizing education so that the offerings that are available to each child are consistent with their needs, their interests, their learning styles.”“To me, that’s every bit as much a liberal argument as it is a conservative argument,” he said, “and it’s one that we hope people on both sides of the aisle will increasingly embrace here in Florida.”JMI offers these recommendations for policymakers to expand student-learning options:

Eliminate “old school” barriers to online learning
Eliminate discrimination against students who have never been enrolled in a public school
Address funding inequities between charter schools and traditional public schools
Give those trapped in poorly performing district schools a “parent trigger”
Adopt education savings accounts for blended learners and other students