California Attorney General Kamala Harris reached a settlement of $168.6 million with mega-virtual charter K12 Inc. This settlement reflects the good investigative reporting of Jessica Calefati of the San Jose Mercury News, whose investigative reporting led to Harris’ review of K12’s finances and practices.

There are two more investigations underway: one by the California State Department of Education and the other by the State Controller. Now that virtual charters have been discredited by studies and thrown under the bus by the rest of the charter industry, this aspect of the industry may finally be on the skids.

“California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced Friday the state Department of Justice has reached a $168.5 million settlement with for-profit online charter school operator K12 Inc. over an array of alleged violations of false claims, false advertising and unfair competition laws.

“The settlement comes almost three months after the Bay Area News Group published a two-part investigative series on the publicly-traded Virginia company, which runs a network of profitable but low-performing online charter schools serving about 15,000 students across the state.

“Harris’ office found that K12 and the “virtual” academies it operates across the state used deceptive advertising to mislead parents about students’ academic progress, parent satisfaction and their graduates’ eligibility for University of California and California State University admission.

“The Attorney General’s office also found that K12 and its affiliated schools collected more state funding from the California Department of Education than they were entitled to by submitting inflated student attendance data and that the company improperly coerced the non-profit schools it operates to sign unfavorable contracts that put them in a deep financial hole.”

Politico reports that K12 Inc. disagrees with the characterization of the settlement:

– Speaking of charter schools, California Attorney General Kamala Harris said Friday that virtual charter school operator K12 Inc. will pay $168.5 million to settle [] alleged violations of the state’s false claims, false advertising and unfair competition laws: . But K12 pushed back on the settlement amount – preferring not to include $160 million in financial relief that Harris’ office says will be provided to certain schools that K12 manages. Instead, K12 CEO Stuart Udell said the company will only pay $2.5 million to settle the case, and another $6 million for Harris’ investigative costs. Udell said his company admitted no wrongdoing. “The Attorney General’s claim of $168.5 million in today’s announcement is flat wrong,” Udell said. “Despite our full cooperation throughout the process, the Office of the Attorney General grossly mischaracterized the value of the settlement, just as it did with regard to the issues it investigated.”

– The settlement is another black eye for the virtual charter industry, which just last month had three reform-minded groups calling for it to be improved, or else problems such as low graduation rates will “overshadow the positive impacts this model currently has on some students.” [] More from Kimberly Hefling:

via Diane Ravitch’s blog

Ohio ignores online school F’s as it evaluates charter school overseers

Online schools like Ohio Virtual Academy, ECOT and OHDELA with poor state report card grades won’t be counted in this year’s reviews of charter school oversight agencies.



The Plain Dealer
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on June 14, 2015 at 8:00 AM, updated

COLUMBUS, Ohio — It turns out that Ohio’s grand plan to stop the national ridicule of its charter school system is giving overseers of many of the lowest-performing schools a pass from taking heat for some of their worst problems.

Gov. John Kasich and both houses of the state legislature are banking on a roundabout plan to improve a $1 billion charter school industry that, on average, fails to teach kids across the state as much as the traditional schools right in their own neighborhoods.

But The Plain Dealer has learned that this plan of making charters better by rating their oversight agencies, known as sponsors or authorizers, is pulling its punches and letting sponsors off the hook for years of not holding some schools to high standards.

The state this year has slammed two sponsors/authorizers with “ineffective” ratings so far. But it has given three others the top rating of “exemplary” by overlooking significant drawbacks for two of them and mixed results for the third.

The state’s not penalizing sponsors, we found, for poor graduation rates at dropout recovery schools, portfolios of charter schools that have more bad grades than good ones and, most surprising, failing grades for online schools. 

Online school F grades aren’t counted

We found that the state isn’t counting the performance of online charter schools — one of the most-controversial and lowest-performing charter sectors —  in the calculations in this first year of ratings.

That means that many F-rated charter schools that serve thousands of students won’t be included when their oversight agencies are rated this year.

The Department of Education says recent drops in grades for online schools are “inexplicable” and that it has to develop a way to grade these “unique” schools. 

The omission caught some of the state’s major charter supporters by surprise. The Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools, which says that a strong ratings plan is key to improving charters, was certain until recently that online schools would be a factor in the ratings.

Consider the Ohio Council of Community Schools, which collects about $1.5 million in sponsor fees a year from the more than 14,000 students attending Ohio Virtual Academy and OHDELA, the online school run by White Hat Management.

The F grades that the state gave those schools last year for failing to teach kids enough material over the school year didn’t count against the council when it was rated early this year. The result? A perfect academic rating of 100 percent and an overall rating of “exemplary,” the highest available.

This year’s ranking also leaves out dropout recovery schools, another controversial group of 90 charter schools, because separate report cards for those schools aren’t complete.

Mostly “ineffective,” but still “exemplary”

Even without the online schools, the rating system doesn’t set a high standard for the schools a sponsor oversees. Instead of setting a high bar and challenging staff and overseers to meet it, The Plain Dealer’s review shows that the Department of Education set a low standard that’s met much more easily.

In fact, a sponsor can oversee more students in schools that are “ineffective” than are “effective” and still be lauded as “exemplary” this year and next year. Sponsors only have to have 41 percent of students in “effective” schools to meet the state’s goal this year.

Those standards will increase over time, with an eventual goal of 66 percent of a sponsor’s students in “effective” schools. But even by the 2016-17 school year, the state will only require 55 percent.

So the Buckeye Community Hope Foundation, which sponsors 52 schools, wasn’t hammered in its rating this year despite having only 38 percent of students in “effective” schools. 

Since 38 percent is so close to the 41 percent standard, the foundation only lost a few points in its rating and snagged an “exemplary” mark.

Department of Education spokesman John Charlton said online and dropout recovery schools will be included in ratings next year, and that the target for having effective schools will increase over time.

“Keep in mind this is the first year of the evaluation process, and we expect to make improvements to the system,” Charlton said.

Ratings have high stakes

Why do these ratings matter? Because supporters of the charter school concept have portrayed them as a way to put pressure on sponsors to make Ohio’s charter schools something to be proud of, not viewed as a drag on the state’s education system.

Kasich and the legislature are considering tying some incentives and sanctions to the ratings in bills that could be passed by the end of this month. An easy path to the top rating of “exemplary” won’t separate strong oversight from mediocre when cash and other benefits are handed out.

For example, Kasich proposed early this year setting aside $25 million in the state budget for charter schools to spend on new school buildings, but he wants the money to be available to schools with “exemplary” sponsors. His plan passed in the Ohio House,

The Senate may change that plan in the next few days, making the money  available only to highly rated schools, not sponsors.

Kasich and the House have proposed letting schools run by exemplary sponsors seek tax levies from voters, if the local school district agrees. That’s allowed only in Cleveland now.

And Kasich and the House have proposed allowing schools run by exemplary sponsors to offer kindergarten and collect state tax dollars for each kindergarten student.

As a penalty, Kasich and the House have proposed adding a lower rating of “poor” in the ranking, giving these sponsors one year to improve or be shut down.

And though the standards will increase over time, the ratings completed this year will last for three years. Sponsors won’t face any effects from dropout schools, online schools or needing to have more “effective” schools until 2018.

They won’t be rated under higher standards until after the state passes a new two-year budget in 2017 that could offer even more perks and penalties.

Where do these ratings come from?

The state legislature voted to start rating sponsors in 2012 and set up a basic structure in House Bill 555.

Charter school supporters nationally look at sponsor/authorizers as fundamental to making charter schools run well. These agencies are usually local school districts that create one or two charter schools in their cities, but can be statewide charter boards, county Educational Service Centers or, in a national rarity, other nonprofit organizations.

As we reported last year, observers in other states view Ohio as the “wild, wild west” of charter operations because it has so many sponsors and so few rules governing them. The new evaluation system in Ohio was viewed as a way to compel improvement in sponsor quality and, in turn, make schools better.

As ordered in HB 555, academic performance makes up just a third of a sponsor’s rating. The other two components are compliance with all state and federal codes governing sponsors and how well they meet industry standards.

As a result, one third of each sponsor/authorizer rating is based on the quality practices suggested by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.

How the academic portion would be handled was left up to the Department of Education.

Not counting online schools is a surprise

The state agency decided to drop online schools that serve 40,000 students across the state from the evaluations. In letters to sponsor/authorizers announcing the results of their reviews, David Hansen, executive director of the department’s  Office of Quality School Choice, said that the 2013-14 online school test results will simply be the “base year” to evaluate future performance.

“I wasn’t aware that they (online schools) were not counted in the evaluation,” said Lenny Schafer, executive director of the Ohio Council of Community Schools.

Chad Aldis, vice president of Ohio policy and advocacy of the Fordham Institute, the other charter sponsor that has already received an exemplary rating, said he was unaware of that too. Even though Fordham has been rated, it does have the academic scoring rubric used by the state.

And Darlene Chambers, president and CEO of the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said Thursday that she was sure online schools are being counted. She has told people for months, often in formal PowerPoint presentations, that Performance Index scores the state calculates for all of a sponsor’s schools were part of the evaluation.

Performance Index combines test scores across multiple grades and subjects and is the state’s main measure of how much kids know. The sponsor PI scores include online schools.

“E-school outcomes are not being ignored,” Chambers said. “It is captured in that now.”

But when told that the state created a new academic measure that excludes online schools, Chambers said: “If it exists, I’ve not seen it. This is the first time I’ve heard of it.”

Charlton said the Department of Education decided to use the value-added ratings of schools — a measure of student academic progress — instead of the Performance Index in the evaluations.

And the department also chose to set aside value-added results for e-schools, he said, because of concerns over how those scores are calculated.

Concern over scores for online schools

Shafer said a change for the 2011-12 school year about which first-year students in online schools were counted in state report card results caused a dramatic lowering of scores for online schools. Data provided by him shows online schools mostly met or exceeded value-added targets for student growth before the change, but most failed to meet them after the switch.

Charlton said the Department of Education dropped the online schools because of this concern.

“Because the change in the system for measuring performance has had a significant and inexplicable impact on the e-school data, the department decided to take a year to look at those results, identify what caused the significant changes and address those causes by creating a more accurate performance evaluation system,” he said.

It is unclear if there is a calculation “glitch,” as Schafer calls it, or if online schools saw lower grades because report cards started counting under-served kids that should have been counted all along.

Dropout recovery ratings are incomplete

Unlike the online schools, the state planned for a few years to exclude dropout recovery schools — charter schools that serve kids returning to school or at risk of leaving. The legislature decided in 2012 to keep them out because separate report cards for these schools would not be finished in time.

These 90 schools don’t appear on regular state report cards because they serve a different type of student and the state has different expectations for them.

Charlton said these schools will become part of sponsor evaluations next year, once measures of student academic growth there kick in.

“There will be a learning gains measure available starting next year for dropout recovery,” Charlton said. “DOPR (Drop Out Prevention and Recovery) schools are being graded as soon as the grading system is in place.”

For now, sponsors like the Ohio Council of Community Schools face no consequences for overseeing schools like the Life Skills Center of Toledo, that meets no graduation standards. The school graduates only 2.2 percent of students on time.

A tough new growth standard

Instead of using Performance Index as most expected, the Department of Education is using the value-added calculation of how much learning kids accomplish over a school year.

The Department of Education has not published its academic rating criteria. Repeated requests to a link for it went unanswered.

But Charlton said here’s what the department used in the sponsor evaluations:

Charter schools with an A or B grade in value-added — scores that are above average — are counted as “effective” schools.

Schools with a C in value-added — the average grade meant to show that a school met learning expectations — need to have an A, B, or C in Performance Index to be considered “effective.”

If you have a D or F in value-added — grades that reflect kids making less than a year’s progress over a school year — your school is ineffective, regardless of performance score.

That’s a strong departure from the state’s traditional focus on Performance Index, a measure of academic achievement.

We have asked the department to explain why it made this choice, but have not heard back.

To evaluate a sponsor/authorizer of multiple schools, the state counts the number of students in schools that meet the “effective” criteria vs. those in schools that are “ineffective.”

It then looks at the ratio of “effective” school “seats” to “ineffective” ones.

More “ineffective” than “effective”

This first year, the state is asking sponsors’ to have a 0.7 to 1 ratio of effective to ineffective seats — less than one effective for every ineffective one — in their portfolios. As a percentage basis, that’s the 41 percent effective mentioned earlier.

If a sponsor meets that target, it receives all 100 points for academic performance in its evaluation.

That means that the Fordham Institute that had an almost equal number of ineffective seats to effective ones at the 10 schools it sponsors, met the state’s bar by 141 percent and earned a perfect academic score.

That came despite overseeing schools with value-added F grades, like Sciotoville Community School in Portsmouth and Cleveland’s Village Prep, normally a well-regarded school for student growth that had abysmal results last year.

And the low bar gave Buckeye Community Hope Foundation only a small penalty for having a ratio of 0.6 effective seats to each effective one.

The target percentages are supposed to rise each year, Charlton said.

Here are the expected ratios:

2013-14: 0.7 to 1.

2014-15: 0.85 to 1.

2015-16: 1.05 to 1.

2016-17: 1.25 to 1.

Eventual goal: 2 to 1.

Though sponsors have known that their academic performance would be evaluated since 2012, Charlton said the state agency is phasing in the standards because of the contracts that sponsors have with individual schools.

Those contracts, which can last five years, spell out academic goals. Sponsors can’t change the expectations midway through, Charlton said.

To follow education news from Cleveland and affecting all of Ohio, follow this reporter on Facebook as @PatrickODonnellReporter

Whitney Tilson, a key figure in the corporate reform movement, and I have continued an exchange about the teaching, charters, and the movement he represents. He was among the founders of Democrats for Education Reform and Teach for America; he is also involved in Bridge International Academies, which opens low-cost, for-profit schools in poor countries. Another in this series will appear soon. He posted this on his blog this morning. You can read it there to see my remarks are in blue; when I copied and pasted to my site, all the blue disappeared, and I didn’t have time to recolor them. My comments are marked DR, his are WT. I am engaging in this dialogue so that his readers can learn what their critics say, not filtered but straight.




From: Whitney Tilson
Sent: Thursday, May 12, 2016 9:00 AM
Subject: Round 2 of my discussion with Diane Ravitch, on who’s the status quo, charter schools, and testing


If someone forwarded you this email and you would like to be added to my email list to receive emails like this one roughly once a week, please email Leila at You can also email her if you’d like to unsubscribe. Lastly, in between emails I send out links to articles of interest via Twitter (I’m #arightdenied) so, to get them, you must sign up to follow me at:


My new BFF, Diane Ravitch, and I have continued our conversation and it’s gotten even more interesting, as we’ve moved past the high-level principles we mostly agreed on in our first exchange of emails (sent a couple of weeks ago and posted on her blog here and my blog here) and started engaging on the many issues on which we disagree.

Our ongoing discussion covers many topics:
1) Whether reformers are now the status quo

2) Charter schools

3) Tests and how they should (and shouldn’t) be used

4) Who is the underdog in this battle

5) The tone of the debate and our shared desire to focus more on the issues and less on personal attacks

6) The details of the Vergara case – namely, a) the amount of time it takes teachers to earn tenure; b) how difficult it is for administrators to fire a tenured teacher; and c) whether layoffs should be done strictly by seniority
Because of its length, we’ve agreed to break it into two parts: Round 2 is below and will cover the first three topics. Tomorrow we’ll release Round 3, covering the remaining three.

My original email is in italics, Diane’s comments are in blue (beginning with “DR:”), and my responses are in black (beginning with “WT:”).




Hi Diane,


I really enjoyed our first exchange of ideas. Thank you for engaging.


Since you had the last word, the onus is on me to respond – which, frankly, makes me feel overwhelmed because we’ve already touched on so many enormously complex and difficult issues that we could spend weeks discussing just one of them.


So, I’m going to approach this following the old maxim, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” I’m not going to try to respond to everything, but rather just a few things and hopefully we can build from there.
So let’s talk about two things, one high-level and one nitty-gritty: 1) tone, language and motivations; and 2) the Vergara case.


Tone, Language and Motivations
Here’s another thing we can surely agree on: we (and our allies) have far too often let our rhetoric get away from us, leading us to make ad hominem attacks rather than sticking to the issues. Randi throws kids under the bus on behalf of her members, you’re motivated by a personal vendetta against Joel Klein, I’m part of the hedge fund cabal that wants to privatize public education for our own profit, reformers are anti-teacher, etc.
Can we just stop? Please?


Let’s agree to disagree without being disagreeable. It diminishes all of us. It blinds us to the many things we agree on. And it makes it much harder to reach compromises, which are usually necessary.


No doubt there are some folks on “your side” who, for example, are more focused on more jobs, higher pay, better benefits and job security, etc. for union members than on the best interests of kids, just as there are people on “my side” who wrongly bash teachers and are more focused on earning higher profits (like the online charter school operators) or busting unions than on the best interests of kids.


But it’s been my experience and observation over 27 years (I know, I know, that makes me a rookie!) that the vast majority of people engaged in this debate are motivated not by self-interest, but by a deep passion for ensuring that all children in this country get a good education that gives them a fair shot in life.


So let’s stop the rhetoric about “defenders of the status quo” and “throwing kids under the bus” (from my side) and “the billionaire boys club that demonizes teachers and wants to privatize public education for their own profit” (from your side).


DR: Whitney, I have to stop you here, to clear the record. I know that “your side” refers to anyone who believes in public education as a “defender of the status quo,” which is frankly absurd. The “status quo” is your side. You and your compatriots have controlled the U.S. Department of Education for the past eight years (at least). You got your favorite ideas imposed on the nation via Race to the Top. You were able, through Race to the Top, to get almost every state to agree to hand off public schools to charter operators, some of whom-frankly–are incompetent and fast-buck entrepreneurs–and to agree to evaluate teachers by the test scores of their students. You got whatever you wanted through Arne Duncan’s close association with your reform movement. So, yes, there is a status quo, and it consists of high-stakes testing (which American children and teachers have endured for 15 years) and privatization via charter. The charter movement has promoted free markets, competition, and consumer choice, which opens the door to vouchers, which are now found in some form in nearly half the states. Add this all up, and you have a disruptive status quo that is highly demoralizing to teachers, destroys unions, and rattles the foundations of education without improving it.


WT: I agree that we reformers were able to get some of our agenda implemented under Obama and Duncan, but completely disagree that we have become the status quo. (By the way, I know you object to the term “reformers”, but I don’t know what else to call us; if I use your preferred term, “status quo’ers”, all of our readers will be confused.) I looked it up and it’s defined as “the existing state of affairs, particularly with regards to social or political issues.”


How can the status quo be anything except the existing K-12 public educational system, which is the 2nd largest area of government spending (exceeding our military, trailing only healthcare) and by far the largest employer in the country at 7.2 million jobs (plus add 3.8 million more if you count higher ed) (per this data from the U.S. Department of Labor)?


I also disagree with your characterization of our agenda, for a variety of reasons.


DR: The existing public school system is saddled with high-stakes testing because of “your side.” It is saddled with policies like test-based evaluation of teachers because of Race to the Top (“your side”). Thousands of teachers and principals have been fired and thousands of community public schools have been closed and replaced by privately managed charters because of the policies of “your side.” Your side is in charge. Your side makes the rules and the laws. Your side demonizes teachers and public education.


WT: Charter Schools
I think high-quality charters are an important piece of the puzzle in improving our educational system. This is a topic on which I know we will forever disagree and it’s a big, complex one, so let’s agree to return to it in more depth in a future discussion – but in the meantime, if you (and our readers) would like to read my response to your critique of charters, I published an open letter to you on 12/3/10 that is posted here. Though I wrote it more than five years ago, I think it’s still quite timely.


Briefly, you always refer to them as part of an effort to privatize public education, which drives me crazy (I’m sure you’ll be pleased to hear) because charter schools are public schools! They receive public funds, are often situated in public school buildings, aren’t allowed to have admissions criteria (unlike many public schools like Stuyvesant) (yes, some charters cheat; so do many regular public schools), students have to take the same state tests, etc. They are simply public schools that aren’t overseen by the central bureaucracy – rather, by a board of directors made up of private citizens – and aren’t subject to the centrally negotiated union contract. This makes them different – but they’re still public schools, ultimately accountable, directly or indirectly, to elected officials the city or state in which they’re located.


As for charters opening the door to vouchers, I think, if anything, they’re a substitute. But regardless, I generally favor both – but the devil is in the details. I share your opposition to awful for-profit online charter operators like K12, but think we should expand high-quality charters that, as I noted in our last exchange, are willing to play by the same rules as regular public schools (e.g., take their fair share of the most disadvantaged students, backfill, etc.).


DR: Charter schools are not public schools. They have private boards; they are not required to have open meetings. Their finances are opaque. They choose the students they want and push out those they don’t want. When hauled into court or before the NLRB, their defense is always the same: we are not public schools, we are not state actors, we are private corporations operating schools on a contract with government. I am convinced: they are not public schools, because they say so themselves. They are neither transparent nor accountable. They leave the neediest students to the public schools, even as they drain resources from the public schools. They weaken the public schools by cherrypicking the most motivated students, excluding the neediest students, and taking away the resources that public schools require to function well. Charter schools are harming the education of the great majority of students, who are enrolled in public schools. We had a dual school system before the Brown decision of 1954; we should not go back and recreate a new one.


It has to be a little disturbing to you to realize that your agenda for charters is shared by all the Republican governors, as well as a few Democrats like Obama, Cuomo, and Malloy. You are also allied with Scott Walker, Rick Scott, Rick Snyder, Mike Pence, Paul LePage, Jeb Bush, and the Tea Party of North Carolina. Every Republican legislature loves charter schools, as it is an opportunity to resegregate the schools. The far-right American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) loves charter schools and has model charter legislation which is shared with their members in every state, as well as model legislation to eliminate collective bargaining and standards for teachers.


WT: Testing
Regarding testing, we actually agree on more than I expected. I agree with your critique that we reformers haven’t implemented it very well – which has certainly helped the anti-testing crowd give us a political drubbing. I share your concerns about testing (from our last exchange a few days ago: “teaching to the test, narrowing the curriculum, cheating”) and agree that “they favor those who come to school with advantages,” “that most testing should be designed by the classroom teachers, not by outside testing corporations,” and that standardized tests shouldn’t be given “more than once a year.”


Where we disagree, I think, is how the tests should be used. You wrote that “standardized testing should be used only diagnostically” and that it “should not figure into…the teachers’ evaluation.”

Regarding the former, I’m not 100% sure what you mean by “only diagnostically,” but I believe that we need to use the results of standardized tests as one important measure – though not the only measure! – of how teachers, schools, districts, states, and our entire country are doing in achieving our goal of ensuring that every child gets a good education.


DR: Tests are diagnostic when they show what students know and don’t know, so instruction can be adjusted to help them do better. Today’s standardized tests have no diagnostic value. They rank students without giving any information about what they do and don’t know. Imagine going to a doctor with a sharp pain in your side. Your doctor says to you, “This is bad. You scored a 2 on a scale of 1 to 4. You are in the 30th percentile. Goodbye.” What you really want is a diagnosis. You want to know what is wrong and you want medicine that will stop the pain. Tests today are pointless and useless. All teachers learn is where their students rank, not what they need more help with.


WT: When tests show that half of black and Latino 4th graders are “below basic” readers (at least one year below grade level, often far more), this is critical information about this national disgrace. Of course it’s a separate discussion about what to do about this, which is rooted in how much of this problem is due to ineffective schools vs. other factors like poverty, but it’s critical to do the testing every year so, as a nation, we are regularly reminded of the problem, can take steps to address it, and track progress.


DR: We don’t need to test every student every year to know that kids need smaller classes and intensive help. Their teachers know that. No high-performing nation in the world tests every child every year. Testing is a measure, not a treatment. If we keep pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into testing without changing conditions in the schools, we will get nowhere. Whatever we need to know about student performance can be learned from NAEP (the National Assessment of Educational Performance), which tests American students every two years in reading and math and reports on state results and disaggregates scores by race, language, gender, disability, etc. The current onerous tests—lasting eight to ten hours for little children—are unnecessary.


WT: For similar reasons, it’s critical to know if the vast majority of children in a particular district, school or, yes, even classroom are, for example, reading or doing math far below grade level. I agree that it’s not necessarily a high school’s fault if, say, 90% of students are below grade level and the graduation rate is only 50% – that’s what tends to happen when students enter 9th grade three years below grade level – so the test results must be used carefully (and I know sometimes they’re not), but that’s not a reason to eliminate standardized testing or limit its uses. If there is no learning going on in an entire school – and there are, sadly, a lot of them – then we really need to know that!

DR: Be aware that 50% of students are always below grade level. That is the nature of grade level; it is a median. In any district where 80-90% are below grade level, you can be certain that there is a high concentration of poverty and racial segregation. Why assume that the teachers are bad? The root causes of low test scores are the same everywhere: poverty and segregation. What can be done to reduce those two harmful conditions?


WT: As for classroom-level data, we surely agree that it may not be a teacher’s fault if every child in her class is reading below grade level – they likely entered the class that way. But if they spend a year in a teacher’s classroom and still can’t read or do math (or whatever the subject is) better than they could at the beginning of the year, then something is wrong and we (broadly defined: the department head, principal, superintendent, parents, taxpayers, etc.) need to know that so corrective action can be taken – so, again, while it’s important to use data and test results correctly, we need the data!


DR: Your faith in standardized testing is greater than mine. I served on the NAEP governing board for seven years, and I saw questions that had two right answers or no right answers. Children have talents and skills that are not measured on these tests. We have been testing everything that moves for 15 years and we have very little to show for it. It is time to think differently. We should give more thought to how to help students and teachers and less money to measuring them. The nature of standardized tests is that they are normed on a bell curve. Half will always be below the median. If we gave drivers’ licenses that way, half the population would never get one.


WT: Now let’s turn to the issue of using standardized tests as part of teachers’ evaluations, a hugely complex and contentious issue.


I think standardized test results should be used as part (and only a small – less than 50% – part) of a teacher’s evaluation – while simultaneously acknowledging the validity of your many objections to this. Good testing should be able to measure, at least to some degree, what really matters: growth. The concept is simple: if students start the school year at a certain level, they should be at a higher level by the end of the year, so let’s measure that.


Now, before you go off on me for saying this, I’m well aware that, in practice, it’s not simple at all: tests are imperfect and results are inconsistent year to year; many subjects (like art) areas don’t lend themselves to measurement by tests; sometimes a class has more than one teacher during the year; some students move between classes; etc. I also agree that reformers could have done a better job of implementing the process of tying student test scores to teacher evaluations.


But I view these problems as good reasons why test results shouldn’t be weighted too heavily, should be based on growth/learning, not static scores, and need to be balanced by comprehensive reviews by peers and administrators – but not as reasons to completely reject using test results in teacher evaluations.


DR: Test scores should not count at all in evaluating a teacher’s performance. As three major scholarly organizations (the American Educational Research Association, the National Academy of Education, and the American Statistical Association) have said, test scores say more about who is in the class than about teacher quality. Those who teach students with disabilities, English language learners, and gifted students will not get big score increases, may see flat scores, and may still be good teachers. Those who teach in affluent suburbs may look like superstars, even though they are no better than those teaching in the inner city schools. Value-added measurement, as it is called, has not worked anywhere. It is invalid, unstable, and unreliable. A teacher may get a high score one year, and a low score the next year. A teacher may register gains in math, yet no gains in reading; does she get a bonus or will she be fired?


I think you should know that 70% of teachers do not teach tested subjects. Only 30% teach reading or math in elementary and middle school. How do we evaluate the majority? They are evaluated based on the test scores of students they don’t know and subjects they don’t teach. That’s neither fair nor rational. So it may sound simple to say that teachers should be evaluated on whether scores go up or down, but it doesn’t work for the 70% who don’t teach tested subjects and it doesn’t work for the 30% who do because they are not teaching randomly assigned and comparable students. I urge you (and your readers) to read this article by a teacher who quit:


WT: It would be like evaluating basketball players without looking at points scored per game. Of course this one statistic needs to be placed in a broader context (how many shots the player takes; rebounds; assists; steals; defensive prowess; whether someone has a good attitude and enhances (or diminishes) team cohesion, etc.) – but you gotta look at it!


DR: The purpose of playing basketball is to score points and win games. The purpose of education is not to get high scores but to develop good citizens who can think and act wisely, work with other people respectfully, love learning and continue learning when school is finished. What matters most can’t be measured on a standardized test.


WT: In summary, I really fear that the anti-testing backlash will put us on the path back toward the bad old days when school systems could give poor and minority students the worst schools – and even good schools could put such students into the low-expectations classrooms with the least effective teachers – without anyone being the wiser.

DR: After fifteen years of high-stakes testing, the conditions you fear are still in place. Poor and minority students are still in the schools with the lowest test scores. The achievement gap remains stubbornly large. Testing hasn’t helped the neediest children, because their needs are not addressed by standardized tests. We keep learning the same things every year, but doing nothing to change the causes. The anti-testing backlash, led by angry parents, will continue and grow. They don’t want their children to be labeled failures in third grade. They don’t want them to spend most of their time preparing to take tests. They don’t want them sitting for tests that take longer than the law school exams. And they don’t want their teachers fired if their students don’t get high scores. Why must this be inflicted only on public schools? If private schools were required to take these unnecessary and pointless tests, the rebellion would be joined by their parents too.







via Diane Ravitch’s blog

Mark Neal, superintendent of the Tri-Valley Local Schools in Ohio, wrote a sharply worded statement about parents’ right to opt their child out of testing.


When parents asked if they had the right to opt out, he responded with this advice:


While I am not (and never have been) an advocate of the PARCC Testing, Ohio got into this testing debacle with little to no input from local school officials. Therefore, I feel no responsibility to stick my neck out for the Department of Education by defending their decisions. What’s happening now, in my opinion, is that parents have figured out what is being forced upon their children, and the proverbial rubber… is beginning to meet the road. However, it is not our goal to discourage nor undermine the laws of our governing body.


Therefore, our position as a school district is that we do not discourage nor encourage a parent’s decision to opt out their child. We must respect parental rights at all costs. This is the very reason I advocate for local control. Our own Tri-Valley Board of Education is in a much better position to make sound decisions for the families of our school district, than are the bureaucrats in Columbus and Washington. I say that with no disrespect toward our own legislators, whom have worked diligently behind the scenes to address the over-testing issue. The unfortunate reality is that the parents who have contacted the school district up to this point, are the parents of high achieving students who undoubtedly would do well on these assessments. We will effectively be rating school districts and individual teachers based on test scores that do not include many of their highest achieving students….


I am quite confident that reason will ultimately prevail. In the meantime, we will respect the rights of our parents to make the best decisions for their children while simultaneously following the laws and policies of the Ohio Department of Education.


For defending common sense and speaking plainly to his community, I place Mark Neal on the honor roll of the blog as a champion of American public education.

via Diane Ravitch’s blog

Department of Education denies charter school’s requests to make changes


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Moyer already made the curriculum changes during the past school year, but still sought DoE’s official approval. However, state officials rejected both requests Thursday.

Secretary of Education Mark Murphy rejected the curriculum change. Murphy approved the enrollment changes, but the state board rejected them.

Major charter modifications require both Murphy and the board’s approval. Since the school’s enrollment goals weren’t adjusted and it didn’t get permission for changes it has already made, Murphy and board members said the school is in violation of its charter.

Murphy said he didn’t approve the curriculum changes because school officials hadn’t sufficiently proven they would align with state standards and guidelines.

Keith Stephenson, a vice president with K12 Inc., said he was “disappointed” at Murphy’s decision. He said scores on the state-issued DCAS test show the school is making significant progress.

In both math and reading, Moyer’s students’ scores improved by double digits in virtually every grade, in some grades growing scores by as much as 20 or 30 percent.

“We made more than 20-point gains in both reading and mathematics, and that kind of supports the fact that we know what we’re doing,”said Stephenson, a former head of school at Moyer and K12’s point-man at the school.

“There’s obviously some kind of disconnect here. I don’t know if our curriculum isn’t aligned by a week or by two months or what, but when you have double-digit gains on tests, I think it’s safe to say things are going right.”

Board members who voted not to approve Moyer’s request to lower enrollment raised questions about whether the school can survive with such a low student count. State monitors say Moyer is financially solvent, but only with the continued support of K12, which is infusing money and personnel.

“All K12 would have to to do is not want to lose money anymore on this school and they would pull out,” said board member Pat Heffernan. “What happens then?”

Other board members said they were nervous about plans for Moyer to buy its building. The school’s board of directors and the The Reinvestment Fund, which currently owns the building, are working out plans for Moyer to buy the building it is currently leasing. The lease expires at the end of September.

But without a final signed agreement in hand, several board members said the arrangement wasn’t yet permanent enough to merit approval.

“The only thing I’m certain about at this point is that they have a place until Sept. 30,” said Board President Teri Quinn Gray. “If something happens between now and then, we will have students in a building and, come Oct. 1, what’s going to happen?”

Stephenson said the school is simply waiting for some procedural and bureaucratic hurdles to be cleared before signing a final document. And he said K12 was strongly committed to “standing by” Moyer.

“The thing about this is that K12 had already invested over $1 million into Moyer,” Stephenson said. “If K12 pulled out, it would have already pulled out. There was a break point for that to happen last July, and it didn’t happen. K12 is interested in seeing this thing through.”



Contact Matthew Albright at or at 324-2428. Follow him on Twitter @TNJ_malbright.





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    Department of Education denies charter school's requests to make changes | The News Journal |

    Department of Education denies charter school’s requests to make changes


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    The original school lost its charter in 2010 because of academic performance problems, but pressure from community leaders led to a state takeover and a re-opening as The New Moyer Academy in 2012. The school is currently operating with the support of management company K12 Inc. / News Journal file

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    State officials rejected The New Moyer Academy charter school’s request Thursday for two major changes and said the school is in violation of its charter.

    The state says it is working with the school to resolve its issues. Moyer leaders say new test scores released Thursday show their plans are working and they hope the state will give them the chance to prove it.

    Department of Education Chief of Staff Mary Kate McLaughlin said the state has several options at this point. The most severe route would be for DoE to put Moyer in front of the state board for formal review, which could lead to closing the school or other harsh consequences.

    But McLaughlin said that, for now at least, the state will simply work with Moyer to find a way to bring them into line with the system Until an agreement is reached, the state board will get updates on the school at each of its monthly meetings.

    Moyer’s student population is 90 percent black and almost entirely low-income, coming from some of Wilmington’s most troubled neighborhoods. The original school lost its charter in 2010 because of academic performance problems, but pressure from community leaders led to a state takeover and a re-opening as The New Moyer Academy in 2012. The school is currently operating with the support of management company K12 Inc.

    Moyer has enrolled fewer students than required by its current charter, so it sought the state’s permission to modify that charter and set lower enrollment goals. Next year, for example, the school wants to lower its enrollment goal from 385 students to 225.

    The school has 201 students enrolled for the coming year.

    Moyer also asked the state for permission to overhaul its curriculum. The school originally employed teaching centered around online learning, with students moving through classes at their own pace while teachers acted as facilitators.

    Moyer asked the state to approve moving to a “blended” model, where students would take core classes like math, science and English in a traditional classroom setting, but still could use computers for elective classes.



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      K12 Inc. : Insight School of Ohio Approved by Department of Education

      COLUMBUS, Ohio, July 2, 2013 /PRNewswire/ – Insight School of Ohio announced today that the new online public school (eSchool) was approved by the Ohio Department of Education to begin serving students in the 2013-14 school year. The school will offer students an innovative education through engaging digital learning experiences and individualized instruction.

      Insight School of Ohio intends to offer grades 6-12 next year and expand to serve elementary grades in subsequent years.

      Insight School of Ohio is governed by the Buckeye Urban Education Solutions (BUES), a non-profit board comprised of Ohio parents and community leaders. BUES is responsible for establishing the school’s policies and overseeing its academic, operational and financial performance.

      Aaron Ockerman, Chairman of BUES, said, “We’re very pleased our school received approval from the Ohio Department of Education and we are excited about offering a unique public education program in Ohio to help reach students where they are. We believe our school will make a difference, especially for struggling students. Our school will use high quality digital learning programs and skilled teachers to effectively deliver individualized instruction that meets students needs, and gives them confidence to succeed.

      The school was authorized earlier this year by the Buckeye Community Hope Foundation, a not-for-profit corporation that sponsors over 40 community public schools throughout Ohio. The organization’s mission is to create and support new opportunities in housing, education and community outreach for seniors, struggling families, underserved students and misdirected youth.

      Insight School of Ohio will use the award-winning curriculum, technology and school services provided by K12 Inc. (NYSE: LRN), America’s largest provider of proprietary curriculum and online and blended school programs for students in kindergarten through high school.

      As a public school, Insight School of Ohio will be open to all eligible students in the state, however its emphasis will be on serving academically at-risk students who have struggled in traditional schools. The school’s instructional model and academic strategies will focus on putting every student on a path to earning their high school diploma.

      Students will receive an Individualized Learning Plan (ILP) that fits each child’s unique strengths, weaknesses, learning styles and aptitudes. Each student’s ILP will map out a multi-year personalized learning strategy through a collaborative team process between the student, parent, teachers, guidance counselor, and advisor.

      Through the ILP, first year students will be engaged in a fully synchronous learning model using digital courses and tools, and will gradually shift to a more asynchronous schedule to support the goal of creating independent learners. Insight School of Ohio will use an “academy” approach where students will be placed into a Middle School Academy, Freshmen Academy, or High School Academy, with the goal of helping students graduate college and career ready.

      Teachers at Insight School of Ohio will provide instruction through digital learning technology and interact with students regularly. They will also meet with students at locations across the state for one-on-one or small group instruction, remediation and interventions, testing and assessment, and school activities.

      The school plans to locate its administrative headquarters in Columbus, OH.

      SOURCE Buckeye Urban Education Solutions