What a crock of shit.  The survey asked the parents.  Didn’t bother to check the test scores of the kids.  Of course the parents think their kids did great.  They got A’s when they used to get D’s and F’s.  People are such idiots.

ORVA (K12) Students:  Voted most likely to live off their parents for the rest of their lives.

94% of Oregon Virtual Academy Students Benefitted Academically From Curriculum in 2015-2016

August 31, 2016

(Graphic: Business Wire) Multimedia Gallery URL


Students at Oregon Virtual Academy (ORVA), an accredited, full-time, online public charter school, will begin their 2016-2017 school year on September 6, as the program marks its ninth year of operation in the state. According to a spring 2016 survey conducted by Edge Research, 94% of the families with students enrolled in the school during the 2015-2016 school year felt that their child had benefitted academically from the curriculum.

This Smart News Release features multimedia. View the full release here: http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20160831006588/en/

ORVA is open to all students in grades K through 12 who reside in Oregon. The rigorous and engaging curriculum offered by the school includes courses in language arts/English, math, science, history, world languages, art and music, as well as elective and Advanced Placement® courses for high school students. State-certified teachers provide instruction, guidance and support, and interact with students and parents via email, web-based classrooms, online discussions, phone and face-to-face meetings. As a public school option, there is no tuition.

ORVA students receive a well-rounded education and one that prepares them for successes after high school,” said Brandy Osborn, Head of School of Oregon Virtual Academy. “We at ORVA are proud of our school, our teachers, staff, and students. ORVA is a great choice for families who are interested in being actively involved in their children’s education.”

Flexibility is a key benefit for ORVA students. The online school setting enables advanced learners to progress faster in subjects at which they excel, while students who need more time to grasp a concept can get that opportunity. Additionally, teachers develop a personalized learning plan for each student that is mapped to their individual educational goals.

ORVA is still accepting enrollments for this fall. For more information, visit the school’s website at www.k12.com/orva.

About Oregon Virtual Academy

Oregon Virtual Academy (ORVA) is an online public charter school authorized by the North Bend School District and open to students in grades K through 12. As part of the Oregon public school system, ORVA is tuition-free, giving parents and families the choice to access the award-winning curriculum and tools provided by K12 Inc. (LRN), the nation’s largest provider of proprietary curriculum and online education programs. For more information about ORVA, visit www.k12.com/orva.

View source version on businesswire.com: http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20160831006588/en/

MULTIMEDIA AVAILABLE:http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20160831006588/en/

What a crock of shit.  The survey asked the parents.  Didn’t bother to check the test scores of the kids.  Of course the parents think their kids did great.  They got A’s when they used to get D’s and F’s.  People are such idiots.

94% of Oregon Virtual Academy Students Benefitted Academically From Curriculum in 2015-2016

<i–< Students return to online public school September 6 —

August 31, 2016 07:28 PM Eastern Daylight Time

PORTLAND, Ore.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Students at Oregon Virtual Academy (ORVA),an accredited, full-time, online public charter school, will begin their 2016-2017 school year on September 6, as the program marks its ninth year of operation in the state. According to a spring 2016 survey conducted by Edge Research, 94% of the families with students enrolled in the school during the 2015-2016 school year felt that their child had benefitted academically from the curriculum.

ORVA students head back to school on Sept. 6!

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ORVA is open to all students in grades K through 12 who reside in Oregon. The rigorous and engaging curriculum offered by the school includes courses in language arts/English, math, science, history, world languages, art and music, as well as elective and Advanced Placement® courses for high school students. State-certified teachers provide instruction, guidance and support, and interact with students and parents via email, web-based classrooms, online discussions, phone and face-to-face meetings. As a public school option, there is no tuition.

“ORVA students receive a well-rounded education and one that prepares them for successes after high school,” said Brandy Osborn, Head of School of Oregon Virtual Academy. “We at ORVA are proud of our school, our teachers, staff, and students. ORVA is a great choice for families who are interested in being actively involved in their children’s education.”

Flexibility is a key benefit for ORVA students. The online school setting enables advanced learners to progress faster in subjects at which they excel, while students who need more time to grasp a concept can get that opportunity. Additionally, teachers develop a personalized learning plan for each student that is mapped to their individual educational goals.

ORVA is still accepting enrollments for this fall. For more information, visit the school’s website at www.k12.com/orva.

About Oregon Virtual Academy

Oregon Virtual Academy (ORVA) is an online public charter school authorized by the North Bend School District and open to students in grades K through 12. As part of the Oregon public school system, ORVA is tuition-free, giving parents and families the choice to access the award-winning curriculum and tools provided by K12 Inc. (NYSE: LRN), the nation’s largest provider of proprietary curriculum and online education programs. For more information about ORVA, visit www.k12.com/orva.


Team Soapbox
Anne Heavey, 206-528-2550

Homeschooling more ‘affordable and flexible’ for many parents in UAE

Education starts at home

Education and the costs attached to it is a hot topic in the UAE.

With fees rising year on year, many parents question whether their children are getting the correct level of learning for the money they are shelling out. But what’s the option? Homeschooling appears to be one avenue that is growing in popularity.

According to Ekta Dhameja, digital marketer at K12 Middle East, the number of UAE families choosing home education is increasing as “parents are taking a more active role in their child’s education”. Other reasons, she says, are affordability, flexibility and tailored learning.

Diane Menzies is a mum of four. She says her two eldest kids adapted well into the UAE school system, but it wasn’t the same for her younger ones, so they gave homeschooling a try. That was seven years ago. Now, they are in high school and happy with the progress they have made.

“Their academic grades have risen, their confidence and self-esteem are far higher,” Diane says. “We have decided to homeschool them until both graduate as I think the brick and mortar schools here have become far too expensive and the teaching support is just not there.”

Diane’s kids are enrolled in K12 – an online American curriculum school fully accredited and licensed by the KHDA. It currently has 700 students enrolled across the GCC.

So what are the benefits of homeschooling? Diane says: “They don’t have to sit at a desk the whole day, my daughter can often be found lounging on a bean bag in her sleepwear doing her school work. We also get one-on-one teaching from subject teachers, which is a huge help for kids who need extra support. I also found that much of the brick and mortar school days were filled with non-academic activities, book week, practising for plays and dress up days. Although this is good for the children I do think that it takes up too much time. We still have fun days, but academics is the main focus.”

With costs rising, parents are crunching numbers and, while it isn’t free, they see homeschooling as an affordable option. In K12, the tuition fee from kindergarten to grade eight is Dhs18,332 per annum.

Diane says she is saving about Dhs80,000 in school and extra fees: “We don’t have to buy uniform or school shoes, we don’t pay for trips or extra activities.”

But about the social disadvantage of having the kids at home? This is a misconception, according to K12’s Ekta, who says: “We organise monthly trips/excursions and these are available to homeschooled students as well as students studying in the Learning Centre at Dubai Knowledge Village.”

Diane also feels a social classroom environment can be distracting. She adds: “I may sound harsh but the main reason a lot of children can’t concentrate is due to the noisy and busy environment of a classroom. “Both of my children are social, my daughter will happily go up to someone new and say hi.”

RELATED: A third of UAE parents looking to switch child’s school

But studying at home is not at easy, as some would think. They say hard work, commitment and dedication from both parent and child are needed. “The main challenge is getting them up in the morning and keeping them on schedule, I have to be very organised to ensure that work is handed in when it is due,” Diane says.

Mum Jenny also homeschooled her son for three years. “It can sometimes be hard to separate being a mom and being a teacher. He did not have the option of coming home from school and complaining about his teacher,” she quips. Her daughter, on the other hand, was never homeschooled.

But in the debate between homeschool vs traditional school, the important thing is providing quality education for the child. This year, Jenny is enrolling her son back to regular school. She feels this is the best for him as he now enters the fourth grade. “Each child is different, and each year is a new start to evaluate what is best for that child at that time. As with most things there are advantages and disadvantages to both. I loved homeschooling, but I am looking forward to hopefully being a really supportive parent to the teachers my children will have this year.”

Tell us your views at @7DAYSUAE and take our poll on homeschooling at 7days.ae


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An election year when school choice is ignored

By Nate Davis, contributor    

Getty Images

It’s bad enough that during two straight weeks of Republican and Democratic conventions, we never really grasped a true sense of what newly nominated presidential contenders would do to improve the uncertain state of K-12 education in America.

Worse — especially since then — is that we have yet to see a solid reform-driven or innovation-focused commitment from candidates as the solution to our education crisis. A sorely needed exchange on parental choice and access to creative online learning platforms is, perhaps, the most significant missing policy deep-dive since the presidential cycle began in earnest over a year ago. For the most part, presidential candidates have steered clear of any focus on choice in K-12 as a main prescription to constant problems plaguing our school systems and challenging our kids.

That’s unfortunate, since parents are voters, too.

It is rather mysterious considering the sheer size, cost and long-term destructive impact of the K-12 crisis. Yet, as candidates on the campaign trail bludgeoned each other over everything from salacious tweets, badly placed emails and hand sizes, little is said on how policymakers could intervene to save the nation’s struggling elementary, middle and high-school students. The intervention is clearly found in school districts embracing new, progressive education models that meet the needs of future societies and workforces — models such as blended experiential and online learning in and, yes, outside the conventional classroom. Models, such as charter schools, that offer parents the options they need to ensure their child’s success in an increasingly competitive global environment.

That battle is no more urgent for any group than it is for our nation’s most underserved and historically distressed: from black and Latino youth to low-income and struggling working-class communities already battered by the effects (and after-effects) of recession. The last thing already economically challenged black or brown students and their parents should worry about is the quality of their education.

Likewise, those high-achieving students, rural students, bullied students and others are desperate for choices that allow them to excel in their education. For example: I met a student from West Virginia last week who enrolled in online courses that she could not take in her local, excellent but small neighborhood school. She and her parents were told by the guidance counselor that the courses she wanted were unavailable. The eventual valedictorian for her class, she took additional courses from a for-profit online provider that allowed her to achieve higher SAT scores and take courses otherwise unavailable to her. There were even language courses available that she would otherwise only take in college. Without choice, this high-achieving student — like hundreds of thousands of others — would not continue to excel and would be limited in what local schools could offer.

Clearly, you can’t have a conversation about improving the quality of life for underserved, diverse populations or high-achieving students unless you pose workable ideas on education. You can’t pose workable ideas on education or expect the condition of underserved youth to improve if you refuse to put school choice and access to new modes of learning in the mix.

Major openings for the presidential candidates to discuss choice and online education as a primary learning tool are either conveniently dismissed, lost in political posturing or altogether forgotten. We clearly can’t rely on the articulation of a policy vision from the Republican nominee (for obvious reasons). But when we look to Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonEx-GM CEO: I’ve always voted Republican until now Election reveals Paul Ryan to be worst speaker in U.S. history Dem Senate candidate knocks Rubio for Trump support MORE for a thoughtful approach on issues such as parental choice, we find her either taking the side of unionized teachers (even if it contradicts earlier, steadfast support for charter schools) or completely missing those grand opportunities to present it as a viable long-term beacon of educational hope.

Nowhere was that unfortunate oversight on vivid display than at her recent appearance before a joint meeting of the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. When offered a few moments to lay out her policy vision for black and brown progress in America, Clinton left out school choice and relegated digital learning to merely PCs in the classroom.

Nor did the assemblage of esteemed African-American and Latino reporters, talk-show hosts, editors and producers ask her about it.

Unfortunately, online, radio and cable outlets are so focused on the latest campaign gaffe or doubled down faux pas that the plight of school children gets left behind in the political dust-up.

Still, campaigns refuse any raised or sustained debate on choice as a tangible way to address our ongoing K-12 crisis with any tangible solutions. Few want to take a firm position supporting parental preference in education, despite the vast number of voting parents who want (and need) it. Most seem oblivious to the need for expanded and innovative options for K-12 students, despite an abundance of evidence suggesting online learning, blended classrooms and access to multifaceted educational environments are exactly what’s essential for an increasingly diverse American landscape.

Yet, when examining many of the larger national polls, parents — especially black and Latino parents — are demanding more choice and creative, digital learning in and outside the classroom. In a National Alliance for Public Charter Schools poll released this year, 80 percent of parents supported some form of educational choice, including 63 percent of black parents and 55 percent of Hispanic parents. A Pathways/YouGov survey on school preferences found that black and Hispanic parents were "more likely" to consider "integrated use of technology" when education options were available.

For these population groups, education is perceived as the most effective pathway to upward socioeconomic mobility. The Pew Research Center shows that 66 percent of Americans identify education as a top 10 issue motivating choices this election cycle. In the most recent weekly YouGov/Economist survey, education still ranks among the top-five issues (out of 15), with more African-Americans and Latinos placing it as a "most important issue" than whites. For voters under 30, education is the top concern (partly out of struggles over student debt, and partly out of recent experiences with troubled school systems). That aligns with a recent GenForward joint poll where education was a top-three concern for voters ages 18 to 30, especially voters of color.

This is not much of a surprise. Education is a greater priority to individuals who find themselves historically disadvantaged or farther down the income ladder. To those faced with fewer resources and access to wealth, education is increasingly respected as the ultimate driver of future success — and choice is a chief path to that goal. Yet, presidential nominees and their parties have failed to promote a vision of what will make K-12 education better, even as the shifting demographic environment continues to demand such.

That school choice is not a headlining issue of our time rests not on the shoulders of voters. Elected officials, policymakers, pundits and those who constitute the rest of our active political and media class must aggressively tackle that discussion. We need a debate and movement where educational options are plentiful and innovation in (and outside) the classroom is the norm rather than the exception.

Davis is executive chairman of K12 Inc., a technology-based education company and leading provider of online learning programs to schools across the U.S.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

Georgia’s largest online school paid millions, earns a D

Local Education

By Ty Tagami

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Updated: 3:04 p.m. Friday, July 22, 2016Posted: 12:00 a.m. Saturday, July 23, 2016

Georgians spend tens of millions of dollars a year on one of the biggest online schools in the nation, yet nearly every measure indicates the high-tech, online education model has not worked for many of its more than 13,000 students.

Georgia Cyber Academy students log onto online classes from home, where they talk to and message with teachers and classmates and do assignments in a way that will “individualize their education, maximizing their ability to succeed,” according to an advertisement. But results show that most of them lag state performance on everything from standardized test scores to graduation rates.

The charter school’s leaders say they face unique challenges, with large numbers of students already behind when they enroll. They have plans to improve results but also claim the state’s grading methods are unfair and inaccurate. However, the state disagrees, and if the academy cannot show improvement soon, the commission that chartered the school could shut it down.

Since it opened with a couple thousand students in 2007, the academy has grown to become the state’s largest public school, with students from all 159 counties. In the 2015 fiscal year alone, it reported receiving $82 million in state and federal funding.

Parents such as Dione Ansah praise the academy as an attractive alternative to regular schools. The DeKalb County resident chose it for her two daughters after she lost her job and could no longer afford private school. The neighborhood middle school had a reputation for violence, she said, adding, “there was no way I was going to send my kids there.”

Families choose the academy for a variety of other reasons, such as a desire to learn at an individual pace, a medical condition that keeps kids at home or a need for a flexible schedule for work, such as a student with a budding acting career.

Evelyn Bailey, who graduated in May and will attend an Ivy League university this fall, said she was exposed to a diverse group of students through the classes and occasional organized field trips. Bailey thrived while attending class and doing homework on a computer screen in a windowless corner of her Douglasville basement.

“You have to be the kind of student that enjoys having more responsibility,” said Bailey, 18. “You have to be good at managing your time.”

Too few students apparently share her drive and temperament. The academy earned a “D” for 2015 from the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement. The academy scored near the bottom in the state that year for “growth,” a measure of how each student did on standardized state tests compared to others with similar past performance.

The graduation rate of 66 percent lagged behind the state average by 13 percentage points. Reading ability in third grade, a key marker of future academic success, also lagged, with 47 percent of its students able to digest books on their grade level versus a state average of 52 percent.

The State Charter Schools Commission, established in 2013 as an alternative to going through a school district to start a charter school, authorized the academy in 2014-15. The commission requires its schools to meet annual academic, financial and operational goals in three of the first four years of operation. The academy, which had operated for seven years under the Odyssey Charter School in Coweta County before obtaining its own charter, did not perform as required in its first year as an independent school. It scored one out of a possible 100 points on the academic portion of its evaluation, which assesses performance, mainly on standardized tests, compared to traditional schools. The results for 2015-16 are still being calculated.

This scoring system was not in place when the academy board signed the charter, and the school has not yet agreed to use it. But Bonnie Holliday, the commission’s executive director, said the school isn’t meeting goals under the original scoring system either.

“In the event standards are not met in future years,” she said, “the school is at risk for non-renewal in 2019.”

The academy is beset by many of the same problems that bedevil traditional public schools, including a high and rising number of students from families with meager incomes. Sixty nine percent of the academy’s students in 2015-16 were considered low-income under the federal school meal program; that’s 7 percentage points higher than the state average but below some metro Atlanta districts.

The school also grapples with high turnover. One in four academy students leaves each year; and about a third of the students are new in any given year, said Matt Arkin, the school’s founding head. It takes a year or more to adapt to a classroom on the computer, he said, adding that the performance looks better when counting only those who’ve been there for several years. For instance, for the 42 percent of students who start and finish high school there, the graduation rate is 85 percent. That is 19 percentage points higher than the school’s overall rate.

Some parents and teachers say large class sizes make it difficult for teachers to deliver on the school’s premise of harnessing technology to tailor teaching to each child.

“That’s all a lie; maybe in the younger years, as long as the teacher doesn’t have 70 kids,” said Sherry Horton. Her son did fine there, but her two daughters struggled in high school and couldn’t get their teachers’ attention, Horton said. She withdrew them. “If you put your kids in that school, know that you need to be on top of it every day with the teachers,” she said.

Arkin said class sizes are larger than he’d like, averaging 50 students. He said staffing is limited by tax money the school gets: more than $5,000 per student versus about $9,000 on average for Georgia schools.

As a state charter school, the academy gets no local property tax dollars. And the commission gives it less money per student than its other charter schools with school buildings to maintain, buses to fuel and lunches to cook.

Another problem mentioned by former teachers: attendance.

Jennifer Phillips, who taught seventhgrade English at the Academy several years ago, said a small proportion of her students showed up regularly for her online classes.

“Attendance was definitely a problem,” said Phillips, who left after one year, disillusioned.

Students can watch recordings of the classes later.

Some also said students whose parents weren’t monitoring them could misbehave and be disruptive, doodling on a PowerPoint slide projected to the whole class instead of demonstrating how to solve the math problem on it.

Others said disciplinary problems were minor compared to brick-and-mortar schools. Kelly Brooks, a current teacher at the academy, left a traditional middle school job after tiring of misbehavior. “Boys and girls at that age, they’re just so distracted by each other,” she said. Now, when kids misbehave, she can turn off their ability to speak to or send messages to their classmates.

She said there are other advantages with the technology. Students feel emboldened to approach her because they can send her what they might think are dumb questions without embarrassing themselves in front of their peers.

“So as long as a student is interested, they’re going to get way more out of this than in a traditional classroom,” she said.

While some students exploit that opportunity, the school’s overall performance suggests most are like Keontavious Hankerson, a Burke County student who liked his teachers but felt uninspired by the online experience.

His mother, Mary Webb, enrolled him in the academy two years ago after county teachers “gave him real bad grades because he couldn’t focus.” His performance improved the first year, when his father’s work schedule allowed him to stay home during the day and push him. The next year his father’s schedule changed, and Keontavious was left home with only a slightly older relative. He floundered, Webb said. She was impressed that the school provided a computer, books and even printer ink, but said she will re-enroll him in the county this fall.

Keontavious, 15, said he missed being around other kids. “I didn’t like being at home,” he said. “It was hard for me to stay on the computer.”

School officials acknowledge the problem: Self-driven students or those with parents who can push them tend to do best while those with less support often struggle.

“We’re a school that really seeks to challenge high performers, and push them to new heights. At the same time we’re a dropout prevention and dropout recovery school,” Arkin said.

About four in five at the high school level and about half of the younger kids came to the academy after falling behind at their prior school, he said.

The school pays K12, a for-profit company, to provide technology and curriculum services, including $36.9 million in 2014-15.

Mary Gifford, a senior vice president at K12, said Georgia’s growth measure is inaccurate at grading schools with extremes of high- and low-performers and high student turnover.

The state disagrees, saying their school grading model uses test scores in a way that is “reflective” of those characteristics.

Ryan Mahoney, chairman of the academy’s nonprofit board, dismissed the likelihood of being closed. The first year’s results were based mainly on the 2015 Georgia Milestones tests, which, he noted, were waived for low-performing traditional schools since the tests were new. If the commission sticks to its rules, he said, most of the agency’s 15 schools that were around in 2014-15 would have to close.

“I’m sure that’s not what the commission intended,” he said. He wants the commission to change the way it grades schools. He also wants more money for the school.

Holliday, the commission’s executive director, said schools might get a reprieve if they meet standards by the fourth year of their contract, but added any underperforming school is at risk of closure “regardless of whether it’s one school or 10 schools … any school operating under the assumption that commissioners will give them a pass for poor performance is mistaken.”

Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle, who spoke at the academy’s graduation ceremony, is optimistic about the school, but said it must make do with current funding.

“They have a very efficient model for the delivery of education, and they should be maximizing that,” he said. “K12 as an institution needs to be less concerned about money and more concerned about student achievement.”

He said charter schools like the academy prod traditional schools to improve and that it has the potential to be a “disruptive” force for education in the way Uber is changing transportation. While the academy “clearly is not at the highest standard that we would like,” he said, it is serving “many students at a very, very high level.”

Online charter schools have drawn critical attention nationwide, even from charter advocates. In mid-June, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools called for change, citing research that found online charter schools had turned in “large-scale underperformance.”

Karega Rausch, vice president of research for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, which helped with the report, said virtual schools in Georgia and across the country are doing poorly on a host of measures. “There’s a whole lot of corroborating evidence to suggest there’s a problem,” he said. “A lot more authorizers need to close a lot more virtual schools. Period.”

Arkin said his turnaround plan includes more advisers to help new students adapt and a new data system in middle school to help teachers analyze student performance and adjust their teaching. And he said the school is getting better, noting that some of its scores on the state’s report card climbed closer to the state average in 2014-15 from the year before, when the academy operated under Odyssey.

Even parents who are critical said it would be a shame if the academy closed, since it provides an alternative in some parts of the state where there is no other.

Susan Rachel’s daughter spent a year in the academy. Now, Rachel, from the Augusta area, is complaining about class sizes, harried teachers, students slipping profanity onto the electronic blackboard and, ultimately, a model of education that didn’t seem to be all that different from traditional public school. She described it as “the factory model in your living room, spitting out kids as fast as you can enroll them.”

But don’t close the academy, she said. Parents need an alternative: “I mean, it’s better than nothing.”

Data specialist Jennifer Peebles contributed to this article

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

California Virtual Academies defend online charter schools as model of school choice

By Jessica Calefati, jcalefati@bayareanewsgroup.com

04/19/2016 05:26:24 AM PDT

In a vigorous defense, officials behind the California Virtual Academies branded this news organization’s investigation into their online charter schools “wrong and insulting” and an attack against a model of school choice.

But critics of K12 Inc., the Wall Street-traded company that runs the profitable but low-performing academies, called for greater oversight of its practices.

The newspaper’s two-day series examined how K12 Inc., reaps tens of millions of dollars in state funding while graduating fewer than half of the students enrolled in its high schools.

Elizabeth Novak-Galloway, 12, who used to be an A student, received C s because she was missing work she never knew had been assigned, her mother said. (Dai Sugano, Bay Area News Group)
Dai Sugano

In a letter sent to teachers Monday afternoon, the schools’ academic administrator, April Warren, called the newspaper’s investigative series “a gross mischaracterization of all of the work that you all do on a regular basis.” But despite their broad condemnations, neither Warren nor other school officials alleged any specific factual inaccuracies in the series.

The investigation, published Sunday and Monday, also reported that teachers have been asked to inflate attendance and enrollment records used to determine taxpayer funding.

K12 says the schools operate independently and are locally controlled. But the newspaper’s review of the academies’ contracts, tax records and other financial information suggest the Virginia-based company calls the shots, operating the schools to make money by taking advantage of laws governing charters and nonprofit organizations. K12’s heavily marketed model in California has helped the company collect more than $310 million in state funding over the past 12 years.

State Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, said the performance of any publicly financed school should be a matter of concern for taxpayers — and lawmakers.

“Charter schools were created to give parents and students an alternative to how public schools were delivering instruction,” Beall said Monday. “But it has never been the state’s intent to permit online for-profit charter schools to fail students or gouge taxpayers. Students must not be viewed as cash cows.”

However, the company, a top administrator for the online school network and the board of directors for one of the academies serving Bay Area students all released similarly worded statements Monday, blasting the newspaper’s investigation.

Together, members of the California Virtual Academy at San Mateo’s board of directors called allegations that they have “any other interest except for our children” and their families both “wrong and insulting.”

The statement said the network of online schools has for years endured similar attacks on its track record from charter opponents and the California Teachers Association, which is attempting to unionize employees at the schools.

“Parents want choice in education,” the statement said. “Students deserve options because one size does not fit all. We love our school.”

The board insisted in its statement that each of the K12-partner schools are “governed independently by their nonprofit school boards made up of California residents including parents, educators, and local community leaders.”

The newspaper’s investigation revealed that two of the four board members at the San Mateo County school — board president Don Burbulys and member Stephen Warren — are related to top academy administrators who are hand-picked by K12.

Burbulys, who is married to Dean of Students Laura Terrazas, lives in Soquel in Santa Cruz County, and Warren, who is the brother-in-law of April Warren, lives in Riverside County.

Defending her brother-in-law’s oversight of her work, April Warren wrote in her letter to teachers that “relatives are permitted to serve on a California nonprofit board” and that “several school districts have people who sit on their boards that are either parents, employees or are related to employees of the district that they serve.”

The California Charter Schools Association and California Teachers Association on Monday said the Legislature should take a hard look at whether for-profit companies like K12 should be operating schools in California and whether the state can do more to ensure charter schools are overseen properly.

“When taxpayer money is used to fund education, those dollars should go to help kids,” said California Teachers Association President Eric Heins. “In this case, we have no idea how the company is spending our tax dollars and it’s not right. This is pretty basic stuff.”

Online charter schools only work with a fraction of the kids enrolled in California’s roughly 1,200 charters, but that doesn’t mean they should be held to a lower standard of accountability, said Emily Bertelli, a spokeswoman for the California Charter Schools Association, which publicly called for the closure of a K12-run school in 2011 only to see the school reopened with a new name under the same authorizer.

Former Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman said in an interview Monday that none of the newspaper’s findings surprised him. He said he’d seen many of the same issues unfold in his state, where he tried, and failed to shut down K12’s Tennessee Virtual Academy because of poor performance.

“This company’s efforts to grow bear no relationship whatsoever to the quality of their results in California and across the country,” Huffman said.

“You would hope that an online virtual school — especially one run by a for-profit company — would only have the opportunity to grow with really high-quality results,” Huffman said. “K12 isn’t coming close to meeting a high bar in terms of quality.”

One Redwood City parent who contacted this newspaper, saying the investigative series “hit close to home,” said his son, who is now a sophomore in college, took K12’s advanced courses, earned A’s and B’s and finished at the top of his class when he was a student at one of the company-run California schools. But when his son applied to a local community college, he was stunned to learn he had to take remedial math and English courses because he was so far behind.

Other parents, however, contacted the newspaper to defend the schools, saying the online learning model was vital to their sons’ and daughters’ academic success.

Maureen Behlen said her son thrived in K12’s school because she “put everything into it,” spending several hours a day teaching him and guiding him through his coursework. She said an online school isn’t the right fit for families who can’t devote as much time to the program as she did.

“Would you send a bunch of kids into a classroom with no teachers? Of course not,” said Behlen, who lives in the foothills in East San Jose. “There has to be an adult responsible for overseeing what they’re learning, and if there isn’t, you’re setting them up to fail.”

Contact Jessica Calefati at 916-441-2101. Follow her at Twitter.com/Calefati.

Online School Enriches Affiliated Companies if Not Its Students


Alliyah Graham, a senior in the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, an online charter school, in Liberty Township, Ohio, in February.

Andrew Spear for The New York Times

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, an online charter school based here, graduated 2,371 students last spring. At the commencement ceremony, a student speaker triumphantly told her classmates that the group was “the single-largest graduating high school class in the nation.”

What she did not say was this: Despite the huge number of graduates — this year, the school is on track to graduate 2,300 — more students drop out of the Electronic Classroom or fail to finish high school within four years than at any other school in the country, according to federal data. For every 100 students who graduate on time, 80 do not.

Even as the national on-time graduation rate has hit a record high of 82 percent, publicly funded online schools like the Electronic Classroom have become the new dropout factories.

These schools take on students with unorthodox needs — like serious medical problems or experiences with bullying — that traditional districts may find difficult to meet. But with no physical classrooms and high pupil-to-teacher ratios, they cannot provide support in person.

“If you’re disconnected or struggling or you haven’t done well in school before, it’s going to be tough to succeed in this environment,” said Robert Balfanz, the director of the Everyone Graduates Center, a nonprofit research and advocacy group in Baltimore.

Virtual schools have experienced explosive growth nationwide in recent years, financed mostly by state money. But according to a report released on Tuesday by America’s Promise Alliance, a consortium of education advocacy groups, the average graduation rate at online schools is 40 percent.

Few states have as many students in e-schools as Ohio. Online charter schools here are educating one out of every 26 high school students, yet their graduation rates are worse than those in the state’s most impoverished cities, including Cleveland and Youngstown.

With 17,000 pupils, most in high school, the Electronic Classroom is the largest online school in the state. Students and teachers work from home on computers, communicating by email or on the school’s web platform at distances that can be hundreds of miles apart.

In 2014, the school’s graduation rate did not even reach 39 percent. Because of this poor record, as well as concerns about student performance on standardized tests, the school is now under “corrective action” by a state regulator, which is determining its next steps.

But while some students may not have found success at the school, the Electronic Classroom has richly rewarded private companies affiliated with its founder, William Lager, a software executive.

When students enroll in the Electronic Classroom or in other online charters, a proportion of the state money allotted for each pupil is redirected from traditional school districts to the cyberschools. At the Electronic Classroom, which Mr. Lager founded in 2000, the money has been used to help enrich for-profit companies that he leads. Those companies provide school services, including instructional materials and public relations.

For example, in the 2014 fiscal year, the last year for which federal tax filings were available, the school paid the companies associated with Mr. Lager nearly $23 million, or about one-fifth of the nearly $115 million in government funds it took in.

Critics say the companies associated with Mr. Lager have not delivered much value. “I don’t begrudge people making money if they really can build a better mousetrap,” said Stephen Dyer, a former Ohio state legislator and the education policy fellow at Innovation Ohio, a Columbus think tank that is sharply critical of online charter schools.

“It’s clear that Mr. Lager has not done a service over all to kids, and certainly not appreciably better than even the most struggling school districts in the state,” Mr. Dyer added. “But he’s becoming incredibly wealthy doing a very mediocre job for kids.”


The home office of Hannah Brown, an art teacher for the Electronic Classroom, in Columbus, Ohio.

Andrew Spear for The New York Times

Mr. Lager declined requests for an interview. In an emailed statement on Tuesday, he did not respond to questions about his affiliated companies but said the Electronic Classroom’s graduation rate did not accurately measure the school’s performance.

In the statement, he said many students arrived at the school already off-track and have trouble making up the course credits in time to graduate.

“Holding a school accountable for such students is like charging a relief pitcher with a loss when they enter a game three runs behind and wiping out the record of the starting pitcher,” his statement said.

The statement added that the school “should be judged based on an accountability system that successfully controls for the academic effects of demographic factors such as poverty, special needs and mobility.”

Continue reading the main story

In an interview, Rick Teeters, the superintendent of the Electronic Classroom, said many of the students were older than was typical for their grade, while others faced serious life challenges, including pregnancy or poverty.

Mr. Lager is correct in noting that the student body at the Electronic Classroom is highly mobile; last year more than half the school’s students enrolled for less than the full school year. And of those who dropped out of high school, half were forced to withdraw after being reported truant.

Also, according to state data, 19 percent of the students have disabilities, higher than the state average.

But the proportion of students who come from low-income families — just under 72 percent — is lower than in Cleveland, Columbus and Dayton. Close to three-quarters of the school’s students are white.

In a self-published book in 2002, “The Kids That ECOT Taught,” Mr. Lager wrote that “the dropout rate is the most critical issue facing our public education system but it is only the first of many problems that can be solved by e-learning.”

Through the Electronic Classroom, he wrote, he planned to make public education more efficient and effective.

He added, “No business could suffer results that any school in Columbus Public delivers and not be driven out of business.”

Peggy Lehner, a Republican state senator who sponsored a charter school reform bill that passed the legislature last fall, said the problem was the school, not the students.

“When you take on a difficult student, you’re basically saying, ‘We feel that our model can help this child be successful,’ ” she said. “And if you can’t help them be successful, at some point you have to say your model isn’t working, and if your model is not working, perhaps public dollars shouldn’t be going to pay for it.”

Some of those public dollars are being paid to IQ Innovations and Altair Learning Management, companies associated with Mr. Lager. Altair has had a contract with the school since 2000, a school spokesman, Neil Clark, said. According to federal filings, it received $4.2 million in 2014. Mr. Lager is the company’s chief executive.


Administrative employees at the Electronic Classroom’s headquarters in Columbus.

Andrew Spear for The New York Times

Mr. Clark said Altair provided “a variety of services,” including a program of instruction, strategic planning, public relations, financial reporting and budgeting.

In filings with the Ohio secretary of state, Mr. Lager is listed as a registered agent for IQ Innovations; in campaign finance records, he was listed as the company’s chief executive as recently as 2015. IQ Innovations received $18.7 million from the school in 2014.

Mr. Clark said IQ Innovations had provided the school with grading software and digital curriculum materials since 2008.

He said that neither Altair nor IQ Innovations was required to go through a competitive bidding process.

At the school’s headquarters, in a former mall set at the back of a parking lot here, attendance clerks sit in a windowless room, tracking how often students log in to the network. Those who do not log in for 30 days are reported as truant.

Guidance counselors carry caseloads of up to 500 students each, and the schoolwide pupil-teacher ratio is 30 to one.

For some students, the Electronic Classroom can provide a release valve from the pressures or frustrations of a traditional school. Several students assembled by the school to talk to a reporter said they had experienced bullying or boredom before enrolling.

“Without the bullying, I was able to focus,” said Sydney DeBerry, 20, who left a private school to enroll in the Electronic Classroom, which she graduated from in 2014. “That was a big distraction, not only to my work but to my individuality.”

Students who made it to graduation said self-motivation was crucial. “Contrary to popular opinion, you cannot just log on once a week and get by and still pass your classes,” said Dianna Norwood, 19, who graduated last year and is now a student at Ohio State University.

But other students complained that the school could make it difficult to succeed.

Alliyah Graham, 19, said she had sought out the Electronic Classroom during her junior year because she felt isolated as one of a few African-American girls at a mostly white public school in a Cincinnati suburb.

It took three weeks for the Electronic Classroom to enter her in its system, she said. Then it assigned her to classes she had already passed at her previous school. When she ran into technical problems, she said, “I really just had to wing it.”

Ms. Graham, who hopes to pursue a career in medicine, has also been disappointed by the quality of assignments. She showed a reporter a digital work sheet for a senior English class, in which students were asked to read a passage and then fill in boxes, circles and trapezoids, noting the “main idea,” a “picture/drawing,” or “questions you have.”

“I feel like I did this kind of work in middle school,” Ms. Graham said.

When she turns in assignments, she said, feedback from teachers is minimal. “Good job!” they write. “Keep going!”

She hopes to graduate this spring.

Her cousin, Makyla Woods, 19, moved to Cincinnati from Georgia last year, as a senior, to live with her father. Since Ms. Graham was already enrolled in the Electronic Classroom, Ms. Woods decided to give it a try.

But she soon moved out from her father’s apartment, took a job at McDonald’s and stopped doing assignments. “I just got lazy doing work on the computer,” she said.

Kitty Bennett contributed research.

A version of this article appears in print on May 19, 2016, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Online School Sold as a Success, but Many Fail. Order ReprintsToday’s PaperSubscribe

Continue reading the main story

Fourth-grader finds success with online school

Nine-year-old Gabe Neis had a tumultuous third-grade year at Bridgewater Elementary School.

With attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia, he had trouble in the noisy atmosphere of a classroom full of nearly 30 other children.

He was bullied and didn’t get along with the teacher. Confidence, ability and progress withered.

“He hated school; it was the last place he wanted to be,” said Heidi Neis, his mother. “There was a sense of hopelessness.”

Since wrapping up the third grade, however, Gabe has made strides. Next year he’ll join his school’s student council as fifth-grade class representative.

During his acceptance speech, Gabe said he thought he was stupid, but now knows he’s smart. That he thought he couldn’t do anything, but now he knows he can be successful.

What happened this year, then?

Gabe joined Bonneville Joint School District 93’s online school.

“It’s fun. I get to stay at home — it’s like having a sick day but you’re still at school every day,” Gabe said.

Serving about 100 students, the K-8 Bonneville Online School was created for children who can’t find success in traditional schools.

This month, Fuel Education, an online education provider, presented Gabe and the school with its 2016 Transformation Award. The reward is reserved for schools and students that demonstrate excellent use of Fuel’s framework.

“We really pride ourselves on innovative learning for each individual,” said Shelley Andrus, the online school’s lead teacher. “For some students with different learning, behavioral or health needs, that flexibility is super important to them.”

Students enrolled are pulled from brick-and-mortar schools and taught at home by a “learning coach,” usually a child’s mother. The learning coach gets a crash course in teaching from district personnel.

Still enrolled in public school, the students take state-mandated standardized tests when necessary. The online school provides a curriculum and constant text, phone, email or video interaction with district teachers.

“I’ve improved with learning. The fall was tough but I’m starting to get facts easier,” Gabe said. “But it isn’t just me, it’s with the support of my teachers and mom.”

For many students, the online school allows a level of involvement that’s logistically difficult to swing in a traditional classroom.

“When you have close to 30 students, some that may have disabilities fall to the wayside. They don’t get the attention and accommodations they may need,” Neis said.

During warmer months, Gabe and his mother take advantage of the sunny weather and run through lessons outside. Sometimes at the table on their porch, other times on the trampoline in their backyard.

The one-on-one nature of a home-based education allows Neis to know whether Gabe needs to take a five-minute break on the trampoline or a spin on his bicycle to burn some energy. The flexibility of the schedule, meanwhile, allows those breaks to happen when they need to.

Figuring those habits out, however, was a difficult learning process for Gabe and his mother, who hadn’t had any experience teaching.

“There was a lot of tears and frustration,” Neis said. “Feeling like Shelley had to talk me down off a ledge or something, I was so overwhelmed in how I was going to do this.”

Throughout the process, Neis learned more about her child’s disabilities and how to set up him up for success. Reading instructions aloud, for example, or dialing back math work to a lower grade level.

“I didn’t have a clue how much his dyslexia impacted him,” Neis said. “You don’t just jump into a primary teacher role without figuring it out. I’ve had to learn as much as he has.”

Neis can text the district’s online school teachers in times of struggle and swap teaching tips with other parents during monthly learning coach meetings.

Students also have access to optional weekly Thursday gatherings with online school teachers and other kids in the program. They participate in games and activities. Sometimes guests come to present.

Though the gatherings offer a good chance at socialization, that isn’t necessarily their main purpose — many of the online school’s students still participate in faith communities, Boy Scouts, et cetera.

Instead, the weekly meetings show the children that others also have problems with traditional education.

Andrus said students get to see they aren’t the only ones who struggle to learn in crowded classrooms, while parents also see other families are going through the same situation.

Neis only began to feel comfortable teaching about a month into the school year.

Gabe, meanwhile, has worked during weekends along with winter and spring breaks to catch up on the courses he toiled with at the year’s beginning.

He may not be ready to rejoin a traditional school anytime soon. Still, the quiet porch outside of Gabe’s homehelps himsucceed in a way the schoolhouse couldn’t.

“He’s gained confidence in his own ability to work again; he’s really driving his own education,” Neis said. “I’m excited to see where he goes. And if he’s an online learner through high school that’s fine with me.”

Reporter Kevin Trevellyan can be reached at 542-6762.

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 leilajt2+edreform@gmail.com. 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: https://twitter.com/arightdenied.


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: http://ift.tt/1Wo53tj.


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 http://ift.tt/1THRcak