Charter Groups Call Out Virtual Schools

In August 2014, there were 135 full-time virtual charter schools operating in 23 states and the District of Columbia.

A coalition of charter school advocates banded together Thursday to take a shot at some of their own – virtual charter schools – and urged state policymakers to tighten regulations on their lesser-known school-choice stepsisters, which have come under fire for poor student performance.

“When national groups that advocate for and champion charter schools question the impact of virtual charter schools on student achievement, policymakers should take note,” said Chad Aldis, vice president for Ohio policy and advocacy with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative-leaning education policy organization.

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The groups – the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the 50-State Campaign for Achievement Now and the National Association of Charter School Authorizers – published a set of sweeping recommendations for how states should overhaul their virtual charter schools, complete with calls for shuttering the poorest performers.

Among the many detailed recommendations, the groups called on states to set minimum academic performance standards for virtual charter schools whose charters are in the process of being renewed, and for enforcement mechanisms to ensure that all charter schools, including full-time virtual charter schools, meet those minimums.

In addition, the groups recommended that states create a method to hold charter authorizers accountable for results, and said an entity should be tasked with regularly monitoring those authorizers’ performance. States should also require charter authorizers to show via annual audits that they are using all of their oversight money for oversight functions.

“These provisions are tailored to the unique problems that have emerged among too many full-time virtual charter schools, which require states to enact significant policy changes,” said Todd Ziebarth, senior vice president for state advocacy and support at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

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Greg Richmond, president and CEO of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, urged those bodies also to work within existing state policy frameworks to close chronically low-performing virtual charter schools.

“Authorizers have a legal and a moral responsibility to close chronically low-performing charter schools of any kind, including full-time virtual charter schools,” he said. “In many cases, this would not require a change to state law.”

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As of August 2014, there were 135 full-time virtual charter schools operating in 23 states and the District of Columbia – about twice as many as in 2008 – and serving approximately 180,000 students. A majority of the schools are run by for-profit organizations and serve large numbers of poor and white students.

The recommendations come on the heels of reports by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes, the Center on Reinventing Public Education and Mathematica Policy Research that showed when compared with their classroom-based traditional public school counterparts, full-time virtual charter schools fail across multiple metrics.

For example, in math and reading in a given year, full-time virtual charter school students learn essentially no math compared with their peers in classroom-based traditional public schools, according to the Center for Research on Education Outcomes report. In fact, students in virtual charters, the report showed, experienced the equivalent of 180 fewer days of learning in math and 72 fewer days of learning in reading in comparison with traditional public school students.

Moreover, all subgroups of students enrolled in virtual schools – including when students are broken down by race, economic background and native language, as well as students in special education – reportedly perform worse in terms of academic growth than their classroom-based peers.

“If traditional public schools were producing such results, we would rightly be outraged,” the groups charged in their set of recommendation. “We should not feel any different just because these are charter schools.”

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The recommendations underscore that there is a place for virtual charter schools, especially for rural students seeking to avoid a lengthy bus ride, home- or hospital-bound youth who want to stay in school despite an illness, and high school students looking for an alternative to dropping out.

Still, the groups called on state policymakers to ensure the sector is more tightly monitored so students are not slipping through the cracks.

“A few states have opted to simply ban full-time virtual charter schools, but this solution risks limiting parental choice without giving otherwise high-performing virtual charter schools a chance to operate,” said Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. “This is why we need a better regulatory framework to govern full-time virtual charter schools.”

Eight states do not allow full-time virtual charter schools, according to the alliance report: Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Virginia.

Currently, enrollment in full-time virtual charter schools is highly concentrated in three states – Ohio, Pennsylvania and California – which collectively enroll over half of full-time virtual charter school students nationwide, according to National Alliance research.

In Ohio alone, some schools enroll upward of 10,000 students.

“If Ohio leaders are serious about improving student outcomes for virtual-school students, they’d be wise to consider these recommendations,” Aldis said.

The Foundation for Blended and Online Learning Applauds the Selection of Board Member Dr. Rod Paige to the National Charter Schools Hall of Fame

Former U.S. Secretary of Education recognized as a champion of strong school options for America’s children

CASTLE ROCK, CO (PRWEB) June 14, 2016

Dr. Rod Paige, former U.S. Secretary of Education and a founding member of the Foundation for Blended and Online Learning’s Board of Directors, has been selected as a 2016 inductee to the National Charter Schools Hall of Fame. Established by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in 2007, the Hall of Fame recognizes individuals and organizations for their commitment to the development and growth of innovative public charter schools. Dr. Paige joins fellow 2016 inductees Bill Kurtz and Kim Smith. They will be honored June 28th in Nashville at the 16th Annual National Charter Schools Conference.

Amy Valentine, Executive Director of the Foundation for Blended and Online Learning, said, “Dr. Paige has long championed greater access to different school options, including online, blended, and traditional charter schools. Induction into the National Charter Schools Hall of Fame is a testament to his relentless pursuit of educational equality and opportunity for America’s children. I am just as inspired as they are by Dr. Paige’s passionate advocacy for school choice and education reform on behalf of families around the country.”

Kevin P. Chavous, Chairman of the Foundation’s Board of Directors, said, “Rod has dedicated his life to the improvement of our nation’s schools, closing the persistent achievement gaps separating our students, and providing educational options to families regardless of their zip code. I am thrilled to see my friend and colleague celebrated for his tireless leadership by the national charter school community.”

About The Foundation for Blended and Online Learning

The Foundation for Blended and Online Learning is an independent charitable education organization. The mission of the foundation is to empower students through personalized learning by advancing the availability and quality of blended and online learning opportunities and outcomes. To become involved with The Foundation or to learn more, visit http://www.blendedandonlinelearning.org.

For the original version on PRWeb visit: http://www.prweb.com/releases/2016/06/prweb13482681.htm

Both Sides Of The Education Debate Are United In Scorn For Online Charter Schools

In the wake of a scathing report on the performance of virtual schools, there is rare agreement between teachers unions and charter school advocates.

Molly Hensley-Clancy

BuzzFeed News Reporter

Alain Jocard / AFP / Getty Images

In the wake of a scathing report on the failure of online charter schools, pro-charter groups are distancing themselves from the controversial industry, publicly condemning the performance and calling for a regulatory crackdown. Some are even suggesting that the schools should no longer be considered charter schools at all.

“I don’t know that the charter space is a perfect fit for online schools,” said Nina Rees, the president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, a prominent national charter advocacy group. The poor performance of online schools revealed in the report was “alarming,” Rees told BuzzFeed News. “Our first reaction was that we have the power and means to shut some of these schools down, and we should.”

Thanks to the abysmal results in the report — and years of criticism and controversy that preceded it — virtual charter schools appear to have become so politically toxic that they have produced a rare consensus between two dueling factions of the education debate: charter school advocates and teachers unions. Unions have long been vocal opponents of the virtual charter industry, calling for tighter regulations and limits on schools’ growth.

“This data is disconcerting, and we’re not pleased, obviously,” said Marc Sternberg, director of elementary education for the Walton Family Foundation, a pro-charter group that funded the virtual charter study. “Online schools obviously need to rethink their model going forward, because this is not a flattering picture of students’ experiences and student outcomes.”

“We welcome anyone who is willing to join us in shining a light on the terrible practices and even worse results of virtual charter schools,” Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, told BuzzFeed News.

The study, conducted by Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, found that online schools have an “overwhelming negative impact” on students, setting them back 180 days of learning in math over the course of a school year that is, on average, 180.4 days long.

Long before the report was released in October, the virtual charter industry had drummed up controversy for poor academic results and high dropout rates, churning through students in a troubling cycle of enrollments and withdrawals. The sector is is dominated by for-profit companies, including K12 Inc., a publicly traded company, and Connections Academy, a division of the education giant Pearson. The schools have been criticized for recruiting widely — with advertising budgets that number in the millions — especially among poor and academically struggling students.

But condemnation of online schools is a departure for the charter advocacy movement, which has so far been largely silent on the subject.

“I believe there’s a schism forming between the for-profit virtual [charters] and the charter school establishment,” said Gary Miron, a fellow at the National Education Policy Center who has been a longtime critic of the industry. For years, Miron said, some charter advocates had expressed concern to him behind the scenes about the poor performance of online charters — but did not publicly condemn them.

Miron was “very surprised” to see the Walton Family Foundation had funded a study so deeply critical of online charters. Created by the politically conservative Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart, the Walton foundation typically backs policies and research that support charter schools and their growth; it has funded some virtual schools in the past.

“Everything that’s been out there has shown that these schools continue to perform poorly and still profit,” Miron said. “I think it’s getting harder and harder for the charter establishment to ignore.”

The Center on Reinventing Public Education, a policy and research group funded by the country’s largest charter advocates, including the Gates Foundation, issued a report that called for tightened accountability measures and increased state oversight of online schools. Most state laws, the CRPE report said, lumped virtual charters in with their brick-and-mortar counterparts, failing to account for issues unique to virtual charters like funding and attendance.

Robin Lake, the report’s author, suggested states should consider allowing virtual schools to turn away students who were not a good fit for online learning, something that is currently barred by charter law. That would mean that the schools, Lake said, would no longer be considered charter schools at all.

“Given the magnitude of the results that we saw,” Lake said, “you could take them out of the charter school regulatory framework.”

Jeff Kwitowski, a spokesperson for K12 Inc., said the company was opposed to policies allowing virtual charters to screen students. “What you’re proposing is limiting parent choice,” Kwitowski said, echoing one of the charter school sector’s core arguments. “We provide equal access and opportunity and respect parent choice.”

Both K12 and Connections Academy have pushed back against the results of the Walton-funded study, saying that the comparisons do not take into account the “unique circumstances” of virtual charter students — who often enter the school partway through the year, sometimes because they struggle with health or social issues and have a history of struggling academically in brick-and-mortar schools.

Mary Gifford, the senior vice president of policy at K12, said that the study was “incredibly validating in many respects” because it found that virtual charter students tended to come from low-income backgrounds and be academically troubled.

The Walton Foundation and the National Alliance for Public Charters have called for significant policy changes in light of what they said were revelations about online schools’ academic performance. They want funding formulas changed to penalize virtual schools where students do not finish the year — some have turnover rates of more than 50% annually — and to make it easier for authorizers to shut down poorly performing virtual schools.

Todd Ziebarth, a senior vice president at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said the group would be “substantially” rethinking its approach to virtual charters. In its annual ranking of states’ charter-friendly policies, and in a model charter policy law, the organization has long encouraged blanket support for virtual schools — a policy that is likely to change, Ziebarth said.

“We’re looking at questions of whether states need to govern virtual schools out of the charter concept,” Ziebarth said. “It’s been suggested that maybe states need to move these schools out of the charter space, so that they can have enrollment criteria.”

As it stands, online charters pose a significant threat to the broader charter school movement, dragging down charter schools’ academic results nationwide. Virtual schools serve disproportionately poor and academically challenged students, considered “at-risk” — a fact frequently cited by industry supporters as an explanation for their poor academic results.

But that is a stance at odds with some of the country’s most successful charter schools, which advocate a philosophy of making “no excuses” for failing to educate struggling children and sometimes turn up test scores on equal footing with those of wealthy students.

Whitney Tilson, a hedge fund manager and prominent education reform advocate, has been a vocal critic of the leading provider of online virtual schools, K12 Inc. He bet publicly against the company’s stock for several years, accusing K12 of intentionally recruiting “at-risk” students as a way to decrease accountability and explain away poor test scores.

Tilson is also on the board of KIPP, one of the country’s largest charter networks and the pioneer of the “no excuses” model. KIPP schools enroll mostly poor students but consistently post test scores above the national average.

The Walton Foundation, the National Alliance, and other charter groups have so far said little about the for-profit companies that operate two-thirds of all online charter schools. K12, a public company, and Connections Academy, a division of the education giant Pearson, are by far the biggest players. Sternberg, of the Walton Family Foundation, said it was “neutral” about for-profits, preferring instead to focus on results. He said he didn’t yet want to condemn individual providers, but work with them to improve their results.“That said, if they had access to this data and did nothing about it, then we have a problem,” Sternberg said.

But teachers unions and their allies claim for-profit companies bear much of the responsibility for the failures of virtual charters.

“The two companies driving most of the bad policies are the ones making the most money from virtual charters,” said Weingarten, the AFT chief. The sector’s most serious problem, she said, was the practice — echoed by Tilson’s allegations — that schools “focus on recruiting as many students as possible, including those who are not a good fit for online learning.”

For years, K12 Inc. spent huge portions of its budget, drawn mostly from taxpayer money, to advertise on children’s channels like Nickelodeon and teen-friendly websites like VampireFreaks.com.

Miron, of the National Education Policy Center, said the results of for-profit and nonprofit online schools are equally “dismal.” But he said the companies’ extensive legal and lobbying efforts in many states — which they use to push through laws friendly to virtual charters and oppose attempts to shut down poorly performing schools — have stood in the way of reform.

Those extensive lobbying presences are likely to pose a problem for some of the efforts that the National Alliance for Public Charters hopes to push through in the wake of the report. Kwitowski, the spokesperson for K12, said the company did not support proposals to pay virtual charters only if their students had completed the school year, or based solely on students’ academic performance. Virtual schools “should be paid like all other schools,” Kwitowski said.

But both K12 and a spokesperson for Connections Academy said the companies supported more specialized laws and oversight measures for virtual schools, including some suggested in the Walton-funded report.

“Many of the recommendations are things we’ve been saying for a long time,” said Mary Gifford, of K12. “We believe in these laws, and we’ve already helped shape them in several states.”


Chicago charter school subject to private-sector labor laws

Labor board decision that school is “private entity” may set precedent

January 2, 2013

By: Becky Vevea[1]

File: Pro-union Chicago Math and Science Academy teachers and supporters before a board meeting at the school last year.

Teachers at a Chicago charter school are now subject to private-sector labor laws, rather than state laws governing public workers. The move could impact how public schools are run down the road.

The ruling[2], made by the National Labor Relations Board last month, said the Chicago Math and Science Academy is a “private entity” and therefore covered under the federal law governing the private sector.

The decision overrules a vote taken by teachers last year to form a union in accordance with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act. At the time, two-thirds of teachers at the school approved the union and it became official under state law.

But school managers wanted to follow federal labor law, which among other things would require a vote by secret ballot.

“This case was really about whether you organize via one method or another,” said Andrew Broy, director of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools. “It wasn’t about you can organize at all, whether you can bust unions, or anything like that.”

Still, the case was watched closely by unions and charter supporters across the country. Several groups, including the American Federation of Labor and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools filed briefs.

That’s because charter schools are publicly-funded, but privately-run. The public-private, hybrid nature of charter schools creates a number of gray areas when it comes to accountability and governance.

In many ways, they are like government contractors, said James Powers, the attorney representing CMSA. A school district signs a contract with a private group, usually a non-profit organization, to run a school and allocates public money based on the number of students served.

But as the charter sector grows in cities across the country, teachers unions and other pro-labor groups have said expanding charters is a “union-busting” tactic.

Labor laws and charter school laws vary widely from state to state. Some require charter teachers to belong to the same union as teachers in district-run schools, others prohibit charter teachers from forming unions altogether.

Zev Eigen is an expert in labor law at Northwestern University and says the ruling could be seen as good or bad depending on who you ask.

The NLRB is consistent across state lines, which helps charter teachers in right-to-work states and other places where public sector employees have limited bargaining power, he said.

“I would much prefer to work at a charter school now, and be covered by the federal, National Labor Relations Act, than to be at the whim and mercy that public school teachers are of being under state law,” Eigen said. “The state has much less power to change the rules underneath them. To say, ‘oh, sorry we just changed the law so now you’re not allowed to strike or you’re not allowed to collectively bargain over length of school day’ or whatever it is.”

But the national law also gives management more latitude, and allows them to campaign against a union, he added.

Apart from the legal ramifications, deeming a charter schools as “private” adds fuels to the debate over the future of traditional public schools.

A spokesman for the Chicago Alliance of Charter School Teachers and Staff, which helped CMSA teachers organize, said they are still analyzing the ruling to determine what impact it could have on existing charter school unions and future organizing efforts.

Both sides said it's still a gray issue.

“This technical area of labor relations is one that’s developing,” Broy said. “This is a chapter of it, but it will continue in the coming weeks, and months, and years to be an issue, both here in Chicago and nationally.”

Chicago charter school subject to private-sector labor laws

Labor board decision that school is “private entity” may set precedent

January 2, 2013

By: Becky Vevea[1]

File: Pro-union Chicago Math and Science Academy teachers and supporters before a board meeting at the school last year.

Teachers at a Chicago charter school are now subject to private-sector labor laws, rather than state laws governing public workers. The move could impact how public schools are run down the road.

The ruling[2], made by the National Labor Relations Board last month, said the Chicago Math and Science Academy is a “private entity” and therefore covered under the federal law governing the private sector.

The decision overrules a vote taken by teachers last year to form a union in accordance with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act. At the time, two-thirds of teachers at the school approved the union and it became official under state law.

But school managers wanted to follow federal labor law, which among other things would require a vote by secret ballot.

“This case was really about whether you organize via one method or another,” said Andrew Broy, director of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools. “It wasn’t about you can organize at all, whether you can bust unions, or anything like that.”

Still, the case was watched closely by unions and charter supporters across the country. Several groups, including the American Federation of Labor and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools filed briefs.

That’s because charter schools are publicly-funded, but privately-run. The public-private, hybrid nature of charter schools creates a number of gray areas when it comes to accountability and governance.

In many ways, they are like government contractors, said James Powers, the attorney representing CMSA. A school district signs a contract with a private group, usually a non-profit organization, to run a school and allocates public money based on the number of students served.

But as the charter sector grows in cities across the country, teachers unions and other pro-labor groups have said expanding charters is a “union-busting” tactic.

Labor laws and charter school laws vary widely from state to state. Some require charter teachers to belong to the same union as teachers in district-run schools, others prohibit charter teachers from forming unions altogether.

Zev Eigen is an expert in labor law at Northwestern University and says the ruling could be seen as good or bad depending on who you ask.

The NLRB is consistent across state lines, which helps charter teachers in right-to-work states and other places where public sector employees have limited bargaining power, he said.

“I would much prefer to work at a charter school now, and be covered by the federal, National Labor Relations Act, than to be at the whim and mercy that public school teachers are of being under state law,” Eigen said. “The state has much less power to change the rules underneath them. To say, ‘oh, sorry we just changed the law so now you’re not allowed to strike or you’re not allowed to collectively bargain over length of school day’ or whatever it is.”

But the national law also gives management more latitude, and allows them to campaign against a union, he added.

Apart from the legal ramifications, deeming a charter schools as “private” adds fuels to the debate over the future of traditional public schools.

A spokesman for the Chicago Alliance of Charter School Teachers and Staff, which helped CMSA teachers organize, said they are still analyzing the ruling to determine what impact it could have on existing charter school unions and future organizing efforts.

Both sides said it's still a gray issue.

“This technical area of labor relations is one that’s developing,” Broy said. “This is a chapter of it, but it will continue in the coming weeks, and months, and years to be an issue, both here in Chicago and nationally.”