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.

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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

Online school operator agrees to $168.5 million settlement after being accused of manipulating records

July 9, 2016

Updated 4:48 p.m.

SACRAMENTO – A for-profit company that operates online charter schools in California has reached a $168.5 million settlement with the state over claims it manipulated attendance records and overstated the academic progress of students.

The deal announced Friday by Attorney General Kamala Harris also requires Virginia-based K12 Inc. to take a slew of corrective actions, the East Bay Times reported Saturday.

The settlement comes almost three months after the Bay Area News Group published an investigation of K12 Inc., which received more than $310 million in state funding for its profitable but low-performing network of California Virtual Academies, or CAVA, which serve about 15,000 students.

Harris’ office found that K12 and its 14 “virtual” schools in California used deceptive advertising to mislead families about students’ academic progress, parents’ satisfaction with the program and their graduates’ eligibility for admission at the University of California and California State University.

The Attorney General’s office also found that K12 collected more state funding than it was entitled to by submitting inflated student attendance data.

“K12 and its schools misled parents and the State of California by claiming taxpayer dollars for questionable student attendance, misstating student success and parent satisfaction and loading nonprofit charities with debt,” Harris said in a statement.

Under the settlement, K12 will pay $8.5 million to settle the state’s claims. It also agreed to expunge about $160 million in credits it has issued to the California Virtual Academies since 2005 that have helped the schools cover the cost of the contracts they hold with the company.

K12 said in a statement it had admitted no wrongdoing and insisted it had already planned to take up several of the corrective actions required under the agreement.

“Despite our full cooperation throughout the process, the Office of the Attorney General grossly mischaracterized the value of the settlement just as it did with regard to the issues it investigated,” K12 Chief Executive Officer Stuart Udell said in the statement.

Udell said that the credits should be called subsidies, not debts, and that the company’s commitment to expunge them shouldn’t be used by Harris to hike the size of the settlement. He also defended the credits, saying they had protected the schools against financial uncertainties.

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

By Jessica Calefati, jcalefati@bayareanewsgroup.com

Posted:
 
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)
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Dai Sugano
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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.

California Virtual Academies: Is online charter school network cashing in on failure?

By Jessica Calefati, jcalefati@bayareanewsgroup.com

Posted:
 
04/17/2016 04:59:01 AM PDT

The TV ads pitch a new kind of school where the power of the Internet allows gifted and struggling students alike to “work at the level that’s just right for them” and thrive with one-on-one attention from teachers connecting through cyberspace. Thousands of California families, supported with hundreds of millions in state education dollars, have bought in.

But the Silicon Valley-influenced endeavor behind the lofty claims is leading a dubious revolution. The growing network of online academies, operated by a Virginia company traded on Wall Street called K12 Inc., is failing key tests used to measure educational success.

Fewer than half of the students who enroll in the online high schools earn diplomas, and almost none of them are qualified to attend the state’s public universities.

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)

An investigation of K12-run charter schools by this newspaper also reveals that teachers have been asked to inflate attendance and enrollment records used to determine taxpayer funding.

Launched with fanfare and promise, online schools such as K12 are compiling a spotty record nationwide, but highly motivated students with strong parental support can succeed in them. In California, however, those students make up a tiny fraction of K12’s enrollment. The result — according to an extensive review of complaints, company records, tax filings and state education data — is that children and taxpayers are being cheated as the company takes advantage of a systemic breakdown in oversight by local school districts and state bureaucrats.

At the same time, K12’s heavily marketed school model has been lucrative, helping the company rake in more than $310 million in state funding over the past 12 years, as well as enriching sponsoring school districts, which have little stake in whether the students succeed.

“Sometimes I feel like a terrible parent for enrolling them,” said Carol Brockmeier, a single mother from Santa Clara whose teenage daughters for a year attended K12’s San Mateo County-based academy, which serves an area stretching from Santa Cruz to San Francisco.

K12 is the nation’s largest player in the online school market. In California, it manages four times as many schools as its closest competitor, filling a small but unique niche among the state’s roughly 1,200 charter schools. And despite a dismal record of academic achievement in California and several other states — including Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee — the business regularly reports healthy profits.

“This company has shown an inordinate level of failure, yet it’s continually given lifelines by policymakers who have irresponsibly ignored what’s going on,” said Luis Huerta, a Columbia University associate professor of education and public policy who is one of the nation’s leading experts on online education.

Taking a closer look

K12 was launched in 2000 by Ronald Packard, a former Goldman Sachs banker, and William Bennett, U.S. secretary of education under President Ronald Reagan, with seed money from Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison and disgraced junk bond king Michael Milken.

The company opened its first California Virtual Academies in San Diego, Kern and Tuolumne counties 14 years ago and has watched enrollment in the 17 schools it operates grow from several hundred students in 2002 to more than 15,000 today. Under state law, each academy may enroll students who live in adjoining counties. That means California children who live almost anywhere south of Humboldt County can sign up for one of K12’s schools.

To understand how the network of online academies operates, this newspaper reviewed hundreds of pages of education and tax records, examined complaints filed with public agencies and lawsuits, and interviewed dozens of parents, teachers and students affiliated, or once affiliated, with the schools. The investigation found:

• Students who spend as little as one minute during a school day logged on to K12’s school software may be counted as present in records used to calculate the amount of funding the schools get from the state.

• About half of the schools’ students are not proficient in reading, and only a third are proficient in math — levels that fall far below statewide averages.

• School districts that are supposed to oversee the company’s schools have a strong financial incentive to turn a blind eye to problems: They get a cut of the academies’ revenue, which largely comes from state coffers.

• Michael Kirst, president of the State Board of Education, worked for K12 as a consultant before Gov. Jerry Brown appointed him to the post in 2011. In March 2015, the board voted against shuttering a school run by the company that California Department of Education staff said should close because it was in financial disarray, marking the only time such a recommendation has been ignored.

K12 repeatedly declined this newspaper’s requests to interview its executives about its California schools’ academic programs and finances, citing an ongoing investigation by Attorney General Kamala Harris into California’s for-profit online schools. In a series of emails, however, K12 spokesman Mike Kraft defended the schools’ academic performance, arguing that “they will not have the same test scores as schools in high-funded districts with favorable demographics.”

“Many families choose online schools because they are fleeing a school or situation that wasn’t working for their child,” wrote Kraft, K12’s vice president for finance and communications. “Their academic performance expectations should be put into context.”

Students’ struggles

K12’s virtual schools have no classrooms, no buildings and no routine face-to-face interaction between teachers and students. Instead, teachers sign on mostly from home and connect to students over the Internet.

“Being in this school can feel so lonely,” said Alexandria Brockmeier, 17, who asked her mother to enroll her in an online school in late 2014 because she felt she didn’t fit in at Santa Clara High School.

Her school day began whenever she booted up her computer and logged on to the company’s programs. Since all lectures are recorded and can be listened to later, the students aren’t required to attend class or participate in real time. So, Alexandria said, she rarely did.

If questions popped up while she was working independently, she would often email her teachers seeking help. But Alexandria said they didn’t always respond and weren’t always available to tutor her one-on-one, even though the company heavily promotes personal attention in advertisements.

Kraft, K12’s spokesman, said the schools’ policy is for teachers to reply to student emails within 24 hours on school days, but most responses take far less time. Occasionally, however, responses take longer — for example, when teachers are out sick or on leave, he said.

Alexandria had been failing several of her classes when, in January, she suddenly lost access to K12’s software. Her mother, Carol, said she learned the following day that Alexandria and her sister, Jenna, had been locked out without warning because they’d fallen so far behind in their schoolwork.

“I’m disappointed in myself, my kids and this school system,” said Carol, who works full time at Mission College in Santa Clara and has been raising the girls on her own since her husband died in 2011 from early onset Alzheimer’s disease. “I’m stressed to the nth degree.”

As a special education student, Jenna — before she and her sister were forced to withdraw — was supposed to receive extra time to complete assignments and extra support from teachers. But, her mother said, she didn’t get it, and that made things even tougher for Jenna, 15.

“If I could stay home with the kids and say, ‘OK, let’s do this lesson,’ maybe it would have worked out for them,” Carol said.

Jenna isn’t the only K12 student in California who has gone without special education services, according to formal complaints filed by academy teachers with local school districts and county offices of education last year seeking investigations into the adequacy of special education provided by K12 schools. The services students are being denied range from speech therapy to counseling to daily in-person tutoring, the complaints allege.

Kraft said the company believes the complaints are “without merit.”

Not all parents and students are dissatisfied with the K12 model, which can work for highly motivated and closely monitored students such as Lillian Lewis, an 11-year-old Pleasanton gymnast who trains at least six hours a day and dreams of competing in the Olympics. That discipline, along with support from her parents, makes her a good fit for her online school, California Virtual Academy at San Joaquin.

“We didn’t know what to expect at first, but so far it’s working out great,” said Lillian’s mother, Milly, who signed her up last summer.

Elizabeth Novak-Galloway, 12, center, seen with mother Gabriela Novak and sister Kira, 8, was pulled from a K12 school by her mom. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group)

But most students who end up in online schools are far less successful.

Gabriela Novak says she pulled her daughter Elizabeth from K12’s San Mateo County school after a year because the difficulty communicating with her overworked, disorganized teachers was maddening. Throughout sixth grade, Elizabeth’s teachers repeatedly assured her mother and Elizabeth that she was all caught up with her assignments.

But at the end of the year, her report card showed several C’s because she was missing work she never knew had been assigned, her mother said. The experience shot the confidence of the onetime A student and left her desperately behind her peers academically when she enrolled in a San Francisco Unified brick-and-mortar school.

“She doesn’t believe in herself anymore,” Novak said. “We’re trying to get her back on track, but it’s not going to be easy.”

Kraft said that since parents and students can track online classwork in “near real-time,” the final grades shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

Widespread problems

It’s not uncommon for students to struggle in online schools such as the ones run by K12, said Gary Miron, a professor of education at Western Michigan University and another leading expert in online education. He pointed to a study published in October by a research group called Mathematica that found the vast majority of students in online schools suffered because of the lack of a structured learning environment where live classroom attendance is required.

“A school that requires such little contact with teachers might be appropriate for students at the graduate level,” he said, “but it’s surely not appropriate for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.”

Kraft confirmed that the company’s schools do not require “live attendance.” Instead, he said, teachers work with students to develop a program that fits their individual needs.

A scathing report published in October by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, or CREDO, found that most online charter students across the country had far weaker academic growth than their peers in brick-and-mortar public schools.

Each 180-day school year, students are supposed to gain an equivalent number of days of learning in each of their core subjects as measured by standardized state tests. Instead, online charter students nationwide are advancing the equivalent of only 108 days in reading compared with their peers. And they’re not advancing at all in math.

The students are learning so little in that subject that it’s as if they hadn’t attended a single math class all year. And in California, the Stanford report shows, the students attending online schools such as those operated by K12 and other smaller companies are falling 58 days of math instruction behind their peers rather than advancing 180 days.

‘Shocking’ numbers

“Some of these numbers are pretty shocking,” said James Woodworth, a senior research analyst at CREDO who noted that these learning deficits are the largest the group has ever recorded in any of its research on different types of charter schools over the past 15 years.

Nationally, 70 percent of students enrolled in online charters attend schools managed by for-profit companies such as K12 and its leading competitor, Connections Academy, while 30 percent attend charters that are independent or run by nonprofits.

Kraft criticized the Stanford report’s methodology, pointing out that it did not account for how late in the school year online students might have enrolled or the reasons they left their local districts. In addition, he said, the students that K12 schools serve are generally more at risk, more disadvantaged and more likely to enter online charters after having struggled or failed in traditional schools.

A report last year by the Colorado-based National Education Policy Center, however, shows that the share of online school students across the country who are living in poverty, struggling with a disability or learning English as a second language is substantially lower than the national average for all public schools. And an analysis of the most recent state data by this newspaper shows that K12’s schools actually enroll fewer low-income students, English language learners and students from minority groups than public schools as a whole.

K12’s California Virtual Academy at San Mateo’s graduation rate is 39 percentage points below the statewide average of 78 percent, and none of the graduates met the entrance requirements for enrollment at a University of California or California State University campus, according to data collected by the state over a five-period ending in the 2013-14 school year.

K12’s other 16 schools graduated a total of only 56 students who met the requirements. Across the state, just under half of all public school graduates meet the standards. Kraft said so few of K12’s students met the requirements because UC and Cal State don’t accept arts and laboratory science courses completed at virtual and home schools. As a result, students must seek out alternative routes to qualify such as SAT and Advanced Placement tests or community college courses.

Asked why graduation rates at the company’s schools dip far below the state average, Kraft said the types of students who enroll often arrive off track for graduation. He provided the newspaper figures that are not tracked by the state to show that the graduation rate in 2014 for roughly 200 students who remained enrolled all four years in K12-run California schools is much higher — 79 percent.

“By accepting all students, even those already well behind pace for timely graduation, online public schools are serving an important mission but may have a substantially negatively impacted graduation rate,” he said.

Attendance policy

Some K12 teachers point to the school’s attendance policies to explain students’ lack of learning.

A handbook distributed to teachers at the start of the school year says attendance credit may be given even if “very few lessons are completed daily,” so long as the student is “actively engaged in completing assigned schoolwork.”

In a training session during the last school year, a California Virtual Academies administrator told teachers that students need “at least one minute of attendance in order to satisfy the attendance portion of our requirement,” according to a recording of the training obtained by this newspaper.

The lenient policy may have more to do with funding than keeping the truancy officer off students’ backs. State funding for California schools is based on a metric known as “average daily attendance.” The closer schools get to perfect attendance, the more money they receive.

Funding is linked to attendance instead of enrollment because research shows a strong association between showing up at school and success in class. Students who are chronically absent are more likely to drop out, become unemployed and end up on welfare, according to a report on truancy released in February by the state Attorney General’s Office.

Kraft said it was “incorrect” that the academy allowed students to log on for only one minute for a day’s attendance. He said that teachers are trained to review each student’s work and determine how many days of attendance to credit. Still, several teachers interviewed by this newspaper confirmed the policy, and in June a group of them filed formal complaints with local school districts and county offices of education seeking investigations of the schools’ attendance practices.

“One minute of work establishes attendance at this school, and in my many years as an educator, I’ve never heard of that,” said Ellen Welt, of San Jose, a former California Virtual Academy at San Mateo teacher. She resigned last summer out of frustration with some of the school’s policies.

Julianne Knapp, who teaches at the San Mateo County school, said she also thinks her students would be better off if participation in class were required. She said only a fraction of her 75 or so students regularly attend class, and she has no way of knowing if the others watch her recorded lessons.

“A minute a day is not OK with me,” said Knapp, who boots up her computer from her home in Campbell or a cavernous meeting room at a nearby public library to teach students through a virtual blackboard.

Under California law, a student is considered truant if he or she is absent without a valid excuse more than three days in a school year. A student who misses 18 days of school or more is considered chronically absent and would be flagged for intervention.

In separate complaints filed in June, the teachers seek investigations into the schools’ withdrawal policies because “many students who are not sufficiently attending school stay on the rolls with no action taken to withdraw them.”

Kraft disputed those complaints, insisting “California Virtual Academies follow state rules and regulations regarding the reporting of student attendance and the enrollment of students in its schools.”

Since the teachers filed their complaints and the attorney general started investigating, the company has been cracking down harder on students, such as the Brockmeiers, who were chronically absent, Knapp said.

But during the last school year, she taught a student who was absent for 45 days straight, yet she was unable to remove him from her rolls or help him find another school that might have been a better fit. School administrators wouldn’t allow it, she said.

“For all I know, he was reading Russian novels this whole time,” Knapp quipped. “In reality, he wasn’t learning anything, and that’s not fair to him.”

Julianne Knapp, who teaches for the K12-run San Mateo County school, works alone, instructing her online students through a virtual blackboard. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group)

Districts benefit

In California, bureaucrats don’t monitor the day-to-day operations of charter schools. Instead, state law requires districts that vet and approve charter applications to oversee the schools once they open. But there are no guarantees — and no monitoring from the Department of Education — to assure that is happening.

Jefferson Elementary School District is responsible for overseeing California Virtual Academy at San Mateo’s operations, and the duty comes with a reward. The school has paid the district more than $1 million in oversight fees since the small Daly City-based school system approved the academy’s application in 2006, allowing it to enroll students of all ages who live in San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties.

Larger schools pay even more. The Los Angeles academy, which enrolls quadruple the number of students as the San Mateo academy, typically pays the West Covina Unified School District more than $1 million a year.

The academy in San Joaquin County — where Alameda and Contra Costa county students may enroll — has paid $763,000 to its sponsoring district since 2007. The Sonoma County academy, which serves students in the North Bay, has paid its sponsor $889,000.

Regular charter schools often pay similar fees, but their authorizers are more inclined to take the job seriously, experts say, in part because they have a financial incentive. San Jose Unified, for example, oversees brick-and-mortar charter schools that serve students who might re-enroll in the district’s schools and bring their per-pupil state aid with them if the charter fails. Districts that oversee online schools are looking after kids who hail from dozens of districts and who can become as invisible as the schools themselves.

In an interview last year, Jefferson Elementary Superintendent Bernie Vidales conceded that he knew very little about the online school for which he’s responsible. Vidales said he wasn’t sure how many kids were enrolled, where they lived or even how well they had done on the last round of state tests — even though the California Charter Schools Association insists state law requires authorizers to monitor student performance closely.

The test results are easily accessible online. During the 2012-13 school year, the last before California switched to a new state test, California Virtual Academy at San Mateo earned an Academic Performance Index score of 747 — below the state average of 791 and Jefferson’s average score of 815. The academy’s rating also ranks lower than each of the district’s 15 schools.

Vidales acknowledged that Jefferson Elementary is paid to look after the online school. With close to 1,000 pupils, it is easily the largest school the 6,000-student district oversees. But, he said, the district did little more than review the academy’s budget and make sure it has enough cash to cover costs.

In February, despite concerns raised by the school community, the Jefferson Elementary school board voted unanimously to approve the school’s charter to stay open another five years. At the meeting, it asked no questions after Vidales endorsed the school’s “reasonably sound education program with appropriate metrics to measure progress” and told the board he had turned down the school’s offer to supply documentation about its business practices because its auditors’ word “was sufficient for us, at least for me.”

When the newspaper asked Vidales last year about the district’s obligation to regulate the charter school, Vidales pinned the responsibility on the state.

“The biggest action we could take would be raising a red flag,” Vidales said.

But Cindy Chan, director of the California Department of Education’s Charter Schools Division, disputed this interpretation of state law and said the reverse is true: Authorizers such as Jefferson Elementary, not state bureaucrats, are primarily responsible for overseeing online schools.

“We support robust regulation,” but “when it comes to charter schools, state law provides (us) a very limited role,” Chan said.

When the newspaper last week asked Vidales about the state’s position, he agreed with Chan in part, acknowledging that the district would be required to address problems at the school, but he still believes the onus to investigate rests outside the district.

This disconnect exposes several gaps in state law, said Myrna Castrejón, who had been the California Charter Schools Association’s senior lobbyist before accepting a position in January as executive director of a charter advocacy organization called Great Public Schools Now. Schools that want limited oversight can seek approval from hands-off school districts, and no matter how little oversight the districts perform, most still get paid, she said.

One glaring example: In Southern California, a tiny district with 35 pupils called Spencer Valley Elementary is responsible for overseeing the more than 3,000 students who attend California Virtual Academy at San Diego.

Leniency in oversight

Another online academy’s overseer has been especially forgiving.

A few years ago, the California Charter Schools Association publicly called for California Virtual Academy at Kern to close because of low test scores. The request came three years after an investigation launched by the Kern County superintendent of schools revealed the school had falsely reported its teacher-student ratio on forms used to determine state funding, resulting in an overpayment of about $1 million.

But instead of closing the school, Maricopa Unified School District, the authorizer, allowed the academy to simply change its name to California Virtual Academy at Maricopa.

“Right now, we have no way to hold our authorizers accountable,” Castrejón said. “And that’s a problem.”

When the State Board of Education had the opportunity to revoke the charter of one of K12’s schools last year because of problems with its finances, something unprecedented happened. For the first time since California’s first charter school opened almost 25 years ago, state board members, including President Michael Kirst, ignored their staff’s recommendation to shut down the school and instead granted K12’s San Francisco Flex Academy — a school that combines online and regular instruction — an additional five years to operate.

Kirst, professor emeritus of education and business administration at Stanford University, sat on K12’s Education Advisory Committee — reporting between $1,000 and $10,000 of income in 2010 — before severing his ties to the company shortly before Brown appointed him to the Board of Education in 2011.

As part of his work for the company, Kirst spoke on behalf of K12’s San Mateo County school, among others, at public meetings. But he repeatedly declined to speak to this newspaper about K12’s track record in California.

Knowing that California’s top education officials supported the company responsible for her daughter’s academic woes makes Gabriela Novak’s blood boil.

“We trusted them,” she said, “and we feel totally betrayed.”

Database producer Daniel J. Willis contributed to this report. Contact Jessica Calefati at 916-441-2101. Follow her at Twitter.com/calefati.

Read Part 2 of this investigation: California Virtual Academies’ operator exploits charter, charity laws for money, experts say.

Idaho Technical Career Academy Relaunches to Help Meet State’s Job Growth Surge

Idaho’s only CTE-focused online public school provides technical and specialty trade job skills for high school students

06:00 ET
from Idaho Technical Career Academy

BOISE, Idaho, May 12, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Board members of the Idaho Career and College Readiness Academy, along with partner K12 Inc., (NYSE: LRN), the nation’s leading provider of online education programs for students in kindergarten through high school, today announced that they are changing the name of their online technical high school for students in Idaho. The school will now be known as Idaho Technical Career Academy (ITCA).

Idaho Technical Career Academy is an important education option for Idaho students, especially following recent reports from both the Department of Labor and federal Bureau of Labor Statistics that identify the state of Idaho as the state experiencing the fastest job growth in the past year. Employment in Idaho has increased 3.6 percent between March 2015 and March 2016.

The surge of job opportunities in Idaho will need to be met. ITCA is an online public charter school that provides opportunities for students to obtain technical and specialty trade skills by offering four years of occupational training in an industry pathway of their choice. Courses are delivered online and students earn can earn industry-recognized certifications and college credits to give them a post-graduation edge.  

The Idaho Technical Career Academy (ITCA) provides four programs option for students in key industries of growth in the state: Business Administration, Automated Manufacturing, Web Design, and Health Science. The intent of the school is to develop a sequence of instruction that teaches students occupational skills while ultimately providing a pathway to job opportunities or to a technical college program upon graduation. 

“We want our students to graduate from ITCA with the skill set necessary to earn one of the many new jobs in our state, so we really prepare the whole package” said Monti Pittman, Head of School for Idaho Technical Academy. “It’s academics and training, but also the skills used in every career, like resume writing and interviewing techniques.”

“With the growing demand for skilled laborers, we are thrilled by the career and technical focus of ITCA,” said Kerry Wysocki, ITCA Board Chairman and general manager of Northwest Machining and Manufacturing, Inc. “We have such a need for qualified technical workers that we know these students will have a bright future ahead of them.”

ITCA’s digital learning expands the reach and opportunities for students – the online school will equip students with vital technical skills that will prepare them to succeed in the workplace regardless of where they reside in Idaho. Additionally, the online school provides a flexible learning environment that enables students the opportunity to partner with professionals and companies to apply the skills they are learning in a specific industry.

In addition to the industry-focused curriculum, ITCA offers students state-of-the-art academic coursework and content using K12’s nationally-acclaimed, award-winning curriculum and learning programs. K12’s personalized academic programs are designed to work for all types of students, from advanced learners to students with special needs. Certified teachers will provide instruction, guidance and support, and will interact regularly with students using innovative technology and web-based classrooms. 

To help families learn more about the program, ITCA will host information sessions and community events around the state, as well as several online information sessions. For details, visit the school website: http://itca.k12.com/

About Idaho Technical Academy
Idaho Technical Academy (ITCA) is a full-time online public school program that serves students in grades 9 through 12 statewide. As part of the Idaho public school system, ITCA 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 ITCA, visit http://itca.k12.com/.    

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SOURCE Idaho Technical Career Academy

Related Links

http://itca.k12.com

Open Enrollment Ends Friday for Families Interested in Wisconsin Online Schools

— Wisconsin public school open enrollment for 2016-2017 school year ends April 29 at 4 PM CST —

06:00 ET
from Wisconsin Virtual Academy; Destinations Career Academy of Wisconsin

MCFARLAND, Wis., April 27, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Wisconsin Virtual Academy (WIVA) and Destinations Career Academy of Wisconsin, each a tuition-free online public charter school, reminds families with students in grades K-12 who are considering online school for the upcoming academic year to submit an application during the state’s Open Enrollment period which ends at 4 PM CST on Friday, April 29, 2016. Submitting an Open Enrollment Application does not commit families to enroll in either school for the upcoming 2016-2017 school year, but does provide them with the option to do so at a later date.   

"We focus on helping students find the learning style that works best for them," said Nicholaus Sutherland, Head of School at Wisconsin Virtual Academy and Destinations Career Academy. "We invite families to reach out for more information about each online school, whether they are struggling to make traditional school fit with their student’s educational needs or family’s lifestyle or looking to explore career options with career technical education (CTE) course offerings."

Continue reading

Destinations Career Academy of Wisconsin

WIVA is an academic option for K-12 students statewide who seek alternatives to a traditional brick-and-mortar education. WIVA offers a mastery-based program for students in grades Kindergarten through 5th, in order to strengthen students’ understanding of the material. The WIVA middle and high school programs offer more than 150 courses with multiple academic levels. High school courses include core, comprehensive, Honors, and Advanced Placement – all designed to let students enjoy a program tailored to their goals and abilities.

Destinations Career Academy is open to students in grades 9-12. The school utilizes online career and college readiness curriculum designed to prepare students to enter the workforce or pursue other post-secondary options. Students can access multiple versions of core online high school courses and CTE courses in one of four Career Clusters:  Architecture and Construction; Business Management and Administration, Health Science, or Information Technology.  These Clusters are designed to give students a head start on their career goals by earning technical and specialty trade credentials, college career credits and workplace experiences. The school serves full-time students in addition to offering individual courses to students in schools that do not have access to CTE programs through Part Time Open Enrollment Course Options.

To help families learn more about each program before the state’s Open Enrollment deadline, the schools will each host an online information session this week. Destinations Career Academy will host an online information session at 7 PM CST on Thursday, April 28. WIVA will host an online information session at 10 AM CST on Friday, April 29.

About Wisconsin Virtual Academy
Wisconsin Virtual Academy (WIVA), a charter school authorized by the McFarland School District, is the largest full-time online public school serving students in grades K through 12 in the state. As part of the Wisconsin public school system, WIVA is tuition-free, giving parents and families the choice to access the award-winning curriculum and tools provided by K12 Inc., the nation’s largest provider of proprietary curriculum and online education programs. For more information about WIVA, visit http://wiva.k12.com/.

About Destinations Career Academy of Wisconsin
Destinations Career Academy of Wisconsin, a charter school authorized by the McFarland School District, is the first-ever career and technical education-focused online high school in Wisconsin using the curriculum and academic programs by K12 Inc. It is also the first career readiness program to offer a Construction apprenticeship program in partnership with industry leaders. As part of the Wisconsin public school system, Destinations Career Academy is tuition-free and serves students statewide in grades 9-12. For more information about Destinations Career Academy of Wisconsin, visit http://www.widca.k12.com/.

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SOURCE Wisconsin Virtual Academy; Destinations Career Academy of Wisconsin

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

By Jessica Calefati, jcalefati@bayareanewsgroup.com

Posted:
 
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.
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.

Margaret Lavin: Teachers at California’s largest online charter school unionize

By Margaret Lavin

San Mateo County Times

Posted:
 
11/16/2015 09:04:36 PM PST0 Comments Updated:   102 min. ago

About 750 teachers at California’s largest virtual charter school operator, California Virtual Academies (CAVA), will now have a stronger voice in improving working conditions and student learning thanks to the Public Employment Relations Board’s (PERB) ruling stating that the 11-school CAVA is one bargaining unit.

CAVA teachers have been calling for improvements at their schools for years and last Spring a supermajority of them asked their employer to recognize the California Teachers Association as their exclusive bargaining representative. The teachers sought to unionize to improve working conditions and advocate for improved educational experiences. In an effort to thwart the grass-roots organizing, their employer rejected the teachers’ request for voluntary recognition, arguing that their teachers should instead be broken into 11 different groups associated with each of the CAVA virtual schools.

The PERB judge disagreed.

As a result, the teacher’s 17-month wait to get to the bargaining table and fix their statewide school is over. “We are elated,” said Sarah Vigrass, a 9-year CAVA Community Day teacher in Redlands. “We applaud the decision and we look forward to sitting down and negotiating as soon as possible over much-needed improvements for teachers and the students we serve. Our students’ learning conditions would improve if more resources were focused on them. There are many problems and now we have a real way to fix them.”

The decision will not only improve student learning and teacher work conditions but also sheds light on the dubious practices of the online school industry.

K12 California, CAVA’s operator and primary vendor, is a subsidiary of K12 Inc., a publicly traded, for-profit company based in Virginia. And what a profit they are making. In the 2013-2014 school year, more than $100 million in state education funding flowed to CAVA to serve about 15,000 California students. Fifty percent of that funding was then paid to K12 Inc. Further troubling is the fact that CAVA schools receive the same per-pupil state funding as our traditional brick and mortar schools without incurring any of the maintenance and operating costs.

A recent study by Stanford University and the University of Washington reinforces many of the concerns CAVA teachers have voiced, stating ” … students of online charter schools had significantly weaker academic performance in math and reading, compared with their counterparts in conventional schools.”

CTA President Eric Heins said the ruling is a vindication for CAVA teachers’ long battle to fix their school. “The ruling by PERB clears the way for negotiations toward a first contract that will address some of the many concerns that CAVA teachers have voiced. Now these teachers can begin to address the problems that are hurting their students, such as insufficient time spent on instruction, high teacher turnover and too much public money going out of state.”

Heins noted that these educators have endured intimidation and worse as they have fought to unite for a better future for their students.

“Instead of appealing this historic ruling, the employer should do the right thing and join the teachers to find solutions. We expect management to respect these educators and work with them at the bargaining table to make CAVA better for the sake of our students.”

Contact Margaret Lavin at elementarydays@gmail.com.

Online public school debuts in Eufaula

Eufaula City Schools earlier this month announced the opening of the Alabama Virtual Academy at Eufaula City Schools – a new statewide online public school.

Alabama Department of Education approved the new institution, which is currently open to students across the state.



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The Alabama Virtual Academy will serve students in grades K-2 for the first year and expand to offer additional grades in the coming years.

The online school is a tuition-free, full-time public school.

Classes began on Sept. 8 and the school is currently accepting new enrollments.

Enrollment information for the school can be found by clicking here

"Eufaula City Schools is excited to offer this innovative online public school to families in Alabama," said Eddie Tyler, superintendent of Eufaula City Schools. "Technology is the future in education, and online schools are a proven educational model. Our online public school will provide families a high-quality option and give students the individualized instruction and support to succeed. Alabama Virtual Academy reflects our school system's mission of 'building our future on a tradition of excellence.'"

Students enrolled in the school will learn outside the traditional classroom, while participating in teacher-led instruction online. State-certified teachers will work in close partnership with parents who serve as learning coaches for the students.

The new school is made possible by a partnership with K12 Inc. – the country's largest provider of K-12 online and blended school offerings.

Legislation passed by the state legislature requires all Alabama school systems to adopt a plan to serve students through online schools by 2016-17.

Tyler said the Eufaula City School System is in a strong position to meet that requirement and expand education opportunities for students in its school system and across the state.

"Our partnership with K12 allows us to leverage the expertise and best practices used by a highly qualified team of experienced educators without impacting our system's existing educational programs or personnel," Tyler said. "We are also excited about the opportunity to work with K12 to expand the number of courses we can offer to the students in our school system."

Full-time online school launches in Georgia using FuelEd (Aventa)

September 22nd, 2015

FuelEd, Vidalia City Board of Education open full-time online school for Georgia students

The Vidalia City Board of Education (Ga.) has partnered with personalized learning provider Fuel Education (formerly Aventa Learning) to launch a new full-time online learning program for K-12.

The public, full-time online school, Vidalia Academy, offers students across the state of Georgia the opportunity to learn in a flexible educational model that is tailored to each student’s needs.

Accepting enrollments for the 2015-2016 school year through the end of this month, Vidalia Academy will be able to provide thousands of students with personalized learning through an extensive catalog of standards-based online curriculum, instructional services from highly qualified, state-certified online teachers, powerful course customization and other technology tools, and a host of support resources, all provided by FuelEd.

Vidalia City Schools selected Fuel Education because of their proven ability to partner with schools to help them effectively launch, grow, manage, teach, and support successful online learning programs,” said Randy Rodgers, Director of Virtual Education for Vidalia Academy. “As a public school leveraging an innovative model, we believe that together with FuelEd the Vidalia Academy can offer more students across Georgia with the best education possible.”

For middle school and high school, Vidalia Academy will use FuelEd’s PEAK personalized learning platform, an open technology platform that provides a single, unified view of online and blended learning activities across multiple solutions for administrators, teachers, and students.

PEAK provides intelligent reporting and analytics to help districts reduce system complexity and simplify administration as they adopt more digital and online learning solutions. To differentiate instruction, teachers can use the PEAK Library to customize courses using FuelEd content, teacher-created content, open education resources, or other third-party content.

Fuel Ed’s full-time school solution also includes benchmark and formative assessments; an anti-plagiarism tool; a web-based counseling system; and a variety of live and online student and parent resources available through the Strong Start program. To learn more, watch this video or read this case study about FuelEd’s partnership with Miami-Dade Public Schools.

Gregg Levin, Fuel Education’s General Manager, said, “We are very excited to partner with the Vidalia City Board of Education as they make a new, innovative education option available to students across Georgia. With the experienced staff at Vidalia Academy, and Fuel Education’s experience providing online learning solutions to thousands of school districts, we look forward to helping Vidalia Academy personalize learning and improve outcomes for more students.”

Parents and students who live in Georgia and are interested in the new school can visit the Vidalia Academy website for more information. The school will be accepting enrollment applications through September 28, 2015.

In addition to full-time schools, FuelEd supports districts with a variety of online and blended programs, ranging from catalog expansion for low-enrollment or hard-to-staff courses, to hospital/homebound education, full-time school programs, language exposure and learning, alternative education, remediation and kindergarten readiness, among others.

Material from a press release was used in this report.