Odd commentary considering the writer is working for the company who screws up kids. 

An election year when school choice is ignored

By Nate Davis, contributor    

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can Policymakers Fix What Ails Online Charter Schools?

By Dara Zeehandelaar and Michael J. Petrilli

08/08/2016

A major development of recent years has been the explosive growth of online learning in K–12 education. Sometimes it takes the form of “blended learning,” with students receiving a mix of online and face-to-face instruction. Students may also learn via web-based resources like the Khan Academy, or by enrolling in distance-learning “independent study” courses. In addition, an increasing number of pupils are taking the plunge into fully online schools: In 2015, an estimated 275,000 students enrolled in full-time virtual charter schools across twenty-five states.

The Internet has obviously opened a new frontier of instructional possibilities. Much less certain is whether such opportunities are actually improving achievement, especially for the types of students who enroll in virtual schools. In Enrollment and Achievement in Ohio’s Virtual Charter Schools, we at Fordham examined this issue using data from our home state of Ohio, where online charter schools (“e-schools”) are a rapidly growing segment of K–12 education. Today they enroll more than thirty-five thousand students, one of the country’s largest populations of full-time online students. Ohio e-school enrollment has grown 60 percent over the last four years, a rate greater than any other type of public school. But even since they launched, e-schools have received negative press for their poor academic performance, high attrition rates, and questionable capacity to educate the types of students who choose them. It’s clearly a sector that needs attention.

Our study focuses on the demographics, course-taking patterns, and academic results of pupils attending Ohio’s e-schools. It was authored by Dr. June Ahn, an associate professor at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. He’s an expert in how technology can enhance how education is delivered and how students learn.

Using student-level data from 2009–10 through 2012–13, Dr. Ahn reports that e-schools serve a unique population. Compared to students in brick-and-mortar district schools, e-school students are initially lower-achieving (and more likely to have repeated the prior grade), more likely to participate in the federal free and reduced-price lunch program, and less likely to participate in gifted education. (Brick-and-mortar charters attract even lower-performing students.)

The analysis also finds that, controlling for demographics and prior achievement, e-school students perform worse than students who attend brick-and-mortar district schools. Put another way, on average, Ohio’s e-school students start the school year academically behind and lose even more ground (relative to their peers) during the year. That finding corroborates the disappointing results from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) 2015 analysis of virtual charter schools nationwide, which used a slightly different analytical approach.

Importantly, this study considers e-school students separately from those in other charters. It finds that brick-and-mortar charter students in grades 4–8 outperform their peers in district schools in both reading and math. In high school, brick-and-mortar charter students perform better in science, no better or worse in math, and slightly worse in reading and writing compared to students in district schools. This confirms what some Ohioans have long suspected: E-schools weigh down the overall impact of the Buckeye State’s charter sector. Separate out the e-school results and Ohio’s brick-and-mortar charters look a lot better than when the entire sector is treated as a whole.

The consistent, negative findings for e-school students are troubling, to say the least. One obvious remedy is to pull the plug—literally and figuratively—but we think that would be a mistake. Surely it’s possible, especially as technology and online pedagogy improve, to create virtual schools that serve students well. The challenge now is to boost outcomes for online learners, not to eliminate the online option. We therefore offer three recommendations for policy makers and advocates in states that, like Ohio, are wrestling to turn the rapid development of online schools into a net plus for their pupils.

First, policy makers should adopt performance-based funding for e-schools. When students complete courses successfully and demonstrate that they have mastered the expected competencies, e-schools would get paid. This creates incentives for e-schools to focus on what matters most—academic progress—while tempering their appetite for enrollment growth and the dollars tied to it. It would also encourage them to recruit students likely to succeed in an online environment—a form of “cream-skimming” that is not only defensible but, in this case, preferable. At the very least, proficiency-based funding is one way for e-schools to demonstrate that they are successfully delivering the promised instruction to students. That should be appealing to them given the difficulty in defining, tracking, and reporting “attendance” and “class time” at an online school.

Second, policy makers should seek ways to improve the fit between students and e-schools. Based on the demographics we report, it seems that students selecting Ohio’s e-schools may be those least likely to succeed in a school format that requires independent learning, self-motivation, and self-regulation. Lawmakers could explore rules that exempt e-schools from policies requiring all charters, virtual ones included, to accept every student who applies and instead allow e-schools to operate more like magnet schools with admissions procedures and priorities. E-schools would be able to admit students best situated to take advantage of the unique elements of virtual schooling: flexible hours and pacing, a safe and familiar location for learning, a chance for individuals with social or behavioral problems to focus on academics, greater engagement from students who are able to choose electives based on their own interests, and the chance to develop high-level virtual communication skills. E-schools should also consider targeting certain students through advertising and outreach, especially if they can’t be selective. At the very least, states with fully online schools should adopt a policy like the one in Ohio, which requires such schools to offer an orientation course—the perfect occasion to set high expectations for students as they enter and let them know what would help them thrive in an online learning environment (e.g., a quiet place to study, a dedicated amount of time to devote to academics).

Third, policy makers should support online course choice (also called “course access”), so that students interested in web-based learning can avail themselves of online options without enrolling full-time. Ohio currently confronts students with a daunting decision: either transfer to a full-time e-school or stay in their traditional school and potentially be denied the chance to take tuition-free, credit-bearing virtual courses aligned to state standards. Instead of forcing an all-or-nothing choice, policy makers should ensure that a menu of course options is available to students, including courses delivered online. To safeguard quality and public dollars, policy makers should also create oversight to vet online options (and veto shoddy or questionable ones). Financing arrangements may need to change, too, perhaps in ways that more directly link funding to actual course providers. If it were done right, however, course choice would not only open more possibilities for students, but also ratchet up the competition that online schools face—and perhaps compel them to improve the quality of their own services.

Innovation is usually an iterative process. Many of us remember the earliest personal computers—splendid products for playing Oregon Trail, but now artifacts of the past. Fortunately, innovators and engineers kept pushing the envelope for faster, nimbler, smarter devices. Today, we are blessed as customers with easy-to-use laptops, tablets, and more. But proximity to technology, no matter how advanced, isn’t enough. E-schools and their kin should facilitate understanding of how best to utilize online curricula and non-traditional learning environments, especially for underserved learners. From this evidence base, providers should then be held to high standards of practice. Though the age of online learning has dawned, there is much room for improvement in online schooling—and nowhere more than in Ohio. For advocates of online learning, and educational choice, the work has just begun.

—Dara Zeehandelaar and Mike Petrilli

This post originally appeared on Flypaper

Letter: Flex can’t continue without K12 funds

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Letter: Flex can’t continue without K12 funds

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Editor’s note: The letter below was sent July 26 to the families of students attending Silicon Valley Flex, located on Jarvis Drive in Morgan Hill. The letter has been edited for length and style.

Dear Flex Families,

It is with heavy hearts and the deepest of regrets that we make this announcement. After extensive deliberation, and after exploring every option available to us, the Flex Board has made the decision to close the school.

K12, the school’s service provider who managed and operated the school for the board for the last five years, terminated its service contract with Flex on July 1, five years early. While the board disagrees with K12’s grounds to terminate the service contract, it cannot operate the school without K12’s financial support, and does not have alternative funding for the school. Please note that the K12 staff supporting the school are working hard to assist with this transition.

While this late notice is very unfortunate, the Flex Board does not have sufficient funds to operate the school this year without K12, and attempting to begin the school year without a sound economic base would inevitably result in closure mid-year, thus forcing staff and students out at a point which would be much worse.

Silicon Valley Flex has served its students and families well for the past five years, and our sincere hope was to find a way to ensure it could continue to do so. Sadly, in the past week it became clear that we are simply out of options and can wait no longer to notify our staff and our families.

We know that you have many questions and we are working as quickly as we can to get you the answers you deserve. Over the next two weeks, members of the leadership team and representatives from our partner, K12, will be onsite to meet with you to discuss next steps and other options available to you. We appreciate K12’s effort in this regard. We have also included some Frequently Asked Questions at the bottom of this letter to address some preliminary questions that we anticipate you’ll have.

We want to hear from you directly and to answer any questions you have. School and K12 representatives will be onsite July 27 from 7:30 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. and again on July 28 from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. For those who are unable to join us this week, we will be available next week from Tuesday through Thursday as well.

Sincerely,

Mark Kushner, Board President

On Behalf of the Silicon Valley Flex Board of Trustees

UPDATE: Silicon Valley Flex Academy closes due to financial hardship

Parents left scrambling to find new schools

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UPDATE: Silicon Valley Flex Academy closes due to financial hardship

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Hundreds of families were caught by surprise July 26 when they received email notification that Morgan Hill-based Silicon Valley Flex Academy was closing its doors less than three weeks before the start of the new school year.

Those parents—a majority whose children have special needs—are now scrambling to find new schools for their children.

“It was like being sucker-punched,” said single father Chris McKie, whose 13-year-old son who suffers from dyslexia was expecting to start the eighth grade at Flex as a first-year student. “It just knocked the wind out of our sails.”

But the school has a history of financial unsteadiness going back several months. County education officials have questioned Flex’s operational viability after discovering the academy had been submitting late and inconsistent financial statements and was regularly delinquent in its payment of county oversight fees and CALSTRS retirement payments.

McKie, however, met with the Flex principal and special education staff earlier in the summer before deciding on enrolling his son there and “it seemed to be a perfect match,” he said.

Flex, a free public charter school authorized through the Santa Clara County Office of Education beginning in 2011, was granted a five-year renewal from the county board back in November 2015. The 6th through 12th grade secondary school, located at 610 Jarvis Drive, boasted a blended learning model by combining an online K12, Inc. curriculum with offline lessons and small-sized breakout sessions.

However, in the July 27 email authored by Flex Board President Mark Kushner, parents were notified that the school was closing. Kushner blamed the school’s service provider K12 for terminating its service contract with Flex on July 1.

“While the Board disagrees with K12’s grounds to terminate the service contract, it cannot operate the school without K12’s financial support, and does not have alternative funding for the school,” Kushner wrote. “Silicon Valley Flex has served its students and families well for the past five years, and our sincere hope was to find a way to ensure it could continue to do so. Sadly, in the past week it became clear that we are simply out of options and can wait no longer.”

For the past five years, K12 provided all of its products and services, including on-site staff to Flex, at no fee for each upcoming year, according to Mike Kraft, Vice President of Communications for K12.

“However, even with this, the school’s budget could not support the school’s operations. In the past, although not contractually obligated to do so, K12 had advanced the school additional funding to cover this structural deficit,” Kraft explained. “The company was not, however, able to do so going forward and made the board aware of this in the Fall of 2015.”

Flex is the only K12 school in California that is closing, Kraft said.

Parents surprised

Kushner’s message came as a complete shock to parent Mary Joy, whose 12-year-old son with Asperger’s syndrome was planning to enter his second year at Flex as a seventh grader.

“I’m definitely frustrated because apparently they’ve known since the first of July. I understand they were trying to pull out all the stops in trying to figure out a way to stay open,” Joy said. “But it definitely would have been useful to get this information to families at that time.”

Joy explained that Flex was “a really good fit” for her son with flexible scheduling and small class sizes. Now, with the 2016-17 school year only weeks away, there are “very limited options” in Morgan Hill for her son and it would be difficult to home-school since she and her husband both work.

McKie said he’s already been in contact with staff at Morgan Hill Unified School District and is considering Britton Middle School for his son, but is still looking for other options.

“Two and half weeks before the start of school is a huge surprise. I can’t even guess what all the other families who are affected are going through,” McKie said. “It must be a mad scramble.”

In March, the Times published a story about the county’s concerns over Flex’s operations and the possibility of revoking its charter if they were not fixed. County staff claimed “significant” discrepancies with Flex’s finances and enrollment numbers. However, then head of school Caroline Wood brushed off any concerns as minor, claimed to have “a great working relationship” with county staff and even slammed the Times report in a rebuttal letter to the editor.

“Ultimately, I don’t think this is going to slow the school down,” said Wood in March. She claimed then that Flex had 314 students enrolled for the 2016-17 school year with even more expected to commit prior to the start of school.

County board member Claudia Rossi, of Morgan Hill, originally voted in favor of the five-year renewal back in November that passed by a 5-2 margin, but became increasingly wary of Flex since then.

“It’s not unexpected. We are not surprised,” said Rossi when contacted Wednesday morning. “At the time, our board did everything it could to be as supportive as possible. They fell under their own weight.”

Rossi said county staff was constantly dealing with issue after issue regarding Flex but it is their role as authorizers to be supportive and work with them to remedy any shortcomings. In the November renewal hearing, Rossi said Flex officials told the county board that enrollment was up, staffing was fine, funding was not a problem and they were being creative to make the school viable.

“The parent community was asking us to give them a chance to succeed,” said Rossi, who added that MHUSD was made aware of Flex’s situation and has been in contact with local families.

Kushner explained in his email on behalf of the entire Flex board that “this late notice is very unfortunate,” but they did not want to put families in an even worse situation by closing mid-year.

“Our first and highest priority is always the wellbeing of the students,” said County Superintendent Jon Gundry, who has been in contact with MHUSD Superintendent Steve Betando “to ensure students and families will have options and opportunities following this decision by the Silicon Valley Flex Academy board.”

K12, the school’s service provider that pulled the funding, has been under fire by state officials, recently agreeing to a multi-million dollar settlement in a case brought by the California Attorney General’s Office. A story on the settlement and the AG’s accusations can be viewed at morganhilltimes.com.

Scott Forstner is a general assignment reporter who covers education and other community issues for the Morgan Hill Times. Reach him at (408) 963-0122 or via email at sforstner@morganhilltimes.com

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

California Virtual Academy: San Mateo board’s statement about investigation

Bay Area News Group

Posted:
 
04/18/2016 03:12:14 PM PDT Updated:   about a month ago

The board of directors from the California Virtual Academy at San Mateo issued the following statement Monday in response to a Bay Area News Group investigation published Sunday and Monday into the online charter and its partner schools run by for-profit K12 Inc.

Recent articles in The Mercury News are a gross misrepresentation of our school and its operations, and the independence of our nonprofit charter school board.

We are members of the California Virtual Academy @ San Mateo public charter school board. Our school is part of one of the CAVA public charter schools, each governed independently by their nonprofit school boards made up of California residents, including parents, educators, and local community leaders who are committed to providing families with educational options for their children.

Alleging that we have any other interest except for our children and the CAVA families is both wrong and insulting. We take our role as governing board members very seriously. We are volunteers. We are not paid. Many of us have children in the CAVA schools. We have experience serving on other nonprofit boards. Our school has its own independent attorneys who guide us to ensure we are in compliance with state charter school regulations. We provide input and work together with our school administrators, just like other charter schools.

The allegations made in these articles about our schools are inaccurate. They are the same attacks made repeatedly by opponents of public charter schools, including by the California Teachers Association, an organization that has been aggressively attempting to unionize all eleven of the CAVA network of schools. The union has disparaged our schools and lobbied for legislation directly aimed at shutting our schools down and taking these options away from our parents, students, and teachers.

Our parents are extremely thankful that CAVA is an option for their children. Thousands of families choose CAVA schools. Many students are succeeding. We see hundreds of students graduating from CAVA schools each year. Unfortunately, the paper all but dismissed the successes. Further, the paper never asked why parents are leaving their local schools and choosing CAVA schools. Parents would not choose alternatives if their local school was working for their child. Sadly, the paper completely ignores the positive experiences of the vast majority of CAVA families and teachers, electing instead to quote a small handful of critical voices. It is exactly what opponents of charter schools have done for years. This is classic case of unfair and biased journalism.

Parents want choice in education. Students deserve options, because one size does not fit all. We love our school. We are proud to represent and stand with CAVA’s educators and families. We are proud of the achievements and the hard work of our students, staff, and volunteer board members.

— Don Burbulys, President, CAVA @ San Mateo

Erin Wong, Board Member, CAVA @ San Mateo

Christa Enns, Board Member, CAVA @ San Mateo

Stephen Warren, Board Member, CAVA @ San Mateo

Agora Cyber Charter announces layoffs

Updated:February 16, 2016 — 1:07 AM EST

by Martha Woodall, Staff Writer

Agora, the second-largest cyber charter school in Pennsylvania with 8,500 students across the state, has laid off dozens of teachers and staffers.

Officials at the cyber school, headquartered in King of Prussia, said they did not have a total for the number of employees let go Friday, but blamed the layoffs on Gov. Wolf and the state budget impasse.

“The Commonwealth’s failure to pass a budget necessitated that Agora make a substantial number of layoffs to survive,” Agora said in a statement issued Monday night.

Current and laid-off employees, however, said that their tallies indicated that more than 100 people were laid off, and possibly as many as 150.

Employees also said they were blindsided by the move.

Nearly two months ago, Agora assured staff that it had the resources to weather the budget impasse and that layoffs were not being considered.

“We have no plans to cut or furlough staff due to the lack of funds we are currently receiving,” Mary Steffey, chair of the Agora board, wrote Dec. 18 in an email to all 649 staff members. “Please do not fear for your position here at Agora.”

One teacher, who did not want to be quoted by name for fear of reprisal, said, “Teachers didn’t even know there was a chance of layoffs.”

Questions also remained how a cyber with revenues of $122.7 million and a $13.4 million fund balance could find itself in such financial straits that it has been forced to let go as many as 15 percent of its workforce.

“Even if the school is not getting the money in, we had that surplus,” Sara Atkins, a mother in Wynnewood who has four special-needs children enrolled at Agora, said Monday. “The classes were already huge.”

She and others said pink slips went to nearly every kindergarten teacher, and many of the family coaches. Major cuts were reported in social studies, science, physical education, arts, music, and elective classes in the high school.

In its statement, Agora said its decision to cut staff came after “all other options [had] been exhausted.”

“In December the budget framework was on the table in Harrisburg, and it appeared the funds would soon be again flowing to districts and charters alike. At the time we had a line of credit, but temporary funds can only last so long. The holidays came and the budget discussions fell apart, plunging schools like ours into desperation,” the statement read.

martha.woodall@phillynews.com215-854-2789@marwooda

Teachers present cyber school options at Lackawanna Trail School Board meeting April 11

First Posted: 7:29 pm – April 12th, 2016

By Ben Freda – For Abington Journal


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FACTORYVILLE — Technology teacher Boyd Semken, librarian Kelly Hopkins, and social studies teacher Katie Lane proposed the Lackawanna Trail School District should pursue its own cyber school during a school board meeting April 11.

Hopkins said that if a Trail student enters a cyber charter school in kindergarten and continues to the highest level of cyber school at $26,000 per year, that student over 13 years will cost the district $338,000. School districts pay for students to attend cyber school.

She mentioned that in addition to the financial issues, a student in cyber charter school can have a lack of success.

“A study by the Stanford University Center for Research on Education in October 2015 stated that if a students who goes to an online cyber school is likely to lose 72 days of learning in reading and 180 days of learning in math,” she said.

Hopkins said students in a district-run cyber program can come back to the schools they left. Students can also get involved in Trail’s organizations and activities, as well as receive a Lackawanna Trail diploma through such a program.

“Based on 50 percent return of our students next year if we can get this off the ground, we’re looking at a $201,000 savings,” she said.

Hopkins said that with these savings, Trail would be able to increase advanced placement course offerings. She then listed school districts that use in-house cyber programs include Old Forge, Carbondale and Pittsburgh. She mentioned that Pittsburgh’s school district was able to bring back 126 students and save $1.1 million.

Semken said the district has three choices: Virtual Learning Network (VLN), K12, and Edison Learning. Semken said that VLN provides students everything including new computer, textbooks, tech support for full-time students, and on-site training for staff. It costs $3,875 per student.

He said that the difference between VLN and K12 is that K12 doesn’t provide computers or training support. He said Edison Learning also doesn’t provide computers or tech support but costs less than the VLN Platform.

Semken asked the board members for a room in the high school building where students might do a blended program.

“A blended program would be where they (students) would actually come to our building (high school),” he said. “They would do cyber school in a room and then possibly come to special classes.”

Lane listed reasons why students would leave Lackawanna Trail to attend a cyber charting school, such as family life struggles, anxiety, or social issues.

“We feel that if we have a cyber-blended option with a student retention team, in what we are calling a ‘safe haven classroom,’ we might be able to address some of those needs of those students and keep them within the brick and mortar first,” she said.

Lane then mentioned that if they can work through some conflict resolution for two weeks, that will have a safe haven classroom.

High school principal Mark Murphy wondered whether the curriculum of the cyber classes are aligned with Trail’s classes.

“If the student chooses to go away (to a cyber charting school) for two months (and decided to come back to Lackawanna Trail), there might be large gaps,” he said. “There’s no crosswalk to the curriculum.”

Hopkins said the three cyber school options mentioned above are currently piloting a program that allows teachers to author their own classes.

In other business, the board voted to approve:

• The academic calendar of 2016-17 school year.

• Nutrition Group, Inc. as the Food Service Management Company for the 2016-17 school year based on competitive bids submitted publicly on March 7, 2016.

• The retirement of Donald Rupp, high school science teacher, effective June 30, 2016.

• The retirement of Debra Reynolds, elementary assistant cafeteria manager, effective June 30, 2016.

Reach the Abington Journal newsroom at 570-587-1148 or by email at news@theabingtonjournal.com.

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Virtual Academy in Greenfield seeks new content provider

By ANITA FRITZ

Recorder Staff

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

(Published in print: Thursday, December 17, 2015)

GREENFIELD — The Massachusetts Virtual Academy is looking at its options as its contract with Virginia-based K12 Inc. curriculum provider expires in June 2016.

Carl Tillona, executive director of the Greenfield-based virtual school, said MAVA received three proposals after issuing a request for proposals last month.

K12 was one of them, and Connections Academy and Edgenuity were the other two, said Tillona.

“We’re going to choose what’s best for our students,” said Tillona. “We want the absolute best curriculum for our students.”

The first diploma-granting virtual school in the state has a current enrollment of 651 students. Tillona said that includes 19 students from Greenfield. Local school districts pay $6,700 per student per year for those who choose the virtual route with MAVA.

Tillona said the virtual school, which teaches students across the state via the Internet, serves many different types of students, including those with medical problems, athletes who have to train during the day, and students who find brick-and-mortar schools are not a good fit for them.

In 2010, Greenfield School Committee voted to open the state’s first virtual school, but that same committee vote 7-0 unanimously to shut it down in 2013.

The virtual school, which is a public school controlled by the state and structured like a charter school, opened shortly after, changing its name to Massachusetts Virtual Academy, which is headquartered in Greenfield.

“There are a lot of great curriculum providers for virtual schools now, a lot more than when MAVA first selected K12,” said Tillona.

He said the contract that is expiring was for three years. He said he believes the next contract will be for one year with an option to extend it.

“We want to have the best curriculum alongside the best teachers in Massachusetts,” said Tillona. “To do that, we need to explore all of our options.”

The virtual academy currently takes an active role in all of the teacher hiring and training, and also in the curriculum choices that K12 provides, said Tillona.

The virtual school intends to continue those practices to ensure that its instructors, teaching materials and techniques meet and exceed state standards, he said.

Tillona said can’t be sure what, if any, changes there will be, because a provider has not been chosen, yet.

“We’ll have to see,” he said. “We could choose K12, or we could choose someone else. We could choose two providers. We just don’t know, yet.”

In October 2014, the Massachusetts Board of Secondary and Elementary Education placed the virtual school on a 20-month probation, after the department raised concerns about its academic programs and compliance with regulatory requirements. That probation will end in June 2016 — at the same time its new contract will begin.

Tillona said the virtual academy has worked hard to provide the best education possible to its students.

For more information about Massachusetts Virtual Academy at Greenfield, visit www.mava.k12.com.

K12 Inc. (NYSE:LRN) under Investigation for Investors

by Michael Daniels Nov 18, 2015 10:21 am EST

K12, Inc is under investigation over possible violations of securities laws. The investigation was announced for investors in NYSE:LRN shares in connection certain financial statements.

Investors who purchased shares of K12 Inc. (NYSE:LRN), have certain options and should contact the Shareholders Foundation at mail@shareholdersfoundation.com or call +1(858) 779 – 1554.

The investigation by a law firm focuses on possible whether a series of statements by K12 Inc. regarding its business, its prospects and its operations were materially false and misleading at the time they were made.

K12 Inc. reported that its Total Revenue increased from $848.22 million for the 12 months period that ended on June 30, 2013 to$948.29 million for the 12 months period that ended on June 30, 2015 while its Net Income for those respective time periods declined from $28.11 million to $10.99 million. Shares of K12 Inc. (NYSE:LRN) reached as high as $36.78 per share in September 2013.

UPDATED: Today’s Top 50 Trending Stocks

On October 27, 2015, post-market, K12 disclosed receipt on September 24, 2015 of a civil investigative subpoena from the Attorney General of California in connection with an industry-wide investigation into for-profit virtual schools. Shares of K12 Inc. (NYSE:LRN) declined to as low as $9.01 per share on November 13, 2015.

On November 17, 2015, NYSE:LRN shares closed at $9.31 per share.

Those who purchased NYSE:LRN shares have certain options and should contact the Shareholders Foundation.

Contact:
Shareholders Foundation, Inc.
Michael Daniels
3111 Camino Del Rio North – Suite 423
92108 San Diego
Phone: +1-(858)-779-1554
Fax: +1-(858)-605-5739
mail@shareholdersfoundation.com

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