Three years later, jury still out on Michigan’s cyber school expansion


on October 23, 2015 at 6:46 AM, updated

Online schooling allows children in Ironwood in the Upper Peninsula to take classes from a school based in Okemos. From left to right, fifth-grader Gabbi Maki, first-grader Brynn Maki and third-grader Keaton Maki are enrolled in Michigan Connections Academy. (Courtesy photo)The Center for Michigan | Bridge Magazine 

From his Lansing office, Gov. Rick Snyder read aloud a book about a goldfish and its fishbowl neighbors. As he finished each page, he turned the book around to face his computer screen and smiled.

In homes across the state, 90 children enrolled in the Michigan Virtual Charter Academy were watching him from their computer screens.Education advocates, meanwhile, were watching in their own way, waiting to see what happened next.

It was March 2013, and a law allowing for the expansion of cyber charter schools — schools in which students study full time at computers in their homes rather than in traditional classrooms — had just gone into effect.

“Our goal is student growth,” Snyder told media that day, “and we want to create whatever venue works best for them.”

Two-and-a-half years later, it’s still unclear how well the expansion has worked.

Online charter enrollment has more than quadrupled since the law went into effect, demonstrating the allure of cyber schools for some Michigan students. But if improving student achievement was Snyder’s goal, many online charters are failing families of students in grades 1 through 8.

A Bridge Magazine analysis of student test score data reveals most online charters in Michigan are under-performing in elementary and middle school compared with schools whose students come from similar economic backgrounds. Among four online charter schools offering elementary- and middle school-grade classes in Michigan, only one reached the state average for student test scores among economically similar schools.

RELATED: In one tech-heavy cyber school, a low-tech strategy spurs learning

High school is a different story: the four online charters that enroll high school students all exceeded state averages, with one scoring in the top 5 percent of all high schools.

The scores are based on Bridge’s 2014 Academic State Champs ranking system, which compares student test scores of schools with test scores at economically similar schools. Bridge determines economic similarity by comparing the percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

Enrollment in cyber schools exploded after the new law went into effect. Online charters grew from two (allowed as part of a pilot program) in 2012-13, to 10 last year, with total enrollment growing from 1,769 to 7,934, according to data kept by the state.

There’s potential for more growth; only 10 cyber charters were allowed to operate last year. Beginning this school year, the law allows up to 15 online charters. The law also allows a maximum of 2 percent of public K-12 students to be enrolled in cyber charters. That’s about 30,000 students.

Currently, about one in 250 Michigan students is enrolled full time at a cyber charter school, taking all of their classes online.

While cyber schools are attracting students, children in grades 1-8 aren’t doing as well academically as their peers in traditional brick-and-mortar buildings.

In Bridge’s 2014 Academic State Champs ranking, a score of 100 indicates a school’s students are performing at par with students in schools with a similar percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Only Michigan Connections Academy, based in Okemos, met that standard in elementary or middle school.

Icademy Global, based in Zeeland, had the lowest scores for both elementary and middle school. Its elementary school score of 82.35 for 2013-14 ranks it in the bottom 2 percent of all elementary schools in the state.

Enrollment and enrollment growth appear to bear no connection to test scores. For example, elementary students at the Michigan Great Lakes Virtual Academy, based in Manistee, had test scores that ranked the school in the bottom 20 percent of all elementary schools in the state in 2013-14. Yet enrollment ballooned from 474 that year, to 2,008 the next year.

Michigan Virtual Charter Academy, based in Grand Rapids, had the largest enrollment among Michigan’s cyber charters in 2014-15, with 2,804 students. Its elementary school student test scores ranked in the bottom 30th percentile.

Michigan Connections’ elementary students, by contrast, ranked in the 53rd percentile.

Cyber charter high school students perform better, with all four schools that enrolled high school students ranking in the top half of high schools in the state. Michigan Connections’ high school led the way with a ranking in the top 5 percent.

Yet, even at the high school level, there are reasons for concern. The ACT scores of juniors enrolled full time in cyber charters were significantly lower than the scores of juniors statewide. Fewer than 8 percent of cyber juniors earned scores that deemed them college and career ready in all subject areas, compared with about 18 percent statewide, in 2013-14.

While the academic data for Michigan cyber charters could be considered mixed, there’s less uncertainty nationally. The academic performance of students in full-time virtual schools across the U.S. is “utterly and unexplainably terrible,” said Gary Miron, an education professor at Western Michigan University and a national expert on cyber schools.

“And that’s for the schools we have data,” said Miron, one of the authors of an annual report on the performance of virtual schools published by the National Education Policy Center. “A high proportion don’t have data,” because they’re new or because they have too few students per grade to be counted in state-level data.

Nonetheless, Miron is an advocate of online learning, teaching an online course. But he said he is concerned about accountability in full-time virtual charter schools nationally, a field that is dominated by for-profit companies.

“Basically, they’re doing what you’re supposed to do as for-profit company: reducing cost and lobbying to increase prices for the products,” Miron said. “It’s an unregulated field.”

In Michigan, at least 94 percent of cyber charter students were enrolled last year in schools operated by one of the two largest national cyber school providers, K-12 Inc.

Cyber academies receive the same per-pupil foundation grant as brick-and-mortar public schools in Michigan, roughly $7,200, even though virtual schools do not have the building and maintenance costs of traditional schools.

“The money we don’t have to pay for a new boiler, we invest in curriculum,” said Bryan Klochack, principal for Michigan Connections Academy, and former principal at Marshall High School.

Online charters also spend more money on marketing than traditional schools to attract students. A 2012 USA Today report found that cyber school providers were purchasing ads on Nickelodeon and The Cartoon Network.

How much companies spend on marketing wouldn’t be an issue if the schools were performing well academically, said John Austin, president of the Michigan State Board of Education, who opposed the 2012 expansion of cyber schools.

Among students enrolled in full-time cyber schools in Michigan, 44 percent of classes ended in either a failure or a withdrawal without credit, according to an analysis by Michigan Virtual University, a private, nonprofit set up by the state in 1998 to offer online courses to Michigan students.

Austin draws a distinction between online courses that are a graduation requirement in Michigan high schools and full-time cyber charter schools. About 320,000 students in the state took some kind of online course last year, most as a supplement to their traditional classwork.

Expanding the cap on cyber charters before knowing how well the two operating cyber charters were performing was “a huge mistake.” Austin said. “For a lot of kids, online-only learning is not helping.”

Karen McPhee, senior education adviser to Snyder, did not return an email request for comment. Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, an organization that advocated for cyber school expansion in 2012, also did not return requests for comment.

Lessons for traditional schools

Andrei Nichols, interim head of school at Michigan Virtual Charter Academy, said critics are asking the wrong questions. Instead of focusing on how much money cyber charters spend on marketing, education leaders should ask why so many students want to leave their traditional school building.

“If a family is in a position where they can go to their local brick-and-mortar school and it meets their needs, by all means do it,” Nichols said. “But there are families … who traditional schools are failing who want another option.”

Online schools aren’t a good fit for a lot of families. The families whose children succeed in online schools are families who are involved in their student’s learning, Nichols said. Teachers at his cyber school spend a lot of time on the telephone with parents, discussing how the students are doing.

“The virtual world would not work without family involvement. Let’s be frank, you can’t leave an 11-year-old at the table and expect them to do their work,” he said. “The virtual world (sees) the challenges of the brick-and-mortar world: attendance and kids coming in below grade level. That’s why we need all the interventions we have.”

That, Nichols said, might be a lesson traditional schools could learn from cyber schools, where teachers and administrators must have a high level of contact with students and parents if the students are going to succeed.

“When parents are involved in the learning process, good things do happen.” Nichols said. “If you were to take that parental involvement in the virtual world and recreate it in brick-and-mortar schools, we could be put out of business.”

© Bridge Magazine, reprinted with permission. Bridge Magazine, a publication of The Center for Michigan, produces independent, nonprofit public affairs journalism and is a partner with MLive.

Ramsey wants to give virtual school one last chance | Nashville Post

Ramsey wants to give virtual school one last chance

Published April 22, 2015 by Andrea Zelinski

A last ditch effort to keep open a floundering virtual school failed Tuesday in the Senate, although Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said he hopes to convince the administration to cut the school one last break.

“I firmly believe that that school needs to be given another chance,” Ramsey told the Post. “Now, one more year is all I’d give them. If they didn’t have the achievement then, I’d cut their legs out from under them, so to speak.”

Senators voted 17-13 against an amendment sponsored by Sen. Frank Niceley to give Union County-based Tennessee Virtual Academy a one-year reprieve to avoid closure if the school’s scores improve this year. The amendment, proposed on the floor and not timely filed, needed a two-thirds majority.

However, Niceley attempted to add the language to a separate bill sponsored by Education Committee Chairwoman Dolores Gresham that would allow students from outside the school zone to attend a school taken over by the state Achievement School District.

“This school has actually taken advantage of these students,” said Dolores Gresham, chair of the Education Committee and an advocate for school choice who fought off Niceley’s amendment. “Fairness, compassion and common sense will tell you that these students have not been served well. To let it go on for another year is outrageous.”

According to the state report card, fewer than one in four students are on grade level in math, and 42 percent are at or above grade level in reading language arts. Growth in student test scores ranked one out of five, the lowest score possible.

Proponents for the school argue Tennessee Virtual Academy, run by for-profit operator K12 Inc., shouldn’t be treated any differently than traditional public schools which can fall among the lowest-performing of the state but not face closure. They argue the school should have one more year to increase test scores.

Ramsey said he walked into the Senate planning to support Niceley’s effort to give the school one last chance. Ramsey acknowledged his vote in favor probably would have garnered a few more votes in the legislation’s favor, but said he changed his mind after the debate twisted in procedural knots after learning Niceley's had other ways to bring his measure to the floor instead of amending another member's bill. The practice is legal under the Senate rules but was frowned upon in debate Tuesday night.

“I'm still, honestly, going to work with the administration to see if we can't get them to extend another year,” said Ramsey.

Parents and Educators Respond to Governor Cuomo

New York State Allies for Public Education wrote a research-based response to a letter written on behalf of Governor Cuomo by his director of state operations Jim Malatras. The letter makes incisive points that are relevant to every state and every district in the nation so I am posting it in full. Please open the post to see the links to research.NYS Allies for Public EducationJanuary 5 2015Dear Governor CuomoWe the undersigned members of NYS Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE) are writing in response to the December 18th letter to the Commissioner and Chancellor that Mr. Malatras wrote on your behalf. By responding to the questions posed we want to separate fact from misinformation. We are also very troubled by several questions that were not included in your letter which continues to demonstrate a disconnect between your office and the public.We strongly believe in the importance and power of public education for all children. While the vast majority of our students are successful we cannot rest until our struggling students are supported and given the needed resources to be successful.Unfortunately you have based your vision of school reform on a misguided agenda. That agenda includes ineffective strategies for school improvement. If current policies are not corrected more state resources will be wasted and our students futures will be put at even more risk.Lets start at the beginning of the letter. The New York State Education Department (NYSED) has established capricious and inaccurate measures of proficiency and college readiness. The proficiency rates that are quoted in the letter (34.8% and 31.4%) reflect arbitrary cut scores set by Commissioner King in 2013. In 2012 proficiency rates in ELA and Math were 55% and 65% by the cut scores set by then-Commissioner Steiner based on a college readiness study that he commissioned in 2010. Prior to 2010 proficiency rates were higher still under Commissioner Mills. In short proficiency is an arbitrarily defined standard and there is good evidence to suggest that NYSED has now set the Common Core standards unreasonably high for political rather than pedagogical reasons.We understand that you believe that over the past four years much has been done to improve public education. We disagree. Our high school graduation rate has barely budged since 2011 and the percentage of students earning a Regents diploma with Advanced Designation has been stagnant for several years and decreased this year. During the past four years the graduation rate for the states English Language learners has dropped by 6 percentage points.The Common Core proficiency rates were essentially flat between year one and two of the new tests (as were the rates on the final two years of the prior test) and our states SAT scores have decreased since 2010. In short although we have engaged in four years of market-based corporate reformsexpansion of charter schools evaluating teachers by student scores imposing the Common Core standards and more time-consuming and developmentally inappropriate teststhere is no evidence that New York schools are improving and there is some evidence that results are moving backward instead. We believe that there is sufficient evidence to change course.Clearly the public agrees. The 2014 Times Union/Siena College poll indicates that 46% of New Yorkers oppose the implementation of the Common Core standards compared to only 23% who support them while 46% oppose the current use of standardized testing compared to 29% who support it. We believe it is time to listen to your constituents rather than double-down on damaging policies that are hurting our children. It is our intent by answering the questions that your office posed to help you advocate for a better and wiser course in the months ahead.Question 1How is current teacher evaluation system credible when only one percent of teachers are rated ineffective? The NYC system was negotiated by Commissioner King directly and no one claims it is an accurate reflection of the reality of the state of education in NYC. What should the percentages be between classroom observations (i.e. subjective measures) and state assessments including state tests (i.e. objective measures)? What percent should be set in law versus collectively bargained? Currently the scoring bands and curve are set locally for the 60 percent subjective measures. What should the scoring bands be for the subjective measure and should the state set a standard scoring band? In general how would you change the law to construct a rigorous state-of-the-art teacher evaluation system?The first question implies that the teacher evaluation system called Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) which you insisted be quickly adopted is deeply flawed. We strongly agree. When it was put in place over one third of the principals of New York State signed a well-documented letter explaining why APPR would have negative consequences for students and harm the profession of teaching. Since that time the evidence against evaluating teachers by test scores has only increased.The New York State School Boards Association recently passed a resolution against the use of student test scores for teacher and principal evaluations and the National Association of Secondary School Principals has also disavowed their use for this purpose. In April of 2014 the American Statistical Association clearly outlined how unreliable this methodology is. Opposition to the evaluation of teachers by test scores is growing among parents as well with only 31% approving of the practice in national polls.Your question implies that test-score based evaluations are good because they are objectivethat is generated by an algorithm devised by the New York State Education Department. We strongly suggest that you review the evidencejust because a number can be generated based on other numbers does not make it a valid measure of performance. To revise APPR to give more weight to test scores would be a grave mistake.You seem troubled that only 1 in 100 teachers were found to be incompetent according to the APPR evaluation system. Do you have research that indicates that the number should be higher or lower? We strongly suggest that you return the decision on how to evaluate teachers to local education officials and each communitys elected school board. Your recent veto of your own Common Core APPR bill demonstrates that your office does not have a clear understanding of teacher evaluation and the problems associated with Common Core testing. Albany bureaucrats should not be in the business of designing evaluation systems and arbitrarily determining what acceptable outcomes for each district should be.Question 2How would you address the problem of removing poor-performing educators when the current 3020-a process makes it virtually impossible to do so? Likewise how would you change the system in New York City where poor-performing educators with disciplinary problems continue to be paid in the absent teacher reserve pool as opposed to being terminated?No one wants incompetent teachers in the classroom. Tenure assures due process not a job for life. You have been misinformed if you believe that the removal of teachers using the 3020a process is impossible.The 3020a proceeding which was streamlined in 2012 can lead to the termination of a teacher in 125 days or less. Teachers can be terminated for insubordination immoral character conduct unbecoming a teacher inefficiency incompetency physical or mental disability neglect of duty or the failure to maintain certification.Most experts say the real crisis in teacher quality specifically in our high needs districts is teacher turnover. According to a study of New York City schools by researchers Ronfeldt Loeb and Wycoff teacher turnover has a significant and negative impact on student achievement in both math and ELA. Moreover teacher turnover is particularly harmful to the achievement of students in schools with large populations of low-performing students of color.We will not attract and retain the most talented teachers especially in high-needs schools by removing their right to due process.Question 3What changes would you make to the teacher training and certification process to make it more rigorous to ensure we recruit the best and brightest teachers? Do you agree that there should be a one-time competency test for all teachers currently in the system? What should be done to improve teaching education programs across the state?We also want best and the brightest to be recruited to teaching which happens by making the profession more attractive to highly talented people who have a desire to commit their lives to guiding and instructing children.Since 2012 and the onset of reform teacher morale is at a 20 year low. New reports have shown that there has been a dramatic drop in enrollment in teacher preparation programswith a 22% decline in New York State in just the last two years. This suggests that the overwhelmingly negative rhetoric targeted to teachers and the assignment of blame for any and all problems in the way our schools are run have made the profession far less attractive. If the current trends continue there will soon be a critical shortage of teachers especially in STEM special education and foreign languages areas in which it is already very difficult to find sufficient candidates.If you are interested in advancing teacher education programs practicing educators should be surveyed especially recent graduates to ascertain how their preparation could have been improved. The idea that the quality of a teacher education program can be assessed by using the student test scores of its graduates is even more unreliable than evaluating teacher quality by means of student test scores. Likewise creating a single high-stakes test to weed out practicing teachers is a gimmick not a sound basis for judgment.Question 4What financial or other incentives would you provide to high-performing teachers and would you empower administrators to make those decisions?The idea that teachers should be financially rewarded when their students receive high test scores has been proposed for decades despite the fact that numerous studies have shown that merit pay does not work including a recent three year study conducted by the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University.Merit pay would be a waste of taxpayer dollars that would be far better spent on proven reforms.Question 5Do you think the length of a teachers probationary period should be extended and should the state create a program whereby teachers have to be recertified every several years like lawyers and other professions? What other changes would you propose to the probationary period before a teacher is granted tenure?New York State has a rigorous pathway for teacher certification. In order to earn Initial Certification a candidate must be awarded a bachelors degree pass no fewer than three certification exams spend a semester of mentored student teaching with a certified educator pass a written exam and complete the performance based assessment known as the edTPA.In order to maintain teaching certification and progress to the required Professional Certification teachers must have 3 years of satisfactory teaching experience including one year of mentoring. Additionally they must earn a Masters Degree. Once teachers have completed all of these requirements and obtained their Professional Certificate they must accrue 175 hours of additional professional development every five years.A three-year probationary period during which they are frequently observed and given feedback from principals and other certified observers provides ample opportunity for a school district to assess an educators professionalism growth and ability to incorporate best practices into his or her instruction. It is not unusual for that probationary term to be extended to four or even five years if there are doubts that sufficient progress has not been made. During probation many struggling teachers leave the profession through the resignation process so that fewer need to be formally dismissed.Although teachers are not required to undergo recertification they are required to engage in ongoing professional development and yearly evaluations which is comparable or goes beyond the requirements of other high level professions. Local school districts should be encouraged to continue to develop robust programs and protocols to monitor and support both new and veteran teachers.Question 6What steps would you take to dramatically improve priority or struggling schools that condemn generation of kids to poor educations and thus poor life prospects? Specifically what should we do about the deplorable conditions of the education system in Buffalo?The current practice of shutting down schools that are deemed failing is not an effective long-term strategy. Replacement schools usually do not serve the students in the so-called failing school. These displaced students then remain in a phase-out school with fewer resources and drop out or are displaced to another school with an even higher concentration of at-risk students thus continuing the cycle of school failure and closure.Your question is based on the false assumption that schools are solely responsible for the outcomes of poor and disadvantaged students. Neither high-stakes testing the Common Core or the continual closing of schools can fix the systemic problems of our high-needs schools. NY State has one of the most inequitable funding systems in the nation despite the decision of the states highest court in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit that the funding system should be reformed. You have refused to address this inequityschools with the greatest needs continue to receive the least resources and support.As a result class sizes in our highest need districts have grown each year. Lets take Buffalo as an example. In Buffalo many kindergarten classes have grown to 30 students or more compared to a statewide average of twenty students per class. In New York City class sizes have increased sharply since 2007 and last year they were the largest in 15 years in kindergarten through third grades. If you are truly interested in improving outcomes in our highest needs schools these schools must be provided with the resources to reduce class size a proven reform that benefits all students but especially those most at risk.In addition providing resources for health services counseling after school child care and recreational programs to reduce truancy and improve attendance would likely have a positive impact on student learning.Question 7What is your vision for charter schools? As you know in New York City the current charter cap is close to being reached so would you increase the charter school cap? To what? What other reforms would you make to improve charter schools ability to serve all students?The charter cap should not be raised. Many researchers including Macke Raymond head of CREDO a pro-charter research organization funded by the Walton Family Foundation now agree that charter expansion and enhanced competition do not work to improve public schools. Moreover charters do not enroll their fair share of high needs students especially English language learners and special needs students as acknowledged by the NYC Charter Center and independent researchers. According to the 2010 amendment to the New York charter law before charters are renewed or allowed to replicate they must show they enroll and retain equal numbers of at risk students as the districts in which they are located and yet neither the Board of Regents nor SUNY have ever rejected a charter proposal on these grounds despite the fact that many charters have sky high student suspension and attrition rates. Neither SUNY nor the Regents have provided adequate financial oversight and in 95 percent of charter audits the State Comptrollers Office has found corruption or mismanagement. Yet when the Deputy Comptroller wrote a letter to the states major charter-school regulators asking for stronger oversight he received no response.The recent approval by the Regents of a charter school started by a 22 year old who faked his educational background only further reveals the inability of authorizers to carry out their current responsibilities no less authorize yet more charters that could waste taxpayer funds. Meanwhile in New York City where the vast majority of the states charter schools are located about two thirds of these privately-managed schools receive more public funding per pupil than district public schools a disparity that will grow even worse with the new law requiring that charters receive free space paid for by the city or be provided space within the districts already overcrowded public schools. This year NYC charters are siphoning off $1.3 billion in public funds while leading to the concentration of the most at-risk students in public schools with fewer resources and less space. It is no wonder that more NYC voters believe the number of charters should remain the same or decrease than be raised.Question 8Do you support using technology to improve public education like offering online AP courses by college faculty to high schools students who do not have any such courses now even though these changes have been resisted by education special interests?The push towards using more technology in public education is not being resisted by special interests as your letter claims but instead is promoted by special interests including software companies eager to get a larger share of the $8 billion education technology market. There is no rigorous research showing that more exposure to online learning improves student learning or outcomes in K12 schools and many studies suggest that expanding the amount of time students spend in front of computer screens has negative effects.Question 9What would you do about mayoral control in NYC and do you support mayoral control in other municipalities? What changes and improvements would you make to NYC Mayoral control?In general mayoral control is an unproven experiment that has NOT worked to improve NYC schools compared to other large urban districts across the country and should not be expanded across the state. In New York City the mayoral control law should be amended to give more local control to the citys residents by giving the City Council the authority to provide checks and balances since the city lacks an elected school board. Our democratic system of government relies on the separation of powers and an omnipotent executive inevitably leads to abuse and poor decision-making. At the same time the new state charter law should be amended with local control returned to NYC officials to enable them to determine whether or not privately run charter schools should receive space at city taxpayer expense.Question 10There are approximately 700 school districts in New York many of which have declining enrollment. Do you think we should restructure the current system through mergers consolidations or regionalization? If so how would you do it?This question implies that through mergers consolidations and regionalization we can improve education while reducing costs. The research however contradicts that suggestion. Studies show that consolidations and mergers actually increase costs to districts and there is typically no gain in academic achievement. The following summary is from Penn State College of Education:School consolidation continues to be a topic of great concern for many small rural school and districts. While advocates for consolidation commonly cite fiscal imperatives based upon economies of scale opponents have responded with evidence undermining this argument and pointing out the prominent position of the rural school in the economic and social development of community. Additionally evidence continues to build demonstrating the advantages of small schools in attaining higher levels of student achievement. Larger schools in contrast have been shown to increase transportation costs raise dropout rates lower student involvement in extra-curricular activities and harm rural communities sense of place.The consolidation of services is already underway and should be incentivized when it makes sense and benefits students. It is interesting that while you have proposed consolidation for school districts you have also supported charter school expansion each of which are considered a separate local education authority or school district which appears to be a contradiction.Question 11As you know the appointment and selection process of the Board of Regents is unique in that unlike other agencies selections and appointments are made by the Legislature. Would you make changes to the selection and appointment process? If so what are they?We believe the Board of Regents must stay independent of the executive branch and the Governor should not interfere in matters of education policy. The authority should remain with the legislature to intervene when necessary.There is a fair balance of powers in the NYS Constitution Articles V and XI requiring that the Governor and the Senate have the authority to appoint heads of departmental agencies and the joint legislature to elect members of the Board of Regents which in turn appoint the Commissioner of Education.We do believe the nomination of Regent candidates should be a more transparent inclusive process and involve stakeholders from each judicial district including parents educators students and local legislators. For the at-large Regent seats there should be a state-wide committee consisting of parents educators and legislators to nominate candidates after assessing gaps that may exist in the Board of Regents expertise diversity in background and geographical balance.Question 12Chancellor the Board of Regents is about to replace Dr. King; can we design an open and transparent selection process so parents teachers and legislators have a voice?We strongly believe there should be a more rigorous inclusive and transparent process to appoint the next New York State Commissioner of Education as well. While the appointment process is at the discretion of the Board of Regents as per Article V of the NYS Constitution the overwhelming dissatisfaction of New Yorkers with the current policies and the failure of state education officials to listen to parents and teachers has revealed the need for a new Commissioner who is more responsive to stakeholder needs and concerns.Questions That Should Be AskedWe were disappointed by the omission of important questions that should have been asked in your letter. During the past year members of the public especially parents expressed serious opposition to the current education policies during forums that were held across the state. Those concerns however were excluded from your list. Here are three questions which are very much on the minds of parents and that we would like to be asked of state officials:How will the State Education Department review and modify the Common Core standards given the enormous public outcry against the standards and their implementation?In October of 2014 Governor you said that you were working to roll the standards back. You recognized that implementation had been rushed and that there were questions regarding whether the Common Core standards were the best standards for the students of New York State. The public has clearly expressed its dissatisfaction. A plurality of New Yorkers believes that the implementation of the Common Core should be halted entirely. Many other states are now engaging in a thorough analysis of the standards as they make revisions both large and small. New York students deserve the best possible standards. Please join us in urging the State Education Department to provide a date when an open review of the Common Core standards will begin in New York.How will we reduce the time students spend on state standardized testing?Polls consistently report that New York parents do not support the grueling and inappropriate Common Core tests. Time spent on state testing has dramatically ballooned since 2012. Last year between 55000 and 60000 students opted out of the grade 3-8 New York State exams. Make no mistakethis was a deliberate decision on the part of parents to show how displeased they are with the Common Core exams and the way in which these tests have narrowed and diminished the education of their children.Your support for reducing the effects of test scores on students was but a small step in the right direction. Please join us in asking the State Education Department to provide a plan to radically reduce the time spent on state exams rolling it back to 2010 levels as long as yearly testing is mandated. Please also inquire as to when teachers will be allowed to author better assessments so that the state is no longer spending millions of taxpayer dollars to corporations that have consistently produced shoddy products.How will personally identifiable student data be protected?Data privacy of students personally identifiable information is still not protected nor is the privacy legislation that was passed last spring being enforced. While the legislation helped to stop sharing with inBloom it did not address the concerns of parents of the widespread collection and sharing of their childrens personal data that is occurring without their knowledge or consent.Moreover allowing data-mining vendors to access childrens personal data has huge risks including to student privacy and safety. Yet the State Education Department still has not implemented or enforced the new student privacy law passed last spring which requires the appointment of a chief privacy officer who will create a parent bill of rights with public input. As a result numerous districts and schools throughout the state continue to disclose highly sensitive personal student data to vendors without parental knowledge or consent and are ignoring several federal privacy laws including FERPA and COPPA without enforcement or oversight by the state.In summary it is apparent that the punitive education agenda of testing and privatization is not working to improve student achievement and instead is having a deleterious impact on our schools. It is time to change course rather than intensify these policies through requiring more school closings expanding charters and putting even more emphasis on unreliable test scores.What New York badly needs is a new Commissioner with a strong background in public education and a deep understanding of how students learn. He or she should have a healthy respect for local autonomy and the need to work collaboratively with stakeholders. The era of top down bureaucratic and monopolistic control of our schools by state officials must end.We believe that the members of the Board of Regents should be thoughtfully selected with input from the communities that they represent. Most importantly parents and teachers demand appropriate learning standards that allow teachers to focus on learning not testing. With equitable funding thoughtful standards sufficient teacher autonomy local control and community support we know public education will better accomplish what we all wanta brighter future for all students. We also urge you to hold public forums so you can hear directly from parents teachers and other stakeholders how they want their schools improved rather than remain in a bubble up in Albany separated from the constituents whose interests you should be dedicated to serve.SincerelyNYS Allies for Public Education- See more at: via Diane Ravitch’s blog

Virtual academy set to expand despite low test scores

7:23 AM, Aug 8, 2013 | 0 comments

Another Tennessee school district is jumping on the virtual school bandwagon, despite student test scores that ranked the state’s first publicly funded virtual school amongst the lowest in the state.

The Tennessee Virtual Academy opened under the auspices of Union County Schools in 2011, after state legislatures cleared the way for the education model that allows students to be home-schooled via their .

The privately run but publicly funded program came under criticism last February after a leaked email showed school leaders asked teachers to change the grades of failing students.

The 2011-2012 TCAP available showed TNVA students scored in the bottom 11% of the state. The scores prompted Governor Haslam to propose capping enrollment.

Now the Campbell County school district has voted to offer the same program. This year, they are enrolling kindergarten through tenth grade. They eventually intend to eventually expand to all high school grades.

Just as the TNVA is operated for Union County by a for-profit company called K12 Inc., the new Tennessee Cyber Academy will also be offered as a public school by Campbell County using the vendor K12 Inc.

In Union County, the state pays K12 about $5,200 per student. A cut of that money goes to the county.

Campbell County School Board member Eugene Lawson says their district has made a similar arrangement.

State representative and educator Gloria Johnson has called for the state to ban K12 in the past.

“I would say to Campbell County ‘be very careful,'” said Johnson. “The little bit of money that the county gets from this is not going to help in the end game with these kids.

Johnson says she has reached out to the program in the past for data and to try and observe a teacher in action, but gotten nowhere.

“No accountability,” said Johnson. “Why are we putting our public education tax dollars into something that is failing so many children?

According to Union County Director of Schools James Carter, the TVNA currently has about 3,000 students enrolled. 10News tried to get enrollment data from Campbell County but our to the school district went unreturned Wednesday.

A K12 spokesperson also declined 10News’ request for an interview on the subject of school accountability. TNVA Principal Josh Williams said he would consider answering questions, but only if 10News submitted them in writing, in advance, to have them approved by .

Union County Director of Schools James Carter says he has seen last school year’s TCAP data, which the state will release later this month. He said while some students made small gains, the stores still rank amongst the worst in the state.

“If you’re the lowest performing school in the state, but you improve, you’re only working against yourself,” said Carter.

Asked about the scores on Wednesday, Governor Haslam pointed to his previous attempt to cap virtual enrollment at 5,000 students statewide. Instead, lawmakers took a wait-and-see approach.

Earlier this year they passed a law allowing virtual schools to continue to expand until they fail to meet performance requirements three years in a row.

When the state releases school-specific TCAP data later this month, it will be the second year in a row TNVA has failed requirements.

Haslam says the state will look at the data.

“We’re going to hold everybody accountable to the same standards regardless of the type of school,” said the governor.

Comments (0) | Share your thoughts »