Charter Groups Want More Regulations for Virtual Charter Schools


By David Safier

on at 4:00 PM

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  • Courtesy of PhotoSpin

Now this is an interesting development. Some prominent charter school organizations have published a report advocating stricter regulations to improve the performance of virtual charter schools, also known as on-line schools. This isn’t an entirely new development. Charter school organizations have been trying to weed out poorly performing schools from the charter ranks, and this is their latest effort. More at the end of the post about the positives and negatives of this push.

Three organizations, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, National Association of Charter School Organizers and 50CAN, joined together to publish A Call to Action To Improve the Quality of Full-Time Virtual Charter Public Schools. The organizations support virtual charters, but they’ve read the reports about how poorly students at those schools perform compared to students at other public schools and believe the schools should be more carefully regulated.

The facts about the virtual schools in the report look to me to be accurate. A vital bit of information is that 70 percent of the schools are run by for-profit organizations, directly or indirectly, which means the profit motive is going to trump education whenever the two are in conflict. Some other facts: there are 135 full-time virtual schools in the country; 79 percent of their students are in virtual schools with more than a thousand students; virtual school serve more students in poverty and fewer English language learners than traditional public schools.

The report’s recommendations are specific and, if implemented, could doom one of the biggest players, K-12 Inc., a publicly traded corporation (Arizona Virtual Academy, or AZVA, in one of its schools) whose many sins I’ve written about over the years and whose failings are being subjected to increasing scrutiny. The proposal is that enrollment be limited to hundreds, not thousands of students, and if the schools want to grow, they need to meet performance goals. That would be a stake in the heart of K12 Inc. whose profits are based on continual growth and whose stockholders are growing increasingly skittish (its stock is currently trading at about 11, down from a 2011 high of 36). AZVA has over 4,000 students. Another branch, Ohio Virtual Academy, has over 10,000 students. The corporation would crumble if it had to cut its schools’ student populations dramatically.

The report also recommends that virtual schools be funded based on their real costs, another potentialstake in the heart of the for-profit model. Right now, most virtual schools get close to the same per-student state funding as brick-and-mortar schools even though they don’t have physical buildings to pay for and maintain, and their teachers often have twice the student load of teachers in other charters and school districts (A 50-to-1 student-teacher ratio is the standard at K12 Inc. schools). The report estimates that per student costs at virtual schools are 60 percent of the costs at brick-and-mortar schools. Take away their inflated public funding—remember, taxpayers pay for charter schools, just like we pay for school districts—and they lose their profit margins.

It’s good to see charter school organizations actively pursuing some of the bad actors in their midst, and I agree with almost everything I read in this report. However, there’s a bit of a caveat I need to add. When they go after poorly performing charters, their targets are almost always schools with students from low income families. It’s true, some of those schools are doing a lousy job, just like some district schools do a bad job with their low income students, but some charters serving those students do terrific work, even though their test scores are at the low end of the spectrum because of socioeconomic factors beyond the schools’ control. If charter organizations work together with state regulators to carve out the genuinely bad schools, that’s a good thing. However, their motives may not be that pure. Every time a charter with low test scores is closed, regardless of the reason, the average test scores for the remaining charter schools rise. Closing charters serving low income students for any reason, good or bad, can give the charter PR people the kind of undeserved bragging rights they love. “Look at our scores! We’re more successful than school districts,” they can say, even though their higher scores may be a result of serving a different population. The poster child for this type of self congratulation is the BASIS chain which has a variety of ways to screen out academically undesirable students, then brags about its students’ academic achievement. The “education reform”/privatization folks would love to be able to say the same kind of thing about charters as a whole, and the easiest way to do that is to close schools serving low income students.

Whitney Tilson, a key figure in the corporate reform movement, and I have continued an exchange about the teaching, charters, and the movement he represents. He was among the founders of Democrats for Education Reform and Teach for America; he is also involved in Bridge International Academies, which opens low-cost, for-profit schools in poor countries. Another in this series will appear soon. He posted this on his blog this morning. You can read it there to see my remarks are in blue; when I copied and pasted to my site, all the blue disappeared, and I didn’t have time to recolor them. My comments are marked DR, his are WT. I am engaging in this dialogue so that his readers can learn what their critics say, not filtered but straight.




From: Whitney Tilson
Sent: Thursday, May 12, 2016 9:00 AM
Subject: Round 2 of my discussion with Diane Ravitch, on who’s the status quo, charter schools, and testing


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My new BFF, Diane Ravitch, and I have continued our conversation and it’s gotten even more interesting, as we’ve moved past the high-level principles we mostly agreed on in our first exchange of emails (sent a couple of weeks ago and posted on her blog here and my blog here) and started engaging on the many issues on which we disagree.

Our ongoing discussion covers many topics:
1) Whether reformers are now the status quo

2) Charter schools

3) Tests and how they should (and shouldn’t) be used

4) Who is the underdog in this battle

5) The tone of the debate and our shared desire to focus more on the issues and less on personal attacks

6) The details of the Vergara case – namely, a) the amount of time it takes teachers to earn tenure; b) how difficult it is for administrators to fire a tenured teacher; and c) whether layoffs should be done strictly by seniority
Because of its length, we’ve agreed to break it into two parts: Round 2 is below and will cover the first three topics. Tomorrow we’ll release Round 3, covering the remaining three.

My original email is in italics, Diane’s comments are in blue (beginning with “DR:”), and my responses are in black (beginning with “WT:”).




Hi Diane,


I really enjoyed our first exchange of ideas. Thank you for engaging.


Since you had the last word, the onus is on me to respond – which, frankly, makes me feel overwhelmed because we’ve already touched on so many enormously complex and difficult issues that we could spend weeks discussing just one of them.


So, I’m going to approach this following the old maxim, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” I’m not going to try to respond to everything, but rather just a few things and hopefully we can build from there.
So let’s talk about two things, one high-level and one nitty-gritty: 1) tone, language and motivations; and 2) the Vergara case.


Tone, Language and Motivations
Here’s another thing we can surely agree on: we (and our allies) have far too often let our rhetoric get away from us, leading us to make ad hominem attacks rather than sticking to the issues. Randi throws kids under the bus on behalf of her members, you’re motivated by a personal vendetta against Joel Klein, I’m part of the hedge fund cabal that wants to privatize public education for our own profit, reformers are anti-teacher, etc.
Can we just stop? Please?


Let’s agree to disagree without being disagreeable. It diminishes all of us. It blinds us to the many things we agree on. And it makes it much harder to reach compromises, which are usually necessary.


No doubt there are some folks on “your side” who, for example, are more focused on more jobs, higher pay, better benefits and job security, etc. for union members than on the best interests of kids, just as there are people on “my side” who wrongly bash teachers and are more focused on earning higher profits (like the online charter school operators) or busting unions than on the best interests of kids.


But it’s been my experience and observation over 27 years (I know, I know, that makes me a rookie!) that the vast majority of people engaged in this debate are motivated not by self-interest, but by a deep passion for ensuring that all children in this country get a good education that gives them a fair shot in life.


So let’s stop the rhetoric about “defenders of the status quo” and “throwing kids under the bus” (from my side) and “the billionaire boys club that demonizes teachers and wants to privatize public education for their own profit” (from your side).


DR: Whitney, I have to stop you here, to clear the record. I know that “your side” refers to anyone who believes in public education as a “defender of the status quo,” which is frankly absurd. The “status quo” is your side. You and your compatriots have controlled the U.S. Department of Education for the past eight years (at least). You got your favorite ideas imposed on the nation via Race to the Top. You were able, through Race to the Top, to get almost every state to agree to hand off public schools to charter operators, some of whom-frankly–are incompetent and fast-buck entrepreneurs–and to agree to evaluate teachers by the test scores of their students. You got whatever you wanted through Arne Duncan’s close association with your reform movement. So, yes, there is a status quo, and it consists of high-stakes testing (which American children and teachers have endured for 15 years) and privatization via charter. The charter movement has promoted free markets, competition, and consumer choice, which opens the door to vouchers, which are now found in some form in nearly half the states. Add this all up, and you have a disruptive status quo that is highly demoralizing to teachers, destroys unions, and rattles the foundations of education without improving it.


WT: I agree that we reformers were able to get some of our agenda implemented under Obama and Duncan, but completely disagree that we have become the status quo. (By the way, I know you object to the term “reformers”, but I don’t know what else to call us; if I use your preferred term, “status quo’ers”, all of our readers will be confused.) I looked it up and it’s defined as “the existing state of affairs, particularly with regards to social or political issues.”


How can the status quo be anything except the existing K-12 public educational system, which is the 2nd largest area of government spending (exceeding our military, trailing only healthcare) and by far the largest employer in the country at 7.2 million jobs (plus add 3.8 million more if you count higher ed) (per this data from the U.S. Department of Labor)?


I also disagree with your characterization of our agenda, for a variety of reasons.


DR: The existing public school system is saddled with high-stakes testing because of “your side.” It is saddled with policies like test-based evaluation of teachers because of Race to the Top (“your side”). Thousands of teachers and principals have been fired and thousands of community public schools have been closed and replaced by privately managed charters because of the policies of “your side.” Your side is in charge. Your side makes the rules and the laws. Your side demonizes teachers and public education.


WT: Charter Schools
I think high-quality charters are an important piece of the puzzle in improving our educational system. This is a topic on which I know we will forever disagree and it’s a big, complex one, so let’s agree to return to it in more depth in a future discussion – but in the meantime, if you (and our readers) would like to read my response to your critique of charters, I published an open letter to you on 12/3/10 that is posted here. Though I wrote it more than five years ago, I think it’s still quite timely.


Briefly, you always refer to them as part of an effort to privatize public education, which drives me crazy (I’m sure you’ll be pleased to hear) because charter schools are public schools! They receive public funds, are often situated in public school buildings, aren’t allowed to have admissions criteria (unlike many public schools like Stuyvesant) (yes, some charters cheat; so do many regular public schools), students have to take the same state tests, etc. They are simply public schools that aren’t overseen by the central bureaucracy – rather, by a board of directors made up of private citizens – and aren’t subject to the centrally negotiated union contract. This makes them different – but they’re still public schools, ultimately accountable, directly or indirectly, to elected officials the city or state in which they’re located.


As for charters opening the door to vouchers, I think, if anything, they’re a substitute. But regardless, I generally favor both – but the devil is in the details. I share your opposition to awful for-profit online charter operators like K12, but think we should expand high-quality charters that, as I noted in our last exchange, are willing to play by the same rules as regular public schools (e.g., take their fair share of the most disadvantaged students, backfill, etc.).


DR: Charter schools are not public schools. They have private boards; they are not required to have open meetings. Their finances are opaque. They choose the students they want and push out those they don’t want. When hauled into court or before the NLRB, their defense is always the same: we are not public schools, we are not state actors, we are private corporations operating schools on a contract with government. I am convinced: they are not public schools, because they say so themselves. They are neither transparent nor accountable. They leave the neediest students to the public schools, even as they drain resources from the public schools. They weaken the public schools by cherrypicking the most motivated students, excluding the neediest students, and taking away the resources that public schools require to function well. Charter schools are harming the education of the great majority of students, who are enrolled in public schools. We had a dual school system before the Brown decision of 1954; we should not go back and recreate a new one.


It has to be a little disturbing to you to realize that your agenda for charters is shared by all the Republican governors, as well as a few Democrats like Obama, Cuomo, and Malloy. You are also allied with Scott Walker, Rick Scott, Rick Snyder, Mike Pence, Paul LePage, Jeb Bush, and the Tea Party of North Carolina. Every Republican legislature loves charter schools, as it is an opportunity to resegregate the schools. The far-right American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) loves charter schools and has model charter legislation which is shared with their members in every state, as well as model legislation to eliminate collective bargaining and standards for teachers.


WT: Testing
Regarding testing, we actually agree on more than I expected. I agree with your critique that we reformers haven’t implemented it very well – which has certainly helped the anti-testing crowd give us a political drubbing. I share your concerns about testing (from our last exchange a few days ago: “teaching to the test, narrowing the curriculum, cheating”) and agree that “they favor those who come to school with advantages,” “that most testing should be designed by the classroom teachers, not by outside testing corporations,” and that standardized tests shouldn’t be given “more than once a year.”


Where we disagree, I think, is how the tests should be used. You wrote that “standardized testing should be used only diagnostically” and that it “should not figure into…the teachers’ evaluation.”

Regarding the former, I’m not 100% sure what you mean by “only diagnostically,” but I believe that we need to use the results of standardized tests as one important measure – though not the only measure! – of how teachers, schools, districts, states, and our entire country are doing in achieving our goal of ensuring that every child gets a good education.


DR: Tests are diagnostic when they show what students know and don’t know, so instruction can be adjusted to help them do better. Today’s standardized tests have no diagnostic value. They rank students without giving any information about what they do and don’t know. Imagine going to a doctor with a sharp pain in your side. Your doctor says to you, “This is bad. You scored a 2 on a scale of 1 to 4. You are in the 30th percentile. Goodbye.” What you really want is a diagnosis. You want to know what is wrong and you want medicine that will stop the pain. Tests today are pointless and useless. All teachers learn is where their students rank, not what they need more help with.


WT: When tests show that half of black and Latino 4th graders are “below basic” readers (at least one year below grade level, often far more), this is critical information about this national disgrace. Of course it’s a separate discussion about what to do about this, which is rooted in how much of this problem is due to ineffective schools vs. other factors like poverty, but it’s critical to do the testing every year so, as a nation, we are regularly reminded of the problem, can take steps to address it, and track progress.


DR: We don’t need to test every student every year to know that kids need smaller classes and intensive help. Their teachers know that. No high-performing nation in the world tests every child every year. Testing is a measure, not a treatment. If we keep pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into testing without changing conditions in the schools, we will get nowhere. Whatever we need to know about student performance can be learned from NAEP (the National Assessment of Educational Performance), which tests American students every two years in reading and math and reports on state results and disaggregates scores by race, language, gender, disability, etc. The current onerous tests—lasting eight to ten hours for little children—are unnecessary.


WT: For similar reasons, it’s critical to know if the vast majority of children in a particular district, school or, yes, even classroom are, for example, reading or doing math far below grade level. I agree that it’s not necessarily a high school’s fault if, say, 90% of students are below grade level and the graduation rate is only 50% – that’s what tends to happen when students enter 9th grade three years below grade level – so the test results must be used carefully (and I know sometimes they’re not), but that’s not a reason to eliminate standardized testing or limit its uses. If there is no learning going on in an entire school – and there are, sadly, a lot of them – then we really need to know that!

DR: Be aware that 50% of students are always below grade level. That is the nature of grade level; it is a median. In any district where 80-90% are below grade level, you can be certain that there is a high concentration of poverty and racial segregation. Why assume that the teachers are bad? The root causes of low test scores are the same everywhere: poverty and segregation. What can be done to reduce those two harmful conditions?


WT: As for classroom-level data, we surely agree that it may not be a teacher’s fault if every child in her class is reading below grade level – they likely entered the class that way. But if they spend a year in a teacher’s classroom and still can’t read or do math (or whatever the subject is) better than they could at the beginning of the year, then something is wrong and we (broadly defined: the department head, principal, superintendent, parents, taxpayers, etc.) need to know that so corrective action can be taken – so, again, while it’s important to use data and test results correctly, we need the data!


DR: Your faith in standardized testing is greater than mine. I served on the NAEP governing board for seven years, and I saw questions that had two right answers or no right answers. Children have talents and skills that are not measured on these tests. We have been testing everything that moves for 15 years and we have very little to show for it. It is time to think differently. We should give more thought to how to help students and teachers and less money to measuring them. The nature of standardized tests is that they are normed on a bell curve. Half will always be below the median. If we gave drivers’ licenses that way, half the population would never get one.


WT: Now let’s turn to the issue of using standardized tests as part of teachers’ evaluations, a hugely complex and contentious issue.


I think standardized test results should be used as part (and only a small – less than 50% – part) of a teacher’s evaluation – while simultaneously acknowledging the validity of your many objections to this. Good testing should be able to measure, at least to some degree, what really matters: growth. The concept is simple: if students start the school year at a certain level, they should be at a higher level by the end of the year, so let’s measure that.


Now, before you go off on me for saying this, I’m well aware that, in practice, it’s not simple at all: tests are imperfect and results are inconsistent year to year; many subjects (like art) areas don’t lend themselves to measurement by tests; sometimes a class has more than one teacher during the year; some students move between classes; etc. I also agree that reformers could have done a better job of implementing the process of tying student test scores to teacher evaluations.


But I view these problems as good reasons why test results shouldn’t be weighted too heavily, should be based on growth/learning, not static scores, and need to be balanced by comprehensive reviews by peers and administrators – but not as reasons to completely reject using test results in teacher evaluations.


DR: Test scores should not count at all in evaluating a teacher’s performance. As three major scholarly organizations (the American Educational Research Association, the National Academy of Education, and the American Statistical Association) have said, test scores say more about who is in the class than about teacher quality. Those who teach students with disabilities, English language learners, and gifted students will not get big score increases, may see flat scores, and may still be good teachers. Those who teach in affluent suburbs may look like superstars, even though they are no better than those teaching in the inner city schools. Value-added measurement, as it is called, has not worked anywhere. It is invalid, unstable, and unreliable. A teacher may get a high score one year, and a low score the next year. A teacher may register gains in math, yet no gains in reading; does she get a bonus or will she be fired?


I think you should know that 70% of teachers do not teach tested subjects. Only 30% teach reading or math in elementary and middle school. How do we evaluate the majority? They are evaluated based on the test scores of students they don’t know and subjects they don’t teach. That’s neither fair nor rational. So it may sound simple to say that teachers should be evaluated on whether scores go up or down, but it doesn’t work for the 70% who don’t teach tested subjects and it doesn’t work for the 30% who do because they are not teaching randomly assigned and comparable students. I urge you (and your readers) to read this article by a teacher who quit:


WT: It would be like evaluating basketball players without looking at points scored per game. Of course this one statistic needs to be placed in a broader context (how many shots the player takes; rebounds; assists; steals; defensive prowess; whether someone has a good attitude and enhances (or diminishes) team cohesion, etc.) – but you gotta look at it!


DR: The purpose of playing basketball is to score points and win games. The purpose of education is not to get high scores but to develop good citizens who can think and act wisely, work with other people respectfully, love learning and continue learning when school is finished. What matters most can’t be measured on a standardized test.


WT: In summary, I really fear that the anti-testing backlash will put us on the path back toward the bad old days when school systems could give poor and minority students the worst schools – and even good schools could put such students into the low-expectations classrooms with the least effective teachers – without anyone being the wiser.

DR: After fifteen years of high-stakes testing, the conditions you fear are still in place. Poor and minority students are still in the schools with the lowest test scores. The achievement gap remains stubbornly large. Testing hasn’t helped the neediest children, because their needs are not addressed by standardized tests. We keep learning the same things every year, but doing nothing to change the causes. The anti-testing backlash, led by angry parents, will continue and grow. They don’t want their children to be labeled failures in third grade. They don’t want them to spend most of their time preparing to take tests. They don’t want them sitting for tests that take longer than the law school exams. And they don’t want their teachers fired if their students don’t get high scores. Why must this be inflicted only on public schools? If private schools were required to take these unnecessary and pointless tests, the rebellion would be joined by their parents too.







via Diane Ravitch’s blog

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.

Discovery K12 Online Homeschool Launches Two New Apps

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New Parent/Teacher Account helps homeschoolers issue transcripts and diplomas.

Monarch Beach, CA (PRWEB)
March 15, 2016

Discovery K12, Inc., an online homeschool platform and curriculum provider, has launched a Parent/Teacher Account with apps for parents to issue transcripts and diplomas to their children. 

All over the country, parents aren’t just homeschooling, they’re establishing homeschool academies and acting as private schools. “Maintaining good records is very important when you homeschool,” says Sheri Wells, founder of Discovery K12. “You need to keep records just as a school would such as attendance, test scores, credits, and grades, and our new Parent/Teacher Account helps parents do exactly that.”

Grading and transcripts can provide students with motivation and a sense of accomplishment, and will be necessary for those moving on to college. Discovery K12’s transcript app lets parents easily produce first semester and end-of-year transcripts and calculate a student’s credits and GPA.  “Homeschooled students score far above public school students on standardized tests in every state and every subject, and they should feel extremely proud to have a homeschool diploma making them stand out from the pack,” says Wells. “Were excited to offer these new apps to our homeschool families.”

Discovery K12 offers a complete, free curriculum for pre-k to twelfth grade with over 16,000 lessons across seven subjects including Reading/Literature, Language Arts, Math, History/Social Studies, Science, Visual/Performing Arts, and Physical Education. It’s new Parent/Teacher Account is an optional, premium upgrade and is integrated with the company’s online curriculum.

Parents can learn more at:

Peter Greene reports a shocking development (for operators of cyber-charters): Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has said that he wants to reduce payments to cyber-charters, the online charter schools that are usually offered by for-profit corporations. Cyber-charters receive full state tuition for every student they enroll, and every dollar is subtracted from funding of local district schools that the student otherwise would have attended. Numerous studies have shown that the virtual schools have high attrition (as much as 50% a year), low test scores, and low graduation rates. But they are very profitable.


This is actually a shocking development for critics of virtual charters because their usual modus operandi is to sprinkle campaign contributions to key legislators and the governor, thus protecting their cash cow.


Greene writes:



Pennsylvania cyber charters are Very Sad, because the new governor of the state is threatening to end their long-standing party.



Years ago, a local departing superintendent offered a few words of advice. “If you want to get rich,” he said, “go start a cyber school.” He was not kidding. For the past decade-plus, running a Pennsylvania cyber charter has been as good as printing money. Despite their abysmal record of academic failure, Pennsylvania cybers rake in money hand over fist.



There’s no big secret to it– a cyber is paid the full per-capita home district cost of every student it enrolls. If it costs East Bucksawanna $10,500 per child to provide buildings and maintenance and infrastructure and resources and teachers and books and all the rest, then the Gotrox Cyber Acdemy gets that same $10,500, with which it provides the student with a computer (free!!) and access to a teacher or two (each of whom is carrying several hundreds of students).



It’s like running a dealership where every customer will pay the purchase price of their last brand new luxury automobile and in return, all you have to give them is some object with wheels.



This has been a point of contention in PA because every cent that goes into cyber coffers comes straight out of public school tax dollars. Every student that a cyber enrolls is a budget cut for public schools, and the cuts are vicious and deep and resulting in loss of programs, closing of schools, and furloughs of teachers. Taxpayers are complaining to public schools, “What the hell did you do with all that money I gave you,” and public schools reply, “That guy right over there [pointing at cyber charter] took it, and that guy right over there [pointing at legislator] says I have to let it happen.” People are getting pissed off. The baloney about how the money follows the child isn’t convincing, because people are now seeing that the child not only takes his own family’s money, but the tax dollars from all the neighbors on his street, too.



Cyber charters in PA have created whole new traditions. For instance, a cyber school may test a student to determine if the student has special needs. Why would they care? Perhaps because they get roughly $10K for regular students and $25K for students with special needs.



There’s also the tradition of enrollment day, on which guidance counselors and cyber schoolsters sit at their computers and toss students back and forth like hot potatoes on a reverse e-bay. Why? Well, there are two magic dates on the cyber calendar. After one certain date, the school gets to keep the money even if the kid leaves the cyber. After enrollment day, whoever still has the kid has to count that students test scores as their own.



Anyway. Governor Wolf has raised a fun question– how much does it actually cost to educate a cyber-student? Because shouldn’t it cost, you know, less? And if so, why should taxpayers pay more? No other public school (because, like all charters, cybers insist on calling themselves public schools) sets a budget that includes an extra couple of million just to feather the nest.



Just as a footnote, two operators of virtual charters are currently under indictment for the misappropriation of millions of dollars. Not like a principal or an assistant principal stealing petty cash. Big-time money. Millions.


The largest chain of virtual charters is K12, Inc. It was created by Michael Milken, noted non-educator, and his brother Lowell, also a non-educator. It is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.



via Diane Ravitch’s blog » K12 Inc.

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.

Mark Neal, superintendent of the Tri-Valley Local Schools in Ohio, wrote a sharply worded statement about parents’ right to opt their child out of testing.


When parents asked if they had the right to opt out, he responded with this advice:


While I am not (and never have been) an advocate of the PARCC Testing, Ohio got into this testing debacle with little to no input from local school officials. Therefore, I feel no responsibility to stick my neck out for the Department of Education by defending their decisions. What’s happening now, in my opinion, is that parents have figured out what is being forced upon their children, and the proverbial rubber… is beginning to meet the road. However, it is not our goal to discourage nor undermine the laws of our governing body.


Therefore, our position as a school district is that we do not discourage nor encourage a parent’s decision to opt out their child. We must respect parental rights at all costs. This is the very reason I advocate for local control. Our own Tri-Valley Board of Education is in a much better position to make sound decisions for the families of our school district, than are the bureaucrats in Columbus and Washington. I say that with no disrespect toward our own legislators, whom have worked diligently behind the scenes to address the over-testing issue. The unfortunate reality is that the parents who have contacted the school district up to this point, are the parents of high achieving students who undoubtedly would do well on these assessments. We will effectively be rating school districts and individual teachers based on test scores that do not include many of their highest achieving students….


I am quite confident that reason will ultimately prevail. In the meantime, we will respect the rights of our parents to make the best decisions for their children while simultaneously following the laws and policies of the Ohio Department of Education.


For defending common sense and speaking plainly to his community, I place Mark Neal on the honor roll of the blog as a champion of American public education.

via Diane Ravitch’s blog

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

What Went Wrong at the Upstart School Milken Backed? – Bloomberg

What Went Wrong at the Upstart School Milken Backed?

Nov 14, 2014 2:00 AM PT

Created with Highcharts 3.0.22014MarMayJulSepNov15.0020.0025.00* Price chart for K12 INC. Click flags for important stories.LRN:US13.090.665.31%


K12 Inc. (LRN) was heralded as the next revolution in schooling. Billionaire Michael Milken backed it, and former Florida governor Jeb Bush praised it. Now the online education pioneer is failing to live up to its promise.

Plagued by subpar test scores, the largest operator of online public schools in the U.S. has lost management contracts or been threatened with school shutdowns in five states this year. The National Collegiate Athletic Association ruled in April that students can no longer count credits from 24 K12 high schools toward athletic scholarships.

While the company says its investments in academic quality are starting to pay off, once-soaring enrollment at the more than 60 public schools it manages has dropped almost 5 percent. Targeted by short sellers, who benefit from a company’s decline, K12 shares have tumbled by two-thirds since reaching a near-record high in September 2013. Companies controlled by Milken have moved on, shifting their shares to investors.

K12 grew too fast and invested too little in instruction, said Houston Tucker. In 2012, he pulled his two sons out of a K12 virtual school in Tennessee and last year quit his job as a marketing director at the company.

Source: McKenna Tucker via Bloomberg

Houston Tucker, left, who used to work for K12 Inc. as a marketing director, pulled his… Read More

“In the early years, K12’s mission was something to rally around,” Tucker said. “It was brand new in the world of education. The K12 I joined isn’t the one I left.”

Homeschool Families

K12, which started by offering an online curriculum to homeschooling families, now manages virtual charter schools – online versions of the privately operated public schools favored by Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. K12 lobbied successfully for laws permitting these online schools, which enroll students statewide.

Like for-profit colleges, which also rely on taxpayer funding, K12 has faced criticism from educational traditionalists of its academic results and marketing tactics. Some true believers in virtual education, like Tucker, have also grown disenchanted with K12.

Its enrollment has expanded to include a disproportionate number of low-income students and those who have fallen below grade level at other schools. K12’s travails indicate that online education, while appealing to a digitally savvy generation, may be appropriate for a narrower group of students than boosters originally hoped.

“Virtual education is here to stay,” K12 co-founder Ron Packard said. “For a large number of students, it works great. It may be their best alternative. It may not work for every child.”

Companies controlled by billionaire Michael Milken, which once owned 19 percent of K12,… Read More

Failing Grades

Of the full-time online schools assigned ratings by their states, only one-third were considered academically acceptable in 2012-2013, the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado reported this year. The percentage of K12 students achieving proficiency on state math and reading tests is generally below state averages, according to the company’s 2014 academic report.

Ohio Virtual Academy, which accounts for 10 percent of K12’s annual revenue, received failing grades on a state report card last year for student test-score progress and graduation rates. Only 37 percent of its ninth graders receive diplomas within four years.

K12 says its results reflect the students it now attracts. Sixty-two percent qualify for free or reduced-priced lunches, exceeding the national average of 49 percent. K12 can’t limit enrollment to children best suited for online education because its schools, as public institutions, must be open to all, Packard said.

‘Reputational Issue’

The company points to bright spots. In certain subjects, K12 surpasses school districts with comparable demographics in states such as Louisiana, Georgia, Ohio and Texas, it said. As an example, it cited K12’s virtual school in Texas, which has reading scores similar to the state average and higher than the Dallas district.

Photographer: Margaret Bowles/AP Photo

Scott Snow, who attended K12’s Idaho Virtual Academy, was a member of the U.S. ski team from 2010-2012.

Scores at Ohio Virtual Academy have improved for the past three years, the company said. Its graduation rate is misleading because its “highly mobile” students often transfer to other schools, it said.

K12 has a “reputational issue” because of its test results, Chief Executive Officer Nathaniel Davis said in a phone interview. The company, based in Herndon, Virginia, is starting to improve scores by hiring staff and spending $75 million to $85 million a year on curriculum and technology, executives said.

“I’m very proud of what the organization is doing,” said Davis, former CEO of XM Satellite Radio. “I understand the questions people have about what happened in the past. All I can say is we’re fixing a lot of those problems and we’re now beginning to see the results.”

Learning Coaches

From the start, K12 attracted families for whom online education has particular appeal, including homeschoolers, athletes, and those recovering from illness or accidents. It was a way to give children, even in remote areas, access to a free charter-school education on the Web, with funding that usually flows to traditional public schools. Kindergarteners to high school seniors could attend from their bedrooms or basements. In early grades, parents acted as unpaid “learning coaches.”

Trenton Baldrey, who attended a K12-run online school in Colorado from kindergarten until his 12th-grade graduation in 2013, said that its flexibility enabled him to volunteer with a theater production company and still take a rigorous load of Advanced Placement courses.

“I had an absolutely wonderful experience,” said Baldrey, 19, now a sophomore majoring in business and computer science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. “The transition from Colorado Virtual Academy to college was the easiest thing on the planet.”

Rapid Growth

K12 expanded rapidly, and now operates in 33 states and the District of Columbia. Volunteer boards, largely made up of parents, hire for-profit K12 to manage the nonprofit charter schools.

From 2008 until last year, enrollment at schools K12 manages almost quadrupled to more than 120,000, rivaling some of the largest U.S. school districts. That figure represents about one-third of enrollment at fully online schools, though less than 1 percent of all U.S. schoolchildren. Revenue – from school management contracts, sales of curriculum materials, and other sources – rose to $920 million in the year ended in June from $226 million in 2008.

The company advertises online and on television. A job posting for a K12 “enrollment sales consultant” said applicants should “be able to close the sale with a customer” and “meet or exceed team and individual sales goals,” according to a 2011 article in Bloomberg Businessweek.

“Compensation for enrollment counselors, both then and now, is predominantly salary based,” K12 said in an e-mail.

‘Enroll, Enroll’

Working in call centers, recruiters received bonuses tied to enrollment and were pressured to meet “unrealistic quotas,” with top performers offered lunches, cash and gifts, according to a 2012 shareholder lawsuit by the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System. The company’s philosophy was “enroll, enroll, enroll,” an anonymous former employee said in the class-action complaint in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia.

K12 denied any wrongdoing and settled the suit in 2013 for $6.75 million, according to a securities filing. Davis said the company settled to save the expense of litigation. The plaintiff dropped the allegations of aggressive enrollment practices “for lack of factual support,” K12 said.

Investor Bet

At a September 2013 investment conference, hedge-fund manager Whitney Tilson cited K12’s recruitment methods as one reason why he was shorting its stock, along with weak test results and high student turnover. In a short sale, investors sell borrowed shares, and profit when a stock falls by buying cheaper shares that are returned to the lender.

Three weeks later, shares fell 38 percent in one day because of an announcement about weaker enrollment. Tilson, the managing partner of New York hedge fund Case Capital Management, said one of his funds made $500,000 from the decline in K12 shares.

As a former board member of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, Tilson is an unlikely opponent of K12, he said.

“I’m not against charter schools, I’m not against for-profits, I’m not against online,” he said in an interview. “I’m just against all of those things run amok.”

In a statement, the company said most of Tilson’s analysis was “incorrect or tainted” because he “economically benefited from a negative report.”

Dropping Out

The company said student turnover is expected because 20 percent of children enroll to address a short-term need, such as illness, and return to regular schools once the problem is solved. Other students drop out in the first few months because they find courses more difficult than they expected, it said.

Early investors who bet on K12, including co-founder Packard, have also benefited. A former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. banker, Packard stepped down as K12 CEO last December. He’s now CEO of Pansophic Learning LLC, a McLean, Virginia, company developing online education programs outside the U.S.

Packard netted $21 million from share sales and exercising options since K12’s 2007 initial public offering, according to InsiderScore in Princeton, New Jersey, which analyzes such transactions. In the three months before the share drop in October 2013, Packard made about $3 million in profit from option-related sales, InsiderScore said.

Price Targets

Packard said he set up a plan in June 2013 to exercise stock options within two years of expiration and sell them weekly based on preset price targets. As K12’s share price climbed, reaching those targets, his sales automatically accelerated, he said.

He was no longer involved in day-to-day management after Davis became executive chairman in January 2013, and as a result didn’t know about the enrollment woes that sent shares tumbling, he said in a phone interview.

Like Packard, Michael Milken was a key figure in K12’s founding. A health-care philanthropist and former 1980s junk-bond financier, he served 22 months in prison after pleading guilty to securities fraud in 1990.

Milken has long supported for-profit education. His company, Knowledge Universe, operates more than 2,000 preschools as well as Asian International College in Singapore.

Larry Ellison

He and his brother Lowell, along with Oracle Corp. founder Larry Ellison, invested $10 million in K12 when it was founded in 2000. Lowell Milken is chairman of the family’s philanthropic foundation.

A company controlled by Ellison, which once owned 9.3 percent of K12, listed no shares at the end of 2009, securities filings show. Through an Oracle spokeswoman, Ellison declined to comment.

Knowledge Universe and other companies controlled by the Milken brothers once owned a 19 percent stake in K12. In September 2013, a month before K12’s disappointing results were announced, the companies distributed about $270 million in shares to unnamed limited partners and shareholders including the Milkens, a securities filing shows.

After the brothers gave shares worth $30 million to charity, they ended up with a 4 percent K12 stake, valued at $63 million on the day of the September transaction. Filings don’t indicate whether investors in the Milken-related companies, or the brothers, sold shares. Knowledge Universe still lists K12 on its website as one of “our institutions.”

Milken Transaction

Michael Milken “was never on the K12 board and was not involved in management,” his senior adviser, Geoffrey Moore, said in an e-mail. Moore declined to say whether Milken sold shares. Milken also “had no idea what partners did with their shares,” Moore said.

The partnership distribution of K12 shares “had been planned for a long time,” Moore said. Milken “certainly did not know the company’s financial results in advance. He learned those results at the same time as other shareholders and the public.”

A spokeswoman for Lowell Milken’s foundation said he was unavailable for comment.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was also a prominent supporter. Bush, who promoted charter and online schools as governor, had praised K12’s Nevada Virtual Academy for helping two seriously ill Las Vegas teenagers earn high school diplomas and go to college.

Jeb Bush

“Students in these programs can learn anywhere, at any time,” Bush wrote in January 2013 on CNN’s website.

The Foundation for Excellence in Education, which Bush founded and chairs, supports “expanding quality education options for parents, including charter schools,” spokeswoman Jaryn Emhof said in an e-mail response to questions about K12’s recent problems.

Still, “charter schools – whether traditional, virtual, or blended – should be closed if students aren’t learning,” Emhof wrote.

Pennsylvania, the first state where K12 won approval to run a virtual school, illustrates the reversal in its fortunes. There, a volunteer board of parents selected the company to manage Agora Cyber Charter School. K12 received an average of $11,039 per Agora student last year in government money, including both regular and special education.

In January, Agora told parents on its website that the federal government had designated it as a “focus school,” meaning it ranked in the bottom 10 percent of schools serving disadvantaged students because of low test scores and a graduation rate below 50 percent.

‘Massive’ Turnover

Michael McNulty teaches online high school math to 150 Agora students, and sometimes more because of “massive staff turnover,” he said. “We were scrambling to hire enough teachers.”

As enrollment surged, Agora drew more students who had been truants at regular schools, and they didn’t show up online either, neglecting to log on or hand in homework, he said.

Student-teacher ratios in online schools are “generally higher than traditional classrooms where space constraints and classroom management are issues,” K12 said. Agora students’ improvement on test scores is “competitive with other Pennsylvania cyber charter schools,” K12 said.

Agora monitors truancy, contacting families and school districts to get students back in class, the company said. It removes students from its rolls after 10 consecutive unexcused absences, it said.

Lost Contract

Agora’s board decided in August that it will hire its own staff after K12’s management contract expires next year. While Agora will keep using K12 curriculum for three years, losing the contract is expected to cost K12 about 10 percent of its total revenue, said Trace Urdan, an analyst with Wells Fargo Securities in San Francisco.

“I’m thrilled” with K12’s departure, McNulty said. “I know a lot of people who are ready for a change.”

Agora’s board declined to comment. Boards seek to manage cyber schools themselves because they believe – wrongly – that they can save money, K12’s Davis said.

Another of its early online schools, Colorado Virtual Academy, didn’t renew its contract with K12, which ended in June, according to Brian Bissell, the board chairman. Like Agora, Colorado Virtual will still use K12’s curriculum.

With test results lagging, the board decided it wasn’t getting its money’s worth from K12, said Bissell, who has three kids at the school.

Colorado Discontent

Over the past five years, the school received $125 million in taxpayer money, with $100 million flowing to K12 for management, technology, curriculum and fees, he said. Parental discontent was growing, he said.

“We weren’t serving students well,” Bissell said.

Bissell’s criticisms are “distorted,” the company said. Parent satisfaction was “relatively high,” with almost three-fourths saying they were likely to re-enroll their children, and test scores were in the middle of Colorado online charter schools, it said.

For the fees it charged, K12 trained teachers and provided thousands of students a year with “a full array” of services, according to the company.

Colorado Virtual Academy works best for students whose parents are involved in their education, said Jenifer Baldrey, who enrolled three of her children at the school – including Trenton, the Rensselaer student.

The school “started absorbing too many individuals the rest of the system had dropped,” Baldrey said. “The families who expected the public schools to take care of them also expected K12 to take care of them.”

Tennessee Critics

In Tennessee, education commissioner Kevin Huffman is moving to close a K12-managed school unless it can improve results by the end of this school year. Tennessee Virtual Academy has test results “in the bottom of the bottom tier” and is an “abject failure” in improving student outcomes, Huffman said in a telephone interview.

Tucker, the former K12 marketing director, said that one of his sons had scant feedback from his teacher at Tennessee Virtual. The school put profit ahead of education, said Tucker. He now works as a consultant, helping regular public schools with online programs.

Students who leave after a year do “significantly better” at traditional schools, said Huffman. A member of Chiefs for Change, a group endorsed by Jeb Bush’s foundation, Huffman said he is a “huge supporter” of charter schools.

Like many employees who leave a company, Tucker has a “limited view of the business,” K12 said. Tennessee Virtual students show improvement in their second and third years at the school, Davis said. The school’s reading and math scores have gone up in the past two years, K12 said.

Michigan, Massachusetts

Authorities in Michigan and Massachusetts have also said K12-related schools will close if results don’t improve. K12 manages the Michigan school and supplies the academic program for the one in Massachusetts. Both schools have strong plans to boost results, K12 said.

At the same time, K12 has run afoul of the NCAA, whose decision not to recognize academic credits from two dozen K12 schools deals a blow to their students’ chances for athletic scholarships or college sports participation. At other K12 schools, students must get the regulator’s approval on a credit-by-credit basis.

The NCAA began examining non-traditional programs such as online schools because more student-athletes were taking “an inordinate number of courses that were completed in a matter of days” or lacked “meaningful student-teacher interaction,” NCAA spokeswoman Michelle Brutlag Hosick said in an e-mail. While Hosick declined to discuss K12, Davis said that the NCAA criticized its level of student-teacher interaction.

‘Highest Standards’

The NCAA accepts credits from many other online programs, including Pearson Plc (PSON)’s Connections Academy.

The 24 K12 schools meet the “highest standards and the NCAA’s requirements,” the company said. The NCAA hasn’t set a “clear rubric” for student-teacher interaction, it said.

K12 points to students such as Scott Snow on its website. He attended K12’s Idaho Virtual Academy and was a member of the U.S. Ski Team from 2010 to 2012.

Shep Snow, Scott’s father, called the K12 curriculum “top notch.” The family argued for a year with the NCAA to get Scott’s K12 credits approved so he could ski for the University of New Mexico, Shep said.

Now a 21-year-old sophomore at New Mexico, Scott said that the K12 program prepared him well for college while enabling him to fit in ski races during the winter. He scored more than 2000 out of 2400 on his SAT, Scott said.

“K12 was great for me,” Scott said. “If I needed a teacher, they would get back to me right away.”

SEC Questions

The U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission has also taken an interest in K12. In letters, the agency this year asked the company for more public disclosure of student attrition rates and test scores.

Davis said the company doesn’t make attrition rates public because they are competitive information and are measured differently from one state to another. For the past two years, the company has provided detailed information on state test results, holding “ourselves accountable for the same test scores that every other public school does,” he said.

After three years of “relatively flat and even sometimes declining” scores, the percentage of K12 students achieving proficiency on state tests rose in many schools this year, especially in math, according to the company.

The NCAA scrutiny and the lost management contracts are temporary setbacks, Davis said.

“New markets will continue to open up,” he said. “We will be able to grow the business, and most importantly, our product is strong enough and good enough that customers are going to want to stay with us.”

To contact the reporter on this story: John Hechinger in Boston at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Daniel Golden at Gary Putka, Lisa Wolfson

Tom Scarice, the superintendent of the Madison, Connecticut, public schools, writes that the campaign for the Common Core has been waged with fear tactics, mainly the fear that other nations have higher scores and will therefore “beat” us. But, he points out, citing the work of Yong Zhao, there is no connection between test scores and economic growth.

He concludes:

“Reducing the debate of the common core to a matter of implementation is intellectually weak. A number of other matters remain unresolved. The standards were never field tested with actual students. They have been largely influenced through massive donations via powerful philanthropic organizations such as the Gates Foundation, creating a chilling question about the consequential influence of one billionaire on our education system. Questions about whether or not the standards are appropriate for our youngest and most fragile learners have been raised by over 500 nationally recognized early childhood experts, and special education organizations. Categorically, no evidence exists to support the stance that the common core will raise the achievement of our most impoverished students, which is the most pressing challenge facing Connecticut. Education is much too complex to reduce our work to another futile silver bullet.

“Connecticut has had academic standards for decades. Academic standards, developed by education professionals, are largely embraced by educators. They serve to set clear expectations for the accountability of learning and form the basis of curriculum. However, the rigidity of the common core, mandating that each and every student achieve the same learning progressions, regardless of learning style, and individual learning profile, at the exact same rate, contribute to the epidemic of standardization and homogenization that has afflicted our schools for the past decade. This is particularly concerning when the global marketplace and the demands of citizenship in this era clearly necessitate an individual’s diversity of thought and skills.

“All that said, even within the broken testing and evaluation systems suffocating our schools, there are many individual standards within the common core that are worthy of academic pursuit. Districts would be best served to approach the common core with thoughtful analysis of the potential efficacy and appropriateness of each individual standard as they integrate them into curriculum. Plausible rejection of individual standards by local professional educators must be shared transparently with Boards of Education and the local community, backed up with appropriate justification. As always, healthy skepticism and deep analysis serve systems well. Every state and every district has multiple indicators of student success. What would local accountability look like beyond one tightly coupled measure to the common core? Is student success defined by performance on the SBAC, and if not, will local districts have the fortitude to move beyond the narrow, inadequate comparisons that are provided by standardized assessments?There is more to the story of student success beyond the implementation of the common core.”

via Diane Ravitch’s blog