Tag Archives: k-12

Virtual Schools Under Fire in Other States, Too

As state officials lambaste the Tennessee Virtual Academy for low achievement scores and discuss new oversight methods, The Tennessean notes that the school’s management company is facing an investigation in Florida, overcoming a list of citations issued in Georgia and recovering from reports of poor results in many of its schools.
The virtual academy allows students in grades K-8 to take all their classes online, monitored by a certified teacher. It is managed by K12 Inc., a publicly traded for-profit company that has contracts for differing levels of involvement with at least 2,000 other schools across the nation.
In its first year, the Tennessee academy ranked among the bottom 4 percent of districts in the state on a measure that shows student progress from year to year.
K12 officials say the school can’t be judged fairly for effectiveness in its first year of operation and the score should only be considered a first-year baseline for future comparisons.
However, Tennessee is not the only state where the management company has been criticized.
A research paper published in July by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder recommended national education officials slow down the approval of virtual schools while examining effectiveness and cost. The study showed achievement scores of K12 students were not on par with those of traditional schools.
A class-action lawsuit against K12 is pending in a U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Virginia claiming the company made inflated claims about its student achievement in an effort to inflate stock prices.
And The New York Times spent months researching the company before publishing an article in December critical of its test scores.
…Pitts plans to introduce legislation in January to allow a virtual school with poor scores to be evaluated each year instead of every two years.
“If we are going to hold teachers and students and parents accountable, we’ve got to hold virtual and charter schools just as accountable,” Pitts said.
…The Georgia Department of Education has threatened to shut down a K12 Inc. virtual school if changes to teacher-student ratio and caseload for special education teachers are not made by October. The changes have been made and the school is waiting for an examination of the changes, said Jeff Kwitowski, senior vice president of public affairs for K12 Inc.
Kwitowski believes K12 is taking the publicity hit for many changes sweeping the nation under the banner of “education reform.” The changes give parents control of their children’s education, which threatens the traditional educational power structure, he said.

Virtual School Collects $5M for ‘Demonstrably Poor’ Performance

Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman is calling last year’s student performance at Union County public schools’ new, privately run Tennessee Virtual Academy “unacceptable,” reports Andy Sher.
“Its performance is demonstrably poor,” Huffman said in an interview last week about the online academy, which under a 2011 law passed by the GOP-controlled General Assembly began operations in the 2011-2012 school year, enrolling 1,783 students from across the state.
The school is operated by K12 Inc., the nation’s largest publicly traded online education company, under contract with the tiny Union County Public Schools system. State taxpayers are footing the bill through Tennessee’s Basic Education Program funding formula. This fall’s enrollment is some 3,000 K-8 students.
K12 officials blame last year’s performance on a variety of factors, including students having to adapt to online learning and the fact that more than half the students started the school late.
Still, the academy’s head, Josh Williams, said improvements the school is taking will raise student performance.
“We do have many plans in place that we are doing this year and have shared this [with] the state,” he said in an email.
Students attending the academy sit at home and learn via their computers, which K12 provides free to low-income children. The school has boosted the number of its teachers from 60 to 121 in response to the higher enrollment.
Union County Trustee Gina Buckner said that as of July 1, her office had responded to K12 Inc.’s 2011-2012 invoices and paid the company $5.04 million out of state funds sent to the Union County school system.
“I think there still may be one more payment,” said Buckner, who noted it’s difficult to say how much that would be because the budget submitted to county officials by the Union County Public Schools system didn’t address the issue.
…Under K12’s contract with Union County, the company gets 96 percent of the state portion of the BEP funding. Union County, which has struggled with local funding for years, gets 4 percent as the fiscal agent

Berke Questions Virtual School’s ‘Dismal’ Performance

Sen. Andy Berke is calling on lawmakers to conduct a “thorough review” of a for-profit virtual school operating in a Northeast Tennessee school district, citing state student testing results he charges show “dismal” results, reports the Chattanooga TFP.
Berke, D-Chattanooga, is a frequent critic of K12 Inc.’s Tennessee Virtual Academy, which in the 2011-12 school year opened its online school under contract with the Union County Public Schools system.
According to best estimates from K12, about 1,800 K-8 students from across the state signed up last school year to sit at their home computers and take courses online with support from K12 teachers. The company operates in states across the country.
In a letter Wednesday to Senate Education Committee Chairman Delores Gresham, Berke says state Education Department testing data for the 2011-12 school year show Tennessee Virtual Academy students “performed in the bottom 11 percent of schools statewide.
“As the [school] is advertising on television — and the state anticipates shifting millions of additional tax dollars to [the school] this school year — it is important that we examine K12 Inc.’s performance,” wrote Berke, whose efforts to require an audit of K12’s Tennessee school went nowhere in the Republican-controlled General Assembly last session.
Berke said in an interview Thursday that “if we’re going to use taxpayer dollars … we should ask for real achievement. K12 doesn’t give it to us.”
Gresham, R-Somerville, was the primary Senate sponsor of the 2011 law authorizing local school systems to contract with for-profit online schools. She did not respond Thursday to a reporter’s request to comment on Berke’s criticisms.
Tennessee Virtual Academy’s head, Josh Williams, said in an email that 2011-12 was the school’s first year of operation, suggesting it was unfair to judge results solely on that basis.
“All students were in their first year and most transferred from another district in the state,” he said. “The modality for learning and the school itself were new to every student.”

Senator Seeks Review of K-12, Inc. ‘Virtual School’ in TN

Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, is asking state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman to conduct an independent review of the operations of a for-profit virtual school operating under contract with the Union County school system, reports the Chattanooga Times-Free Press.
In a letter to Huffman, sent Wednesday, Berke cites a study released this month by the National Education Policy Center that is critical of K12 Inc.’s national operations based on 2010-11 data.
K12 officials, which opened an online K-8 school with Union County for the 2011-12 school year, take issue with the center’s study. Company spokesman Jeff Kwitowski called it “deeply flawed” and filled with “numerous errors and wrong assumptions.”
Berke, a persistent critic of K12, noted in the letter that Tennessee’s First to the Top Act of 2010, which he co-sponsored, targeted several areas of education reform, including teachers and leaders, data, standards and assessment as well as “school turnaround.”
“The findings in the report indicate that schools operated by K12 Inc. fail in each of these four areas,” Berke said.
…”It will also be subject to the same accountability as other schools” such as priority and focus, Gauthier said. “So when we have school level results” which are likely this fall, “it will [be] part of that puzzle.”
“We think Sen. Berke’s request has merit, and we intend to look closely at the results and report back to him,” she said. “We don’t think AYP is the appropriate indicator, but we do think that we should look at value-added scores and overall achievement scores, and will do so in the coming weeks.”
K12 said the National Education Policy report “provides no evidence backing up this claim” that students managed by K12 are “falling behind” and “more likely to fall behind” in reading and math scores compared to brick-and-mortar schools.