Tag Archives: virtual schools

TN virtual school criticized as education failure, special interest triumph

By Sheila Burke, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The legislature’s failure to shut down an academically troubled virtual school run by a for-profit corporation has left some education leaders wondering whether Tennessee lawmakers really want to fix schools or have sold out children to powerful special interests.

A move that would close the Tennessee Virtual Academy, and ban others like it, failed this week in the legislature. The effort came on the heels of withering criticism of the school by former state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman — a longtime proponent of school choice— who called TNVA Tennessee’s worst school. Huffman, in a recent online essay, said his inability to close the school was one of his biggest failures.

The school has been a disaster since it opened in 2011. Students have performed so poorly on standardized tests that even former supporters have publicly condemned it.

Critics of the school say lawmakers are bowing to pressure from K12 Inc., the Herndon, Virginia-based company that operates TNVA. K12 is one of the largest providers of online school curricula in the country.

Records show that K12 has spent between $285,000 and $575,000 on lobbying since 2010. The company donated more than $75,000 in direct campaign contributions since 2011.
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Judge rules TN Virtual Academy can stay open

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A judge in Nashville has ruled that the Tennessee Virtual Academy can remain open.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports Union County director of schools Jimmy Carter said the Davidson County ruling means a decision to close the school can’t be made until after the next school year.

Department of Education spokeswoman Ashley Ball said the department had no comment Friday afternoon.

Families of three children who attend the struggling online school sued earlier this year asking for it to remain open.

The families say their children have special needs and are doing well in the school, where kids learn on the Internet.

The Union County school system contracted with K12 Inc. in 2011 to create the academy for students in kindergarten through eighth grade across the state.

Late effort to save TN Virtual Academy flops

By Sheila Burke, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A last-minute legislative maneuver to allow a troubled virtual school to remain open has failed.

The Tennessee Virtual Academy has been ordered closed because of failing scores. Republican Sen. Frank Niceley of Strawberry Plains asked the full Senate floor to consider an amendment to an unrelated bill that would allow the school to stay open if it showed enough improvement.

The amendment failed and Niceley was criticized by some lawmakers for trying to circumvent the Legislature’s committee system.

Kids stay home and do work on their computers at the school.

Niceley had argued that the school serves medically fragile and bullied kids who don’t do well at traditional public school.

“These are the ones that have dropped out of the public schools,” Niceley said. He had argued that all his amendment would do would give the school a chance if it improved.

The school has been ranked among the lowest performing schools in the state since it opened in 2011, scoring a level 1 on a 5-point grade system where 1 is the worst and 5 is the best.
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TN Virtual Academy loses first round of lawsuit to block closure

By Sheila Burke, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A judge on Wednesday refused to issue a temporary injunction that would allow a troubled virtual school to remain open.

The ruling by Senior Judge Ben Cantrell is the latest setback for the Tennessee Virtual Academy, a contentious online school that has been ordered to close because of poor academic scores.

The families of three children who attend the school filed a lawsuit last month saying Education Commissioner Candice McQueen exceeded her authority when she ordered the school shut down at the end of this academic year. They had argued that their children have special needs — including one who is severely disabled and is too medically fragile to attend a traditional brick-and-mortar school — and are doing well at the school.

“I’m very disappointed for my clients,” said the families’ attorney, Tara Swafford. She said they are considering asking for an expedited appeal.

The families say if the school shuts down, their kids would be forced to attend failing schools in their community.

The school allows students to stay home and do schoolwork on their computers. The virtual school is run by the Union County School system, but students from anywhere in the state can enroll. Union County contracts with Virginia-based corporation K12 Inc. to provide the curriculum to the students.

Critics of the virtual school have called it a failure and a drain on taxpayer money.
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TN Virtual Academy backers launch radio ad campaign

News release from Public School Options, an advocacy group set up to support Tennessee Virtual Academy:
NASHVILLE – PublicSchoolOptions.org (PSO) today has launched a statewide radio campaign to help local families and students fight the unfair decision by state bureaucrats to close Tennessee Virtual Academy (TNVA) at the end of this school year. The 60-second spots are airing on nearly a dozen radio stations across the state.

The new radio ads highlight how former Tennessee Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman specifically promised the legislature during 2013 testimony before the Senate Education Committee that previous standardized test scores would not be used to close schools, but that’s exactly what Huffman did when he ordered TNVA closed.

Huffman specifically told the Senate panel, “…because this [law] would go into effect now, for any school that’s been open, their previous data would not be part of the consideration.” (Note: The group has posted a video of Huffman’s comments on YouTube, HERE.)

One of the two spots points out that 125 other schools in Tennessee are also classified as “failing” with a three-year Level 1 rating according to the Tennessee Value Added Assessment System (TVAAS), including one of the premier public high schools in the state, Brentwood High School. Yet only TNVA is targeted for closure despite the fact that TNVA is improving its academic outcomes faster than any of the other schools.
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Judge hears arguments in lawsuit to keep TN Virtual Academy open

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Lawyers representing the families of three children who attend a struggling online school have pleaded with a Nashville judge to keep it open.

Attorneys for the families argued Tuesday that state Education Commissioner Candice McQueen should never have ordered the Tennessee Virtual Academy to be closed at the end of current school year.

The families say two of the children are severely disabled and are doing well in the school, where kids learn on the Internet. Their attorneys argued that state law allows the school one more year to prove itself before it can be closed.

The controversial school has been consistently ranked among the worst performers in the state since it opened in 2011.

Senior Judge Ben Cantrell said he would rule later.

Senate votes to extend virtual schools authorization four more years

The state Senate voted 31-0 Monday to extend the state’s virtual school program for four more years, clearing the way for schools in Nashville, Chattanooga and elsewhere in Tennessee to remain open into 2019.

Further from WPLN:

The vote represented a departure from the heated debate over the past several years, which has been wrapped around a single institution, a for-profit school called the Tennessee Virtual Academy. Operated by the firm K12 Inc., the school has attracted thousands of students, many from families that homeschool.

But the virtual academy has consistently been rated one of the worst schools in the state. The Haslam administration announced last year that it will close the school this summer unless it improves dramatically.

The Tennessee Virtual Academy has become nearly synonymous with virtual schooling in the minds of many people.

Rep. Harry Brooks (R-Knoxville) says its performance shouldn’t spoil Tennessee on virtual schools, however. He says each should be judged independently.

“All the schools are doing very well except for one,” he said.

Tennessee has eight other virtual schools, including one run by Metro Nashville Public Schools that specializes in helping high school students complete their diplomas. Brooks’ bill would extend the entire virtual schools program.

The measure, House Bill 398, doesn’t dictate what would happen to any individual schools, but Brooks says he hasn’t ruled out extending a lifeline to the Tennessee Virtual Academy later in the session. Although he hasn’t filed a bill to do so, he says others could be amended to help the online school.

Lawsuit filed to keep TN virtual school open

By Sheila Burke, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A parent and grandparents of three children who go to an online school that has been ordered closed because of low academic performance are suing Tennessee’s education commissioner to keep it open.

The suit, filed Thursday in Davidson County Chancery Court, says the Department of Education violated state law when it ordered the Tennessee Virtual Academy to close at the end of the current school year unless it dramatically improves. The lawsuit specifically names Education Commissioner Candice McQueen.

Officials with the state Department of Education did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

The suit was filed by Regina Taylor of Hendersonville, on behalf of her 10-year-old twin sons Brandon and Jordan and by Dick and Patti Posan, who live in Sewanee, Tennessee. The Posans are the legal guardian of their grandson, Austin, a 13-year-old who has been diagnosed with autism, an inherited form of intellectual impairment known as Fragile X, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

“He came to the Tennessee Virtual Academy not reading and now he’s reading at a fourth-grade level in two years,” Patti Posan said. “Oh, my God, he’s a different child.”

The Posans say they worry about Austin being bullied if he has to go back to a traditional public school. Taylor says her son Jordan is too medically fragile to attend a traditional school.
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TN Virtual Academy supporters lobby legislators to block closing

Hundreds of parents, students and educators visited the state Capitol Tuesday to advocate for Tennessee Virtual Academy, an online public school set to close this summer because of low student academic gains, according to The Tennessean.

Former state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman ordered the closing of the low-performing school last July. The school must make significant academic gains this year to remain open. The Tennessee General Assembly also would have to renew the Virtual Public Schools Act, which allows online virtual schools in Tennessee.

School administrators and staff say the state’s Department of Education has unfairly ordered the closing of the school, citing hundreds of other public schools in the state that have not been ordered to close despite having similar low academic gains.

“We just want to be treated fairly. We are an improving school,” said Josh Williams, head of the online virtual academy. “Our school is one of the fastest-performing schools. We made tremendous gains since last year,” he said.

TNVA is an online public school that serves 1,300 students in kindergarten through eighth grade in Tennessee. Union County Public Schools contracts with K12 Inc., a for-profit company that operates TNVA and other online schools in the country.

Since its opening in 2011, the school has failed to demonstrate student learning gains above a “Level 1,” the lowest category on a scale of 1 to 5. The school would need to demonstrate student learning gains at a “Level 3” or higher to remain open.

Virtual schools operating authority up for renewal in legislature

The state law authorizing operation of virtual schools is scheduled to expire June 30 of this year and House Education Committee Chairman Harry Brooks, who sponsored the original bill in 2011, has filed a bill to extend their operating authority until 2019.

Most of the virtual schools controversy since 2011 has centered on K12 Inc. and its school, based in Union County but accepting enrolment from students in all 95 Tennessee counties.

From WPLN:

Tennessee Virtual Academy has enrolled thousands of students and posted such bad scores that it’s on the brink of forced closure. But Brooks points to other smaller virtual schools performing well, and some have students from outside the typical geographic boundaries. Shelby County, which has 150 students, has opened enrollment statewide.

“My argument would be do you want to continue what Memphis is doing?” Brooks asks. “You have other virtual academies that have students from within their district and from outside their district.”

Rep. Joe Pitts (D-Clarksville), who is a member of the House Education Committee, says he would “hate to just wipe them all off.”

“But we’ve got to do something about this Tennessee Virtual Academy,” he says. “What a mess.”

Pitts says there’s nothing wrong with virtual education. But the legislature should consider adding oversight before extending the law another four years. He suggests enrollment caps and allowing the state to intervene after one year of poor test results instead of two.