Tag Archives: virtual schools

Huffman: OK on admitting virtual school kids this year, but closure next year without improvement

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee’s Virtual Academy will be able to admit new students this year, but it has been ordered to close next year unless it shows significant improvement.

Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman issued the mandate after he said Union County officials did not notify parents about an agreement that would have stopped the academy from taking 626 new students this year. The Union County School Board contracts with the for-profit K12 Inc. to operate the Virtual Academy in Tennessee.

Huffman told The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/1pJoGXf) it would have been a burden on parents and students to have to make a last-minute change. Classes begin on Monday.

Instead of moving forward with an agreement reached late last month that would have stopped the school from taking on new students, Huffman ordered to academy to close at the end of the school year unless student test scores show dramatic gains.

Huffman said a turnaround is unlikely.

“This school is closed at the end of the coming school year,” Huffman said. “The decision has been made . Parents should find different options for their children for the next school year.

“If somehow this school manages to defy the odds of its past performance and get adequate results, we would of course rescind that decision. That just makes sense. But there is nothing in their data from the first three years that would indicate to me they are going to be able to achieve that level of performance.”

Union County Schools Superintendent Jimmy Carter says there’s a “plan in place” to improve outcomes and he thinks the Virtual Academy will remain open.

He said first-year students have struggled, but students in their second and third years have met benchmarks.

“I’m happy with the way everything turned out,” Carter said. “I’m happy we’re going to be able to serve those kids.”

Parent Angie Stadinger said she also was pleased with the outcome and shares Carter’s confidence that the academy will have better results this year.

“All along, I’ve said it’s about the children,” Stadinger said. “As a parent and an educator, we have the right to choose what’s good for our children. We are ready as a school to show the growth that the governor and the commissioner want to see.”

Huffman on deciding whether to close ‘disappointing’ virtual school

In a standoff over a struggling statewide cyberschool, Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman says he weighed pulling the plug on the school altogether.

Instead, at his urging, the next incoming class of new students at Tennessee Virtual Academy won’t be admitted — an action that has nevertheless put an education chief known for favoring school choice under unfamiliar fire from national reform groups.

The move to “un-enroll” 626 incoming students marks the boldest action yet in what has been a turbulent three years for the online virtual school operated by the for-profit K12 Inc., which has produced woeful test scores every year in Tennessee since a change in law paved the way for its 2011 arrival.

Because of the school’s third straight year of poor results in student growth, the commissioner had the authority to direct the closure of the school. Huffman chose a less harsh option, recommending that the Union County School Board, which contracts K12 to operate in Tennessee, stop admitting students for the time being.

The board obliged on Thursday, voting to request a waiver from the state to cancel enrollment of students it had recently accepted. Tennessee Virtual Academy’s some 1,200 existing students, who live across the state and take coursework from home, will remain part of the school.

Why not close it outright? Huffman noted Tennessee Virtual Academy students have shown improvement in years two and three, and that the challenges rest primarily with first-year students.

…The Washington-based Center for Education Reform issued a statement saying it “strongly condemns” the directive of Huffman. “It’s an outrage that these 626 legally enrolled students are now being forcefully turned away, just two weeks before the start of the school year,” said Kara Kerwin, the organization’s president.

In slowing down the growth of the Tennessee Virtual Academy, Huffman has had to take aim at an option he has supported exploring. In addition to low test marks, the school also has had high attrition, meaning kids have often gone back to their local districts with low proficiency marks.

“I believe that it’s important to try things like virtual education,” he said. “That’s why, at some level, it’s been disappointing to me to see the results.”

As for the Union County school system, Huffman called it “irresponsible” and “disappointing” for it to initially accept new students for this fall, alleging the board was alerted of its “Level 1 status” on June 15. Results from the 2013-14 Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program for individual districts are to be publicly released next week.

State moves to stop new enrollment at Union County virtual school

The Union County school system has until Friday to tell the state its decision on whether it plans to enroll an additional 626 students into the Tennessee Virtual Academy in the coming school year, according to documents obtained by the News Sentinel.

In a letter to schools Superintendent Jimmy Carter, Kevin Huffman, Tennessee’s education commissioner, recommended the district “consider limiting enrollment … to those students previously attending the school” for the public online school because for the third consecutive year students in the program have shown low achievement in testing.

“As we have discussed, a close examination of the data shows the school’s challenges rest primarily with the school’s ability to demonstrate effectiveness with first-year students,” Huffman said.

“While the school has improved its performance with students attending the school for multiple years, it has not yet demonstrated the capability to have a positive educational impact on new students, which creates a mutual concern and I believe leads both of us to consider the best options for the district, the school and its students going forward.”

In 2011, the Union County Schools contracted with K12 Inc. to create the academy — the state’s first online public school — for students in grades kindergarten through eighth grade across the state. K12 Inc., a national provider of online school programs, provides the curriculum.

…Huffman told Carter in his July 22 letter that the school district can seek a waiver, but it is “imperative” that the decision is made as soon as possible so school system can communicate with the students and parents that could be affected.

On Wednesday, Carter said he appreciated Huffman taking the time to work with the district on the issue and the state giving the district options instead of just telling them what was going to happen.

“I just want to be careful not to put our board in a position to do something that could be challenged in court,” he said. “As far as the back and forth on the letters, they sound more stern than our conversations did. Honestly, he’s very direct in what he says and I appreciate that … you don’t leave wondering exactly what he wants from you.”

Haslam once invested in K12 (but didn’t know it)

Gov. Bill Haslam owned a block of shares in K12 Inc., the education company behind a troubled online school in Tennessee, reports Chas Sisk. He sold the investment before taking office or weighing in on two bills that affected the company directly.

Haslam invested at least $10,000 in K12 Inc. in July 2008, when he was mayor of Knoxville, but had sold off all of his shares by July 2009, when he was running for governor. The investment was reported in a filing with the Tennessee Ethics Commission, as required under state law.

Haslam said he did not know about the investment before The Tennessean inquired about it last week. The governor said the investment, one of about 350 listed in a disclosure that he signed in January 2009, had been made by an investment manager.

“The honest answer is I wasn’t aware that I ever did,” he said at a meeting with The Tennessean’s editorial board. “I, a long time ago, found that there were people who know how to manage my investments a lot better than I do, so I haven’t made investment decisions in a long time.”

Haslam declined to provide details about the amount he invested in the company, how many shares he owned or the timing of the transactions. Spokeswoman Alexia Poe cited the governor’s long-standing policy against sharing such information about his investment portfolio.

Effort to launch second TN virtual school falters; Haslam says first faces accountability

A Campbell County effort to launch Tennessee’s second virtual school under contract with K12 Inc. is apparently dead for the year and the status of the first, headquartered in Union County, may be in jeopardy next year because of poor student test scores.

“We’ve made it clear to the Virtual Academy our concern with their results,” Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters in response to a question Tuesday. “You know, if we’re going to hold people accountable, we need to hold people accountable everywhere in the education chain, including them.”

Campbell County officials worked with K12, Inc. this summer to plan a Tennessee Cyber Academy for grades K-10 in the current school year with expansion to include grades 11 and 12 next year.

In 2011, K12 contracted with Union County to launch Tennessee Virtual Academy, which offers classes in grades K-8, in 2011. Student scores for the school have been among the lowest in the state during its two years of operation.

The state Department of Education in late July rejected the Campbell County’s initial application, saying it lacked sufficient information,stopping plans to begin classes Aug. 9. Campbell County officials responded with a revised application providing more information.

But the state’s deputy education commissioner, Dr. Kathleen Airhart, replied in an Aug. 21 letter that there was still a “a lack of clarity” and the department would not approve the application. Instead, she said department would work with Campbell County officials as they “seek options for future school years.”

Donnie Poston, director of Campbell County schools, said Wednesday that he took the letter as meaning the state would refuse approval for the current year. That, coupled with the impracticality of launching a new school with the school year already well underway, likely shelves the plan, Poston said, and he is uncertain whether the school system will try again next year.
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TN Virtual Academy: Saved by lobbying from another year of poor scores?

Students at the Tennessee Virtual Academy, an online school run for profit, learned less than their peers anywhere else in Tennessee last year, data released by the state last week show, reports The Tennessean in a story that also delves into “heavy lobbying” that delayed efforts to crack down on the school in the Legislature earlier this year. Tom Ingram was involved.

Results from standardized tests show that students in the Tennessee Virtual Academy made less progress as a group in reading, math, science and social studies than students enrolled in all 1,300 other elementary and middle schools who took the same tests. The school fell far short of state expectations for the second year in a row.

But the school will remain open this year after an effort by Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration to rein in the school if it failed for a second year was turned back by the school’s owner, Virginia-based K12 Inc. The company, which relies on online learning to educate its students, waged a public relations campaign that involved the school’s teachers, some of its parents and lobbyists.

Nearly a year after Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman declared the Tennessee Virtual Academy’s results “un­acceptable” and demanded an immediate turnaround, the school stands to collect about $5 million in state funds this school year. Last year, the school took in an estimated $15 million.

…Last year, the school scored a -26.74 on its composite growth index, a measurement that factors together all of its students’ past test scores, their progress in 2012-13 and the likelihood that those results were statistical flukes. A growth index below -2 is considered a failure.

…K12 insists its results are improving. In a news release, it identified 18 sets of students who had higher growth indexes last year than the year before. (Note: The press release is HERE.)

But the results were only less bad. The 19-page report that accompanied the release showed only two of those groups actually met state standards.

Overall, the school’s growth score was slightly lower than the -26.56 it received a year ago.

…In January, the Haslam administration introduced a bill that would have let it limit enrollment or shut down any virtual school that failed for two consecutive years. Without taking aim at the Tennessee Virtual Academy specifically, the measure was seen as an attempt to rein in the school.

K12 Inc. fought back. In committee rooms and legislative offices, the school’s teachers and some of its parents shared stories of students who had benefited from the program. Behind the scenes, the company’s longtime lobbyist, the powerful Nashville firm of McMahan Winstead, worked against the bill.

K12 succeeded in getting the bill amended in March. The most notable change was an extension of how long a virtual school could fail before the state would step in — to three years from two years.

…The Haslam administration accepted the amendments, but K12 continued to work against the bill. The company hired the Ingram Group, the firm founded by Haslam’s adviser, Tom Ingram, and in early April, the firm set up a meeting between four K12 officials and Haslam’s chief of staff, Mark Cate.

At that meeting, which Ingram and his partner Marcille Durham also attended, K12 officials asked the administration to kill the bill altogether, said David Smith, a spokesman for the governor. But the administration refused to do so, and the bill finally passed the legislature 13 days later. Haslam signed the bill in May.

“We were comfortable with it,” Smith said.

Kwitowski, the K12 spokesman, said the company only wanted to ensure it was treated like other public schools.

TN Virtual Academy Says Student Scores Improving

The first-year student test results for Tennessee Virtual Academy, the Union Count-based online school operated for profit by K12, Inc. were criticized as “demonstrably poor” by state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman (old post HERE) and even more critical commentary from Democrats. Apparently, the initial results figured into the Haslam administration successfully pushing a bill in the 2013 legislative session that put new restrictions on virtual schools (a previous post HERE.)

Seems the second year results are better…. at least according to the following press release from Tennessee Virtual Academy:

Maynardville, TN., August 19, 2013 – Union County Public Schools announced today that its online public school, Tennessee Virtual Academy (TNVA), showed academic growth improvements in the school’s second year based on data from the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS). TNVA is an online public school program offered by Union County Public Schools that serves students across the state in kindergarten through eighth grade.
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New TN Organization Criticizes For-Profit Virtual Schools

Members of a Northeast Tennessee local organization claim millions of dollars intended for Tennessee’s students are going to an out-of-state education company in return for substandard testing results, reports the Johnson City Press. But corporate and school representatives say the performance measures gathered so far are inconclusive at best.

Individuals representing Save Our Schools TN, including Johnson City grandmother Janet Meek, have appeared at a number of area school board meetings in the past few months to speak out against K12 Inc., a national company holding contracts with thousands of school districts across the country to provide programming for online schools.

Meek said she dedicated her allotted public comment time at the Aug. 1 Washington County School Board meeting to describing K12’s operations because she believed not many people knew about the Virginia-based company or its role in the state’s education system.

“Nobody knows what K12 Inc. is or that they’re taking public school money for online education that is inferior in quality to our public schools and giving it to a corporation in another state,” she said Tuesday. “Our schools are struggling to make budgets, they’re laying off staff, and in the meantime, all this money is leaving the state.”

K12 Inc. is a for-profit company formed in 2000 that sells education software, textbooks, workbooks and other materials to state and local governments, billing the services as an alternative to the brick and mortar public education system.

TNVA opened with a class of approximately 1,800 students in the fall of that year, and enrollment has grown to nearly 3,000 this school year, Union County Director of Schools Jimmy Carter said in an email Tuesday.

For those students, Union County receives approximately $14 million in funding through the state Basic Education Program, 96 percent of which is paid to K12, Carter said.