Virtual Schools Perform Poorly

For some time, I have been wrestling with the problems occurring in virtual schools throughout our country. As  a tech enthusiast, I believe educational technology has the potential to transform public education. However, the wrong students are being recruited into virtual schools and because almost all virtual schools are charter schools being run by for-profit Educational Management Organizations (EMOs) they are trying to maximize their dollars instead of improve their educational delivery model. Researcher Michael Barbour ( )thinks competition and market forces in the education system have created a separate, but equal education systems. While Adam Smith championed  free markets in the private sector, we have seen that public school closures devastate and devalue communities (Hello Chicago!). Thus, this post is a collection of tweets that will be sent to California legislators who oversee K12, Inc’s California Virtual Academies (CAVA) virtual schools. In the hopes that they remember their responsibility is to California school children, not out of state corporations. Feel free to blog, reblog, tweet, retweet, and rock on in the search for truth, justice, and the American way.

Computer Dimploma

California Virtual Academies #CAVA is the largest provider of virtual public education in CA. CAVA uses eleven locations to employ 766 teachers who work from home and educate students online. Darling-Hammond, et al (2014) found that the promise of ed tech has failed to meet the high expectations policymakers have heaped on the sector, however, there have been many successes that reveal promising approaches for technology implementation. Pollock et al, (2014) maintains that high-quality teacher assistance “seems to be mandatory for the online learning of underprivileged students.”

In 2011-12, the most recent data available, CAVA paid teachers an enrollment-weighted, system-wide average of $36,000 a year, while teachers at CAVA’s authorizing districts made an average of $60,000 a year. Because they only pay a fraction of what corresponding districts pay, CAVA teachers report high rates of teacher turnover. In 2012-13, CAVA received $95M in public funding, $47M went to K12 HQ in Virginia. In the last four years, CAVA’s overall graduation rate was 36%, compared to 78% for the state of CA. In 2012-13, 57% of schools with similar student populations performed better than CAVA and 71% of all schools in the state performed better than CAVA. CAVA’s statewide rank was a 2.9 out of 10. Some teachers spend 65 hours per week just completing administrative tasks. In 2012, K12 spent $1 million on Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network advertisements, and $600,000 on teen social media sites. That year the company’s ad spending topped $20 million.

Using the California Department of Education’s definition of “continuous enrollment,” CAVA was found to have a 2012-13 student turnover rate of 24%, compared to 7% in California. CAVA’s model of virtual education negatively impacts CA kids. Virtual Schools should not look like this.

CAVA’s head of school has issued this response: Response to In The Public Interest Report from California Virtual Academies, by Katrina Abston.

Sources

https://edpolicy.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/scope-pub-using-technology-report.pdf 

Pollock, M., et al. (2014). Innovating toward equity with online courses: Testing the optimal blend of in-person human supports with low-income you and teachers in California. The Center for Research on Educational Equity. University of California San Diego. La Jolla, CA. Accessed at http://create.ucsd.edu/research/CREATE%20Equity%20RR_1Mar2014.pdf

http://www.inthepublicinterest.org/article/virtual-public-education-california-study-student-performance-management-practices-and-overs

http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/virtual-schools-annual-2015

www.labornotes.org/2015/01/virtual-teaching-real-organizing

If you feel inclined to contact your California Legislators about this issue, I am providing their Twitter handles below:

Senate Education Committee

@SenatorCarolLiu

@bobhuff99

@MartyBlock39

@SenatorLeyva

@MrTonyMendoza

@DrPanMD

@SenAndyVidak

Assembly Committee on Education

Legislative Office Building, 1020 N Street, Room 159 Sacramento, California 95814 Phone number (916) 319-2087.

Committee members Twitter handles are:

@ODonnellUpdate

@AsmRocky

@YKAssembly

@KMcCartyAD7

@TonyThurmond

@AsmShirleyWeber

Advertisements

Entering the Online School Marketplace

Recently, I sat across the table from a man who runs a $160M per year Charter Management Organization. He asked me I would do if I had a blank check to start a new virtual school. The challenge was electrifying. New research shows that at-risk students benefit the most from ed tech. As a traditional classroom teacher and administrator serving the at-risk population, I have long been fascinated with blended and online learning. As a 1:1 teacher, I experienced firsthand how blended learning cut my course failure rate by 50%. This could be the chance for me to put my money where my mouth is and make a commitment to online teaching.

Virtual School

Online or virtual schooling is rapidly increasing in US K-12 education. In 2012-13, thirty states had multi-district, fully online schools with enrollments of about 310,000 students, and twenty-six states have state virtual schools with over 740,000 course enrollments. Online course enrollments have doubled in four years. According to California Learning Resource Network’s eLearning Census of 1,810 districts and charters, 53% reported having students participate in virtual or blended learning and 21% stated they were planning to implement online or blended learning (Watson et al, 2014).

The CLRN census counted 174,632 virtual and blended students in 2013-2014, a 39% one-year increase. The virtual student population has not grown significantly since 2012, but the number of blended students has skyrocketed, increasing 49% since 2013 and 74% since 2012. The adoption of blended and online learning is expanding in both traditional public and charter schools and the number of students participating in eLearning at each type of school is rising steadily. The 2014 census found that 60% of charter schools embraced virtual and/or blended learning as compared with 48% of traditional districts. Traditional public school districts account for the majority (67%) of California’s blended learning population, while charter schools make up 82% of the virtual population. The blended learning population grew 49% this year and most of that growth happened in charters. Since 2012, blended learning has grown 43% in traditional districts while charters have experienced a 287% increase. An encouraging talking point is that 58% of districts and charters feel their virtual and blended programs have resulted in greater student engagement and increased course completion rates.

So, if I had a blank check and a boss willing to enter a competitive marketplace, the first thing I would do would be retain United Talent Agency’s Brand Studio to develop a brand and strategy. Larry Vincent is an old friend from Disney and has written two great books on brand management. He is a rock star in this area.

Next, I would engage John Watson & the Evergreen Education Group to identify curricular products and delivery systems that would enable a new online school to compete with Connections Learning, K12 Inc., and FLVS Global. Being a good educational leader is recognizing where to get help when you aren’t an expert. I am not an army of one. John’s group produces the Keeping Pace in Digital Education series and is the premier research group reporting on blended and online learning. I would give their advice some serious reflection before starting on this journey.

Online Enroll by Sub

Lastly, Florida Virtual School (FLVS) is considered the gold standard in online schools nationally. They started in 1997 with seven staff members and 77 students, then increased to 477 students the next year, and had 2,500 students by their third year. Currently, they have 411K part time students and over 50K full time students. The entire K-12 online education market consists of 740,000 online course enrollments (Chingos & Schwerdt, 2014). FLVS would be the first place I would start recruiting employees to carve out a niche in this market.

If you had a blank check how would you build and staff your dream online school? What blended or online learning models would you incorporate into your program? How could you do a better job than the dominant players in the market?