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K12 Under Fire

Posted on Jan 24, 2013

Colin Woodard, writing for the Portland Press Herald, recently reported that K12 Inc., a company known for operating online schools, has come under fire in the states of Colorado and Maine.

The Colorado Virtual Academy, which has been in operation for ten years, “received a damning report which recommended that the school’s operating charter not be renewed.” Concerns regarding the school’s performance and administration were the main reasoning for recommending a denial of renewal. It was found that the Colorado Virtual Academy “has ranked in the bottom tenth of Colorado schools for three years running” and that there exists a “lack of independence of the local board, which is supposed to govern the school.”

The primary concern was said to be poor performance, but the body reviewing the academy also felt that K12 Inc. had an inappropriate ability to influence local board members to the extent that the board could potentially not be independent from the company, complicating the board’s ability to effectively govern the school.

In Maine, K12 Inc.’s application to operate a Maine Virtual Academy was also recently denied because, as in Colorado, there were concerns that the board that would oversee the schools is not actually independent from the company K12 Inc.

The Maine Department of Education and Governor Paul LePage both expressed dissatisfaction with the decisions to reject charters. David Connerty-Marin, speaking for the Maine Department of Education, expressed that the schools applying for a charter were probably not ready for approval, but given the chance, could make adjustments in order to gain approval. Connerty-Marin also argued that charter schools offered an advantage over public schools to the extent that “you can close them when they are underperforming, something that is much harder to do with public schools.”

On the one hand, it is problematic that companys running charter schools could be too involved in the boards meant to oversee the schools, especially when one considers that “a charter school is entrusted with millions of public dollars and the education, health, and safety of other people’s children.” On the other hand, how can it truly be known if a charter school is operating at a reasonable level? The Colorado Virtual Academy was criticized for underperforming, but have extenuating circumstances been considered? It could very well be the case that students end up enrolled in online charter schools because their experiences in traditional academic settings have been poor, a trend that could take time to be reversed in an online setting. With all this in mind, distinctions should be made between denying charters for political reasons or for performance-related reasons.

Josh Luthi is a computer science student at the University of Kansas and has a penchant for politics.

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    1. Michael Barbour     January 25, 2013  7:23 am Reply

      The limited research that is available indicates that many of these for-profit cyber charter schools enroll a student body that is roughly proportional to the statewide averages on the specific demographics measured. For example, in examining K12, Inc. Gary Miron found that the online charter school enrolled:

      – approximately the same percentages of black students but substantially more white students and fewer Hispanic students relative to public schools in the states in which the company operates
      – 39.9% of students that qualified for free or reduced-price lunch, compared with 47.2% for the same-state comparison group
      – a slightly smaller proportion of students with disabilities (9.4% for K12 schools and 11.5% for same-state comparisons)
      – 0.3% ELL students compared with 13.8% in the same-state comparison group

      In my own work, I have seen data that actually indicated that the proportion of gifted students served by these programs is actually higher than the statewide averages in the states where they operate.

      The myth that the operators of these cyber charter schools continue to repeat in the media – and that are often perpetuated by trade organizations representing them – that these programs serve a higher percentage of at-risk students and therefore should not be judged the same as traditional public schools is simply that – a myth!

      The best evidence that we have available – limited as it may be – indicates that these programs (or at least the larger, multi-state corporations) have a lower percentage of at-risk students and a higher percentage of gifted students.

    2. Delbert Dyar     March 8, 2013  9:17 am Reply

      The “Catch 22″ in online public schools is created by state education agencies development of open enrollment rules that severely limit efforts to consider students special education needs, IEP, or the capacity of the home/family to support the student’s learning. Students get caught in the politics of online learning and open enrollment. Resident districts and schools may be eager to have low performing, problematic students to enroll and argue against “creaming” for online school enrollment. For some students, online learning may be a last ditch effort to succeed or to avoid truancy. It is undeniable that public education resources are wasted when we apply a politially correct 1970′s special education framework based on a traditional school setting to a new “virtual” school environment. We need to develop online enrollment policies for students who have special learning needs that are based on what is best for the individual student.