Ana Berry's picture

Giving Thanks as an Online Educator

I was recently speaking with fellow Louisiana Virtual Charter Academy (LAVCA) colleagues about hobbies and I couldn’t help but marvel at the differences among us – the things that put a spark in our eyes. One teacher enjoyed hunting, another trained for marathons, while I enjoy painting.

We are all uniquely different.Our conversation made me think about our students at LAVCA and all of their differences. We serve so many uniquely brilliant students throughout the many K12 partner schools…there are artists, athletes, academics. As an educator, it is such a treat to get to know my students year after year and uncover their talents.

During the month of November, teachers have a habit of asking students what they are thankful for, which are then used to fill turkey feathers with their thankful thoughts. Most are thankful for family and friends. Some are thankful for chocolate and weekends. Others will put their favorite sports teams on all the feathers. If we were to ask some teachers what they are thankful for, I am sure we might get similar answers as well.

I’m thankful to teach in a virtual school that values the diverse learning needs of students.

I’m thankful that students are able to work at different times during the day so they can also explore other creative outlets and uncover passions.

I’m thankful that we have a curriculum that helps students modify their learning so they can move quickly or slow down to truly comprehend a topic.

I’m thankful for the flexibility that allows for frequent social outings, virtual student clubs, and virtual story times.

However, if I had to sum it all up into one, what I am most thankful for is that our virtual schools give students the opportunities to be uniquely brilliant in their own special ways.

Mary Gifford's picture

Examining Policy Recommendations for Online Charter Schools

The three- volume Online Charter School Study (October 2015) prepared by Mathematica, the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) and the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) provides the country’s most in-depth and systemic look into full-time public virtual charter schools. The report is a starting point with respect to the need for more and better analysis of student performance in virtual charter schools. For instance, the study demonstrates a high mobility rate and the unique nature of students within this sector of public schools, however the student matching process did not take into account the length of enrollment, reason for enrollment, effect of mobility, or persistence over time. With additional relevant data, the study can inform the next round of research.

The study also makes conclusions that affirm what leaders in virtual schools have known for more than a decade. It confirms that virtual charter school students are eligible for free/reduced price lunch at a higher rate than traditional students (48 percent compared to 39 percent). The study also demonstrates that students in virtual charters had lower than average test scores prior to enrolling in the virtual school. In fact, one-third fewer virtual charter students are in the top-scoring decile than traditional students and there are 40 percent more virtual charter students in the bottom decile.

Decades of research show the effects of income on student performance, and there is an emerging body of research showing prior state assessment performance is a strong predictor of future performance. While these conclusions are sobering for those of us who got into education to positively impact student performance, they demonstrate that students are disproportionately academically at-risk prior to enrolling in virtual charter schools.  In fact, academic struggles are one of the main reasons why parents choose to transfer their children to these schools.

The policy volume of the study, written by CRPE, offers several recommendations that are somewhat disconnected from the other volumes of the report. For instance, the CREDO volume on student performance concludes that “network” virtual charter schools managed mostly by private “for-profit” providers do not perform worse, on average, than non-network schools, yet the recommendation is to further regulate these providers, absent evidence related to student outcomes.

Perhaps the biggest disconnect between the volumes of the study is on student engagement. The Mathematica volume discusses in great detail the importance and challenges of student engagement in the virtual charter school model. This is not news to teachers or leaders within these schools who have been developing instructional strategies, technological tools, and support structures to improve student engagement. We had hoped the volume would include constructive policy recommendations in this area. Instead, it proposes a more crude approach:  screening enrollments to ensure students are the right “fit” before allowing them access to public virtual charter schools.

Lauren Weber's picture

Preparing to Dig into the Data

Now that school has begun and we are well into the first quarter, it’s time for teachers to start asking ourselves, are our students learning? It seems like a pretty simple and straight forward question, but it actually requires a lot of data analysis to truly and honestly answer this question.

Teachers at K12 schools across the country have really taken the initiative to delve deeper into our student’s progress. We do not simply rely on a student’s overall score at the end of each quarter to decide if the student is meeting their academic potential. We start much earlier than this. First, we construct well thought out interim assessments that align with our state standards and content objectives. These assessments can be given multiple times a year or semester. After students take these assessments, we spend days analyzing the results.

We meet with our department teams and go over our findings and we ask ourselves some very important questions. We analyze why a student missed a certain question or did not grasp a certain standard or objective. Was it the way the concept was taught? Is there a better way I can re-teach this to the student?  Why did the student or students fail to master this standard or objective? These are just a few of the questions we ask ourselves in these sessions that we dedicate to data analysis.

After we analyze our data and spend time on self-reflection, we then identify ways we can increase academic achievement and student mastery of standards and objectives, especially for our at-risk students. Some of these ways are incorporating small group sessions and 1 on 1 help sessions that target certain standards that the students struggled with. These small group sessions or one-on-one's require teachers to rethink our teaching process. Maybe the initial way we taught the idea or concept was fantastic for some students, but not ideal for others. During these smaller sessions, outside of regular class, is a time when teachers can differentiate our instruction and focus on meeting the needs of these individual students. We then track the student’s progress and meet with them regularly to analyze their growth, consistently asking ourselves along the way if there is something else we can try or do to improve their academic success.

Implementing data driven instruction in our schools has been monumental to our growth and success. Pass rates are growing, student engagement is on the rise, and family involvement is increasing. Learning Coaches are so supportive and encouraging when teachers reach out to them and offer extra supports for their students. By looping in Learning Coaches and sharing the progress that we have tracked and monitored with these additional sessions, we are seeing a strengthened partnership between Learning Coach, student, and teacher that is essential for online success.

Jeff Kwitowski's picture

K12 Publishes New Reports on Instruction & Teacher Effectiveness

K12 Inc. released two reports detailing new programs that were recently launched to boost teacher effectiveness and improve student academic achievement through a concentrated focus on Data-Driven Instruction (DDI). Authored by a team of our top educators, including K12’s Chief Academic Officer Dr. Margaret Jorgensen, the reports provide insight into academic initiatives launched as part of K12’s company-wide Students First effort.

The first report, “Data-Driven Instruction in the K12 Virtual Learning Environment,” illustrates how K12 teachers are continuously collecting and analyzing academic data to refine and improve instruction for every student. The second report, “Teachers Matter at K12 Inc.: New Efforts to Improve Teacher Effectiveness,” highlights the recent investments made by K12 to strengthen and support teachers and help them become even more effective educators.

They are the latest in a series of K12-published reports highlighting academics, instruction, and individual school performance. All of our academic reports, white papers, and success stories can be found at

K12 Inc., which serves the largest network of K-12 online school teachers in the U.S., has created new jobs and opportunities for thousands of teachers. In 2015, we launched a teacher effectiveness program to attract highly skilled teachers, prepare them to succeed in an online learning environment, and support them through ongoing coaching and professional development. The program focuses on specific methods, policies, practices, tools, and competencies aimed at helping teachers grow and succeed.  We also recently announced a new partnership with the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) to develop a new teacher evaluation rubric for online learning.

Our teachers are critical to improving student outcomes.  As Dr. Jorgensen said, “We have a great team of teachers at K12, and we value their hard work, passion, and dedication.  The investments made by K12 and the new academic initiatives we launched demonstrate our company’s total commitment to improving instruction, helping teachers succeed, and raising achievement for all students.”

Jeff Kwitowski's picture

K12 Inc. Responds to Online Charter School Report

K12 Inc. respects the work of CREDO, Mathematica, and CRPE. The online charter school study they issued affirmed much of what K12 has known about the demographics of students who transfer to full-time online schools. These students are generally more at-risk, more economically disadvantaged, and more likely to enter online charters after having struggled or failed in traditional schools. The study also made it clear that tens of thousands of students in online charter schools are succeeding. The study relies on older state standardized test data from before 2012.

However, the “virtual twin” methodology in the study, which attempts to compare performance of students who transferred to online charter schools to that of students in traditional schools, does not control or account for several key factors unique to typical full-time, statewide online public charter schools, including: persistence and performance over time, date of enrollment, the effect of mobility, and the reasons why children leave their local school.

Because the study does not include those important factors, it cannot accurately match or “twin” students who transfer to online charter schools with those who stay in traditional schools. They are very different students

For a complete analysis of the study, see here

Nevertheless, we understand the academic challenges that face online charter schools, and we have taken vigorous actions over the past two years to meet these challenges with results not reflected in this study. We have invested millions of dollars into new academic initiatives, instructional and assessment programs, teacher hiring and training, and student support services, all for one purpose: improving students’ academic outcomes. We are making progress, as noted in our annual Academic Report and multiple published reports on individual school progress and the effectiveness of new instructional programs. State test results have recently stabilized or improved in key areas. Several K12-managed schools have improved performance and outcomes, and perform well compared to demographically similar school districts. Students are achieving significantly better results over time, demonstrating the positive impact of persistence.

Heather McFarland's picture

How my family combatted bullying: A teacher’s story

October is designated as National Bullying Prevention Month, when organizations and schools rally to bring awareness to this important issue. Bullying is an issue that is close to my heart and always will be because it truly affected my family and our choice in education.

My son was bullied for three years at the private school he attended. We learned about the details gradually. He would come home and tell us what happened at school and like many others we thought it was just “kids being kids.” We let it go for a few months and as time wore on we noticed some subtle changes in his behavior.

At that point, I began visiting regularly with his school. As an educator I did what we are taught to do in these situations: Speak up, go to the teacher, and then to the administrator if the problem persists. I began to find that my son was being bullied not just by his peers but by a teacher as well.

Eventually, our son told us the whole story of the time he was bullied in school – details I prefer to keep private to my family. As parents we had thought we failed. We listened to our son and did what we were supposed to do, but still the bullying problem never went away. We began talking to him about not letting the bully win and showing him ways to stand up for himself. Needless to say, this was a stepping stone for our son to strongly finish out the school year.

Around that time we made the decision to enroll our son into Louisiana Virtual Charter Academy (LAVCA).  Despite the fact that I’m a seasoned LAVCA teacher and at-ease in the online class room, I still worried if this choice would be the right fit for our son.

The transition in our son’s life was amazing.

He started the 8th grade at an advanced level and began thriving in the new environment. I gave him the challenge of meeting six new friends during synchronous classroom sessions and during one of the many outings our school hosts. He met that challenge and began showing signs of becoming a classroom leader. He is now a student moderator in his classes and helps peer-tutor fellow students. Following his 8th grade year, our son achieved straight A’s and earned over 6 credits toward high school. He has tons of friends from school and through going to drill once a month with the U.S. Navy Sea Cadet Corps. 

Katie Poindexter's picture

Reframing the teacher role

When I started teaching at a traditional brick-and-mortar school in 2005, I thought I was signing on to teach 7th grade reading and writing. Little did I know I would teach my students so much more.

During that time I would teach the 11 year old girl that showed up to class in tears because a group of girls made fun of her Wal-Mart outfit that their opinion did not matter. I would teach the boy with glasses that despite the jeers by his classmates, glasses were cool and would help him become something great. I would teach my class that words hurt and once they are spoken can have devastating effects. But most importantly, I had to teach myself that I was going to have to teach more than reading and writing.

It was not until I became a virtual teacher in 2011 at Virginia Virtual Academy that I was truly able to be the teacher I wanted to be.

As teachers, our number one goal is student success. Are they understanding the concepts? Are they able to demonstrate this understanding? If they aren’t, we are left with the task of trying to figure out why. For many students, additional instruction and practice can help close this gap. But for some, the root cause of their poor performance is sociological -- a result of negative social interactions with their peers. A report published in September 2015 by said that 1 in 3 students report being bullied during the school year (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2013). As a result of bullying, parents and students are turning to alternative methods of schooling.

In 2014, K12 Inc. surveyed over 2000 parents with children currently enrolled across K12 partner schools. 21% of all responding parents and 31% of parents with high school students who responded cited bullying as one of the reasons they chose to move to online learning. 97% of the parents who enrolled children for this reason would recommend a K12-powered program to a family with a student who is being bullied.

Lauren Weber's picture

Teacher Perspective: Family Connections

When I was in school, I was passionate about learning and eager to engage in lessons with my teachers. However, one of the biggest factors contributing to my passion to become a teacher was my brother. My brother suffered from social anxiety and, growing up, I observed how he was treated differently by his teachers. I knew at that point that I wanted to make a difference for students overcoming similar obstacles.

I’m currently a teacher at Insight School of Kansas and I see how online schooling helps facilitate support for students like my brother.

I recall one student who had social anxiety and difficulty speaking in front of others. Over a few years, we worked together and during his last school year he made a video where he gave a wonderful speech. I was so proud of this student and it’s amazing to be able to provide an environment where students with specific learning needs can find success.

In the online model there is no time lost on classroom management or disciplinary issues that plague teacher at traditional schools. There is very little judgement in the online setting, which allows me to interact with students who have been disadvantaged in their previous schools.

As a teacher, it’s also important to realize that many students don’t always connect with every subject. I work hard to make sure that those individuals find some way to learn. I enjoy teaching World History because we can make it come alive through connecting the names and dates to literature, art, mathematics, and culture, to people who live and breathe. 

Ashley Fryer's picture

Teacher Perspective: Reigniting Passions

I have always wanted to be a teacher. I remember lining up all my dolls in the evenings and teaching them whatever I learned in elementary school that day.  My passion started early!  While I was in high school, I belonged to the Future Educators of America and served as an officer for two years. It was at that time that I decided I specifically wanted to teach science at a middle school and high school level. Looking back now, I see that I was already starting to develop my own teaching philosophy:  I’m a firm believer that every child can and wants to learn, but that it’s up to me – and other educators – to find ways to best communicate.

I have a Master of the Arts in Teaching with an emphasis on Environmental Conservation and taught at a traditional school prior to teaching at Insight School of Kansas. The transition from teaching in the brick-and-mortar classroom to teaching science online wasn’t easy at first. Connecting with students through synchronous classes – live classroom session helped ease my transition into the new role.

Throughout my experience with teaching online, I’ve found innovate ways to connect with my students. Many traditional science teachers have a hard time understanding how online teachers can effectively teach science online. Using my webcam and pictures, I actually do just as many demonstrations in my virtual classroom as I did in a traditional setting.  I utilize technology for some virtual labs as well.  My middle school students each receive a school science kit that students don’t have to share and that can be used over and over again. As a class we can look at different things under microscopes, measure density of different objects, grow bacteria, test acid and bases…the list goes on and on.

I live on a hobby farm, which is very useful when teaching science or hosting the middle school Outdoor Club.  I’m an avid gardener and have the unique ability to bring science lessons to life by showing my students what’s in bloom at home. I also can show them a new baby animal that has been born recently and use my real pets as examples when we learn about genetics.  Inviting the classroom into relevant parts of my personal life has really helped foster strong bonds and a feeling of community. 

Gina Warren's picture

Teacher Perspective: Making a Difference as an Online Educator

I’ve always been up for a challenge, which was why I ventured into online teaching at Louisiana Virtual Charter Academy (LAVCA) in 2011 after teaching in the brick and mortar setting for several years. The role was completely new territory for me since virtual instruction is fairly new to the region and LAVCA was in its launch year when I joined the team.   I feel like our team works on the cutting edge of instruction and I treasure the challenges that it brings.  I’ve been a LAVCA educator for five years now and have to say that while it is the most difficult thing that I have ever taken on professionally, it has also been the most rewarding work as well!   

In the traditional school setting, it’s easy to get comfortable and simply follow the same lesson plan every year and disconnect from engagement without even realizing how disconnected you have become.   With online instruction, you have to meet each child where they are and try to help them succeed from there. With online instruction, there are ample ways for students to succeed regardless of their circumstances, and the online environment really provides a platform for student success across the board -- no matter what difficulties they may face. The continuous challenge as an educator is meeting those needs and adapting your instruction regularly to those specific learning needs of your students.   It is more of an “a la carte” type of teaching versus the traditional “set menu.”

For most people that aren’t directly involved in online schooling, the students may be a bit of a mystery too because just as instruction has to be diverse, our students are too!   In my five years at LAVCA, I’ve learned a lot about the types of students that attend online schooling. Many come from more ‘traditional’ backgrounds that we expect from online schools –kids that have experienced bullying or who are either academically above or below their traditional brick and mortar schoolfellows and need more individualized attention to achieve and succeed. I’ve also encountered student athletes, actors and even those with medical needs – one in particular was a student who had cancer.

In reality, his life was always in upheaval – he never knew what he’d be doing or what health problems he’d be experiencing from day to day. Despite these challenges, he was a valuable member of the classroom and was able to continue to have an education through our virtual program. It was apparent that a traditional schooling environment would have been impossible for him due to his regular appointments and physical setbacks that he encountered regularly, but through online learning he was able work on a schedule that met his needs and continue to feel like he was an integral part of our class. I’ve become quite close to the family and have had the privilege of visiting with them several times since he joined my class.   His parents shared that one of the best parts of his treatment was the fact that his school experience was so blissfully normal, and he was able to just be a regular student even receiving additional small group remediation on key skills that further enhanced his learning in an already challenging situation.