online education

Gina Warren's picture

Capitol Day at LAVCA

I am so very proud of my school!  I have been teaching for about 17 years and am not sure if I have ever felt such pride for any other school I have worked in, despite them all being wonderful places, than I feel right now for Louisiana Virtual Charter Academy (LAVCA).  

LAVCA is something very special and dear to me and that feeling is contagious!  I have been with the school since we launched five years ago and have seen what amazing things can happen by allowing educators to have input on what we do every day—teach!  We have a hashtag at our school that many use and we take it quite seriously— #LAVCApride. We are full of pride for the best virtual school in Louisiana and the most dedicated staff I have ever worked alongside!

This past Wednesday our school’s teachers and students, in conjunction with Public School Options (PSO) Louisiana chapter members, met at our state capitol in Baton Rouge. We made sure our voices were heard concerning the importance of school choice and specifically the importance and relevance of LAVCA.  This event is not a new one, but has taken on more significance this year as we strive to educate our lawmakers on the impact our school has on the children we serve and their families.  This is so important, because three bills have been introduced in the state legislature that could possibly end or restructure the program that we have worked so hard to create for our families. 

Jeff Kwitowski's picture

State Testing & Online Schools: What You Probably Never Knew

It’s spring—the season of warm days, blooming flowers, budding trees…and state tests.

In many states, however, this testing season has felt more like a cold and damp winter.  Delays, cancellations, and other well-documented testing mishaps have soured the mood of parents and educators, and provided much fodder for critics of state tests.

Alaska cancelled its tests outright after its testing platform collapsed.  Kansas, which used the same assessment provider as Alaska, had multiple testing delays after experiencing similar technical issues.  Problems in Texas, Nevada, and New York have also been reported.  The Indiana legislature recently scrapped its controversial ISTEP tests after several snafus.  Last year, testing problems plagued officials in Minnesota, Georgia, Florida, and other states.

Perhaps the most well-known testing flop in 2016 occurred in Tennessee.  The state’s not-so-aptly named TNReady test turned out not to be ready at all after a series of technical failures caused the state to order schools to abruptly stop the computer-based version and switch to the paper-based version, resulting in widespread cancellations and delays, not to mention a complete loss of faith in TNReady’s results.  Parents, teachers, and district officials are urging the Education Commissioner and the Governor to cancel part two of the TNReady exams and start fresh next year, or at least exclude this year’s tests from being used for teacher, district, and school accountability.

In most instances when testing problems occur, state department of education officials simply instruct all schools and districts to stop testing and shift to a normal instructional day.  After the TNReady testing platform imploded in Tennessee, the Commissioner of Education emailed district directors with the following instruction:

“At this time, we are advising that schools experiencing problems with the test discontinue testing, and return to their normal classes. Please do not begin any new additional testing you had planned for today until the department provides further information.”

“Return to their normal classes.”  That makes sense.  After all, the normal daily routine for traditional schools is basically the same:  students get on buses, go to their assigned schools, and report to their classrooms, whether for instruction or state testing. 

Not so for online public schools.  There is absolutely nothing normal or routine when online schools students take state tests.  In fact, I bet most people have no idea what online schools must do to fulfil the state-mandated testing requirements.

Jeff Kwitowski's picture

Why Online Charter Schools Matter – Reason # 219,737

Excerpt from The Advocate (Louisiana):

A couple of years ago, Macie Zoble and her son were in crisis.

The Lafayette woman had done everything in her power to keep Riley, then a kindergartner, stable enough to simply finish a traditional school day.

To combat his severe type of bipolar disorder — which mimicked attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and set teachers on edge — the round-cheeked child had been fed high doses of psychotropic drugs, only for Zoble to learn later that he metabolized them too rapidly for them to matter.

He’d been assigned a special learning plan — aimed at keeping students with such difficulties in the classroom — but with an administrator-mandated 10:30 a.m. pickup time, it barely kept him in school at all.

When nothing worked, she pulled him out of school. She quit her job.

Enter Louisiana Virtual Charter Academy.

“It changed our lives. Completely,” Zoble said, tears running down her face.

Joel Medley's picture

A Good Start For North Carolina Virtual Academy

There are two virtual charter schools in North Carolina.  Both serve a tiny fraction of the overall student population in the state and are only halfway through their first year of operation.  The schools are off to a very good start. 

This is the first year of a four-year pilot program for virtual charter schools.  Policymakers are still trying to fully understand these schools and how they fit into North Carolina’s public education system.  So it doesn’t help when erroneous reports – based on bad information or a lack of understanding about virtual schools – cloud the facts.  Take for example one recent report that claimed North Carolina’s virtual charter schools were “off to a rocky start” because of “staggeringly high withdrawal rates.” 

Is that really the case?  Let’s look at the number and compare.  The Department of Public Instruction reported that the North Carolina Virtual Academy had a 19 percent withdrawal rate and the North Carolina Connections Academy had a 20 percent withdrawal rate.  Compared to traditional schools, that may seem high, but it is actually in line with other statewide full-time and part-time virtual schools.  In fact, it’s lower than the withdrawal rates from many state-run virtual schools.

Virtual Virginia, the state department-run online school reported a 28 percent withdrawal rate in its full-time program.  Florida Virtual School (FLVS), one of the largest and longest running state-run virtual schools in the nation, had even higher withdrawal rates.  According to a study from Tax Watch, FLVS had high school course withdrawal rates exceeding 40 percent and 35 percent in two consecutive years, respectively.  In 2012, the Tampa Bay Times reported that according to FLVS’ figures, 66 percent of students who enroll in a course do not complete it.

North Carolina also has a large state-run virtual school, North Carolina Virtual Public School.  NCVPS’s withdrawal rates are not known either because the school does not publicly report that information or has not been required to disclose it. 

Virtual schools are very different from traditional schools. They are also public schools of choice.  These schools are rigorous and require self-discipline and a high level of commitment.  Except for kindergarteners, the students who enroll in virtual schools are transfers and most come from classroom-based schools.  All the information sessions, orientations, and training we provide cannot erase the fact that many students will not really know if virtual schools are the right fit until they try it.  Withdrawal rates reflect virtual schools’ unique learning model, not the quality of the program.

If a parent chooses to withdraw their child from a virtual school to attend another school because they realize this model is not the right fit, how is that decision a bad thing?  It is a natural result of parental choice that is offered to families here in North Carolina.  Students should be where they have the best chance to succeed.  If NCVA is that school, then we want them here with us; however, if a family believes a different school is the best model for their child, then we want them at that other school.

That same report mischaracterized the funding implications by stating that “virtual charters are funded based on a one-day count of membership” and that “local schools systems will lose out on vital public funding.”  Both statements are incorrect.

Ashley Fryer's picture

A Recap of School Choice Week in Kansas

I like to have choices.  Don’t we all?  We make choices every day- what to eat, what to wear, how to spend our free-time, etc.  We make more serious choices too like which healthcare provider to go with, which political candidate to vote for, or where should we send our child to school.   Some families don’t have that last choice.  They live in an area with only one free public school option.  

In Kansas we are blessed to have educational options and we’re celebrating!

Last week we celebrated National School Choice Week with the rest of Insight Schools of Kansas community. National School Choice Week shines a light on the great variety of education options that work best for children – options we are fortunate to have in Kansas.  Kansas offers public charter schools, magnet schools, full-time online schools (like the one I work for), private schools, and homeschooling freedom.

I had a wonderful experience as a student. From my kindergarten teacher to each of my high school instructors, I had wonderful educators.  I had lots of friends and was really involved through sports, theater, and clubs. I loved school and that’s probably one main things that attracted me to teaching.  It’s a good thing I liked my school, because I attended a small school in a rural area, and there were no other schooling options for me.  My mom and dad both worked full time and couldn’t have homeschooled me.  There were no magnet or charter schools anywhere close.  Virtual schools didn’t exist yet, and the closest private school was over 30 miles away.

Right out of high school I went to college to get my teaching certificate in life science. I got a great teaching job at a traditional brick-and-mortar school a week before I graduated, and I’ve never questioned my choice.  I love teaching!  Eventually, I heard of a free, public, online school in Kansas, called Insight Schools of Kansas.  At that time in my life, we were traveling a lot and I thought teaching online could be a temporary option, until my family settled down.  

Seven years later, I can’t imagine doing anything else.

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. 

Sara Baker's picture

Removing Barriers: How Online Education Provides Families Options and Students a Unique Experience

As unique and different as online public schools may seem, the only true differences lie in the logistical execution of the school programs. The heart and success of online schools depend upon the engagement level of students, parents, teachers and school leaders. And this, of course, is no different than what drives student success in brick and mortar schools.

Although we may not see each other at local football games, our online schools do create and nurture a virtual community where we are all working toward the shared goal of helping provide choices for our students for their futures. The ultimate goal of education, irrespective of the mode of delivery, is to provide students with a quality education that enables them to choose to pursue any future they would like. We know that reaching this goal requires more than just teachers assigning homework, more than students doing the homework, and more than parents making sure their students “attend” school. It requires that the school experience transcend the textbook and curriculum to engage teachers, students, families and leaders in a vivid learning community where students feel safe to be themselves and motivated to achieve even more than they had thought possible.

The foundational aspects of a school are a quality curriculum, a logical sequence of courses with an achievable scope of content, solid delivery mechanisms for curriculum content and consistent communication avenues for creating and maintaining the partnership that must exist between home and school.

But these are only the beginning of creating an exceptional school experience.

Jeff Kwitowski's picture

Beware of Perverse Incentives Limiting Choice in Education

A very interesting debate is occurring among school choice supporters, in particular within the charter school community, regarding enrollment practices among public charter schools.  A recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal puts the issue front and center. 

Authored by two school choice proponents in N.Y., the op-ed throws light on how many charter schools are intentionally restricting enrollment but boasting about better results on state tests.

“But the charter sector has long avoided a difficult truth:  Most charter enrollment policies distort market forces and explicitly limit choices for families at certain grade levels.  In fact, most charters squander an opportunity to give the highest-need students access to the highest-quality education by failing to backfill empty seats.”

They go on:

“Why would charters schools not want to serve as many students as possible?  Perverse incentives.”

You can read the full piece here.

The authors explain how these perverse incentives – relentless focus state-mandated test scores – create restrictive enrollment policies.  By controlling enrollment, a school can maintain the “illusion of success” by, in effect, filtering out students who were not succeeding, while keeping those who are engaged and achieving good results on state tests, and not granting access to new students who are less likely to be proficient on state tests and more likely drive down the school’s overall performance rating.  Charters that put in place these enrollment controls tend to produce better results, but leave more students-- including those most in need-- stuck on waiting lists.  

Who is pushing these perverse incentives that result in less access to choice schools?  

Ironically, it’s been driven by the very policymakers and organizations that claim to be the strongest champions of educational choice. 

Ashley Collier's picture

Tennessee Virtual Academy Student Holiday Fund: School Community Provides Meals, Clothes, and Gifts to Families In Need

Over the past month, Tennessee Virtual Academy teachers and administrators worked together to help their fellow TNVA families in need during the winter holidays through a Student Holiday Fund. TNVA administrators worked with the student engagement team to identify families that needed assistance and wished to participate in the program.

TNVA teachers and staff donated to the fund in the form of retail and grocery gift certificates. The gift certificates were used to provide families with meals and purchase clothing and gifts for children. TNVA set a first year goal of raising $970 in order to provide each identified family a meal, some toys, and a few clothing items.

In the end, TNVA exceeded their goal and raised more than double the amount totaling $2040.

Through the student holiday fund, TNVA was able to help six families, which included 14 children. Families received grocery store certificates for holiday meals, while students were gifted clothes, as well as toys and items on their wish lists.

“We are so unbelievable proud to be able to provide these gifts and necessary items to our TNVA families in need,” said Josh Williams, TNVA Head of School. “We purchased doll houses, bikes, trains, and clothes, and all of this in our first year of having the program. It brings the TNVA teachers and staff so much joy to give back to our school community and families.”

Gifts were purchased and wrapped by TNVA staff, and then either delivered directly or shipped to families in time for the holidays. 

Ashley Collier's picture

A K12 Student’s Perspective: What Does Online Learning Mean to You?

On November 6, Rile Grant, a 7th grade student enrolled at California Virtual Academies (CAVA) participated in a student panel at the International Association for K-12 Online Learning’s (iNACOL) Blended and Online Learning Symposium in Palm Springs, California.

Rile has been enrolled in his online school since 2nd grade and has taken such courses as: earth and life sciences, literature, world history, world art, music, Spanish 1 & 2, and Latin 1 & 2 to name a few. 

Rile and his family discussed their experience with online learning and shared views on the future of education.

Why does online and/or blended learning matter?

Families should have choices about where and how to educate their children. Being enrolled in an online school can provide stability and continuity for students if their families move a lot or are have other family issues to deal with which may cause changes in the student’s life. I started attending a virtual school when my family was displaced due to domestic violence and my mother wasn’t sure where we’d live and what kind of school district I’d be attending. A few years later, being in an online school made it possible for my mother and I to go to another county to care for my great grandfather, for about half a school year without having to change schools. We have moved about ten times since I started CAVA; being a virtual student has allowed me to stay in the same school for the past five years no matter what has happened in our personal lives.

What does online and/or blended learning mean to you?

Online means being able to do school anywhere: while traveling with your family, at the library, at coffee shops, or on vacation. Blended means having access to certain things, as if in a brick and mortar: seeing friends at school, getting in person help from teachers, and having a place to do group activities, such as spelling bees or science fairs.

What are the benefits?

Some students need a safe place to learn, free from bullying. My sister was bullied at two different public high schools and was able to continue, and graduate, through CAVA. Other students, who are advanced learners, need to be able to work at their own pace, without being held back. Every year I have been in CAVA, I have been working ahead of my grade level; I am a 6th grader on paper, but am working on the 7th grade. Because I do school at home, on my own schedule, I am able to focus on one topic or subject at a time - I do an entire science or history unit until I am finished with it, instead of having to stop working after a set time and then try to move onto another subject. I don’t have “homework,” adding hours to my day - I work on my assignments until they are done. If a subject is really interesting to me, I can learn about it in more ways than just through my textbooks or online lessons; I can find more information online, watch movies or documentaries or find places to visit in person to learn more. I have gone to science and art museums in my own city and others. Sometimes my science lessons happen at Sea World or an aquarium during a school day. I have traveled to the state capitol to talk to legislators. I will be traveling to San Francisco in a few weeks to attend the National Novel Writing Month’s annual Night of Writing Dangerously as the only young author to do so.

Being an online student means I have much more flexibility in my days.

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