Ashley Collier's picture

Silicon Valley Flex Academy Team Wins The MATHCOUNTS Competition

Silicon Valley Flex Academy’s (SV Flex) Middle School MathCounts School Team – comprised of Neil Shah, Claire Huang, Edison Zhang and Issabella Romo -- participated in annual regional competition this past weekend (02/06/2016) at San Benancio Middle School in Salinas, California, winning first place among 120 competitors and 17 teams.

The team will be competing in the State MATHCOUNTS Competition on March 5th, 2016 at Stanford. This will be their third time going on to the State Competition.

SV Flex Team worked together to outscore every other team at the competition. This competition brings teams from the entire Monterey Bay area together for a written test that determines which teams and individual students will qualify and move on to the State Competition.

Team member, Neil Shah won the Countdown Round and came in second place overall.

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.

Jo Marie Bolick's picture

Online Educators are Pioneers

Growing up in Kansas, I’ve always been fascinated by pioneers – those who ventured west, accepting the challenge of the unknown. Do you remember the computer game, The Oregon Trail? That game is as close as I’ve come to experiencing wild terrain and the challenges faced by the Pioneers of the American west.

When it comes to education, however, my fellow online educators and myself are pioneers. Together we have mapped uncharted territory and used our unique abilities to define ourselves as online teachers and work together to serve students.

I began teaching at Insight School of Kansas (ISKS) in 2009. I’d just had a baby and left my traditional brick and mortar school for a flexible, online career opportunity. I quickly realized that there wasn’t a teacher down the hall who’d been teaching for a couple decades and was ready to share the tricks of the trade. My colleagues were as new at this online teaching gig as I was, and we were tasked with delivering high quality education to our students. I can’t say that we had it perfect year one, but I can say, without a doubt, is that we were committed to analyzing our teaching methods and revamping as necessary to best meet the needs of our students. Today, in 2016, we are fine tuning our methods and continually evaluating the effectiveness of our model.

CREDO, Mathematica, and CRPE released a study on online charter schools, which can be found here and here. This study provides an analysis of current online charter schools, information of policies associated with these schools, and finally, gives suggestions for online charter schools moving forward. This study does good job pointing out that the population of an online charter school is as unique as the model itself.

After reading this study, I felt as if the authors do not have a clear picture of what my colleagues and I do as online teachers on a daily basis. Although, I cannot make any broad generalizations, I can say for certain, there are a couple points mentioned in this article, that are not true for teachers at ISKS.

For example the study mentions “… online charter schools… usually rely extensively on “asynchronous” instruction that requires students to do their coursework independently and on their own time.” Although, my courses have a great deal of asynchronous material, live synchronous meetings with me are a large part of my students’ schedules. I meet with my students Monday through Thursday for an hour to deliver math instruction. They also receive instruction daily in at least two other subjects. In addition, I hold office hours and offer small groups for students who are struggling.

Perhaps, the largest misconception in this article for me as an online education occurs when the author states “Policymakers often raise concerns about the quality of teachers in [education management organization] schools – how the schools can be overseen effectively when traditional “walkthrough” inspections are not possible.”

If you haven’t taught in an online environment, you might not realize how absurd this statement is.

Lauren Weber's picture

All Students Deserve an Opportunity to Succeed

Recently a series of reports were released which sought to provide information and recommendations for online charter schools.

As an online teacher, there are points in this study that I can agree with, for example students come to our schools from all walks of life and for all different types of reasons. However, there are some statements made that I disagree with. 

Perhaps my biggest point of contention with this study is that it suggests a possible screening policy to see if an online school is the “right fit” for a student. This really got me thinking, since when is education a one-size fits all?  How can you screen students to see if this is the right fit for them?  What exactly would that entail?  If a student were scoring below average at their old school does that make them a good fit for our school or not?  We have many students who were struggling if not all out failing at their traditional brick and mortar schools who come to us and excel! If we turn students away based on past performance in a totally different environment, and have a selection process, does this even make us a public school anymore?  Are we just going to cherry pick students while turning away others? Is it ethical to select students likely to succeed while turning away at risk pupils?

People always ask me what types of students choose the online schooling option. 

The answer is every type.

At Insight School of Kansas (ISKS), we have gifted students who want to pick up unique classes that were not offered in their local districts. We have students who help out on the family farm and cannot make it to the traditional 8-3 school day. We have students who suffer from medical conditions that require them to remain in a non-evasive environment to protect their immune systems. We have students that were bullied to the point of debilitating depression and anxiety who are desperate for a safe learning environment. We educate students who are athletes who train for hours during the day. We also have teen parents who want more than anything to earn a high school diploma so that they can make a better life for their new child.

All of these students are what K12 is made up of and much more. Every student is unique and therefore they deserve choice in their education and what works best for them.

One thing that I have always been proud of as a teacher at ISKS is that we accept and educate the students who may not have any other option.

How can we expect a student who struggles with a medical issue to attend a brick-and-mortar school for seven hours each day if they need access to medicine, therapy, or doctors throughout the day? Our school can offer the most conducive learning environment for them.  We can offer a safe learning environment for the students who are bullied.  And a young teen mom who is struggling to support her baby, with this suggested policy of screening, would she be turned away never receiving a high school diploma?  At our school we give these students a chance. Sometimes it is their last and only option and I would be beyond devastated if we started turning these students away to meet some graduation rate quota.