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.