Jeff Kwitowski's picture

New Report Examines Improved Accountability Frameworks for Online Schools

An important new report on online learning and accountability was released last week by Keeping Pace with K-12 Online Learning.  Titled, School Accountability in the Digital Age, the report was written and researched by John Watson and Larry Pape with Evergreen Education Group – nationally recognized experts in the field of online learning.

Online schools and traditional schools are very different, yet the standards and accountability frameworks used to measure performance are the same.  State education laws and regulations are generally designed for the brick-and-mortar school and classroom-based model.  Like trying to jam a square peg into a round hole, these legal and regulatory frameworks often do not mesh well with online schools.  Even worse, they risk producing an incomplete, and sometimes inaccurate, picture of the real quality and performance of online public schools, especially on the effectiveness of educating transfer students who move from a local public school to an online school. 

Policymakers are left to grapple with the question:  what are the best accountability frameworks to use for online schools?   This report takes a big step toward answering that question by outlining 8 policy recommendations:

1.       Credit schools with graduating students in five or six years.

2.       Measure students’ progress towards graduation, especially for situations in which students switch schools.

3.       Change funding mechanisms to systems that minimize the impact of high student mobility.

4.       Publish data on student mobility for all schools, and consider creating a designation specific to schools with high rates of student mobility, regardless of other student demographic factors.

5.       Require separate reporting on online programs so that online student outcomes can be tracked.

Ashley Collier's picture

Weekly Roundup

In an effort to share more stories and information, we at thinkTANK will begin a Friday series called, “Weekly Roundup.” We hope you’ll learn more information about the students and schools we serve, K12 educators, and important education issues.

Check these out! 

Virtual Charter Schools Coming to NC
(Press Release)

Last week, K12 announces a partnership with North Carolina Learns, Inc. to operate the state’s newest virtual charter schools. The North Carolina Virtual Academy (NCVA) will be a first-of-its kind online public school.

Teaching in a Virtual Reality
(Battle Creek Enquirer)

Features Spencer Kahly, a teacher at Michigan Great Lakes Virtual Academy, who shares how becoming an online teacher has helped him cope with epilepsy.

Online public schools are a lifeline for students
(The Tennessean)

TN Public School Option leader and parent, Cathy Berg writes that the Tennessee state legislators take swift action to renew the Tennessee Virtual School Act to protect online school options in the state for the many families that need the option.

Hundreds Rally at Capitol In Nashville To Save Online Public Schools
(The Chattanoogan)

Under threat of closure, more than 400 parents, students and educators descended on the state Capitol to express their support for protecting the right of parents to choose the school that works best for their children, including the Tennessee Virtual Academy, a full-time online public school offered through Union County Public Schools. 

Maine Virtual Academy Approved to Open
(Press Release)

Maine Virtual Academy (MEVA), a statewide online public charter school, was approved today by the Maine Charter School Commission. The new online school will open next school year and serve students in grades 7-12 throughout the state.

Mary Gifford's picture

Data Privacy: What to Know and Policy Considerations

There is a growing need to provide parents with timely, relevant data to make informed choices regarding schooling options. Data is also needed by educators to personalize instruction. Data may be useful to organizations to drive improvements in overall instruction more quickly than previously possible.

Data privacy has received increased attention in the past few years, largely because of the increased availability of data and collection requirements.

As a company that serves teachers, schools and families across the country, we value the opportunity to use data. For instance, we can review student Algebra exams across 40 states to determine if there are curriculum or instruction issues. This data allows school leaders to see that most students missed question number 3 on an exam, which indicates either a problem with the question or the way material is presented through the online portal. For example, if students in Mr. Smith’s class all missed question number 3, then we know there is an instruction issue.

To successfully navigate through data privacy issues, it’s important to consider existing policies and safeguards in place.

These safeguards include several significant and far-reaching policies such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA). These policies describe rights afforded to parents/families, restrict access to data, and define the purposes for which data may be collected and used. Additionally, there are laws, policies and practices at the state and local levels that define state- and school-level business practices.

As lawmakers consider data privacy laws this year, there is a complicated balancing act they must perform. Laws and policies need to strike the appropriate balance between:

  • Provision of relevant, timely information to parents to allow them to participate in state-level school choice options
  • Opportunities to personalize learning, forge data-driven innovation and improve instruction products
  • Obligations to ensure local flexibility, transparency and governance, capacity and training
  • Responsibilities to safeguard the collection, use, and distribution of student and family information

At its core, strong data privacy legislation inventories what type of data is being collected, avoids unnecessary collection, ensures data remains close to the student, strongly defines parental access, and develops security plans.

There are, however, additional nuances to consider:

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. 

Mary Morganti's picture

My Experience as a Full-time Online Intervention Teacher

Like most online educators, I began my instructional career in a brick and mortar classroom, teaching K-3 grade levels over a period of 5 years. My switch to become a virtual educator was partially due to relocation for my family, but largely as a result of looking for a way to broaden my teaching experiences. Currently, as an early literacy, Tier 3 Reading Intervention Specialist for California Virtual Academies (CAVA) – a network of online charter schools serving students across the state – I interact predominantly with K-5 students, Learning Coaches, and other CAVA teachers across California on a daily basis.

Having had the opportunity to teach in both learning environments, I’m often asked to compare my current role as an online educator to my experience as a teacher in a traditional classroom setting. I believe that both settings have their individual merits when the student’s physical, emotional, and educational needs are a priority in deciding on the appropriate learning environment. Regardless of the classroom setting there are many responsibilities I have as an educator, but the commonality between these two spaces is my role to guide and support students’ journeys to becoming proficient readers.

Specifically, as an intervention teacher I identify each student’s areas of deficiency in their reading acquisition skillset and the data I obtain is used to set a specific goal to measure their progress. In an effort to ensure each student meets or exceeds their specified goal, I develop and execute a learning plan tailored to their individual needs. Fundamentally, this often involves working through a progression that can be frustrating at times for students; however the data driven instruction, tools, and techniques I employ to help each student overcome these hurdles are the same regardless of the classroom setting.  Although the classroom environment may be different between the virtual versus physical classroom, the end goals of knowledge and proficiency remain constant.


Frequently, I hear concerns regarding the perception that the lack of physical presence, afforded by a traditional classroom, prevents virtual educators from establishing connections with their students. In reality, as an intervention specialist I have the opportunity to work with my students in a small group setting each day. Within my classes, I have the ability to have individual ‘break out sessions’ which allows for uninterrupted one-on-one interaction between a single student and myself just as any teacher would work individually with a student in the brick and mortar classroom environment. Adding to this is the ability to consistently interact and work with students’ Learning Coaches in workshops, weekly classes, and open office hours in addition to the regular communication regarding their student’s progress. My relationship with each family is very close as we work together to provide the best learning environment and support for each student.