As part of a three-year pilot program, hundreds of Iowa’s K-12 students are enrolled in one of two online-only schools, and test scores—the ultimate metric substituted today for school quality—are mixed after two years, the Sioux City Journal reports.
The schools are online-only, and students are required to work with a caretaker in the home, which is usually a parent who can stay at home, while they are working with a certified teacher over the Internet. A teacher provides lessons, asks them questions, and can offer one-on-one instruction. Some teachers say they’re working on increasing the peer-to-peer communication, but teacher-to-student connections work well.
“I really feel like there’s a good relationship between the teachers and the students, even one that’s stronger than what you’d see in a brick-and-mortar setting, because they are able to work directly with me,” the newest teacher at the school was quoted as saying. “Unfortunately, there’s not always the same connection between peers, but that’s something we really work to build.”
The Iowa Connections Academy in Anita, which is run by Pearson, turned in test scores that were higher, on average, than the whole state, while the Iowa Virtual Academy, run by Virginia-based K12 Inc., came in below the state’s averages, according to a report issued by the Iowa Department of Education late last month.
On the question of making connections with their peers, about half the K-3 virtual school students said they worked in groups with other students during the school day; about three in 10 students in fourth through 12th grade said that. The survey did not ask students about socialization, self-definition, or any of the important goals of peer-to-peer collaboration.
The Iowa Connections Academy is hoping to recruit a few more students for next year and is conducting a sort of recruiting drive on its home page. Among the testimonials provided by students are “My favorite thing about IACA is I don’t have to get up really early in the morning to eat breakfast” and “What I like most about IACA is that it allows me to balance academics with the pursuit of my dreams in gymnastics.”
The virtual schools are part of a movement in education known as “school choice.” They give parents another option, but even the principal at the Iowa Connections Academy acknowledges that virtual schools aren’t for everyone.
“We know that for a student to attend an online model, there has to be a learning coach, a caretaker, a parent that’s available at home, especially at those elementary ages,” the Journal quoted Principal James Brauer as saying about his decision to send his own children to brick-and-mortar schools. “Because of that and because we still want to be great parents, but we also have professional goals, I don’t know if we could.”
I also believe online-only schools, or cyber charters, can serve a purpose for a few students: those whose individual circumstances and needs are better met by an online-only school than by the brick-and-mortar school.
Unfortunately, that’s not who signs up, and it’s not part of the marketing materials for the Iowa Connections Academy. The companies that run virtual schools wouldn’t make enough money if their only students were the ones who were able to use an online-only model to their advantage or who needed a cyber charter to fill a gap in their education.
Instead, virtual schools tend to target, as exemplified in the Iowa Connections Academy recruitment drive, kids who want to pursue their own muse or don’t want to get out of bed to go take a stupid test. I think these kids would be better served by a brick-and-mortar school, and they may return after a year or so at the online-only school. They’ll be behind, but their lack of progress won’t reflect on the Iowa Connections Academy but on the public school to which they return.
National Education Policy Center report on K12 (2012)
Students at K12 Inc, the nation’s largest virtual school company, are falling further behind in reading and math scores than students in brick-and-mortar schools. These virtual school students are also less likely to remain at their schools for the full year, and the schools have low graduation rates. “Our in-depth look into K12 Inc raises enormous red flags,” said NEPC Director Kevin Welner.
Newark K12 contract shows influence of for-profits in our schools (nj.com)
“A preliminary report by the Florida Education Department’s inspector general found the company asked employees to teach subjects not covered by their certification and inflated its enrollment [so they would get paid more money]. An online charter school in Colorado recently severed its relationship with the company after state auditors found K12 Inc overcharged the state for students whose enrollment could not be verified.”
NPR: Va. lawsuit accuses K12 of misleading investors
Among the allegations are that K12 relies upon churn to produce high revenues and that some teachers have a class size of 400 students.
Big IL districts skeptical about online charter proposal
Carol Higgins, a special-education teacher at Lincoln Junior High School in Naperville, said children need contact: “The human element of Naperville schools cannot be replaced with an online program. Every child needs to have someone, in the morning, say, ‘Hey! Good morning. How are you doing?’ You can’t get that in some online program.”