Archive for Friday, August 9, 2013

Lawrence officials question performance of charter virtual schools

August 9, 2013


Next week is back-to-school week for students in the Lawrence school district. And for most of them, that means getting back into the routine of loading up their book bags, and either making the hike to their neighborhood school, or waiting for their parents or a school bus to haul them there.

But for roughly 1,500 of the district's students, going back to school won't involve “going” anywhere. They're the students enrolled in Lawrence's two “virtual” schools – one that serves students in grades K-8 and another that caters to high school students – where students and work entirely online from their homes.

And while virtual school enrollment has more than doubled in the last five years in Lawrence, they remain one of the least visible parts of the local school system, in part because nobody sees the teachers and students going in and out of buildings, but also because the vast majority of those students actually live outside the Lawrence school district.

District officials say they're growing increasingly concerned about low test scores in at the schools, both of which operate as charter schools that are managed, either in whole or in part, by a private corporation based in Herndon, Va., called K12 Inc., a for-profit company that operates online schools nationwide.

“I think we have some improvements to make, and I think you can look for us to be investigating how we can do a better job of that,” Lawrence Superintendent Rick Doll said.

Low test scores

According to state assessment data, half of the students tested at Lawrence Virtual High School in 2012 failed to meet state standards in math, and 18.5 percent failed to meet state standards in reading. Both of those are significantly higher than either the district-wide or statewide averages.

Math scores were also substantially lower at Lawrence Virtual School, which serves grades K-8, although reading scores tended to be much closer to the norm.

Among fifth-grade students, for example, 31 percent of the students scored below standards in math in 2012, compared to 11 percent for the district. But in reading, proficiency rates were almost identical, with only about 10 percent in each group scoring below state standards.

Asked if he was satisfied with those results, Doll emphatically said, “no.”

“I think that we are always looking to improve,” he said.

Charter schools

Lawrence Virtual School was launched in 2004 as an official “charter school.” Those are schools typically set up for special purposes, or to serve a particular sub-group of students, and are allowed to operate under different rules and procedures from regular schools.

Charter schools receive the same public funding as traditional schools. Many, but not all, are managed and operated by private companies.

LVS, which had 1,165 students last year, is owned and operated by the Lawrence school district. Its principal and its teachers are school district employees. But the curriculum that it uses – the subjects taught and the materials that go along with them – are purchased exclusively through K12 Inc.

The district also pays K12 Inc., about $110,000 a year for its marketing and advertising – what the contract calls “outreach services" – to recruit students.

LVS principal Keith Wilson said about 90 percent of all the students in both schools are from outside Lawrence. Of those, he said, 60 to 70 percent of the families that we serve are the traditional home-school families wanting, for whatever reason, to educate their children in their homes.”

“Another 30 percent or so are much more fluid," Wilson said. "For everyone of those students, there's a different story. Maybe they weren't experiencing success in the brick-and-mortar school for whatever reason. We've got a number of folks dealing with medical situations, and some are from military families who are overseas.”

Wilson said that mix helps explain the low test scores because many of the students are performing below grade level when they enter the school.

Lawrence Virtual High School, with 292 students last year, began later and is wholly owned and operated by K12. The principal, or “head of school,” and all of its teachers are K12 employees. The company is paid about $4,030 per student to run that school, the full amount provided for virtual school students under the state school finance formula.

During the 2012-2013 school year, the district paid K12 $1.8 million for curriculum and outreach for the K-8 school, plus another $1.1 million for operating LVHS.

Sarah Berger, the company-employed head of school, did not respond to a request to be interviewed for this story.

Rethinking virtual education

Although the virtual schools began as a specialized program for only a small, select group of students, Doll said online learning is increasingly becoming part of the regular school experience for all students in the district.

And for that reason, he said, there may be less of a need in the future to continue contracting with an outside company to provide that kind of education through a charter school.

“We're not there yet, and we probably have several years before we get there, but I can tell you that we're already having those discussions,” Doll said.

Last year, the district launched a pilot project to use so-called “blended learning,” a combination of online learning and traditional teacher-led instruction, in a handful of elementary, middle and high school classes. Starting this year, that pilot project is being expanded to 40 classrooms, including at least one in each building.

“So (the question is) not only are we satisfied with how we're doing virtual education right now, and we're not, but then also, what's the bigger picture in terms of how can we provide these services not only to kids who want to get their education completely virtual, but what about our kids,” Doll said. “What about our bricks-and-mortar kids who could use those offerings. That, to me, is the bigger picture that we ought to be moving toward.”

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Steve Jacob 4 years, 8 months ago

I just have a hard time trusting these virtual schools. It's just a way to get 4K per student, because there is no other good reason to accept students outside USD497.

Carol Bowen 4 years, 8 months ago

I am not convinced that online learning, even computer assisted instruction, is as effective as the traditional classroom. Did USD study the effectiveness of online learning or have we romanced technology?

chootspa 4 years, 8 months ago

I have my concerns about k12, but the concept is for students who want a homeschool curriculum tied to the school district. So the parents are supposed to be involved in the whole thing rather than just plunking their kids in front of a computer all day. At least that's my understanding.

tomatogrower 4 years, 8 months ago

I'll bet if you measured parental involvement, those are the students who are performing the best, just like in brick and mortar school. Kids are homeschooled for different reasons, but some are behavior problems who couldn't follow the rules and were expelled. Some parents just believe that public schools don't work, some think if they kids don't go to school they won't have the evil influence. The problem is this is just a supplement to home schooling. It can't replace parental or teacher involvement.

chootspa 4 years, 8 months ago

Exactly right. I know a virtual student, and they picked that solution because he had behavior problems related to a disability and wasn't being educated in school. As soon as he was home, he caught up with all his subjects.

I don't want to take that option away, but at the same time I don't want to allow neglectful parents to plunk their kids in front of a screen and expect learning to happen, because I bet that is also a thing.

I think the important part for this is to measure the child's baseline score, account for any disabilities, and make sure they're making progress.

4 years, 8 months ago

I think there is great potential for online learning. The system we have now isn't the best for all students. I don't think anyone is a stranger to the lack luster performance of public education in the US.

What I think we need is just time to develop the technology and curriculum that best fits an online format.

Kids are becoming so used to computers and the internet and all the new technology that public education could do well to adapt to changing times.

Something has to be done to fix education in this country.

George_Braziller 4 years, 8 months ago

It's possible that on-line learning is a viable option for students of any age who have the self-discipline to do it or someone around prompting them to do it. However I think that a large part of learning is being able to interact with other students and the instructor. Some subjects don't work where discussion and spontaneous questions aren't and option.

Sue McDaniel 4 years, 8 months ago

I think there a a lot of kids going there that COULD go to schools but it is easier to do Virtual and it looks like the grades are reflecting that. I am sure that given a choice between quitting and Virtual it is a good choice but a lot just need adjust, life is all about that.

workinghard 4 years, 8 months ago

I homeschooled before there was a virtual school in Lawrence. For math I had a tutor that we met with once a week. I purchased our curriculum and we would take the lessons in every week and go over it with the tutor. Later we paid to attend a math class for homeschoolers twice a week in Olathe which was really good. In high school we enrolled in science classes only. This sounds like the approach they are using for their “blended learning”. Lawrence has always allowed homeschoolers to enroll in just specific classes that they wanted. By the way, my child was always on the honor roll in college.

tomatogrower 4 years, 8 months ago

I sounds like you were involved. That makes all the difference, home schooled or not.

KSManimal 4 years, 8 months ago

"K12 Inc., a for-profit company"

Ever notice how the folks who fuss that we don't spend enough of the money "in the classroom" don't seem to care one bit about a private, for-profit corporation siphoning taxpayer dollars off for private profit? The people who fuss over superintendent, principal, and yes teacher salaries being too high never say a word about what the CEO of K12 gets paid. Where do y'all think that salary comes from?

"“I think we have some improvements to make, and I think you can look for us to be investigating how we can do a better job of that,” Lawrence Superintendent Rick Doll said."

Step 1: fire K12.

del888 4 years, 8 months ago

Maybe I missed something here. Can someone out there answer this: Why is the school district paying K12 to $4030 per student to run the Lawrence Virtual School? Do the students pay tuition to use the LVS? If so, how much is the tuition and why aren't the students paying $4030 instead of the district. It seems to me that if the fair price is $4030, then that is the amount that the district should charge the student for tuition. Or to put it another way, if MY child is not using the LVS then the district should not use my tax dollars to support someone else's project. If you want to use the LVS that's fine with me, but YOU should pay for it. It seems like a lot of money to spend ($1.1 million) to educate 292 students. I would like to know how much it costs to educate the same number of students in a brick and mortar school. Maybe someone can answer these questions?

elliottaw 4 years, 8 months ago

I believe they pay them what ever the state decided it is funding at a per student rate

soxthecatrules 4 years, 8 months ago

We live in another part of the state and use LVS. We are NOT taking money away from the Lawrence school district. One could actually argue that by using LVS we are taking money away from the community we live in. Of course, my children won't be going to a brick and mortar school for quite some time...if the local schools wouldn't get my stipend anyway. The citizens of Lawrence should thank those of us outside the district for using LVS.

elliottaw 4 years, 8 months ago

Why we don't see the money either so it doesn't have any effect on Lawrence

soxthecatrules 4 years, 8 months ago

I just took the time to do the math...we may both be right. I don't know how 497 is making money off from LVHS. LVS "might" be a different story.

$1,800,000/1165= $1,545.06 paid to k12, Inc. per student. I'm having trouble tacking down a hard $$ amount each district receives per pupil...but, I'm going to set it at $4,500. $4,500-$1,545 (amt pd to k12)= $2,955 net per student

$2,955x 1,165 students= $3,442,575 before paying teachers and administrators and running a physical building. I looked at the list of staff and am unsure how many are FT and how many are PT. Taking an educated a rate of $4,500 per pupil...USD#497 is possibly breaking even. It would be interesting to see details.

overthemoon 4 years, 8 months ago

Its a scam. The 'for-profit' businesses take a profit out of our tax dollars and could care less about whether 'our childrens is learning'.

a34123h9038419 4 years, 8 months ago

You have your math backwards. The state pays the school district $4k for every student enrolled in the district. That is why headcount is so important. The virtual school benefits the Lawrence school district by getting the extra head counts. It's a good thing.

See'soxthecatrules' response below. The state is paying for her kids to go to LPS rather than the community they live in. S/he is taking money away from her local schools to go to Lawrence.

Scott Morgan 4 years, 8 months ago

No money is taken from any local students, although state pool money is used.

Remember we the U.S. unlike many countries educated all students age 3-23 for free.

Complicated, but here it goes in short form.

Lawrence or Kansas Anytown circa 1950.

Pay super to run district, local taxes 100 percent of school cost. 1950 state regulations tell district what to instruct to about 50 percent, local school board decides the rest of the curriculum.

So, say in West Kansas agriculture is big, a district could and did load the local curriculum with agribiz studies. (This is why you see so many gorgeous old school buildings) It was up to the city to build. Some as with Lawrence/Overland Park took huge pride, some areas did the least.

Which is why we had No Child Left Behind, and the latest federal govt. regulations. Some areas did a poor job in education. Hint Hillary Clinton and Arkansas.


State collects almost all school taxes, begs Washington for more monies with massive strings attached. A modern school principal can't break wind without checking federal regulations nowadays.

These monies are strictly formulated to the number of students in a district. So, now the figure is set ? $4,000?? + per student, students with learning problems a bit more.

So, every little bug eater and know it all high school student must be counted, each are worth state formulated money. Alaska for instance has a much higher per student value.

The Nov. count? is unfortunately so important to a districts finances. Lawrence does well with these numbers, which we need to tip o hat. Now comes Virtual Learning, and Lawrence can and does take the allotted money figure for each and every one of those kids.

So, whether a religious home school family in West Kansas, or a military family in Japan hook on to our virt school, the state pays USD497. Hence advertising to attract more virt students.

Locally, remember the district did away with the Alternative School many years ago. Those type kids do much better in other venues of learning.

Not free money mind you, they do have to present a good curriculum, but never the less a very nice financial deal if done right.

workinghard 4 years, 8 months ago

“How much funding per pupil do you think Kansas school districts currently receive from ALL taxpayer sources per year, including State, Federal and Local taxpayers? Less than $6,000 per pupil? Between $6,000 and $9,000? Between $9,000 and $12,000? Or more than $12,000 per pupil?” According to KSDE, the spending per pupil from all sources of funding is $12,656 "State spending on Kansas schools, on a per-pupil basis, is $6,984 for the most recent school year. (Nov. 2012) So the state kicks in almost $7,000 and the other $5,672 comes from local taxpayers. Of that, $4,000 is paid to operators of the virtual school, leaving about $8,656 left for the school district to use as they please.

elliottaw 4 years, 8 months ago

Where are you getting these numbers, I have never seen numbers for state funding from either side of the isle.

elliottaw 4 years, 8 months ago

I didn't have to get any further than this line "In a press release, KPI president Dave Trabert said" to now that all the numbers in the article are probably made up, Trabert is know for that. I will have to see if there is any creditable sources out there.

workinghard 4 years, 8 months ago

Why, if I answered their Google questions this morning, am I being asked to answer questions again? I thought they said you only had to answer the questions once every 24 hours. This is not the first time this has happened.

deec 4 years, 8 months ago

Check out Ad Block. No more surveys. And for-profit online schools are a scam to funnel public money into private pockets.

Liberty275 4 years, 8 months ago

I took a virtual Spanish class as an undergrad. It did not work. I dropped before the cutoff or I would have ruined my GPA,

3up3down 4 years, 8 months ago

I taught in a virtual school for one year. Talk about watered down curriculum. I tried to add more substance to the course and met with resistance from the parents and the principal. I guess we did not see eye to eye on keeping the standards high. Granted, not every kiddo can adapt to a brick and mortar environment and that is the best for them, but I saw too many lazy kids who wanted the quick, easy way out to being a graduate. Sad!

soxthecatrules 4 years, 8 months ago

We are an LVS family located in "western" KS. I have researched k12 for a number of years now. What I have found is that students who have parents doing what they're supposed to be doing will have test scores that are at least equal if not above those of a student in a brick and mortar school. Also, satisfaction with k12 based schools is greatest in the early grades and dissatisfaction with the program increases as the student gets older. We will probably only stick with the program for another year or two. After that we will transition to independent homeschooling or reconsider our stance on the local school system. From what I have read I have no desire whatsoever to be a part of a k12 powered virtual school at the middle school and high school levels.

Also, FTR, LVS has a fair number of students that have life-threatening or potential life-threatening medical conditions and home based education is really their only options right. We have some of these families in our area so I know of this first hand.

Gary Denning 4 years, 8 months ago

Totally a money grab. The district gets an FTE for each kid from the state, but they also get LOB money and other Federal and State money. The Lawrence School Board has no interest in educating kids from Goodland, but they do have an interest in making a profit on the Goodland kid and using that to help balance their shrinking budget--due to cuts in K12 funding.

soxthecatrules 4 years, 8 months ago

I don't disagree with you. I knew going in that it would be a money grab for the Lawrence School District. I was well aware of that. But, the fact of the matter is that I care about the education my children are getting, I do all of the teaching, and at least for the younger years k12 curriculum is pretty good. I just so happen to not have the almost $2,000 a year per child to purchase it privately.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 8 months ago

K-12 is brought to you by many of the same people who introduced us to No Child Left Behind and who want to take over our public education tax dollars for their bank accounts.

There are far better virtual programs which have been in existence for quite some time. Which have grown out of substantial home school programs. This family has been involved in those. We experienced K-12 here but chose to move away from that.

I would suggest that USD 497 pick 3 accredited virtual home school programs and agree to pay up to whatever the state provides toward that end for each student. One virtual school program will likely never fit all students.

For students that need more assistance set up programs accordingly within the existing schools.

workinghard 4 years, 8 months ago

Does this curriculum follow the Kansas standard of creativism instead of evolution? We always used either Alpha Omega or Abeka curriculum but when we studied WWII, the Holocaust was never mentioned, as if it never happened. So I sincerely hope that somebody has taken time to go over what the curriculum contains.

soxthecatrules 4 years, 8 months ago

The only thing I know so far on this subject is what I was told in a meeting about 2 years ago....that evolution was not addressed until at leas the 3rd grade and even then it was in literature class and not science.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 8 months ago

--- Waldorf

--- Oak Meadow

Growing Without Schooling


Plus numerous other resources including USD 497 public school system and KU Natural History “department”. Waldorf and Oak Meadow were our primary choices.

Additionally numerous field trips throughout the USA and Lawrence. It is difficult to work with only one source which explains why we chose to explore many other possibilities.

William Ed 4 years, 8 months ago

Micheal Milken is the founder of K12. He's the scam artist who spent time in the federal prison for fraud. Does that answer your questions..

Richard Heckler 4 years, 8 months ago

Googling "K-12 founders" to the wikipedia site will reveal some unsettling history and a section called "controversies" also provides some much too colorful history.

It seems to me K-12 is about undermining public schools as is No Child Left Behind.

sickofdummies 4 years, 8 months ago

As usual, a lot of judgmental, uneducated comments on this topic. K12 is not a scam. Quit jumping to conclusions before having information. My daughter did LVS last year, due to medical reasons. My findings: K12 blows even the best Lawrence Public Schools out of the water! The curriculum is so far advanced as compared to public school. She is going back to usd 497 this year, because social interaction is also very important. But, if I was only worried about the what would be best ACADEMICALLY, both of my kids would use K12 until graduation! Those who stated that parental support is the key are absolutely correct. However, that's the case with any type of education. You will see the students in public schools who are most successful are also those with the most parental support, as well. K12 is just an alternative method of education for those who need it for various reasons. There are still teachers who hold the students accountable to the work, possibly even more so than public school.
By the way, I live in West Lawrence, and contribute substantially in taxes. So, those who stated that I am taking your tax dollars for my student~ learn what you're talking about before making highly offensive statements in your comments.

sickofdummies 4 years, 8 months ago

Also, the criteria for validating the actual educating taking place is far more rigorous than in public schools. All of the students also have to take the same Kansas State Assessments as all students in public school.

William Ed 4 years, 8 months ago

See Merrill's comment about alternative Virtual schools other than K12. Of particular note is the Calvert System, which is free to Kansas residents through Maizeprep school. And they let every single student have a computer instead of one for three..

bd 4 years, 8 months ago

CJONLINE- "state assessment data show half of the students tested at Lawrence Virtual High School in 2012 did not meet state standards in math, and 18.5 percent failed to meet state standards in reading. Math scores were also substantially lower at Lawrence Virtual School, which serves grades K-8, although reading scores are closer to the norm."

koman 4 years, 8 months ago

Once you consider (on the whole) the type of students that end up in alternative envioronments in education, it really isn't that shocking that their test scores are low.

The bigger issue here is that while the rest of the economy has been monetized to the nth degree, public education has yet to feel the bite. Their days and antiquated ways are numbered. Earning $50 - $60k/year with bennies and a decent retirement for a 180 day contract just isn't sustainable. And why shouldn't there be more options to educate our children than one with a calendar based on the lack of air conditioning (sorry, the agriculture thing is a bit of an urban legend). We have air conditioning now - work year round. Why are we letting billions of dollars in buildings, equipment and human capital set idle for three months out of the year? And why not let others take a shot at it? Once the kids are out of elementary school the entire enterprise is focused on athletics anyway - and it doesn't come anywhere close to sustaining itself once you figure in facilities, coaching, travel, equipment - it is, indeed the biggest "gifted" program in public education today -all funded with taxpayer money. We need more options, not fewer. The public school monopoly should end.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 8 months ago

"Once you consider (on the whole) the type of students that end up in alternative envioronments in education, it really isn't that shocking that their test scores are low."

Not true ... necessarily. Homeschoolers have no problem getting into college. In fact homeschoolers are considered among the best students because for whatever reason they come focused. So we have been told and have read.

There is no public school monopoly. Dozens of other accredited choices are available to whomever wants to seek them out.

Private charter schools are public schools because they live off tax dollars and cannot guarantee a "better" education. All of this talk about privatization of the public school system is bogus. There is nothing private about it BECAUSE without that tax dollar support no one will be interested. It's about duping the taxpayers.

koman 4 years, 8 months ago

Actually, I wasn't including home-schooling as an alternative choice in my reply. Most students would do well with the teacher-student ratios and opportunities homeschooling provides As far as having a standard of not having tax dollars involved in an enterprise for something to be truly "privatized", you would be hard pressed to find an industry anywhere in this country that doesn't feed at the public trough in one way or another. I get a kick out of a friend of mine that brags about how he is such a free enterprise genius - 100% of his business is from local and state government entities. I guess it's all in how you look at it.
My point is that as soon as alternate access points are more commonplace and society as a whole are more comfortable with the process, public schools will be in trouble. If a kid can meet the standards at age 16 or 17 why make him show up 2 or 3 more years. The dream of Dewey and the progressives is dead. Standardized testing and the all-mighty dollar have made education no more than credentialing and, that being the case, why not accellerate the credentialling and make it more effecient? Once the view behind the k-12 curtain is seen by everyone, it won't take long for it to fall.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 8 months ago

For the record as homeschoolers we enlisted the assistance of USD 497 as well as KU. Both were more than willing to work this group of students which were organized for a variety of reasons.

With KU it was a group experience. With USD 497 it was whatever each family member was seeking.

None of the above interfered with any home school curriculum.

"Last year, the district launched a pilot project to use so-called “blended learning,” a combination of online learning and traditional teacher-led instruction"

This allows for all students to progress at their own pace yet the instructor is in class. It also allows for those needing more assistance the opportunity. This is somewhat like a homeschooling experience. Probably eliminates some level of boredom. I say this is a giant step forward for public education. Students like the idea of learning at their own pace.

Carol Bowen 4 years, 8 months ago

Ksmanimal, that was an interesting article. It looks like losing 1/3 of the students helps their profit margin. If the company loses more students, their profit increases. remedial students have too many hurdles to succeed in a Computer Managed environment. What percent of the students are remedial, I wonder.

"COVA’s leadership downplayed the workload issue, explaining that they predicted one-third of the students would drop out before second semester started. “What is sad is that these students were supposed to be screened to ensure a good fit for online school”, Melony added."

Now, are there any quality contrail measures in COVA's contract? Would be nice to know.

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