Va. District Ends Arrangement With Major Online Provider
By guest blogger Morgan Miller
A Virginia district plans to end its contract with the company that operates the state’s largest full-time, statewide online school, K12 Inc., which is also major for-profit provider of virtual education across the country.
The Virginia Virtual Academy received a confirmation letter in April from the school board in Carroll County, a 3,900-student district in southwestern Virginia, that it will no longer continue to sponsor the program. The online program served students from across Virginia.
Originally, the Carroll County district’s goal with the online school was to try to bring homeschooled students from across the state into the public school arena, said Strader Blankenship, the superintendent of the districts.
Satisfaction among parents with the program has been high, and K12 currently has a waiting list of students wanting to be served through the program, the superintendent said. The decision to cancel the contract had nothing to do with the quality of the program, he said, but was based on other factors—one of which was that relatively few students from the school district have been using the academy. While 350 students statewide are enrolled in the online school, only five students were from the district itself.
Blankenship added that that sponsoring the school has brought increased burdens for the district in complying with federal disabilities laws. The district has been expected to create Individualized Education Programs for students, no matter where they live. About 11 percent of the academy’s students are designated as having special needs, and they live in 29 different school divisions, making it difficult and time-consuming for the board to track down these students and set up an IEP.
K12’s courses, programs and services are used by about 2,000 other school districts across the country. The company provides a range of online services, included blended-learning programs, assessment, and the management of schools.
The online provider says that one of its goals is to provide educational options for parents and students who struggle in traditional classrooms. But K12 also has drawn criticism in some states from those who question its academic performance and its operations. Earlier this year, for instance, a preliminary state report in Florida found that K12 assigned teachers to classes outside their certified fields in one district, and provided records of educators working with students who they did not actually teach.
Blankenship said the district’s immediate focus will be on trying to ensure that the five students enrolled in the program have access to an online provider.
Erin Rubinstein, a special education teacher who works for the Virginia Virtual Academy, voiced disappointment with the district’s decision. She said that parents interested in keeping the online school open have spoken with state lawmakers about their options.
“When a teacher sees success, when they know this is the right environment, it’s a tragedy for those who worked so hard” to see a virtual school close, Rubinstein said.
I am a 35 year veteran of brick and mortar, public school education, with experience as both a teacher and an administrator in a major Northern Virginia school division. Since retiring from the traditional setting, I have been fortunate enough to have spent the last 5 years teaching and working with families using the k12 curriculum, the last three of these with Virginia Virtual Academy. Working with the families who seek out this option for their children has been the biggest eye-opener of my career.
With a background like mine, I was prepared to be hypercritical of teaching elementary students in an online environment. I wondered about the circumstances of families who would choose such an option. I know now that there are nearly as many reasons as there are students in the program and their reasons are deeply valid. These students deserve to have their unique needs met. Virtual education need not compete with traditional brick and mortar settings but rather, their coexistence would enhance each other’s success.
As a former administrator, I actually understand Superintendent Blankenship’s concerns, although not the abruptness of his and the school board’s decision and their disregard for the hundreds of families and students left without a school option.
The real solution for these families and the thousand plus students who have consistently been a part of VAVA’s waiting list is for the Virginia legislation to understand the incredible value of this option and allow virtual schools to exist as a freestanding entity. Lord knows Virginia Virtual Academy has met every criteria set forth by the Virginia Department of Education and is staffed by the most impressive team of educators with whom I have ever had the honor to work. It’s time to move in the right direction…lean forward Virginia!!