Monday, May 16, 2016

Phantom Students—One Part of a Much Bigger Problem of Unregulated Charter Schools | janresseger

Phantom Students—One Part of a Much Bigger Problem of Unregulated Charter Schools | janresseger:
Phantom Students—One Part of a Much Bigger Problem of Unregulated Charter Schools

Ohio’s Senate Bill 298, Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni’s proposed law to ensure that the state is paying online charter schools for real students, not merely phantom students, will have a fourth hearing this week. Ohio pays on-line charter schools nearly $7,000 per pupil. According to Bill Phillis of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy, e-schools are draining approximately $250 million in public dollars to the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), the Ohio Virtual Academy—a K12 Inc. affiliate, and other e-schools.
Earlier this spring ECOT, Ohio’s largest online charter school, proposed that the legislature allow the state to reimburse the online academies when students sign up instead of paying the schools only for the students who participate actively on a daily basis.  Senator Schiavoni’s proposed law to prevent such a practice is pretty basic—require e-schools to keep accurate records of the number of hours students spend doing coursework—require the online school to notify the Ohio Department of Education if a student fails to log-in for ten consecutive days—require that a qualified teacher check in with each student once a month to monitor active participation.  The bill has been shunted to the Ohio Senate Finance Committee, however, by Republican leaders because the chair of the education committee has seemed overly sympathetic to its provisions. It is known that sponsors of the virtual academies are also key political contributors to Ohio Republicans, and it is feared that the bill will never make it out of committee.  (This blog covered ECOT’s effort to soften attendance regulations for the virtual academies and Senator Schiavoni’s bill to increase oversight here and here.)
Even though some of the charter management companies have affiliates across many states, charters are established and regulated in state law. A very serious problem across the states is the lack of uniform charter school regulations.  Jessica Calefati of the Bay Area News Grouppublished a scathing report in mid-April of some of the California affiliates of K12 Inc., the same national company that runs the Ohio Virtual Academy: “The TV ads pitch a new kind of school where the power of the Internet allows gifted and struggling students alike to ‘work at the level that’s just right for them’ and thrive with one-on-one attention from teachers connecting through cyberspace… but the Silicon Valley-influenced endeavor behind the lofty claims is leading a dubious revolution.  The growing network of online academies, operated by a Virginia company traded on Wall Street called K12 Inc., is failing key tests used to measure educational success. Fewer than half of the students who enroll in the online high schools earn diplomas, and almost none of them are qualified to attend the state’s public universities.”  The Bay Area News Group blames the problem on “a systemic breakdown in oversight by local school districts and state bureaucrats.”
Calefati’s investigation tracks the research from Mathematica Policy Research, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, and the National Education Policy Center demonstrating that students at the online schools nationwide are far behind their peers in brick and mortar schools in reading and math. Why? The Bay Area News Groupreport attributes low achievement in many cases to the fact that despite that the state is paying the online schools for students who are registered, too few actually attend school and participate: “A handbook distributed to teachers at the start of the school year says attendance credit may be given even if ‘very few lessons are completed daily,’ so long as the student is ‘actively engaged in completing assigned schoolwork.'” Teachers continue to complain about a state rule that students are attending school if they log in for one minute each day.  Mike Kraft, a spokesperson for K12, denies that students remain formally enrolled if they are merely Phantom Students—One Part of a Much Bigger Problem of Unregulated Charter Schools | janresseger:

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