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Online Charter Schools Closing Achievement Gap for Low-Income Students

K12 Inc., America’s leading provider of K-12 online school programs, released a new report showing three of its largest managed online charter schools — Texas Virtual Academy (TXVA), Arizona Virtual Academy (AZVA), and Georgia Cyber Academy (GCA) — are making progress on closing the achievement gap between economically disadvantaged and not disadvantaged students.

The full report can be found here.

“For the 2013-2014 school year, K12 reported that its network of schools enrolled a higher percentage of economically disadvantaged students than the national average,” said Dr. Margaret Jorgensen, K12 Chief Academic Officer. “K12-managed schools are working to close the achievement gap, and in this report we look at three cases where schools are closing the gap between students eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch and those not eligible. In other instances, we observed that students who were eligible for either free or reduced price lunch are achieving higher percentages at or above proficiency on state tests, while others who were not eligible for subsidized meals were making even greater gains in proficiency.”

“Our commitment at K12 is to serve all students, regardless of their academic or socioeconomic circumstance,” said Mary Gifford, Senior Vice President of Education and Policy. “We recognize that many of the schools we serve have a higher population who come from low-income households than the national average.  We are pleased that the instructional programs and wrap around family support services we are providing at these schools are demonstrating positive results.”

Texas Virtual Academy: In Reading, comparing TXVA students enrolled 3 years or more to those enrolled less than 1 year, proficiency percentages increased with longer enrollment for Free Lunch Eligible students by 20 percentage points, for Reduce-Price Lunch by 18 percentage points, and for Not Eligible by 15 percentage points. Notable at TXVA is the

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Charter school bill excludes online education

By Rebecca Lessner
For MarylandReporter.com
April 30, 2015

An amended charter school bill will slam the door on Maryland’s chance to follow the 29 other states across America in embarking onto the newly charted plains of cyber-schooling, according to charter school advocates.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan made charter schools a priority last session with his Public Charter School Improvement Act of 2015, which would have made it easier for charter schools to start in Maryland. But the General Assembly made major changes to the bill before passage, including a new, little-known prohibition on 100% online charter schools. It now awaits the governor’s signature.

Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford said “happy is too cheery a word,” to describe his feelings towards the bill as passed, but did not say if the governor would consider a veto.

“We are a little disappointed. We haven’t made a final decision of whether we will go forward with it,” said Rutherford at Hogan’s 100 Days press event.

“If we sign it, going forward, we will be back next year with another charter school bill. I am quite sure of that,” he said.

Online public charter schools open up a middle-ground between public, private and homeschooling. But there are concerns about the quality of education and track record in other states for the evolving programs.

Kara Kerwin, president of the Center for Education Reform, said current charter school law does not specify if learning should take place online or in the classroom.

“It’s a really important option, brick and mortar, one size fits all, doesn’t work for all children,” said. “Maryland eliminating the potential for that innovation to flourish here would really be a step backwards.”

Cyber Schools

Virtual charter schooling is a relatively new concept, but it is a contributing factor in why neighboring states surpass Maryland in a charter school education report card compiled by

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Austin White: Competency-Based Education

Today a few fellow interns and I ventured out to the Capitol for the Congressional E-Learning Caucus Briefing on K-12 Competency-Based Education. Originally I had thought that the speakers planned to center their panel discussion on virtual learning programs to share information about technology’s potential role in the classroom. But virtual learning ended up being the background of a very clear message—education needs to focus on maximizing student proficiency. To do this, they advocated for Competency-Based Education, merely showing how educators can utilize technology as one tool among many for progressive education models.

So what is Competency-Based Education? Competency-Based Education essentially aims to ensure that students only complete their subjects after successfully demonstrating an adequate understanding of the material. Understanding that every child has unique learning habits, it requires individualized learning plans tailored to each student’s strengths and weaknesses. Remembering my own educational history, the thought of being able to create a personal pace between subjects was immediately appealing. We all remember feeling rushed through some classes and moving too slowly in others, rarely feeling as though the timing was just right. Whereas the traditional education system locks students into one universally prescribed path in each grade level, these alternative models finally offer students the chance to advance at their own rate.

Further, to meet their needs, students get the chance to blend learning methods between digital learning, internship work, independent projects, and traditional teacher-student face time. As long as they can eventually demonstrate their comprehension of the subject material, they are given a degree of freedom in their curriculum structure. The whole way through, the programs are personalized.

Not only is it exciting to think of the benefits for those struggling to learn at a fitting pace, but the potential for highly motivated students now becomes endless. Think of the possibility

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Annie Bennett: iNACOL Panel Reaction

Before attending the iNACOL e-Learning Caucus held on Tuesday, I have to admit that my thoughts on virtual learning were utterly wrong. The truth is, when I thought of anything regarding “online schools,” I imagined a child sitting alone at home in their pajamas, wading their way through curriculum with only the companionship of a computer screen. Instead, listening to the panel speak about their involvement in the virtual learning and competency based education movement, I began to realize how wrong my pre-conceived notions had been.

Rather than a focus on using snazzy new technology or simply placing a child in front of a computer screen, the virtual learning movement is based around the notion of flipping the education system to be completely student and outcome-based. Proficiency-based education, a term which I was not familiar with, means that only when a student shows proficiency in a subject or unit do they move on, making time the variable and learning the standard. E-learning, therefore, has much less to do with the coolest new app on an iPad or the latest gadget and much more to do with an individualized approach to education that makes sure that every student is empowered to gain the knowledge and skills they need.

Once the idea of competency-based education is introduced, it almost seems common sense. Why should we set goals of mediocrity for our students when they have the potential for so much more? And how can we expect a student who receives a poor grade in 4th grade math to have the foundation they need to be successful in future courses? Instead, a cycle of failure perpetuates that leaves students feeling inept and hopeless, while teachers who are already strapped for time are expected to successfully teach students material to which they have no foundation.

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Macon Richardson: Online and Blended Learning Panel Discussion

The moderator, Susan Patrick, provided an excellent explanation of competency-based learning and technology’s potential to enhance individual educational outcomes. Patrick described a common dilemma in classrooms: students understand concepts and materials at different paces. But this reality is not reflected in traditional classrooms, where students move through curriculum in packs. The student who quickly understands concepts (e.g. the quadratic formula) must wait until his peers also understand those concepts before progressing to a new topic. As an advanced learner, he is disadvantaged and incapable of reaching his full potential.

More alarmingly, a student who fails to learn concepts before the class progresses develops “gaps” in his knowledge. For example, a student who fails to learn the quadratic formula before the class moves on to derivatives has little recourse to ensure complete mastery of the quadratic formula.  He has developed a “gap” in his mathematical knowledge; he does not understand a core concept. Competency-based learning offers a personalized approach to school, solving the dilemma of students moving through material at different paces. It empowers students to take their education into their own hands, to set the pace of their own learning and to ensure full mastery of material.

An advanced student can move quickly through material without being hindered by his peers. A student who struggles with certain subjects is allowed the time and resources to move slower through curriculum and to ensure full mastery of that curriculum. According to Patrick, blended and online learning is the best infrastructure for competency-based learning. Furthermore, blended and online learning can combat teacher shortages and a lack of AP classes in America’s high schools. Students are allowed more scheduling freedom. If a student runs the risk of failing to graduate on time, online learning can make it easy to gain credit. Patrick gave an exceptional

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Pa. gets good grades in education reform ranking

by Damon C. Williams
Philadelphia Tribune
January 26, 2013

The Center for Education Reform, a national non-profit tasked with improving public education, has released an encompassing report that grades parental empowerment, solid educational choices, teacher quality and access to digital learning, among other factors. That Pennsylvania ranks in the top ten of all states can be viewed as proof educational reforms in the commonwealth are beginning to take hold.

According to the annual findings released in the Parent Power Index, Pennsylvania trails Indiana, which ranks first; Florida; Ohio; Arizona; Washington, D.C.; Louisiana and Minnesota. Wisconsin and Utah round out the top ten.

The PPI is an interactive, accessible online tool that collects and itemizes data critical to judging the gains and deficiencies in a parent’s control of their child’s education. The index is designed to provide in-depth information to not only parents, but to stakeholders, politicians and education policymakers as well.

“All across America, parents are demanding more power over their children’s education, but the task of sorting through all the information out there is daunting,” said Center for Education Reform President Jeanne Allen. “There are a variety of resources available to evaluate how students are achieving, but there is widespread disagreement about what constitutes sound education reform policy.

As the mother of college students, I liken the PPI to a cumulative GPA, which is a composite of grades from varying professors,” Allen continued. “In this case, these professors are among the nation’s leading authorities and critical evaluators of education policy.”

Each state is graded on five broad categories: school choice, charter schools, online learning, teacher quality and transparency, and the findings related to Pennsylvania are interesting.

For example, the state received points for having a pro-education reform governor in Tom Corbett, but suffered due to limitations in the so-called parent-trigger law, which allows parents

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NV District Backs Charter, Online Changes

“Schools push to change rules on charter schools, online classes”
by Trevon Milliard
Las Vegas Review-Journal
December 7, 2012

Clark County school officials want to change several rules regarding charter schools and online classes, according to a pair of bill draft requests the district is backing for the Nevada Legislature’s 2013 session.

The first bill would help charter schools, which operate through a contract with the State Public Charter School Authority or a school district. These schools are autonomous and privately run but must still meet student performance standards. If not, the district or state authority could revoke their charter, shutting them down.

A common complaint from charter school operators is that they’re “funded to fail.” That is because they receive the same per pupil funding as the district they are in, but they do not have help with the cost of providing a facility and cannot seek a bond or tax increase, like districts, to pay for it.

And school districts are not allowed to let charter schools use their public facilities.

These rules often lead to “unsatisfactory” designations by national charter school organizations, said Joyce Haldeman, the district’s associate superintendent of community and government relations.

Clark County School District, which sponsors seven of Nevada’s 32 charter schools, would like charter schools to be allowed in public facilities, she said.

The second bill would make several changes to rules for online classes.

Currently, a student must go through an extensive process to attend an online course offered by a district other than their own.

Haldeman said many rural students are interested in Clark County’s online courses, which aren’t offered in their district, but must get approval of both the Clark County and their school board.

The district would like that requirement removed.

The other change would allow an unlicensed teacher to supervise a class taught online by a licensed teacher.

State

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Georgia, Idaho, and Washington Initiatives

Before election day, we reminded people that while education is up for a vote in every state through the candidates they select, Georgia, Idaho, and Washington had initiatives on the ballot that could have major impacts education in each state.

Georgia’s students scored big on Tuesday with a 58% to 42% victory for Amendment One. The Peach State’s ballot initiative on charter schools allows local communities to create more of these important options by amending the state’s constitution to allow other state and local agencies, in addition to local school boards, approve charter schools.

Washington state’s ballot initiative on charter schools is still looking favorable for reformers with a slight lead of 51% for passage. While still not declared a victory, it looks like Initiative 1240 will open up new educational opportunities for families with the creation of 40 new charter schools over the next 5 years. A modest proposal, but it would make Washington the 42nd state to adopt a charter school law and finally bring them into the 21st century of education delivery.

Idaho’s ballot left the fate of three laws, known as the Students Come First laws, up to voters. Unfortunately, the $1.2 million in NEA funding to squash these measures paid off. Voters turned down that reforms that would have paid teachers based on performance, phased out tenure, limited collective-bargaining, and expanded online learning opportunities.

Online Learning Gains Popularity

“Florida virtual school growing”
by Rob Shaw
Tampa Tribune
October 15, 2012

When she taught in public schools, Jill Rogier always worried about the kids who slipped through the cracks — those who were bored because they were advanced or who struggled because they felt like they were left behind.

Now in her fifth year with Florida Virtual School, Rogier said she doesn’t have to worry about that anymore.

“If you don’t understand fractions, you don’t move on to equations with fractions,” she said. “You decide when you are ready. Your pace is your pace.”

More students apparently are learning the value of the way of life in the school without walls. The virtual school that offers more than 120 free online classes had about 25,000 more students at the end of the last school year than it did the year before.

That annual jump seems to be consistent the last several years — quite a leap from the modest 77 students enrolled in its debut 15 years ago. The school had about 148,000 students statewide at the end of the last school year, with more than 13,000 of those coming from Hillsborough County, the third highest total in Florida.

The numbers in Florida are part of a growing trend nationwide, as states try to do more with fewer education dollars.

The state saves nearly $2,200 per student who is enrolled in virtual school as opposed to the brick-and-mortar type, said Tania Clow, spokeswoman for the Florida Virtual School. A student attending a district school in Florida costs the state an average of $7,000, while one taking classes online costs the state $4,800.

To be sure, virtual schools are not without critics, who complain they deprive traditional school districts of valuable tax dollars and insulate students from socialization with their peers.

Those concerns are misplaced, supporters say.

“I can tell you

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Students must come first

Guest Opinion
by Bob Shillingstad
Coeur d’Alene Press
October 8, 2012

We will all be faced with a deciding vote on the first steps of education reform in November and it is important that everyone understand what is proposed and what is at stake. Idahoans will vote on three referenda aimed at repealing what may be one of the most sweeping education reforms in the country.

First, understand the problem. A report released a few months ago by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for a Competitive Workforce ranked Idaho as one of the four worst states in terms of the percentage of students who enroll and complete a four-year degree. Jeanne Allen, president of the D.C.-based Center for Education Reform, lays out the case like this:

“In states like this, the assumption is all is well. The reality is they’ve simply been going through the motions for years, and the result is a kind of Third World education status.”

Here is a summary of what education reform under “Students Come First” does:

* Aims to change our culture by getting control over costs and elevating achievement. Thus the so-called Luna laws now restrict collective bargaining to salary and benefits, phases out tenure and force teacher contract negotiations out in the open. They also eliminate a practice that across America operates largely to protect bad teachers and keep good ones out of the classroom: the last hired, first fired system of seniority.

* The other two prongs of Students Come First deal mostly with quality. New merit pay provisions mean that teachers can earn up to $8,000 a year extra for serving in hard to fill positions or helping their schools boost student achievement. The technology part has to do with ensuring that students and teachers in any part of Idaho have access to the best

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