K12.com has been trying to dominate the homeschooling industry over the last several years, portraying themselves as a true home schooling alternative. Many in the homeschooling industry have pointed out that they are merely, a mediocre alternative to public schools. And it was just another way for parents to be uninvolved in their children’s education. Here is a reprint of an article written about K12’s involvement in the state of Florida. HEM editor
Reprinted: Jacksonville.com ©2012. All Rights Reserved.
Investigation under way on K12 virtual school used in Northeast Florida districts
Student-teacher ratios at K12, the nation’s largest online educator, are nearly twice as high as Florida’s state-run virtual school, according to internal company documents obtained by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting and StateImpact Florida.
A high school teacher working for K12 may have as many as 275 students, compared to Florida Virtual School, which has a maximum class size of 150.
“The concept of one teacher managing 275 or 300 students — it just doesn’t make sense,” said Luis Huerta, a Columbia University education professor who studies online education. “It’s hard to believe one person could do that. You have teacher-pupil ratios that are ten times what it would be in a traditional school.”
According to company documents, K12 provides better student-teacher ratios to schools that pay more per student, though even the best ratios are higher than the state-run competitor’s.
The publicly traded K12 operates in 43 Florida school districts, including in Duval, Clay and St. Johns counties, with students ranging in education level from kindergarten to high school.
K12 has come under fire for high student-teacher ratios and poor student performance in Arizona, Georgia and Tennessee. A July 2012 study by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado found that K12’s students fell further behind in reading and math scores than traditional students.
The online educator is now under investigation by the Florida Department of Education for allegedly using improperly certified teachers and asking employees to cover up the practice.
Many Florida school districts have no way to know whether K12 students are actually being taught by properly certified teachers, according to a review by StateImpact Florida and Florida Center for Investigative Reporting. Seminole County took a series of unusual steps to check if K12 was being honest about who was teaching its students. The district asked K12 teachers to sign rosters of their students. And they followed up with a survey of K12 parents.
Just one in three parents said the teacher listed actually taught their child.
Most Florida districts don’t take those precautions, and Northeast Florida districts who use K12 say they haven’t had reason to until the news broke about potential problems. None of the three districts have heard complaints from parents, and the majority of students take classes from public school teachers instead of K12’s program.
In Duval County, 173 elementary and middle school students take virtual school with both curriculum and teachers provided by K12 — but nearly twice that number take virtual school from the district’s own teachers.
Marilyn Myers, principal of the Duval Virtual Instruction Academy, said she’s aware of the issues but hasn’t had a reason for concern in the K12-taught classes.
“Most of the parents tell us, ‘My teacher is great,’ and it has been the teacher on record,” Myers said. “We really get a lot of feedback from our parents and that’s an informal accountability measure.”
Still, Myers said, the district will implement more spot-checking this year to ensure the listed teachers are the ones students are communicating with.
Jamil Wright, 13, takes K12 classes while his two siblings receive instruction from Duval district teachers.
Their parents decided to enroll them in virtual school after their grandmother Esteller Mitchell, a retired Duval County Public Schools employee, offered to act as their “coach” and run their schooling at home.
Mitchell said she’s been happy with the quality of both programs.
She saw news reports about K12, but she didn’t feel like any of the problems were occurring in her grandchildren’s schooling.
“These are people who knew what they’re doing and the expectations are really high,” Mitchell said.
Clay County parents have never complained to the district, according to Saryn Hatcher, principal of the Clay Virtual Academy. He said the district has 18 students currently using K12, versus 200 full-time students in the district-run virtual program. The district will look at other providers for the future, Hatcher said.
“We continue to inform parents that CVA [Clay Virtual Academy] can fulfill their online needs as well, but will provide three viable options for parent choice,” Hatcher said.
New policies to better monitor K12 have been implemented in St. Johns County, where 42 students are taught by K12.
Tim Egnor, execuctive director for curriculum, said they will now get a teacher roster from K12 and ask the teachers to send their list of students.
“If there’s any discrepancy, we will contact K12 and the teacher to clear it up,” Egnor said. “Obviously we want to do our diligence and we’re changing our procedures to that effect.”
The problems raise a larger question for Joseph Joyner, superintendent of St. Johns County Schools. The big picture for Joyner is that the trend in education has been to advocate for an open market of accessible virtual options. He doesn’t think the districts — or the state — can offer enough monitoring.
“What you’re touching on here are some of the inherent problems with that idea,” Joyner said.
The state Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General, prompted by school officials in Seminole County, is examining whether K12 uses improperly certified teachers, in violation of state law. K12 allegedly asked certified teachers to sign for having taught students they never encountered, according to documents that are part of the investigation.
In a Feb. 15, 2011, email, K12’s Samantha Gilormini wrote to certified teachers in Florida: “So if you see your name next to a student that might not be yours it’s because you were qualified to teach that subject and we needed to put your name there.”
Gilormini sent one K12 teacher in Seminole County a roster of more than 100 students. She only recognized seven names and refused to sign. According to a subsequent survey conducted by school officials in Seminole County, only 36 percent of parents said their child’s teacher was the one K12 had listed.
It’s not just a problem in Seminole County. Leon County school administrators said they’ve moved one student out of a K12 class led by a teacher who did not have the correct subject certifications.
Seminole County school officials said the K12 problems uncovered there may exist statewide.
Following disclosure of the state probe, public school officials in Brevard and Volusia counties are checking the teacher information K12 has provided.
The Department of Education is limiting its investigation to Seminole County and the allegation concerning K12’s business there, according to spokeswoman Cheryl Etters.
Meanwhile, K12 executives have been trying to calm shareholders spooked by the state inquiry. In a conference call with investors Sept. 13, K12 CEO Ron Packard said news reports about the company’s internal documents in Seminole County included “rumormongering and absurd extrapolations.”
“All teachers teaching Seminole County students were Florida certified, and in our internal review, we have only identified minor mistakes in matching the appropriate grade and course certifications with specific students and courses,” Packard said.
K12 has maintained in public statements that the state has certified all company teachers in Florida. But that may not be enough to meet the state legal requirement.
In Florida, teachers must receive not only general state certification but also course-specific certification. Under Florida law, for example, a reading teacher cannot teach a science course.
Asked whether K12 teachers in Florida have the necessary course certifications for the classes they teach, company spokesman Jeff Kwitowski did not provide a direct answer.
“You’re asking me to get into the details of the matter currently under review by the state, which I can’t do,” he said. “As we’ve repeatedly stated, K12 teachers who teach students in Florida are appropriately state certified.”
The Florida Center for Investigative Reporting is a nonprofit news organization supported by foundations and individual contributions. For more information, visit fcir.org. StateImpact Florida is a project of NPR, WUSF Public Media and WLRN Public Media. For more information, visit stateimpact.npr.org/florida.
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