April 25, 2013

Flaws found at online education provider wooing Maine

A Florida probe questions the company's unqualified teacher assignments and says it had inaccurate student rosters.

By Colin Woodard cwoodard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Another official, K12 Florida Academic Administrator Gila Tuchman, admitted to signing Capelle's elementary class roll and told investigators that elementary-level teachers might not "recognize all of the students because they were assigned to her on an as-needed basis with little or no direct contact."

Tuchman told investigators that since each student had a "homeroom teacher" (who may or may not be certified in a particular subject ) and subject area instructors (who are), a given teacher might not have contact with a student they were teaching. "She said a student could go through a whole course independently, master and complete that course, with just the homeroom teacher monitoring the student's progress and without seeking the assistance of the assigned subject area specialist," the report said.

The draft report recommended that in the future the company "should distinguish between the homeroom students and the specialized subject area students for each teacher," and noted that teaching duties "are not delegatable to a 'homeroom teacher' or to the parent or to the student."

Taxpayers pay K12 $4,800 per student per semester to attend the Seminole County virtual school at issue in the case, according to the company. K12 was founded by convicted junk bond trader Michael Milken and former federal Secretary of Education William J. Bennett.

K12 -- which is also under scrutiny in Colorado, Georgia and Tennessee -- has sought to manage a taxpayer-financed, full-time virtual charter school in Maine, called the Maine Virtual Academy. But the Maine Charter School Commission rejected the bid earlier this year because of concerns about the degree of control the company would maintain.

Under Maine law, virtual schools have to be governed by local boards, but the K12 proposal gives the Herndon, Va.-based firm broad management powers, including hiring and firing of administrators and teachers. The proposal also called for K12 to provide the academic content and the student assessment data on which the schools might be judged.

The Maine Virtual Academy board has indicated it intends to reapply.

K12 and rival Connections Learning of Baltimore were the subjects of a Maine Sunday Telegram investigation, published Sept. 2, that showed how the firms were shaping Maine's digital education policies and that their schools in other states have fared poorly in studies of student achievement.

Colin Woodard can be contacted at 791-6317 or at:

cwoodard@pressherald.com 

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