K12 Choice Blog
Providing Headache Relief for Families in Tennessee
Written by Jeff Kwitowski, K12 VP of Public Affairs

By Jeff Kwitowski, K12 VP of Public Affairs

Boy, did the Memphis Commercial Appeal get it wrong.

On August 20, the Appeal published a slanted article calling the new Tennessee Virtual Academy, “a real headache,” suggesting  widespread frustration among families attempting to enroll their children in the new online public school.

Considering the high level of excitement from Tennessee families and the rush to participate in Tennessee Virtual Academy (TNVA), I was very skeptical.

The Appeal’s story is based almost entirely on a conversation the reporter had with one parent, Ms. Angela Muhammad.  So I called Ms. Muhammad to hear her concerns directly.  What I got was a much different account than what appeared in the paper.  She was aggravated alright – at the Commercial Appeal for twisting her story into a negative article.

Ms. Muhammad told me she was never frustrated with K12, Union County Public Schools, or the Tennessee Virtual Academy.  On the contrary, her experience with K12 and TNVA has been nothing but positive.  What irritated her was the pile of paperwork parents must work through to access public school programs like TNVA.

This is not unusual.  Enrollment guidelines are dictated by state laws and regulations, including eligibility requirements. These are not K12’s policies.  They are mandated by the state.  As a service provider to public schools, K12 helps parents like Ms. Muhammad navigate through these requirements as painlessly as possible.  We don’t set the rules, nor can we waive them.    

The process can be even more complicated for parents who have to transfer (or “open enroll”) into another school district to access an online public school.  If a parent misses the open enrollment period – which in Tennessee ends 2 weeks before the start of school – they must get permission from their local school district.  Other states erect far higher barriers.  In Wisconsin, parents only have a three week open enrollment period in the middle of February.  Because of the narrow window, many parents are forced to wait a full year before they can enroll their child in an online public school offered through another school district.  That’s a long time to wait, especially for children that are falling behind and need an alternative. Other states don’t have open enrollment, which leads to kids being trapped in failing schools with no options.  For this reason education reform-minded policymakers are working to create or expand open enrollment to give families more public school choices.

Back to the Commercial Appeal.   The article never reported on the enthusiasm parents have for TNVA.  It didn’t look at the reasons parents are choosing this public school option for their kids.  Rather than examining the real cause for some parents’ frustration – the state-mandated requirements -- the Appeal chalks it all up to the virtual school “headache.”

Yet, as this much more accurate article from The Leaf Chronicle in Clarksville, TN shows, TNVA has actually helped relieve headaches for many parents.

Ms. Muhammad’s two children successfully enrolled in TNVA and she’s thrilled to be a part of the K12/TNVA family.  She received confirmation that her children were enrolled a day before the Appeal ran their story.

New Virtual School in Tennessee A Value for Children and Taxpayers
Written by Administrator

By Jeff Kwitowski, K12 VP of Public Affairs

Recently, K12 Inc. partnered with the Union Country school district in Tennessee to open Tennessee Virtual Academy (TNVA) to serve students throughout the state. While many are excited to have an alternative for their children and welcome the innovation, there are some who are unsure.

The Memphis newspaper, Commercial Appeal, wrote a largely one-dimensional story about TNVA charging that it will “siphon off taxpayer funds,” as if that was the only goal of Union County Public School when it decided to offer the public school program to Tennessee families.

Dr. Wayne Goforth, Director of Union County Schools, responds here.

Far from “siphoning off” funds, TNVA is a value for taxpayers.  TNVA will provide a complete public education at fewer costs than traditional public schools, saving taxpayers money. Tennessee spends about $7,900 per student on average. TNVA will be funded at about $5,300 per student – a savings of nearly 30 percent per student. 

More importantly, the online school program gives parents and students more public school options regardless of geographic or socioeconomic circumstances.

Online learning is one of the fastest growing areas in education. More than 4 million students are enrolled in online learning in the U.S. Online public schools offer students expanded course options, increased education opportunities, and customized learning programs. 

And at the end of the day, it’s about choice.  Innovative schools like TNVA exist because parents and students want them.  Responding to the needs and desires of customers – in this case, students and parents – is always a good thing.   

AYP, an Unreliable Measure of School Performance
Written by Jeff Kwitowski, K12 VP of Public Affairs”

By Jeff Kwitowski, K12 VP of Public Affairs

Derek Thompson at the Atlantic chimed in on the Businessweek article featuring K12.  He got tripped up on a few things: 

First, K12 is not a “for-profit virtual middle school.”  It is a provider of online curriculum, technology and school services.  The company partners with schools, school districts and other education institutions to provide online learning programs and services.  All the schools using K12 are nonprofit and governed by an independent, nonprofit governing board.  And yes, K12 uses teachers:  highly qualified, state-certified general ed teachers, special ed teachers, subject experts, counselors, advisors, paraprofessionals, etc.  But you wouldn’t know it reading the BusinessWeek article.  It’s one of many errors of omission in the article.  You can read my response to the article here.

Derek highlights the section on academic performance which included quotes from Gary Miron at Western Michigan U.  However, Miron uses only the federal Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standard to render judgment on K12’s academic performance.  That’s odd since Miron’s own report – which, by the way, contained numerous errors on K12 and its partner schools – called AYP a “crude indicator of whether or not schools are meeting state standards.”  I agree.  So does Arne Duncan, who warns that over 80% of U.S. schools are at risk of missing AYP if No Child Left Behind is not reformed. 

AYP is not a reliable measure of school performance.  This is especially true for new school models, including statewide online schools and blended learning programs, which didn’t exist a decade ago when AYP was developed.  AYP was designed primarily for traditional, classroom-based schools (with a largely fixed student population), not for online schools that enroll new students every year across an entire state, including many transfer students who come in academically behind after years of failure in their local school.   

There is an emerging consensus to scrap AYP and replace it with a better system that measures academic progress and growth.  K12 has been measuring student academic growth on behalf of its partner schools, and the results are strong with academic gains above the national average.  It’s a shame Businessweek chose not to include that information.

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