Who Is In Charge

Online students lag state averages

Two new studies point to a contradiction about full-time online schools – student academic performance is lower than that of students statewide but parents and students are positive about the online experience.

Laura Johnson works on a computer between classes at Florence High School in this <em>EdNews</em> file photo. Johnson moved to an online school but was back to a traditional school within a year.

“The majority of students and parents surveyed believe that online learning is a better fit for them than a brick and mortar school; however, many students continue to perform poorly academically in online, despite greater satisfaction,” according to a new report on full-time online programs by the Colorado Department of Education.

The report, “Characteristics of Colorado’s Online Students,” and a second study are to be presented to the State Board of Education Wednesday. The second report, “A Study of Online Learning: Perspectives of Online Learners and Educators,” was done for the department by researchers at the University of Colorado Denver and surveyed student, parent and staff attitudes about online education.

Full-time online education has boomed in Colorado. The CDE study reports the number of online schools increased from nine to 35 between 2003 and 2011 and that enrollment grew from 3,248 students to 16,464. A little more than half of those students are in high school.

As schools have grown, so have worries about quality. A 2011 investigation by Education News Colorado and the Rocky Mountain Investigative News Network found issues with student mobility, lagging achievement and lax oversight in the online system.

During the 2012 legislative session, some Democratic lawmakers considered legislation on the subject but no significant bills were introduced because of the press of other business and because of the reported lack of interest by House Republican leaders. The Nov. 6 election put Democrats back in control of both the House and Senate.

One 2012 measure, House Bill 12-1124, ordered a broad study of all types of digital learning. That privately-funded project is being done by the Colorado Children’s Campaign for the state and is due to the legislature by Jan. 31.

The state report presented to state board members was done because “as the number of students attending online schools has grown and changed over the years, interest and questions about online schools from policymakers, media, and the general public has been piqued. This study sets out to answer some of these questions,” according to the report summary.

Key findings of state report

  • Early reading proficiency is crucial for online students, but online schools were less successful than all schools at identifying struggling readers up to grade 3.
  • A larger percentage of ninth-graders new to online schools were non-proficient compared to all ninth-grade students.
  • Online students are more mobile, and student movement between online schools is related to poor academic performance and a higher dropout rate.
  • The online school graduation rate in 2010-11 was 22.5 percent compared to the state rate of 74 percent. The online dropout rate was 13 percent compared to about 3 percent statewide.
  • Many students who chose online schools were dissatisfied with their schools and transferred because of school culture and communication problems.
  • While the majority of parents and high school students surveyed believed online learning was a better fit, academic performance lags.

CDE Recommendations

  • Online schools should more accurately evaluate and diagnose younger students’ reading levels.
  • Schools need to modify programs and services to meet changing demographic needs.
  • Excessive movement between schools should be avoided, and when transfers are necessary it’s best that students move to a long-term situation.
  • Push-out policies by schools and districts should be discouraged.
  • Parents and students need to be better informed about the realities of attending online schools.
  • The state needs to consider different funding systems for both online and traditional schools to better accommodate student mobility and competency-based, rather than seat time-based, learning.

Highlights of the UCD study

Researchers surveyed K-12 parents and grade 9-12 students and interviewed staff at a dozen online schools. Some 1,247 students and 1,982 parents responded. Both parents and students expressed high levels of dissatisfaction with traditional schools and high levels of absenteeism at those schools.

Student interest in online education is motivated by choice of classes, the desire to graduate early and by problems at previous schools, including falling behind in classes and needing to make up credits.

Parents said they liked the choice of online classes, had concerns about the environments at traditional schools and saw online as an alternative to home-schooling.

According to the report, online staff members who were interviewed recommended, among other things, more professional development for online staff and consideration of an alternative accountability system for online schools.

Online school stats

From 2003 to 2011, the number of online schools increased from nine to 35.

This school year, 47 districts offer a full-time online education option, including multi-district and single-district programs.

Pupil enrollment in online schools increased from 3,248 students to 16,464 between 2003 and 2011, with the largest growth in high school students.

Online students have become more like the overall student population but are still 61.3 percent white compared to 56.1 percent in the overall population, as of 2011. The percentage of free and reduced lunch students is also slightly behind the overall percentage statewide.

Tennessee Votes 2018

Early voting begins Friday in Tennessee. Here’s where your candidates stand on education.

PHOTO: Creative Commons

Tennesseans begin voting on Friday in dozens of crucial elections that will culminate on Aug. 2.

Democrats and Republicans will decide who will be their party’s gubernatorial nominee. Those two individuals will face off in November to replace outgoing Republican Gov. Bill Haslam. Tennessee’s next governor will significantly shape public education, and voters have told pollsters that they are looking for an education-minded leader to follow Haslam.

In Memphis, voters will have a chance to influence schools in two elections, one for school board and the other for county commission, the top local funder for schools, which holds the purse strings for schools.

To help you make more informed decisions, Chalkbeat asked candidates in these four races critical questions about public education.

Here’s where Tennessee’s Democratic candidates for governor stand on education

Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and state Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley hope to become the state’s first Democratic governor in eight years.

Tennessee’s Republican candidates for governor answer the big questions on education

U.S. Rep. Diane Black, businessman Randy Boyd, Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, and businessman Bill Lee are campaigning to succeed fellow Republican Haslam as governor, but first they must defeat each other in the 2018 primary election.

Memphis school board candidates speak out on what they want to change

Fifteen people are vying for four seats on the Shelby County Schools board this year. That’s much higher stakes compared to two years ago when five seats were up for election with only one contested race.

Aspiring county leaders in charge of money for Memphis schools share their views

The Shelby County Board of Commissioners and county mayor are responsible for most school funding in Memphis. Chalkbeat sent a survey to candidates asking their thoughts on what that should look like.

Early voting runs Mondays through Saturdays until Saturday, July 28. Election Day is Thursday, Aug. 2.

full board

Adams 14 votes to appoint Sen. Dominick Moreno to fill board vacancy

State Sen. Dominick Moreno being sworn in Monday evening. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

A state senator will be the newest member of the Adams 14 school board.

Sen. Dominick Moreno, a graduate of the district, was appointed Monday night on a 3-to-1 vote to fill a vacancy on the district’s school board.

“He has always, since I have known him, cared about this community,” said board member David Rolla, who recalled knowing Moreno since grade school.

Moreno will continue to serve in his position in the state legislature.

The vacancy on the five-member board was created last month, when the then-president, Timio Archuleta, resigned with more than a year left on his term.

Colorado law says when a vacancy is created, school board must appoint a new board member to serve out the remainder of the term.

In this case, Moreno will serve until the next election for that seat in November 2019.

The five member board will see the continued rollout of the district’s improvement efforts as it tries to avoid further state intervention.

Prior to Monday’s vote, the board interviewed four candidates including Joseph Dreiling, a former board member; Angela Vizzi; Andrew LaCrue; and Moreno. One woman, Cynthia Meyers, withdrew her application just as her interview was to begin. Candidate, Vizzi, a district parent and member of the district’s accountability committee, told the board she didn’t think she had been a registered voter for the last 12 months, which would make her ineligible for the position.

The board provided each candidate with eight general questions — each board member picked two from a predetermined list — about the reason the candidates wanted to serve on the board and what they saw as their role with relation to the superintendent. Board members and the public were barred from asking other questions during the interviews.

Moreno said during his interview that he was not coming to the board to spy for the state Department of Education, which is evaluating whether or not the district is improving. Nor, he added, was he applying for the seat because the district needs rescuing.

“I’m here because I think I have something to contribute,” Moreno said. “I got a good education in college and I came home. Education is the single most important issue in my life.”

The 7,500-student district has struggled in the past year. The state required the district to make significant improvement in 2017-18, but Adams 14 appears to be falling short of expectations..

Many community members and parents have protested district initiatives this year, including cancelling parent-teacher conferences, (which will be restored by fall), and postponing the roll out of a biliteracy program for elementary school students.

Rolla, in nominating Moreno, said the board has been accused of not communicating well, and said he thought Moreno would help improve those relationships with the community.

Board member Harvest Thomas was the one vote against Moreno’s appointment. He did not discuss his reason for his vote.

If the state’s new ratings this fall fail to show sufficient academic progress, the State Board of Education may direct additional or different actions to turn the district around.