Virtual School Meanderings

April 6, 2014

AERA 2014 – Legal Responsibility for Special Education in Cyber Charter Schools

This is the twentieth session – and last for Sunday -  that I am blogging from the 2014 annual meeting of the American Education Research Association (AERA) in Philadelphia. This session was a part of a roundtable session entitled “Charter School Management: Cyber Schools and Performance.”  The actual session is described in the online program as:

Legal Responsibility for Special Education in Cyber Charter Schools
Regina R. Umpstead, Central Michigan University, Robert Andersen, Cooley Law School, Bruce Wells Umpstead, BrightBytes

[No abstract provided in the online system]

In this study, Regina and Bruce (at least they were the two presenters present) studied cyber charter school legal responsibilities with regards to special education in California, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas.  The project was something that they were asked to investigate based on a request from the Michigan Department of Education – and Regina mentioned some involvement of the Center for Online Learning and Students with Disabilities  at the University of Kansas.

Bruce began his portion by describing the cyber charter landscape in each of the states that was studied – actually, he spoke to both the cyber school (i.e., full-time) and virtual school (i.e., supplemental) landscape.  For the purpose of the study, cyber charter schools were full-time online schools that operated through primarily online means.

Regina then shifted the focus back to students with disabilities, and began by highlighting the different laws (see my notes on AERA 2014 – A Legal Framework for Special Education and Charter Schools for the complete list).  She underscored the notion of services being provided in the least resistant environment, which parents want to argue as the home but many cyber schools argue is the online environment.  This could form many of the next round of legal battles.

Bruce then focused on Michigan and mentioned that Michigan was the first cyber charter school in the United States was in the state in 1999, when Noah Webster created a dial-up system that targeted a home schooling audience.  This program was shut down by the legislature in reaction to a law suit that, according to Bruce, “went no where.”  He then outlined the special education law, where the state was the most interesting in their opinions – because by state law there is a requirement that both the local education authority (LEA) (i.e., the cyber charter school) and the district of the student’s residence are required to provide special education service.  Apparently, this is a bit contentious within the state and the State has refused to publish their legal brief.

In California, cyber charters are also considered LEAs.  But it is the State Department of Education that decides upon funding.

In Illinois, most of the cyber charters are authorized by local school districts.  One of the issues is that the district of residence is expected to provide funding for services.  Regina indicated that cyber charter laws in Illinois enumerate a list of state education laws that they have to comply with, which are only a select few of the education laws that all traditional public schools have to abide by.  Even more interesting was the fact that state special education laws were not included in the list that cyber charter schools have to comply with (although they would still have to comply with federal laws).

In Ohio, the district of residence is responsible for special education.  However, when a student enrolls in a cyber charter school the responsibilities for special education transfers solely to the cyber charter school.

In Pennsylvania, cyber charters are exempted from education law in most areas.  However, they are considered LEAs for the purposes of special education.

Regina indicated that Texas was an interesting model for cyber charters and special education – and one that might be seen as a model for other states.  The use of a statewide network provided a model that removes the notion or conflict of district of residence that occurs in many states.

From my reading (or listening), it appears that the greatest tensions appear to be source of funding and whether it is the district of residence or the cyber charter or both that provide special education services.

AERA 2014 – Have Cyber Charters Reinvented Personal Management?

This is the nineteenth session – and first for Sunday -  that I am blogging from the 2014 annual meeting of the American Education Research Association (AERA) in Philadelphia. This session was a part of a roundtable session entitled “Charter School Management: Cyber Schools and Performance.”  The actual  session is described in the online program as:

Have Cyber Charters Reinvented Personal Management?
Robert A. Maranto, University of Arkansas, Dennis Beck, University of Arkansas at Fayetteville

Teacher quality is a key and typically underemphasized determinant of student learning. Cyber charter schools have the potential to reinvent teacher personnel management, in part by removing teaching from the constraints of time and place and in part by systematically substituting technology for labor. But have cyber charter schools done this? We interviewed Pennsylvania cyber charter CEOs (response rate = 50%) and conducted a national survey of 189 cyber charter leaders (18% response rate, n = 34). Results indicate that, just as most brick and mortar charter schools have proven to be incremental rather than “disruptive” innovators, so too have cyber charters, save arguably in the matter of teacher mentoring. Possible barriers to innovation are discussed.

Bob began by providing some of the background to the nature of cyber charter schools, in particularly how the diffused nature of the organization affects personnel. The study itself was based on interviews with 8 of the 15 cyber charter CEOs in Pennsylvania, as well as surveys of teachers from two of those cyber charter schools. They also conducted an e-mail survey of the cyber charter CEOs nationally (which yielded 34 responses or 18%).

Bob provided a detailed background into the CEOs that responded – both the PA sample and the national sample.

There were five broad themes.

  1. Enthusiastic about lack of collective bargaining/tenure,
  2. Hiring for customer service was key,
  3. COEs didn’t prepare teachers for teaching online, so cyber schools had to mentor,
  4. The CEOs felt their biggest innovations were mentoring, evaluating, and holding accountable, and
  5. The CEOS felt their biggest barriers to innovation were “the ‘real’ school.

Further, while the national survey indicated that the majority of CEOs used merit pay, only a minority of CEOs in the PA sample used merit pay.

Another interesting finding from the teacher survey was that those that had traditional public school experience actually liked their cyber school experience better. They also felt that they were being fairly evaluated, and that those evaluations were more helpful and less intrusive.

Bob mentioned that one or two of the CEOs mentioned that relaxed teacher certification rules would allow cyber charters to become more innovative.

Almost all CEOs felt that the state’s evaluation system was not built for, and not necessarily fair, to cyber charter schools.

I’m sure if there were any critical issues that I missed or that Bob didn’t highlight, Dennis can raise them in the comments area.

I should note that Bob is a big supporter of school choice. He also comes from a political science, and not an education background. I mention that because in my earlier conversations with him at the conference, he asked if I had children and when I responded that I didn’t, he informed me that I knew “nothing about how education works then.” I thought that was kind of rich, that someone who has no background in education beyond being a student themselves and observing schooling from their children’s perspective is somehow more of an expert on education than someone that has three degrees and three certificates in education. But I have found that to be common from the neo-liberal perspective.

AERA Annual Meeting Preview – April 6, 2014

Today’s AERA update…

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AERA14 Preview

April 6, 2014

Welcome to day four of the AERA Annual Meeting. Each morning, AERA14 Preview will provide tips on key sessions and events, as well as other Annual Meeting resources and highlights you won’t want to miss.

Join the conversation: Use the conference hashtag #AERA14, and follow AERA on Twitter at @AERA_EdResearch.

Questions? Contact the AERA Meetings Team at

Key Sessions

Rep. Chaka Fattah

Congress and Connecting Research to STEM Education and Innovation
9:00 am – 10:15 am
Convention Center, Terrace Level – Terrace I
Participant: Chaka Fattah (U.S. House of Representatives)

Congressman Chaka Fattah (D-PA), whose district covers much of the Philadelphia metro area, is a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee and ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and related agencies (CJS). He has served in Congress since 1994.

AERA Early Career Award (2013) Lecture: Michael Bastedo, Associate Professor, University of Michigan
Cognitive Repairs in the Admissions Office: New Strategies for Improving Equity and Excellence at Selective Colleges
8:15 am to 9:45 am
Convention Center, 200 Level – 202A

There are two paradoxes in selective college admissions: (a) Why do admissions officers claim that SATs are only one part of the decision, when research shows repeatedly that they are largely determinative? (b) Why do admissions officers claim to review applications in light of school and family context, when research shows that racial and socioeconomic stratification have failed to improve? Bastedo argues these paradoxes result from cognitive biases and heuristics among admissions officers that create failures to improve access and equity even when there is the will to do so. Using fieldwork data from two flagship university admissions offices, he examines these cognitive biases, and the strengths and weaknesses of various “cognitive repairs” to address the problem.

Anthony Bryk

AERA Distinguished Lecture: Anthony Bryk, President, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching
Improving: Joining Improvement Science to Networked Communities
10:35 am to 12:05 pm
Convention Center, Terrace Level – Terrace I
Session hashtag: #AERAImprove
Session will also be live-streamed

For the past five years, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching has been pioneering a fundamentally new vision for research and development that joins the discipline of improvement science with the capabilities of networks to foster innovation and social learning. This talk will illustrate the six principles of improvement that guide this work. It will introduce the idea of analytically and empirically rigorous practice-based evidence for advancing quality outcomes reliably at scale. In so doing, it reframes the work of applied educational research as an effort of systematically learning to improve. It stands as a counterpoint both to policy initiatives pressing rapid large-scale implementation and also autonomous efforts engaged in by individual teachers and schools seeking to improve.

Promoting Innovation and Building Research Foundations at the National Science Foundation
10:35 am to 12:05 pm
Convention Center, 100 Level, 120A

Joan Ferrini-Mundy, assistant director of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Directorate for Education and Human Resources, will present priorities and perspectives surrounding NSF research, and how the organization is working to promote innovation and build research foundations in the education sciences.

Libby Doggett

Rachel Gordon

Universal Preschool: What Have We Learned, and What Does It Mean for Practice and Policy?

12:25 pm to 1:55 pm
Convention Center, Terrace Level – Terrace I
Rachel A. Gordon, Institute of Government and Public Affairs
Libby Doggett, U.S. Department of Education
Scholars, practitioners, and policymakers from many disciplinary backgrounds and political persuasions point to the promise of preschool. Scholars will share new research, and Libby Doggett, deputy assistant secretary for policy and early learning at the U.S. Department of Education, will discuss the implications of research on universal preschool for practice and policy.

Noncognitive Factors Affecting Student Success: State of the Science and Opportunities for School Improvement
4:05 pm to 5:35 pm
Convention Center, Terrace Level – Terrace I
In recent years there has been a flurry of activity regarding so-called “non-cognitive” factors affecting student success, referring to the non-IQ factors that cause learning and persistence. Broadly, interventions to increase self-regulation and to redirect student beliefs have had promising effects, in some cases causing lasting improvements for children across multiple domains of development. This session will present findings from some of the leading researchers on so-called non-cognitive factors affecting students, followed by a discussion of the implications of this research for school improvement and for broader theories of child development and student learning.

Browse more key speakers, featured presidential sessions, live stream sessions, and session hashtags.

Annual Meeting Resources

Accessibility and Inclusion Resources
Check-in & Registration: 200 Level – Hall E
Child Care
Convention Center and Hotel Floor Plan
Discover Philadelphia Tourism Site
Exhibit Hall Information
Graduate Student Resource Center
How to Find Roundtable & Poster Numbers
Internet Access
Media Room
Navigating the Annual Meeting 
Off-site Visits
Philadelphia Hotels Map
Print Program PDF
Professional Development & Training Courses
Program Highlights

Contact the AERA Meetings Team at

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April 5, 2014

AERA 2014 – Parent and Student Perceptions of a Blended Learning Experience

This is the eighteenth session that I am blogging from the 2014 annual meeting of the American Education Research Association (AERA) in Philadelphia. This session was described as:

Parent and Student Perceptions of a Blended Learning Experience
Jason Paul Siko, Grand Valley State University; Michael Kristopher Barbour, Sacred Heart University

This study examined the perceptions of parents and students enrolled in their first blended learning class.  Online surveys at the end of the experience were administered.  Both the students and parents were initially excited about the experience, but the parents had some reservations about their child’s ability to perform.  Students admitted to falling behind in the course, but noted that the process served as a good learning experience for the future.  Both parents and students complained about the lack of communication from the teachers of the course.  Overall, the parents and students were grateful for the experience, and hoped that the course (which was a two-year course) would continue to be offered in a blended format in the future.

Since this was a session that I am involved in, I’ll just post the slides below.

AERA 2014 – Investigating Blended Learning: What Matters for Implementing a Digital Science Curriculum in an Urban District

This is the seventeenth session that I am blogging from the 2014 annual meeting of the American Education Research Association (AERA) in Philadelphia. This session was described as:

Investigating Blended Learning: What Matters for Implementing a Digital Science Curriculum in an Urban District
Virginia Walker Snodgrass Rangel, Rice University; Elizabeth R. Bell, Rice University; Carlos Monroy, Rice University; Jarrett Reid Whitaker, Rice University

Despite increasing use of digital content and technology in today’s classroom, research examining how technology is utilized in the classroom is limited. The purpose of this study is to examine the impact of a digital science curriculum, X-STEM, on student science achievement in 5th grade as well as to examine what other factors related to using a digital science curriculum (e.g., teacher training and attitudes, access to computers, etc.) are associated with student achievement. Using teacher survey data, learning analytics, and state achievement scores, this study will go beyond determining whether or not X-STEM is associated with greater student science achievement by examining factors within these classrooms that support or hinder the implementation of a digital science curriculum.

This research was based on a larger evaluation study of digital science curriculum that the folks at the Center for Digital Learning and Scholarship at Rice University.  The curriculum contains online content, with face-to-face labs and projects.

The study included 51 elementary schools in an urban area of Texas from the 2012-13 school year.  Data included teacher surveys, teacher focus groups, classroom observations, and the analytics from the curriculum.

In terms of the findings, the curriculum was used less than expected, and not necessarily in the expected or intended order.  one of the reasons for this was because teachers simply didn’t have the time to plan for it, as well as a lack of access to computers in their classroom.  In fact, the teachers often used the curriculum on an overhead projector or with the teacher printing out materials from the digital curriculum.  Basically, meaning that the environments were not actually blended environments – so the title of the session was more hopeful than reality.

The conclusions were a total reach.  Based on this single study in a single school year in a single urban district, there are few generalizable conclusions.  Yet this presenter had five detailed points that she tired to make the case for.  For anyone in the room critically looking at the data, and then sizing up the conclusions and recommendations, must have been cringing!

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