Virtual School Meanderings

April 5, 2014

AERA 2014 – Cyber Charters and Special Education

This is the fourteenth session 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 symposium that was described as:

The delivery and instruction of students served under IDEA (2004) has taken center stage for charter schools since their birth almost twenty years ago. Since their evolution, special education laws have changed and traditional brick and mortar schools have attempted to change with the law. However, information technology is everywhere, and special educators, school leaders, teachers, parents and students have attempted to keep pace. With the increase of individualized learning focused on the identified students education, what does Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) look like and in what ways can charter schools measure academic and functional performance using innovative technologies and while working within the confines of IDEA?

The actual  session is described in the online program as:

Cyber Charters and Special Education
Nicole Snyder, Latsha Davis & McKenna

Charter schools must abide by federal special education laws and regulations because they are part of the public education system. However, the means through which compliance is carried out differs in practice than on paper, but most due to a number of factors, the most important of which are a charter school’s legal identity and its linkage to a traditional Local Education Agency (LEA) for purposes of special education (Estes, 2009; Fiore et al., 2000; Horn and Miron, 2000). Familiarity with these concepts is critical, especially for a cyber charter school. An LEA is usually defined as an entity that has responsibility for the education of all children who reside within a designated geographical area of a state. Cyber Charter schools do not completely fit into this definition since they are schools of choice and have responsibility for students who are enrolled in the school from across the state and in some instances, the country. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and its regulations specifically include charter schools in the definition of an LEA: “a public charter school that is established as an LEA under State law” [34 CFR §300.18]. However, there exist a number of nuances interwoven with understanding a cyber charter school’s level of responsibility for special education.

This presentation focuses on the uniqueness of Cyber Charter schools and their use of innovative technologies that assist them to function as their own local education agencies. However, since cyber charters can also be authorized and operate under some other entity, oftentimes a remote educational management organization, (EMO) this makes the education of students with special needs that much more complex (Rhim & McLaughlin, 2001). Most states have clear guidelines and “strong laws,” that support charter school autonomy and independence and allow them to determine the best means to properly educate students, especially those with identified special education needs consistent with IDEA. However, status is not always clearly delineated and a cyber charter school’s legal status for special education may be different from its legal status for all other matters. Lastly, the role and function of providing a FAPE for identified students is typically done in the home, through live sessions using innovative technologies and through synchronous and asynchronous sessions via a teaching and learning platform consistent with distance education. How and to what degree do we know that these technologies are successful forms of delivery and instruction, become the essential question of this paper presentation.

This portion of the symposium focused specifically on special education and cyber charter school.  The session began with a statement that both charter schools and cyber charter schools are part of the public education system, as such they must abide by federal special education laws.  I suspect that this may be a ruling specific to special education (see For Profit Charter Schools Are NOT Public Schools).

Legally, the role and function of providing a FAPE for identified students is typically done in the home.  This is accomplished through live sessions using innovative technologies, as well as synchronous and asynchronous sessions via a teaching and learning platform consistent with distance education.  From a legal standpoint, most parents seem to be more interested in the least resistant environment as being the home – so that all services are getting pushed into the home.

This second lawyer transitioned to the role of Educational Management Organizations (EMOs), underscoring the fact that there are issues that need to be resolved with the role of special education and these third party EMOs.

One case that she did highlight was Slippery Rock Area School District v. Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School.  Essentially, the cyber charter school offered kindergarten to four year old, but the school district did not have a similar program.  The courts decided that because the district did not have their program (and it wasn’t within what was required by law), the school district did not have to provide funds for those students.

There were two non-Pennsylvania cases that she went over:

  • Douglas County School District RE-1, 109 LRP 32980 (SEA Colorado 2009)
  • Benson Unified School District, 56 IDELR 244 (SEA Arizona 2011)
  • Virtual Community School of Ohio, 43 IDELR 239 (SEA Ohio 2005)

This session then transitioned with a quote from Demystifying Special Education in Virtual Charter Schools by Laureen Morando Rhim and Julie Kowal – published by Public Impact in 2008, and then a generalized – typically neo-liberal plug – about the benefits of cyber education.

To their credit, they did reference that there are some challenges and cited two cases as examples of this:

  • L.Y. ex rel J.Y. v. Bayonne Board of Education, 62 IDELR 71 (3d Circuit 2013, unpublished)
  • Education Plus Academy Cyber Charter School, 113 LRP 39293 (SEA PA 08/23/13)

Then we kind of got sidetracked in a discussion of the legal/regulatory realities and the actual or practical realities on the ground (which I helped contributed to).

AERA 2014 – A Legal Framework for Special Education and Charter Schools

This is the thirteenth session – and first one for Saturday – 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 symposium that was described as:

The delivery and instruction of students served under IDEA (2004) has taken center stage for charter schools since their birth almost twenty years ago. Since their evolution, special education laws have changed and traditional brick and mortar schools have attempted to change with the law. However, information technology is everywhere, and special educators, school leaders, teachers, parents and students have attempted to keep pace. With the increase of individualized learning focused on the identified students education, what does Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) look like and in what ways can charter schools measure academic and functional performance using innovative technologies and while working within the confines of IDEA?

The actual session is described in the online program as:

A Legal Framework for Special Education and Charter Schools
Kevin Mckenna, Latsha, Davis & McKenna

This presentation will discuss the evolution of IDEA alongside that of charter schools and the technology that has advanced this school reform. The presentation will address the scope of the law and the extent to which services have been enhanced and or have met with complications while attempting to maintain a FAPE for students identified with learning disabilities (Estes, 2004; Fierros & Blomberg, 2005;Rhim & McLaughlin, 2001; Williams, 2007). For charter schools, the federal laws that have most relevance for special education are the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 2004); the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, 2010), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; and the Americans with Disabilities Amended Act (ADAA, 2010). Children who attend any form of charter school are covered by these laws in the same way as children in any other public school. The dilemma often becomes what does coverage look like and does the use of technology stay within the legal framework of IDEA?
The paper adopts a legal lens to address Rowley and Gaskin and to identify obstacles and successes that provide innovation for charters using technology to deliver special education, instruction and related services. The presentation approaches the question, using a legal theoretical lens that examines contemporary charter practices, in both brick and mortar schools and this intersection with IDEA. Data indicates that violations under IDEA continue to make interesting and at the same time, painstaking new law. The significance of court decisions has wide implications for instruction, delivery, evaluation and assessment of students served under IDEA in both brick and cyber charter schools.

This portion of the symposium was a background to charter school law in Pennsylvania.  You could tell right off the bat of where these lawyers were coming from.  He indicated that the background to charter schools in the state was that the Governor wanted vouchers, the teachers union wanted an increase in their retirement benefits, so charter schools were the compromise.  However, at first it was the school districts that made the decision – so “it was like McDonald’s deciding whether Burger King opened up a franchise in their territory.  Charter schools are now decided upon by the Department of Education.  Charter schools must be non-profit, but can contract with a for-profit management company to run all aspects of the school.  Charter schools are funded based on the local FTE amount, which will range from $6000 to $22,000.

The lawyer then went through the various special education laws in K-12 education in general:

  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 1973
  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, 2004 (IDEA)
  • Section 508
  • Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)
  • ADA Amendment Act, 2008 for Students with Disabilities Attending Public Elementary and Secondary Schools (ADAA)

I won’t go into all of the points that he made on this front (and I’m sure when Ray Rose reads this, he’ll chime in with the relevant points).  I do note that he made specific reference to five cases:

  • Board of Education of Hendrick Hudson Central School District v. Rowley
  • Moorestown Township Board of Education v. S.D. and C.D.
  • CG v. Pennsylvania Department of Education
  • I.H. v. Cumberland Valley School District
  • R.B. v. Mastery Charter School

I believe that all of these were Pennsylvania-based cases.

 

April 4, 2014

AERA 2014 – Voices of Virtual School Leaders: Challenges and Advice

This is the twelfth session – and final one for Friday – that I am blogging from the 2014 annual meeting of the American Education Research Association (AERA) in Philadelphia.  The session is described in the online program as:

Voices of Virtual School Leaders: Challenges and Advice
Dennis Beck, University of Arkansas at Fayetteville; Jason LaFrance, Georgia Southern University; Jayson W. Richardson, University of Kentucky

As virtual schools grow in number and in the scope of offerings, school leaders are faced with issues and decisions that have implications for finance, policy, and practice.  However, little research exists on best practices for virtual school leaders, their experiences, and their background. This study examined the professional and personal backgrounds, experiences, and skills of 15 virtual school leaders at k-12 schools accredited by AdvancEd. Interviews of these virtual school leaders point to the need for virtual school leaders to be extremely adaptable in their use of time, personnel, and resources, and for pre-service administrator programs to train their students for virtual school leadership.

Dennis began the session by giving a quick overview of various student related, school related, and leader related challenges that school leaders face. These ten challenges provided a framework with which to examine those specific challenges that face virtual school leaders and how those leaders address those challenges.

The potential sample could have been 98 schools, but only 18 leaders participated. In describing the sample, Dennis highlighted the high number of administrators that had less than 5 years of administrative experience (and 15 of the 18 were in their first year of being a virtual school administrator).

The particular challenges that virtual school leaders identify included: funding 94.4%, staffing 83.3%, accountability 55.6%, time 55.6%, parents 44.4%, and professional development 16.7%. (missed the percentage and the rest, as Jason moved the slide ahead).

Jason talked a little more in detail about each of the first three, dissected them a bit and provided representative quotes. Dennis did highlight that it was interesting to note that only three of the 18 leaders indicated that finding professional development for their staff a challenge. Jason followed up and indicated that the leaders themselves were quite stuck in how to obtain professional development for themselves.

I’m sure that Dennis will be reading this and can provide the full citation for the article that this presentation was based on.

AERA 2014 – Proficiency-Based Pathways in Three Pilot Programs: Examining Implementation and Outcomes

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

Proficiency-Based Pathways in Three Pilot Programs: Examining Implementation and Outcomes
Jennifer L. Steele, RAND Corporation; Matthew W. Lewis, RAND Corporation; Lucrecia Santibanez, RAND Corporation; Brian Stecher, RAND Corporation; Laura S. Hamilton, RAND Corporation; Susannah Faxon-Mills, RAND Corporation; Mollie Rudnick, RAND Corporation

During the 2011-12 and 2012-13 academic years, twelve high schools in three sites commenced an effort to refine the use of proficiency-based educational models. The interventions differed across sites and schools but shared the use of online technology to allow students to progress toward mastery along defined pathways, to receive credit for demonstrated mastery, and to have access to online learning experiences accessible anytime/anywhere. The interventions also shared a focus on improved data management through development of integrated online systems. This paper presents results from a two-year evaluation of the pilot interventions. It examines their implementation from the point of view of teachers and administrators, students’ experiences of each program, and student outcomes in terms of attendance and test performance.

The presenter began by defining competency based education – students moving at their own pace, meeting students where they are, evaluating students on what they know and not how much time spent on a topic, etc. – all things that you’d expect by a competency-based project in the US funded by the Gates Foundation. In her first few slides, you heard all of the neo-liberal terms around this topic – customization, personalization, seat time, flipped classroom, blended learning etc..

The study was an evaluation of three sites that were implementing competency-based learning based on Gates Foundation funding. The three sites sounds quite different in terms of the type and structure of schools, and each one focused on different subject areas.

The actual student was basically a student perception study – a bunch of questions that asked students at the three sites about how they reported to using the tools or were engaged (based on whether they “enjoyed” their learning – not sure how asking a student if they enjoyed their learning is an actual measure of student engagement).

The researchers wanted to figure out a way to compare how students did, in terms of student achievement or student learning, and the effect of the competency-based learning on that achievement. In one comparison they compared how the competency district did compare to how all of the other districts in the state did. Through a creative statistical methodology, they created a statistical comparison group based on attempting to control the other variables that might affect student learning. Confused yet? This is usually an indicator that the comparison isn’t a true comparison when you have to get creative on the statistics to even get a comparison group. Either way,the competency group was about 16% lower than the control group! which the researchers believe is an implementation dip (note this represents an overall drop of student grades by 16%, nothing like experimenting on kids and mortgaging their futures).

The second sites, which were magnet schools, varied – with some up and some down. But the researchers couldn’t control for student selection bias.

The third group was another creative statistical measure, but was the largest and most robust data set. They basically found that there was similar results in the competency group and the weighted comparison group, the only statistically significant fining was the competency group had more days attended.

Interestingly, the presenter did indicate that they have no idea which of these results are due to competency-based learning or teacher effect or student effect. So basically, there are some differences found in some groups – but there is no way to tell if competency-based learning had anything to do with it.

AERA 2014 – Organizational Identity Formation in a Virtual Education Organization

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

Organizational Identity Formation in a Virtual Education Organization
Eric Nippard, University of Calgary; Jim Brandon, University of Calgary

This descriptive, single case study of identify formation in a virtual education organization addressed a significant gap in the existing research on how organizational identity (OI) formation takes shape from an organization’s inception (Gioia, Price, Hamilton, & Thomas, 2010). Evidence from 35 interviews and documents generated four key findings. (1) Organizational identity formation is impacted by members’ perceptions of the styles of formal and informal leaders.  (2) The construct of organizational identity itself resides within an amalgam of referents that are difficult to isolate. (3) The perceived ability to establish a professional identity influenced organizational identity formation. (4) Organizational complexity negatively impacted members’ abilities to develop professional identities, influenced their perceptions of the organization’s culture and influenced organizational identity formation.

The study was focused on how organizational identity developed, and how the leaders can and do influence that identity. Erik mentioned that this was based on his own professional life, which leads me to believe that it was based on the Centre for Distance Learning and Innovation (although he did not specifically say that).

The organization has a total of 55 staff and 35 participated in the study – representing teachers, administrators, and support staff.

The first finding was that there was trust placed in the leadership and this was reflected in the organization identity:
– Reported feeling valued and trusted
– Supported as risk takers and innovators
– Returned trust
– Organization identity described as trusting, innovative

At the same time, the leadership was found to contribute to a sense of isolation:
– Lack of communication contributed to feelings of isolation
– Reported a sense of being voiceless
– Described organizational identity as closed, not open and equitable

Third, the change in leadership had significant changes in the perceptions of members of the organizational identity:
– Supportive and enabling leaders/leadership
– Provided sound decision making
– Turnover in leadership provoked changes in perceived…
– [Missed one point]

Fourth, some leaders were more controlling and centralized, which affected how identity was perceived:
– Leadership influenced how things were done
– Bureaucracy and centralized control varied from leader to leader
– Organization identity described relative to the level of bureaucracy and control

Finally, leadership had significant impacts on the organizational identity, but that was often based on the members tenure with the organization:
– Description for leaders paralleled that used to describe organization’s
identity
– Leader descriptors a function of culture at a point in time
– Perceptions of leaders translate into perception of organizational identity
.

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