Virtual School Meanderings

May 30, 2012

Full-Time Online Learning Is Failing In Texas

A couple of news items caught my attention in the past day or two…

Beyond the actual results of the report they are discussing (which shouldn’t surprise any regular reader of this space, as we’ve seen time and time again how research into full-time K-12 online learning has shown again and again that students aren’t succeeding), is the fact that with the exception of references to the American Legislative Exchange Council the vast majority of news articles I see are quick to link think tanks and policy groups to unions or label them as being liberal.  I don’t see the same thing being done with those that clearly have a conservative or neo-liberal bias.

For example, look at how the New York Times describes the Thomas B. Fordham Institute (i.e., VERY conservative/neo-liberal organization):

Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education policy group, said Mr. Romney’s proposal would significantly shift how the two largest Education Department programs for kindergarten through 12th grade students — those for poor students and those with disabilities — are now run.

So much for the liberal bias in the media the right continually cries about…


  1. We’re talking Texas. God knows, I love the great state of… but there really are a lot of conservatives there! Interestingly, Texas Tech had one of the best graduate education department of distance learning studies in the country in the 1990s. I wish I had done my studies on the techie side of the College of Education instead of Ed Psych. No conservatives in that department!

    Comment by DrEMiller — May 30, 2012 @ 6:07 pm | Reply

    • Most of those pushing K-12 online learning in the United States – at least those that you see in the media – are the neo-liberals that have been pushing these reforms in Texas. As I’ve said on this blog in the past, it has little to do with quality education and everything to do with lining the pockets of corporations!

      Comment by mkbnl — May 30, 2012 @ 6:33 pm | Reply

  2. Reblogged this on Eleanore's Ramblings… and commented:

    Comment by DrEMiller — May 30, 2012 @ 6:08 pm | Reply

  3. I am a teacher at Texas Virtual School (TVS) and worked as a consultant doing course reviews and curriculum realignment for Region 4 Education Service Center (ESC) when the TxVSN launched. TxVSN is a consortium managed by Region 10 ESC and includes partnerships with the Education Development Center, Inc., ESC Region 1, ESC Region 4, ESC Region 11, ESC Region 16, Harris County Dept. of Education, Texas A&M University CDLR, University of Houston Clear Lake, PBS TeacherLine of Texas and LincoTower, LLC.

    The Progress Texas Report is correct in its assessment but incorrectly states that the Texas Virtual School Network is the conduit for the for-profit virtual schools’ expansion. The TxVSN website provides real time enrollment data that reveals enrollment in TxVSN courses skyrocketed in 2010 following passage of the virtual school act and plummeted in 2011 when the last Lege session pulled the funding mechanism that reimbursed public schools for enrolling students in fully accredited courses through the consortium. During this same time period enrollment in charter schools in Texas ballooned to the largest in the nation, even surpassing the vaunted Florida Virtual School, a public school district in the state of Florida that serves the entire state.

    Comment by DL Bearden — May 31, 2012 @ 3:30 am | Reply

    • DL, admittedly the authors of the report seem a little confused by the fact that the Texas Virtual School Network and Texas Virtual Academy are two separate entities. However, if you read the report closely, you’ll note that at no point do they directly say that the two are the same school. And there is nothing that they have written about either that is factually incorrect.

      I agree that it is a little unfortunately that the supplemental TxVSN is getting tied together with the full-time TxVA.

      Comment by mkbnl — May 31, 2012 @ 7:08 am | Reply

      • Michael,
        I read the report carefully. I lobbied the Legislature for years to get the legislation passed that created the Texas Virtual School Network. TxVSN is not a school. Texas Virtual Academy is a charter school in Houston. I work for Texas Virtual School, which is a program offered by the Region IV Education Service Center, which is also in the Houston area. TVS existed years before TxVSN or the Legislature got involved. Texas Virtual Academy mentioned in the article also preceded the legislation by a year and was the initial deployment of the Electronic Course Pilot (eCP), a pilot project of the Texas Education Agency to experiment with virtual learning. The charter school contracted with to provide their curriculum. The initial year of the eCP saw an enrollment boom. Houston ISD Virtual Academy joined the eCP and contracted with Connections Academy. Both programs experienced some problems but were manageable.
        Then came the TxVSN, which is unlike any other model in the nation. It is not a school. It is a consortium of a number of state agencies and universities that collectively manage a network of providers of virtual classes available to all public schools in the state. Any school can be a provider or a subscriber at their own choosing. Every other state with statewide virtual schools uses monopoly as a model and that model was promoted by iNACOL and the Evergreen Group for years. The TxVSN is the opposite of a monopoly. It supports public schools and encourages them to market their curricula to other schools via the network, which takes time to develop. The Legislature created the mechanism to allow the districts to be reimbursed for the classes they subscribed to and to earn money from other schools who subscribed to their classes. TxVSN is not a full time program (cyberschool) it is a supplementary program (virtual school). But with no one paying attention — because there were no virtual school bills filed in the last session — the Legislature under the guise of budgetary constraint removed the means by which schools could receive a reimbursement for each student who enrolled in each TxVSN class.
        Management companies then used the authority TEA created for funding virtual education via the eCP to market their program to charter schools. The growth this year was explosive and the damage to traditional school districts rivals that of Pennsylvania and Ohio before their legislatures grasped what had happened and placed restrictions on the size and scope of virtual charter schools.
        Unfortunately the Texas Legislature is coming back into session next year and there is nothing to indicate they will be cognizant of how corporatism is eroding the public school system in Texas.

        Comment by DL Bearden — May 31, 2012 @ 9:55 am

      • DL, I’m still not quite sure what point you are trying to make. I conceded that the authors of the report confounded the Texas Virtual School Network and the Texas Virtual Academy. However, a careful read of the report indicates that there is nothing that is specifically said about the Texas Virtual School Network that isn’t accurate.

        Also, I disagree with your assessment that “Every other state with statewide virtual schools uses monopoly as a model and that model was promoted by iNACOL and the Evergreen Group for years.” That is simply not sure – both your assessment of the statewide model and who was promoting that model.

        Comment by mkbnl — May 31, 2012 @ 6:23 pm

      • Michael,
        What is inaccurate in the report is attributing the growth in online charter schools to the TxVSN. This is the link for real time enrollment data from the network:
        The SREB report you posted last week shows that Texas charter school enrollment exploded in the last year during the same time period that TxVSN enrollment collapsed. The Lege clearly sided with corporate interests and threw public interests under the bus. The Dallas Observer article you cited clearly took that position.
        Texas Virtual School Network creates opportunities for every public school to engage in the enterprise of distance learning. The annual Keeping Pace publications of Greenwood and Associates in conjunction with iNACOL extol the benefits of statewide virtual schools. In a state like Texas the concept of localization is preferred. In smaller states it may be different; but I personally prefer a more egalitarian approach.
        I appreciate your objectivity on virtual schools. I really don’t know how you find the time to filter through all of the details so diligently and maintain a full teaching load. I certainly could not. I follow your blogposts because I would not want my inbox as packed as yours.

        Comment by DL Bearden — June 1, 2012 @ 2:25 am

      • I’m going to have to disagree with you on this point DL. As I read through the report for enrollment data, on page two it has accurate national figures and differentiates between full-time and supplemental. On page 8 is provides accurate enrollment figures for the TxVSN (and specifically states that those numbers are from the TxVSN and not simply online learning in Texas). That’s all of the enrollment data in the report.

        Also, I’m going to have to disagree with you on your assessment of the iNACOL position. I think the report actually does a reasonable job of highlighting the close relationship that iNACOL has with the for-profit, corporation interests in K-12 online learning. As an organization, they haven’t been pushing the statewide, supplemental monopoly under this current leadership (which has been in place since about 2005-06). They’ve been pushing the neo-liberal agenda that we see in the Digital Learning Now and ALEC initiatives in this space.

        And thanks for the compliments at the end. I need my inbox to look like this so I can stay on top of the field for research purposes. The sharing of that inbox via this blog is something that has kind of developed over time as a service – another one of the pillars of the academy.

        Comment by mkbnl — June 1, 2012 @ 7:18 am

      • This is the quote from page 8 of the Progress Texas report:
        “Despite the lack of accountability and planning, enrollment in Texas’ virtual school network has increased dramatically in recent years. In the two-year period from 2009 to 2011, enrollment through the Texas Virtual School Network increased from 254 students to 8,136, a 3,203% enrollment increase,” which is attributed to The American Independent citing State Senator Scott Hochberg and dated November 11, 2011. The data link I sent you has current enrollment data that paints a very different picture.

        The 2011 enrollment numbers for the 2011-2012 academic year are: 1244 Fall; 1828 Spring; 1090 Summer.

        That does not include dual credit classes that are taught at community colleges; but those numbers are in the low hundreds. Senator Hochberg is one of the most knowledgeable persons with regard to school finance that I know; but you can not take a quote that is out of date when you have current information available that refutes it. What is startling is the SREB report that shows the enrollment figures for charter schools in Texas. That growth can be attributed to a handful of virtual school management companies that are reaping rewards while Texas public schools are laying off teachers.

        Comment by DL Bearden — June 1, 2012 @ 10:47 am

      • The figures in the report that you list are consistent with those in the news article that was cited in that same paragraph. And if you go to the actual article, it is interesting that the article notes “(It’s fallen to 1,290 this fall, for reasons that aren’t immediately clear. A TEA spokeswoman told us she’d look into it.)” – which wasn’t included in the report. About 1300 students in the Fall 2010 semester is closer to the 2011-12 enrollment figures that you mentioned. So you and the report are talking about enrollment numbers from two different years that are two years apart – you’d expect them to be different.

        Assuming the sourced news article is accurate, I wonder what caused the drop in enrollment from the 2009-10 school year to the 2010-11 school year?

        Comment by mkbnl — June 1, 2012 @ 7:55 pm

      • Katherine Loughrey is the Texas Education Agency coordinator of virtual learning. She would tell you that factors affecting enrollment in the Texas Virtual School Network classes dating back to the early years of the Obama Administration include: stimulus funding flowing from the U.S. Department of Education and TEA requirements that all courses be aligned to state standards. This meant that courses were removed from the catalog until they were reviewed and in most cases re-written in alignment with iNACOL online learning standards and Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills standards.

        The real story is the origination and elimination of the virtual school allotment. House Bill 3646 of the 81st Texas Legislature created a state virtual school allotment to fund courses provided through the TxVSN. TEA provided a payment of $400 per semester course to the provider district and $80 to the receiver district, (TEA, 2012). However the 82nd Texas Legislature, First Called Session, 2011 removed allotment funding for receiver and provider districts. TxVSN continues to offer quality online high school and dual credit courses for Texas students; however districts and open enrollment charter schools are responsible for the course costs, (Doyle, 2011).

        TxVSN prevented for profit management companies and private schools from participating in the network; but there was nothing in charter school law that prevented that and the result is that charter schools are enrolling students from private schools and using for profit management providers for curriculum services. This outcome is in district opposition to the legislation that enabled virtual school funding in Texas.

        Doyle, B. (2011) In other words blog. Allotment gone for Texas Virtual School Network. Retrieved from
        TEA (2012). TxVSN funding. Retrieved from

        Comment by DL Bearden — June 2, 2012 @ 2:55 am

      • DL, the longer this discussion goes on, the more I wonder what it has to do with the actual report I was commenting on. Essentially you’ve been making points about the history and development of the Texas Virtual School Network, but the report is about the poor performance of a single cyber charter school and underhanded maneuvers of for-profit corporations and their neo-liberal proponents to allow for that program to be created in the first place and for its continued existence.

        As I acknowledge early the authors of the report seem to confound the Texas Virtual Academy with the Texas Virtual School Network, the specific references to the Texas Virtual School Network do not provide inaccurate information. So I have to continue to ask (as I have several times already), what is your point?

        Comment by mkbnl — June 2, 2012 @ 6:48 am

      • Michael,
        There are no neo liberal proponents of virtual schools in Texas. Well perhaps I alone could be called a neo liberal proponent of virtual schools, but I am no longer in Texas. The report, “Invisible Schools, Invisible Success: How ALEC Promotes Virtual School Profits Over State Standards & Student Success” was distributed by Progress Texas. Its sources are other progressive organizations that attack the agenda of The American Legislative Exchange Council. I do not disagree with their political position. Perhaps they unfairly charge the leadership of iNACOL with being in alliance with ALEC. They totally misrepresent the concept of digital learning; and they fudge the data a little to advance their agenda. They are after all activists and not educators.

        The point I want to make is the Texas Virtual School Network is a legislated response to the online learning movement in Texas which I advocated. The TxVSN proved to be satisfactory to the teachers unions and the associations of school administrators and trustees. It has the mission of becoming a clearinghouse of digital content produced by Texas public school teachers; but the lobbyists have turned that plan on its head.

        I strongly agree with the point Progress Texas made that anywhere ALEC has gained influence the result is a transfer of public education funds to corporate providers. There are ongoing demonstrations underway about school privatization in Philladelphia (Pan, 2012) and elsewhere. Former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett launched the corporate lobbying effort in Austin about a decade ago. The successors to his effort now have the support of a very conservative Legislature that is running roughshod over local public school districts in order to boost the profits of the corporations that were named in the article.

        Pan, A. (2012, May 23). Local union protests city public education proposal. The Daily Pennsylvanian. Retrieved from

        Comment by DL Bearden — June 2, 2012 @ 8:54 am

      • No neo-liberal proponents of K-12 online learning in Texas? What rock are you living under?

        Those pushing the ALEC agenda? Those pushing the school choice options? Those pushing cyber charter schooling? Those pushing free market principles on public education?

        You don’t have any of those in Texas?

        Comment by mkbnl — June 2, 2012 @ 8:14 pm

      • Michael,
        I live in Sophia Antipolis, located in the countryside north of Antibes, between Cannes and Nice. Sophia is a technopole or science and technology park, which is home to large and medium-sized companies as well as start-ups, research laboratories, and academic institutions. I chose this utopian community because it is so much like Austin — without being in the epicenter of global warming.
        I lived in Austin for over 40 years. Austin has every political persuasion imaginable; but the proponents of virtual schooling there are not the neo liberals. The neo liberals take the position described best by Progress Texas. My position is an outlier; but I am beginning to be persuaded to their point of view against my better judgement because of the unfair advantage of corporate interests in my native state.
        I appreciate your probing this topic. Texas has a legacy of public education, which is being eroded. I teach school finance in New England but Texas is the crucible. The Legislature is scheduled for its biennial 83rd session in 2013 and I have already begun lobbying at a distance. My neo liberal state representatives and senators hopefully will have enough influence to protect public schools in the now ultra conservative Lege.

        Comment by DL Bearden — June 3, 2012 @ 2:20 am

      • I wouldn’t trust to the neo-liberals to protect the Texas Virtual School Network. If you look at what happened in Kentucky and what is happening right now in Michigan, you’ll see they look out for the corporate interests and little else.

        Comment by mkbnl — June 3, 2012 @ 7:12 am

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