Virtual School Meanderings

August 7, 2016

7 Day Groove Challenge – Discussion Starter Entry: Why Do The People Of Ohio Allow This?

As I mentioned on Monday, Darren Rowse over at ProBlogger has issued a 7 Days to Getting Your Blogging Groove Back challenge.  I told my EDTECH537 – Blogging In The Classroom students that I would do my best to participate in this challenge fully – as a way to model different things you can do to ensure that you have a consistent stream of original blog entries.

So Darren has posted the sixth challenge for this week – Create a Discussion Starter.   For my EDTECH537 students, this is the same thing as a “Discussion Entry.”

As I have been participating in this challenge, I have blogged about the state of cyber charter schooling in Ohio (see 7 Day Groove Challenge – Story Entry: ECOTs and the Cyber Charter School Racket).  Over the past few weeks, I have seen a couple of items posted in Education Week about this issue – although not necessarily specifically about the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow or ECOT.

Essentially, these two items talk about the fact that cyber charter schools are being audited about overstating their attendance in an effort to get more state funding, and how these same cyber charter schools continue to perform quite poorly compared to brick-and-mortar charter schools and traditional public schools.  Notions that have been simmering in Ohio (and Pennsylvania for that matter) since the early 2000s.

I continue to wonder, and am asking honestly now, why does the public (and by extension those elected to represent the public) continue to allow this to happen?

August 5, 2016

7 Day Groove Challenge – Story Entry: ECOTs and the Cyber Charter School Racket

As I mentioned on Monday, Darren Rowse over at ProBlogger has issued a 7 Days to Getting Your Blogging Groove Back challenge.  I told my EDTECH537 – Blogging In The Classroom students that I would do my best to participate in this challenge fully – as a way to model different things you can do to ensure that you have a consistent stream of original blog entries.

So Darren has posted the fourth challenge for this week – Create a Story Post.    As a story entry is not one of the ones I have had my EDTECH537 students create, I figure that I should mention that Darren describes a “Story Entry” as “a piece of content that is about a story or at least that includes a story.”  Now I’ll be honest and say that I don’t believe I’ve ever written a story entry before, but here goes…

Today a friend of mine forwarded a new item to me.

Ohio online charter school takes on state in court, on TV

AP Statehouse CorrespondentCOLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Ohio’s largest online charter school has taken a dispute with state education officials over access to attendance records to the courts and the airwaves, raising questions among critics over the use of taxpayer funds to fight state regulators.

Following a judge’s order, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow said Thursday it had turned over the sought-after records to the Ohio Department of Education. The department wants to audit the records to determine full-time student enrollment and, from there, future state funding.

Before submitting the records, the school aired a pair of ads around the state painting the department in a negative light – the same department that provides 88 percent to the school’s budget, according to state records.

“If ODE closes ECOT, where will I go?” senior Summer Muhaymin asks in one spot. She describes a transient young life sleeping in bus stations and on park benches in which the Electronic Classroom has been her “only constant.” The ad concludes with the message: “Ohio Department of Education: Keep your word. Keep ECOT open.”

The ads reinforce the claims of a lawsuit filed in a Columbus court. The action alleges the Education Department is perpetrating “a bait and switch by which it seeks to evaluate and ‘readjust’ ECOT’s funding for the 2015-2016 school year based on an improperly-promulgated ‘rule.'” It claims purposeful discrimination threatening irreparable harm to the school, which issues about one of every 20 high school diplomas in Ohio.

But the fact ECOT is likely using state education dollars to fund the lawsuit and ad campaign has escalated anger among charter school critics who have long sought more restrictions and transparency in spending by the schools.

To continue reading, click here.

The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow or ECOT is one of the oldest cyber charter schools in Ohio (and all of the United States), and the largest cyber charter school in Ohio.  It is also a cautionary tale of the role that money can play within the cyber charter school industry (and believe me when I say industry).

While this particular news article talks about the use of public tax dollars by this “public” – and I use that term VERY loosely – school to fund both the ECOT lawsuit and the ECOT television commercials, we have seen examples in the past where we’ve learned that ECOT received over $92 million for their sub-par student performance or that a bonus check of $2.9 million that would be routed into ECOT owner William Lager’s other private businesses for receiving one “D” and seven “F”s in student performance measures.  It is important to keep in mind that the ECOT owner is a generous donor to neo-liberal legislators in the state:

In an earlier entry, I remarked that “’you have to spend money to make money?’  And when it is the taxpayers’ money, why not spent as much as you need to get the job done?”

It is interesting that this story as Kasich ascended on the national stage during the Republican primaries.  It is a story of corporate greed!  It is a story of the failure of cyber charter schooling (and of school choice in general)!  It is a story of immoral legislators interested in their own perseverance over the education of a generation of youth!  It is a story about the failure of research to impact policy!  And even though this saga isn’t new, it does appear to be continuing – at the taxpayers’ expense no doubt!

GPBS – Why Virtual Schools Are Struggling To Keep Up

A colleague of mine sent this to me earlier in the week.

The Georgia Cyber Academy is the state’s largest public school and one of the biggest virtual programs in the country. The academy received more than $80

It should surprise no one that another full-time cyber charter school operated by a for-profit corporation is failing to serve its students (and coming up with a familiar host of excuses for that outcome).

August 3, 2016

K-12 Online Learning And Charter School Ownership

I know I have already posted an image entry this week, but this one came across my electronic desk and I wanted to pass it along.

Original image at the image is four-five years old, it still struck me. We talk about cyber charter schools as being only a small part of the overall charter school movement (and the overall K-12 online learning movement). But when you look at the size of the companies – at least in terms of number of schools – it is surprising to see that K12, Inc. is (or at least was) the largest player in the field; and Connections Academy was a significant player as well.  At least it was surprising to me…

July 21, 2016

PA Ed Policy Roundup July 18: According To Agora Cyber Charter’s 2013 IRS Filing, It Paid $69.5 Million That Year To K12, Inc.

This was forwarded to me by a colleague…

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PA Ed Policy Roundup July 18, 2016:

According to Agora Cyber Charter’s 2013 IRS filing, it paid $69.5 million that year to K12, Inc.

Apply Now for EPLC’s 2016-2017 PA Education Policy Fellowship Program!

Districts’ only link to cyber charters: Money

Each one pays its own per-pupil charter rate, but oversight of the online schools is solely Pennsylvania’s responsibility.

The notebook by Melanie Bavaria June 7, 2016 — 10:45am

Only a small percentage of U.S. children attend school completely online, but the population that online schools serve has increased dramatically over the last few years and it is projected to continue to climb. In some states, the online charter school industry has seen exponential growth in recent years.  Nationally, about 200 cyber charter schools serve 200,000 students, according to a series of reports published in October by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes, Mathematica Policy Research, and the Center for Reinventing Public Education.  As the state with the second-highest cyber charter enrollment, Pennsylvania has 17 percent of the national cyber charter school population, or 35,000 students.

Dismal academic records

However, most of Pennsylvania’s cyber schools have shown consistently dismal academic records. According to the state’s School Performance Profile website, only three — 21st Century, PA Cyber, and PA Virtual — had an SPP score above 60. The state considers 60 and below to be substandard.  None scored higher than 70, which is the state’s minimum goal for all schools, and some scored in the 30s.  A national report on graduation-rate trends in both virtual and brick-and-mortar high schools showed that although overall rates are increasing, 87 percent of virtual schools nationwide have an adjusted cohort graduation rate of below 67 percent, the federal cutoff point for a “low graduation rate high school.”

In fact, the average graduation rate for virtual schools is 40 percent.

Blogger note: this is a great collection of articles on various aspects of Pennsylvania school funding.

Pennsylvania’s School Funding Crisis

 The notebook July 5, 2016 — 4:55pm

This edition’s reporting on Pennsylvania’s education funding was published as part of a collaboration between WHYY Newsworks’ Keystone Crossroads statewide public media project and the Philadelphia Public School Notebook. The collaboration is supported by a generous grant from the William Penn Foundation.

Pennsylvania school district consolidation study eyes savings

Intelligencer By Gary Weckselblatt, staff writer Posted: Sunday, July 17, 2016 6:00 am

As co-chairman of the bipartisan commission that helped implement a new education funding formula, state Rep. Mike Vereb believes there’s a way to save money that flows into education.

It has to do with cutting down on the number of school districts and their “financial inefficiencies and duplication of services.”  Specifically, that involves slicing the number of school districts from 500 to 67 and saving on administrative costs.  “I want to look at the top,” said Vereb, R-150, a Montgomery County lawmaker who represents the Collegeville area. “We spend so much time focusing on the teacher, and I’m all for that, but there’s got to be a look at the administrators. You’ve got a superintendent, an assistant superintendent, an assistant to the assistant superintendent. I think we need to be fair and look at all levels of public education.”

Did you catch our weekend postings?

PA Ed Policy Weekend Roundup July 17, 2016:

120 American Charter Schools and One Secretive Turkish Cleric

Once again, Pa. settles for quick-fix budget | Editorial

Editorial By Express-Times opinion staff  on July 17, 2016 at 6:00 AM

Pennsylvania’s budget drama was a relatively painless two-act play this year — an on-time adoption by June 30, followed by Wednesday’s action to close a $1.4 billion deficit in the spending plan. After last year’s nine-month standoff, 13 days of post-deadline debate in July seems like … a functional government.  To the extent that Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and Republican legislative leadersrealized the limits of irreconcilable strategies, this budget is a winning proposition, helped along by the encroachment of November elections. After Wolf retreated from his insistence on raising the state income tax or sales tax to boost funding for schools and address a structural budget deficit, he allowed the budget to become law without his signature. Then he left it to House and Senate leaders to assemble a stocking of deficit-fillers.

The result is a one-year, stop-gap plan at best. The centerpiece is a $1-a-pack increase in the state cigarette tax (boosting it to $2.60), along with a 55-cent per-ounce tax on smokeless tobacco and a 40 percent wholesale tax on electronic cigarettes. (Once again, the state’s cigar lobby dodged a bullet.)

Report: Area school district reserves often too low

Times Leader By Mark Guydish – Click for more information on Mark – @TLMarkGuydish – 570-991-6112 JULY 17TH, 2016 – 4:27 PM – UPDATED: JULY 17TH, 2016 – 5:30 PM.

A new report argues that school districts statewide may appear to have healthy fund balances, but that a closer look shows most — including eight of 11 in Luzerne County — have reserves below what most experts recommend as a minimum level.  Released by the Center on Regional Politics at Temple University, the report used state data to distinguish between district reserves that are restricted and those that are “unassigned.” While some district may have healthy-looking reserves, much of the money is often set aside for things like construction costs.  The analysis, done by David Davare of the Pennsylvania Economy League noted, that during the nine-month budget battle in Harrisburg from July of last year into March of this year, critics contended Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts were collectively sitting on about $4.7 billion in reserves even as many insisted they would have to close without state money.

Here’s the report referenced above…

PA School Districts’ Fund Balances: An Update

Center on Regional Politics at Temple University July 6, 2016

A policy brief published by the Center on Regional Politics in July 2016 provides data on the status of fund balances for Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts at the close of fiscal year 2014-15. The data shows that total reserve funds for districts, charter schools and technical schools have increased by about $400 million since 2012-2013, from $4.3 billion to $4.7 billion. But only six of the 500 school districts have unassigned fund balances equal to or larger than their state subsidy.

“Over the last five years, the number of school-age children in the Lehigh Valley has shrunk by 4.6 percent, but the number of Hispanic children in that population has increased by 15.6 percent. School districts will need to find ways to connect with the Latino population as their numbers grow.”

As Latino population grows, school districts search for new ways to help student succeed

Sarah M. Wojcik  Contact Reporter Of The Morning Call July 17, 2016

Lehigh Valley school districts searching for ways to help growing Hispanic population succeed

There’s one common thread among the immigrant parents that math teacher Christa Wolak has met with during her five years at Allentown’s Newcomer Academy: They care — a lot.  The vast majority of students at the special Allentown School District facility, a school dedicated to preparing non-English speaking students for public education, are Latino. And Wolak said the school’s staff has learned that engaging the entire family is an essential part of helping each student succeed.  From movie nights to sprawling holiday feasts, the east Allentown school, serving students from seventh to 12th grades, has taken an already unique program to the next level by going beyond the classroom.  “Of the families I meet with at Newcomer, rarely do I find the parents don’t care,” she said. “I see families pleased and grateful and thankful that their children are getting a good education.”  It’s an educational philosophy that could prove essential for more and more districts as an increasing number of Latino children fill classrooms across the Lehigh Valley.

Lawsuit brewing over refugee education in Lancaster


About 17,000 school-aged refugees move to the U.S. in an average year, an estimate that’s a few years old and likely growing along with overall resettlement activity.  But no one is tracking how young refugees fare in school here.  Georgetown University released a study earlier this year looking at education access by students with limited English proficiency.  It focused on undocumented immigrants.  But researcher Zenandeh Booi says some trends apply to refugees; specifically, schools discouraging or denying enrollment, particularly to older children, and failing to provide translation when communicating with families.  “It could be, in some cases, a lack of resources to adequately accommodate these kids. And in some other instances, it’s, essentially, they don’t want these kids in their schools,” Booi says. “So, to a large extent, districts are dealing with a lot in trying to accommodate these kids. But at the same time, it can’t be used for a reason why you completely exclude a child from being able to access education.”  Actually, federal law prohibits it. But it’s happening anyway, as documented by the Georgetown study and lawsuits in multiple states.  Several school districts in New York settled related lawsuits this spring, just before another was filed in Florida.  And one Pennsylvania district is next.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania’s filing a lawsuit this week against the public school district in the city of Lancaster, long known as a hub for refugee resettlement.

Pages on Pedals offers a vital service to children in Lancaster city

Lancaster Online The LNP Editorial Board July 18, 2016

THE ISSUE: In June, The Mix at Arbor Place collaborated with The Common Wheel to organize Pages on Pedals, a program in which volunteers brought books via bicycles to local children. The program reached 100 kids in Lancaster city, and will return next year.

For some kids, getting a new book during the summer is similar to getting a present under the tree in December.  Just ask 9-year-old Jaqaya Smith.  Jaqaya would set an alarm to greet Pages on Pedals volunteers who brought books once a week to her Lancaster city home, her mother said.  The girl unlocked the screen door so she could hear them knocking on the front door.

After a few knocks, Smith and her brother greeted the bicyclists on their porch, both itching to find out which book they would receive.  It was Christmas in June. Minus the milk and cookies, Santa and snow.  The Mix at Arbor Place and The Common Wheel deserve much credit.  Studies show that kids, especially low-income students, are at great risk of falling into a “summer slide.”

Research from Johns Hopkins University shows that during the summer, low-income students often lose two to three months of learning, particularly in reading.

The Republican National Convention and Education: What to Watch For

Education Week Politics K12 Blog By Alyson Klein on July 17, 2016 4:45 PM

Cleveland – The Republican National Convention kicks off July 18 and culminates with the nomination of the party’s candidate on July 21. And both halves of Politics K-12 are in Cleveland. We will be blogging, tweeting, taking video, interviewing folks with a connection to K-12, and giving you breaking analysis of how education is playing out here.  So what should you be watching for this week?The list of speakers includes some folks with a background on K-12 policy, like Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, and some not so much, like pro-golfer Natalie Gulbis or Tiffany Trump, the daughter of presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump.  K-12 education has played fifth-fiddle to pretty much every issue this election cycle, and even long-time Washington hands are stumped as to where Trump might go on the issue.  But here are five speakers who might give us a sense of where the party’s heart is:

“Charter schools in the U.S. also have raised questions about possible ties to Gulen. A loosely affiliated group of Turkish educators organized about 100 publicly funded schools in 25 states with as many as 35,000 students, according to a 2010 investigation by USA TODAY. The schools have recruited thousands of teachers from Turkey.”

Turkish exile sparks questions about Congress travel, charter schools

 Bart Jansen, USA TODAY8:38 p.m. EDT July 17, 2016

WASHINGTON – The Muslim cleric who is accused of organizing the attempted coup in Turkey also has sparked questions about the motivation behind congressional travel and charter schools in the U.S.  Fethullah Gulen, 75, lives in exile in rural Pennsylvania. But Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan contends Gulen was behind the attempted coup Friday that left hundreds dead and 6,000 detained, and has demanded Gulen’s extradition.

Fethullah Gulen: The Islamic scholar Turkey blames for the failed coup

Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog By Valerie Strauss July 16

The man that Turkey’s leaders have blamed for a failed coup attempt by a group of army officers is an Islamic scholar named Fethullah Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania and who has inspired a network said to include more than 160 charter schools in the United States.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says that the coup attempt Friday was the work of army officers who are followers of Gulen, who had once been an ally but whose movement has become critical of the increasingly authoritarian regime.  The Gulen movement denied involvement in the coup, but Secretary of State John F. Kerryon Saturday was quoted as saying the United States would support investigations to determine who instigated the attempted coup and where its support originates. He said he anticipates questions will be raised about Gulen.

PSBA 2016-17 Budget Update JUL 22, 201611:30 AM – 12:30 PM

Please join PSBA’s Assistant Executive Director of Public Policy and Chief Lobbyist John Callahan for an in-depth dive into Pennsylvania’s budget. In this complimentary member webinar, see what is behind the numbers, get the trends and analysis for the 2016-17 fiscal year. Find out what is in the school code and policy changes to come. Participate in a question and answer period.  Register online with PSBA’s webinar host GoToWebinar at

Apply Now for EPLC’s 2016-2017 PA Education Policy Fellowship Program!

Education Policy and Leadership Center

Applications are available now for the 2016-2017 Education Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP). The Education Policy Fellowship Program is sponsored in Pennsylvania by The Education Policy and Leadership Center (EPLC). Click here for the program calendar of sessions.  With nearly 500 graduates in its first seventeen years, this Program is a premier professional development opportunity for educators, state and local policymakers, advocates, and community leaders.  State Board of Accountancy (SBA) credits are available to certified public accountants.  Past participants include state policymakers, district superintendents and principals, school business officers, school board members, education deans/chairs, statewide association leaders, parent leaders, education advocates, and other education and community leaders. Fellows are typically sponsored by their employer or another organization.

The Fellowship Program begins with a two-day retreat on September 15-16, 2016 and continues to graduation in June 2017. Click here to read more about the Education Policy Fellowship Program, or here to see the 2016-2017 program calendar.

Applications are being accepted now.

Appointment of Voting Delegates for the October 15th PSBA Delegate Assembly Meeting

PSBA Website June 27, 2016

The governing body boards of all member school entities are entitled to appoint voting delegates to participate in the PSBA Delegate Assembly to be held on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016. It is important that school boards act soon to appoint its delegate or delegates, and to notify PSBA of the appointment.

Voting members of the Delegate Assembly will:

  1. Consider and act upon proposed changes to the PSBA Bylaws.
  2. Receive reports from the PSBA president, executive director and treasurer.
  3. Receive the results of the election for officers and at-large representatives. (Voting upon candidates by school boards and electronic submission of each board’s votes will occur during the month of September 2016.)
  4. Consider proposals recommended by the PSBA Platform Committee and adopt the legislative platform for the coming year.
  5. Conduct other Association business as required or permitted in the Bylaws, policies or a duly adopted order of business.

The 2016 Delegate Assembly will meet on Saturday, Oct. 15, at the conclusion of the regularly scheduled events of the main PASA-PSBA School Leadership Conference.

2016 PA Educational Leadership Summit July 24-26 State College

Summit Sponsors: PA Principals Association – PA Association of School Administrators – PA Association of Middle Level Educators – PA Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development 

The 2016 Educational Leadership Summit, co-sponsored by four leading Pennsylvania education associations, provides an excellent opportunity for school district administrative teams and instructional leaders to learn, share and plan together at a quality venue in “Happy Valley.”

Featuring Grant Lichtman, author of EdJourney: A Roadmap to the Future of Education, Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera (invited), and Dana Lightman, author of POWER Optimism: Enjoy the Life You Have… Create the Success You Want, keynote speakers, high quality breakout sessions, table talks on hot topics and district team planning and job alike sessions provides practical ideas that can be immediately reviewed and discussed at the summit before returning back to your district.   Register and pay by April 30, 2016 for the discounted “early bird” registration rate:

PA Supreme Court sets Sept. 13 argument date for fair education funding lawsuit in Philly

Thorough and Efficient Blog JUNE 16, 2016 BARBGRIMALDI LEAVE A COMMENT

Lawrence A. Feinberg
Keystone State Education Coalition
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