Virtual School Meanderings

August 19, 2021

Education Companies Swept Up in Idaho Panel’s Search for ‘Indoctrination’ in Learning Materials

Filed under: virtual school — Michael K. Barbour @ 10:03 am
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Given all of the focus on the content of these canned curriculums, do the folks on the right really want us examining these products closely?

Education Companies Swept Up in Idaho Panel’s Search for ‘Indoctrination’ in Learning Materials

Emma Kate Fittes
Staff Writer

A task force assembled by Idaho’s Republican lieutenant governor has objected to the work of two well-known education companies among a long list of materials it says are promoting the “indoctrination” of students on issues of race and gender.

Both AVID, a nonprofit professional development provider, and EL Education, a nonprofit curriculum provider, were included in a list of examples published last week. The task force said the materials were gathered from district websites, parent submissions, and public records requests.

Members took issue with AVID and EL Education’s statements of support for the Black Lives Matter movement and the anti-racist resources they offer teachers.

Idaho’s State Board of Education quickly rebuked the task force’s claims, saying in a statement that the board found no evidence of indoctrination in the state’s schools.

But the situation shows the difficult position education companies could find themselves in.

Many companies in the K-12 market have seen demand rise for curriculum and other products that address issues of racial equity and inclusion. Teachers are seeking out resources that help them discuss current events, such as the killing of George Floyd and protests over police conduct, as well as broader explorations of the history of racial discrimination in the United States.

To continue reading, click here.

I ask this question, because as I wrote in the most recent NEPC Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2021 report:

Unsurprisingly, vendors have stepped into this void to play a significant role in driving adoption of their tools and pedagogies. Even as corporations confidently promote internal research on their products, however, their practice shows little regard for the reliability, validity, or independence of their work.101  Experience with corporate-produced curriculum argues persuasively that any measurement tools they produce should be viewed with heavy skepticism.

NEPC researchers have long expressed concerns about the role of corporate vendors in the K-12 classroom. A decade ago, for example, a report on school commercialism for the 2010-11 school year included a discussion of both Shell Oil Company’s “Energize Your Future” curriculum that portrayed the company as a leader in alternative technologies, and the American Coal Foundation’s “The United States of Energy” fourth-grade curriculum that 102 In each case, corporate image and interests were prioritized over facts. Eventually, a coalition of advocacy groups succeeded in pressuring Scholastic to stop publishing the latter and to vow to pull back generally from publishing corporate-sponsored materials.

While the benefits of coal may seem like an extreme example, the adoption of vendor-created curriculum prior to and during the pandemic has included equally questionable content. For example, activists posted the following bits of online curriculum from vendor Acellus.

One lesson . . . depicted one animal character asking a pig in make-up why she’s called “sweetie lips,” to which the pig blushed and replied, “Don’t ask. We’re not even going there.”

Another lesson asked students, “Osama Bin Laden was the leader of what terrorist group?” One of the multiple-choice answers was “Towelban.” Another lesson describing Harriet Tubman’s escape from slavery was illustrated with an image of a masked bank robber.103

. . . a first-grade language arts video lesson . . . shows an Acellus instructor teaching about the letter “G.” As she pulls something from the box in front of her, she says, “Watch out! Ooh, it’s a gun,” and removes a silver toy gun.104

The Hawaii Department of Education had used this curriculum for over a decade, exposing thousands of students to this kind of content, before any objections were raised.105  In fact, it wasn’t until many school districts adopted the Acellus online curriculum as a response to teachers’ need for online content during the pandemic that these examples were exposed. Many districts stopped using the curriculum following the revelations.106  Given that policymakers typically turn to whatever materials or tools are most readily available, the lack of validated measurement instruments in the field that so badly needs them is a critical concern. Commercial vendors, who have consistently proven themselves to produce only self-interested educational materials, will be only too happy to fill the void—likely making matters worse if researchers turn to them instead of developing valid instruments themselves. (pp. 61-62)

June 11, 2019

Lessons From Long Ago… Evaluating Virtual Schools: Lessons For Evaluators And Policymakers

At some point over the past week, someone shared this document with me again.  It was a presentation given to the National Legislative Program Evaluation Society (NLPES) Fall 2008 Conference by Jeff Shinn of the Office of Performance Evaluations for the Idaho Legislature.  The presentation was entitled Evaluating Virtual Schools: Lessons for Evaluators and Policymakers, and you can access it at:

http://www.ncsl.org/print/nlpes/shinn0908.pdf

What I was struck by, as I reviewed these slides was the consistency that exists 11 years later.  For example, the third slide is titled “Issues for Policymakers and Evaluators” and reads:

Virtual schools often differ from “brick and mortar”) schools (traditional and charter)

  • Operation and oversight
  • Curriculum development
  • Instruction methods

Under the “Operations and Oversight” slide, it reads:

  • Definition
    • Virtual school vs. virtual program
    • Virtual school vs. charter school
  • Requirements of Approval process
    • Laws and rules specific to charter schools
    • General education laws and rules
    • Reporting and accountability

Later it reads:

  • Approval process and oversight are not tailored to virtual school operations
  • Current statutory definition is vague; no clear framework for virtual schools to operate within
  • Wide variations exist in school operations
    • Curriculum development
    • Delivery of instruction
    • Required student-teacher contact

The recommendations made during the presentation included:

  1. Clarify definition of virtual school to address areas of school operations and make a distinction between virtual schools and programs
  2. Seek clarification about what rules apply to charter schools
  3. Update the petition review checklists to reflect requirements specified in rule
  4. Require petitioners to address the findings in the State Department of Education sufficiency review
  5. Analyze the relationship between variations in operations and student outcomes
  6. Require all existing virtual schools to be approved by commission
  7. Consider adding annual reporting requirements for virtual schools
  8. Address whether any public school operating a virtual program be subject to oversight similar to virtual schools

These recommendations were followed by these final thoughts:

Virtual schools are emerging as an innovative flexible approach, providing opportunities for students who may not fit in a traditional classroom setting

Variations in school operations may include differences in attendance requirements, required levels of student-teacher interaction, activities that count as course work, and student-to-teacher ratios

Statutes should:

  • Define virtual schools in clear, comprehensive language
  • Outline operating requirements
  • Provide mechanism for school approval and ongoing oversight
  • Provide framework for virtual schools to maximize flexibility in operations

I guess what strikes me the most is that while this presentation was given in the Fall of 2008, is there anything I have quote above that couldn’t have been included in a presentation given last week?  I guess we’ll file this under “the more things change, the more they stay the same!”

June 10, 2019

Press Release: CREDO At Stanford University Releases First In-Depth Examination Of Charter School Impacts In Idaho

This is the third of three entries that was referenced about sixty minutes ago (see here).  If you haven’t looked at that first entry, I would STRONGLY encourage that you do for a brief primer on some of the methodological issues.

CREDO at Stanford University Releases First In-Depth Examination of Charter School Impacts in Idaho

STANFORD, Calif. – Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), found that on average, students in Idaho charter schools experience similar learning gains in math and stronger learning gains in reading compared to their traditional public school student (TPS) peer. The report studies Idaho state charter students’ performance over three years, beginning with the 2014-2015 school year and ending with the 2016- 2017 school year.

“We are always excited to work with a new state, and our first in-depth look in Idaho provided many unique insights. Idaho is distinctive for numerous reasons — different geography, different student populations — but the findings show that the policy framework of charter schools can be successful in Idaho as much as elsewhere. Idaho provides a unique proof point to the nation, and we look forward to following the story,” said Margaret Raymond, Director of CREDO at Stanford University.

Key Findings

  • This analysis spanned two growth periods and used a total of 14,915 and 14,814 charter school student records from 55 and 56 charter schools in reading and math, respectively.
  • In Idaho, there are both online and brick-and-mortar charters. Our investigation revealed remarkably weaker growth in both reading and math among online charter students relative to the average TPS students or brick-and-mortar charter students. In fact, it is the poor performance of online charter schools that drags down the overall charter impact on student academic growth.
  • Students in rural charter schools have stronger gains in both reading and math compared to their TPS counterparts.
  • At the school level, around 40 percent of Idaho charter schools outpace their local TPS peers in learning in reading and math. Still, 17 percent of charter schools have results that are significantly worse than TPS peers for reading and 20 percent of charter schools are underperforming in math relative to their local TPS peers.

To download a copy of the full report, visit: http://credo.stanford.edu

About CREDO at Stanford University CREDO at Stanford University produces rigorous, non-partisan research and evaluation to enhance the body of empirical evidence, driving education policy decisions toward improved education outcomes for all students.

Note the portions I have highlighted in red that would be of interest to readers of this space.

The direct link to the report is available at:

http://credo.stanford.edu/pdfs/Idaho_report_Final.pdf

Again, another result that confirms findings in a report released in the past two weeks by the National Education Policy Center (of which I am a co-author).

August 11, 2014

Digital Learning For Credit Recovery In Idaho And Beyond

This came across my radar screen last week…

Digital Learning for Credit Recovery in Idaho and Beyond

A REL Northwest Webinar | Wednesday, August 20, 2014 | 9:30–10:45 am PDT, 10:30–11:45 am MDT Online programs and courses have been hailed as a viable learning solution to many issues facing schools, including credit recovery. This free webinar will discuss key strategies in building a successful online program and curriculum to meet the needs of at-risk students and those who need credit recovery for graduation. Topics include:

  • National trends for online program design, course functionality, course structure, and teacher support
  • How one program, the Idaho Digital Learning Academy, meets the specific learning needs of students through
    modifications to online programs, trainings for local mentors and online teachers, adjustments to course design,
    and working with districts to implement blended programs

Presenters:

Janet Twyman, Ph.D., is the Director of Innovation and Technology at the National Center on Innovations in Learning. Twyman’s work includes identifying emerging promising practices in education technology and developing web-based systems and tools.

Sherawn Reberry, Ed.D., is the Director of Education Programs at the Idaho Digital Learning Academy (IDLA), a statewide virtual school established by the Idaho legislature in 2002. IDLA provides e-learning expertise, virtual services, and leadership in collaboration with Idaho school teachers and administrators to ensure all of Idaho students’ needs are being met.

Who should attend

This 75-minute webinar is designed for:

• School administrators, counselors, and educators, particularly in rural and/or alternative schools
• State education agency staff interested in online programs for at-risk students
• Parents whose students might benefit from online instructional programs

To register

Register at http://relnw.educationnorthwest.org/events/digital-learning-credit-recovery-idaho-and-beyond

For more information Contact Claire Gates at Claire.Gates@educationnorthwest.org.

This event is sponsored by Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Northwest,
funded by the U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences.

October 15, 2013

K12, Inc. School Misleads And Misdirects

Almost two years ago now,  posted a two-part entry on the Tactics of The Neo-Liberals/Conservatives in K-12 Online Learning (see Part One here and Part Two here).  I mention this because there was an illustration of these tactics last week that was just too perfect not to highlight – not so much that it happened, but because someone called the neo-liberal in question out on it.

The Idaho Press-Tribune published an article last week entitled “More reasons you should be concerned with K12 Inc.“.  In that article, they announced the discovered that it was recently revealed that back in 2008 the Idaho Virtual Academy outsourced the grading of some of its students’ work to a company in India.  As the article noted the story itself was nothing new, as an Arizona blogger had uncovered this back in 2008 (see AZ Online Charter School Outsources Education and An Explanation of the AZVA Outsourcing Process).  In fact, the Arizona blogger had indicated that there were a total of nine states involved in this K-12, Inc. practice – and Arizona was just one of them.  The actual news this week I suppose was that it was finally revealed that Idaho was one of the other eight states involvedK12, Inc. has since confirmed this to be the case – note they have still yet to release who the other seven states were to the best of my knowledge.

What becomes interesting for me is the K12, Inc. response…

Kelly Edginton, who is the Head of School for the Idaho Virtual Academy (IDVA), took to the Idaho Press-Tribune to defend her school.  In her seven paragraph response, she presents her own longstanding education credentials and touts all of the wonderful things her school and its teachers do.  Then a funny thing happened – someone left a comment.  This in and off itself isn’t the odd part.  The odd part is that fact that 48 hours after the story was published, it was still the sole comment on the piece (granted the six other articles about the IDVA in the Idaho Press-Tribune since 2008 have all received no comments).  The second odd thing about the comment was what it said.

Ms. Edginton says that Travis Manning’s op-ed piece “makes many inaccurate claims about our instructional practices and mischaracterizes the culture of our school.” Curiously, Ms. Edginton fails to enumerate those inaccurate claims and then refute them, electing instead to argue against claims that Mr. Manning never made.

Mr. Manning did not question the certification of IDVA teachers, nor question where they reside. He most certainly didn’t question their dedication to the well-being of students or whether they have “close personal relationships with parents.” He did not question whether IDVA is as accountable to taxpayers as any other public school, though he did note that K12, Inc. is not subject to open-meeting laws or public-records requests, and that K12, Inc.’s business practices, products, and services are regarded by the company as proprietary.

Rather than address the straw-man arguments she has erected, Ms. Edginton could have addressed those claims about K12, Inc. and addressed, as well, the other well-documented examples of K12’s questionable business practices and dismal academic results, particularly as embodied in K12’s troubled, taxpayer-funded schools in Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.

Finally, Ms. Edginton tells only part of the story when she says “Our school does not use outside vendors to review or grade student work.” Perhaps IDVA doesn’t use outside vendors now, but it once did. That fact has been verified by K12, Inc. spokesperson Jeff Kwitowski.

Need I say more…

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