Virtual School Meanderings

June 22, 2015

News Article: When Charters Go Union

This showed up in my inbox on Friday…

When Charters Go Union

Most charter school funders hate unions and unions generally hate charters. But more and more charter teachers want to unionize, and labor is helping them do it. 

The April sun had not yet risen in Los Angeles when teachers from the city’s largest charter network—the Alliance College-Ready Public Schools—gathered outside for a press conference to discuss their new union drive. Joined by local labor leaders, politicians, student alumni, and parents, the importance of the educators’ effort was not lost on the crowd. If teachers were to prevail in winning collective bargaining rights at Alliance’s 26 schools, the audience recognized, then L.A.’s education reform landscape would fundamentally change. For years, after all, many of the most powerful charter backers had proclaimed that the key to helping students succeed was union-free schools.

To continue reading, click here

On the issue of cyber charter schools, the reporter writes:

“Also in April, for the first time ever, the California Teachers Association (CTA), an NEA state affiliate, convened 65 charter educators from across the state. One California teacher in attendance was Jen Shilen, who teaches U.S. history, economics, and government at California Virtual Academies (CAVA), a network of 11 virtual charter schools for grades K–12. Shilen and others have been fighting for a CAVA union since December 2013. When their workload began to change rapidly and inexplicably, and their many attempts to raise concerns with management went nowhere, Shilen said, they reached out to CTA. CAVA declined to comment.

“Going to CTA’s conference was the first time I’ve gotten to meet other charter educators organizing and it was a major morale boost,” says Shilen, who rarely even sees her own coworkers, since virtual charter teachers work from home.”

I’m not sure if it was “the first time ever” – as I don’t know the exact date and current status of the efforts at Agora Cyber Charter School in Pennsylvania.  I’m also not sure the timeline for the unionization of Washington Virtual Academies in Monroe.

I’d love it if we could generate a complete list of ALL of the unionized K-12 online learning programs in the United States to be able to understand who they are and what is happening in these environments.

September 3, 2013

Canadian Union Supports Distributed (Online) Learning–With Conditions

This entry was posted by Larry Kuehn on edu-digicritic.  Note that I have recently prepared a report for the BCTF on the responses of unions around the world to K-12 distance education (and also how the role of the teacher is affected by K-12 distance education).

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Union Supports Distributed (online) Learning–with Conditions

Teacher unions in Canada have had concerns about developments in online learning, but have generally been supportive if they have felt conditions were appropriate. Most provinces have relatively small numbers of students in online programs and they are integrated into the schools with face-to-face programs.  The Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union has provisions in the collective agreement that make working conditions for teachers in online programs equivalent to those in face-to-face classrooms.

In the U.S., most of the online programs are run as Charter Schools and the staffs are not unionized.  In fact, online learning has been seen by opponents of unions as a way of breaking unionization in education.

The British Columbia Teachers’ Federation adopted policy at the Annual Meeting of 2001 that supported DL—if conditions are appropriate.  This was at the beginning of the expansion of the number of students in DL programs from 2200 to about 80,000 last year.  (That is the number of students taking at least one course—many are taking only one.)

Unfortunately, many of the conditions for success identified in the BCTF policy do not exist in practice.  Limited funding in the school system as a whole has led to districts finding resources by squeezing staffing in the DL programs, leading to deteriorating working conditions for DL teachers.  When the BC government legislated class size limits for face-to-face programs, they explicitly excluded DL from limits.

This is the BCTF policy adopted in 2001 and still in place.

51.11 – Distributed Learning

That BCTF policy on distributed learning be:

To continue reading, visit

July 24, 2013

Reclaiming the Promise

From yesterday’s inbox…

Dear Michael,

We believe in public education because it is the means by which we help all children dream their dreams and achieve them. And I mean all children—those who have abundant advantages, and those for whom every day is a struggle; those who worry about getting into a good college, and those who worry about their parents getting deported.

Watch the videoEducators like you help students build lives of great purpose and potential by instilling essential knowledge and skills, including critical reasoning, problem-solving and working with others, and by promoting civic participation. We believe in high-quality public education because it is an economic necessity, an anchor of democracy, a moral imperative and a fundamental civil right, without which none of our other rights can be fully realized. And I believe that promise, that hope, that accomplishment, is a direct result of the work you do every day, the most important work in America.

I truly believe we are in a crucial moment when we must reclaim the promise of public education—not as it is today or as it was in the past, but as what public education can be to fulfill our collective obligation to help all children succeed.

People are waking up to the fact that decades of top-down edicts, mass school closures, privatization and test fixation with sanctions instead of support haven’t moved the needle—not in the right direction at least.

And today, in front of nearly 3,000 educators at our union’s TEACH conference in Washington, D.C., I laid out a vision to reclaim the promise of public education and unite parents and community with us as one unstoppable force.

Stand with us to Reclaim the Promise.

Reclaiming the promise of public education is about fighting for neighborhood public schools that are safe, welcoming places for teaching and learning. Reclaiming the promise is about ensuring that teachers are well-prepared, are supported and have time to collaborate. Reclaiming the promise is about enabling them to teach an engaging curriculum that includes art and music and the sciences. And reclaiming the promise is about ensuring that kids have access to wraparound services to meet their emotional, social and health needs.

Taken together, all these things reflect our prescription for ensuring that all kids have the opportunities they need and deserve. This vision may look different community by community, but it has a few common elements. Reclaiming the promise will bring back the joy of teaching and learning. It’s the way to make every public school a place where parents want to send their kids, teachers want to teach and children are engaged. It makes our public schools the center of the community and fulfills their purpose as an anchor of our democracy and a propeller of our economy.

We know it is not only educators who are for this; parents and community members have our backs. A recent poll, we released today, found that parents want strong neighborhood public schools as opposed to more charter schools or voucher programs, and overwhelmingly believe public schools should provide a well-rounded education, offer social services for students and reduce the emphasis on testing, among other findings.

This is not a campaign. This is our core. And it must be the focus of our work going forward. Ours is a vision that works. It’s a vision of what parents want for their kids. And it’s a movement that can stop the privatizers, profiteers and austerity hawks in their tracks.

But they’re not going to roll over and go away. We need your help. None of us can be bystanders. We need to reach out to parents, the community and civic leaders. We need to open their eyes to the good things happening in our schools—as well as the challenges we face. We need to open their minds to our vision for great neighborhood public schools. We need to open their hearts to joining with us in the effort to ensure all our children get the great education they need and deserve.

Join us in Reclaiming the Promise.

In unity,
Randi Weingarten
AFT President

P.S. Read the full speech I gave at the AFT TEACH Conference this morning, launching the AFT’s core program, Reclaiming the Promise.

July 23, 2013

EDTECH597 – Audio Entry: Meandering Out Loud: K-12 Online Learning And Teachers Unions

In my EDTECH597 – Week 7 entry yesterday, I indicated that I would post an entry with audio in it to model for my Boise State students. So today I decided to start up my “Meandering Out Loud” feature again (since it has been exactly a year since I recorded the last one). So…

Welcome to the tenth edition of “Meandering Out Loud.” A few weeks ago, the National Education Association released a statement about online learning.  This was followed by a response from one of the researchers behind the annual Keeping Pace with K-12 Online and Blended Learning report.

Today, I wanted to take a few moments to discuss this statement and the slanted response from the Keeping Pace folks.

Click on the image to begin the “Meandering Out Loud” audio clip.

In listening to the entry the technical issues that I have noticed in previous recordings I have made using the Audioboo system aren’t present. So I don’t know if my Internet connection was better today or if Audioboo has just improved their system.

Anyway, until next time…

October 18, 2010

Issues In K-12 Online Teaching in British Columbia

A good friend of mine sent me this news article and report.

The joys and challenges of teaching K-12 online
By Janet Steffenhagen 11 Oct 2010 Vancouver Sun

Little is known about the success of students who choose to take K-12 courses online instead of in the classroom. But a recent survey by the B.C. Teachers’ Federation sheds light on the rewards and challenges facing their teachers.

The actual report is from the British Columbia Teachers Federation (BCTF):

Distributed Learning 2010 survey: DL Working Conditions

For those who may not know, the BCTF is the teachers’ union in British Columbia.  Unlike what is often found in the United States, teachers’ unions in Canada have been generally supportive of K-12 distance education and K-12 online learning – although with a skeptical eye (maybe it is just a Canadian thing).

In the case of British Columbia, the BCTF has actually been the greatest source of research into K-12 distance education in the province.  For example:

Hawkey, C. & Kuehn, L. (2007). BCTF research report – The working conditions of BC teachers working in distributed learning: Investigating current issues, concerns, and practices . Vancouver: BC: British Columbia Teachers’ Federation. Retrieved January 6, 2008 from

A research report prepared for the British Columbia Teachers Federation. This report investigated distributive learning, focused on the impact of provincial government policy, the current practices and working conditions of teachers and the development of technology and its applications at the local level.

Kuehn, L. (2006). BCTF research report – Distributed learning in British Columbia schools. Vancouver: BC: British Columbia Teachers’ Federation. Retrieved from

A research report that discusses the historical changes to the distributive learning program in the British Columbia. The report highlights the major policies of Bill 33, creating a framework for the LearnNowBC system; and British Columbia Teachers Federation (BCTF) policies for standarization of distributive learning programs.

Kuehn, L. (2004). BCTF research report – Online education is not the same as home schooling. Vancouver: BC: British Columbia Teachers’ Federation. Retrieved from

A conference paper reporting how past educational policies and practices confused the distinction between online education and home schooling in British Columbia. This paper discusses the 2003/2004 audit of distance education to establish clear policies and criteria for ministry funded online programs.

Kuehn, L. (2003). BCTF research report: Distributed Learning in B.C., 2002-03. Vancouver: BC: British Columbia Teachers’ Federation. Retrieved from

A research report presented to the 2003 BCTF Representative Assembly. This report identifies issues concerning distributive learning with regard to teaching practices, the learning environment, curriculum development, and government policies and accountability practices. The report includes two appendices. Appendix 1 focuses on challenges of distance education to support the student’s learning experience. Appendix 2 is an observational account of distance education from the combined experience of three educational counselors.

Kuehn, L. (2002). BCTF research report – Developments with distributed learning. Vancouver: BC: British Columbia Teachers’ Federation. Retrieved from

A supplemental report to the 2002 BCTF Executive Committee meeting. This report includes educational policy statements concerning distributive learning, information on Vancouver’s virtual school, and practical and philosophical issues to consider for future research.

The largest teachers’ union in Ontario has produced similar reports that take a critical look at K-12 online learning through the lens of teacher workload and teacher preparation.  It seems that the main concern that these teachers’ unions have is to ensure that distance or online teachers have similar workload and working conditions as their face-to-face counterparts.  And while they have concerns, they are still very supportive of this educational delivery model.  For example, in the up-coming State of the Nation: K-12 Online Learning in Canada (the annual iNACOL publication on the state of K-12 distance education activity, policy and regulations in Canada), I wrote:

at their 2010 annual meeting the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (one of the four main unions representing teachers in the province) adopted a policy regarding distance education that states, among other things, they belief that “the Ministry of Education should ensure that all students in publicly-funded schools should have equal access to online credit courses, including but not limited to covering the cost of online credit courses for low-income students and making available computers, modems and Internet access” (p. 29).

Nova Scotia is actually leading the country (and I would argue North America) in terms of critical support of K-12 distance education.  Again, from the State of the Nation: K-12 Online Learning in Canada report, I wrote:

There is currently no legislation specifically related to K-12 distance education in Nova Scotia, however, there are 11 provisions included in the agreement between the Government of Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia Teachers Union. As a contract between the Government and teachers’ union, most of the provisions deal with teacher certification and workload issues. For example, all distance education teachers must have provincial certification and be employed by one of the eight school districts (49.01), must not infringe upon the teachers “marking and preparation time, lunch periods, days pursuant to Article 25.05 [i.e., professional development, assessment, preparation, and personal days], School Year, or other such times provided to classroom teachers in the school” (49.02), and must be scheduled during the school day (49.08).

The agreement states that the school board is responsible for ensuring that there is a plan in place for student supervision, and that schools must appoint a distance education coordinator and that these responsibilities shall be included as a part of that teacher’s overall teaching assignment (although without outlining the specific responsibilities of this coordinator), or the principal must assume these duties (49.03). The coordinator is responsible for ensuring that students have a physical space to complete their distance education courses, supervision and submission of assessments and assignments, maintenance of student records, communication with the distance education teachers, and tutoring (49.04).

There are provisions that limit the size of synchronous classes to a maximum size of 22 or 25 students from up to five different school sites. If new technologies are to be used, those involved in the distance education programme are required to meet to discuss updated maximum number of students and schools, along with other delivery issues (49.06). School boards are required to provide on-going professional development in distance education for all of those involved in the distance education programme (49.07).

Lastly, the two final provisions relate to the creation of a “standing Distance Education Committee consisting of two representatives from the Department of Education, two representatives from the Nova Scotia School Boards’ Association and four representatives from the Union… to address issues surrounding distance education” that meets at least twice a year and provides annual written reports” (p. 100).

It is interesting to see the difference between the Canadian experience and the American experience.  In one teachers’ unions are seen as the problem or an impediment to educational reform, in the other they are seen as a partner.  In one K-12 distance education teachers are unionized, in the other almost all are  non-unionized employees (and, again, unions are generally seen as an impediment to what these K-12 distance education organizations want to do).  Finally, in one teachers’ unions see K-12 distance education as a way to increase they membership and are working to protect the interest of their members while still being supportive of the increasing use of K-12 distance education.

While I understand the MAJOR socio-cultural and political differences between the two countries, but I think this example illustrates once again how the educational reform movement in the United States isn’t about improving education.  It is about two ideological positions and each side trying to impose their view of public education upon everyone.  Teachers’ unions aren’t the enemy, unless your goal is to crush the union and destroy public education.  Teachers’ unions have a specific role within the educational process (i.e., to protect the interest of their members).  If unions are engaged in the process, with the understanding of what they real role is, than they can be a useful partner in the process.

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