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K12, Inc.A report released Thursday blasts K-12, Inc.-backed California Virtual Academies (CAVA), that state’s largest provider of online education, for producing few graduates and directing large amounts of revenue toward advertising, executive salaries and profit — while paying its teachers less than half the average wage traditional public school teachers earn.

“It is too easy for kids to fall through the cracks in CAVA’s current online schooling system,” said Donald Cohen, executive director for In the Public Interest, the Washington-based think tank that penned the report. “We are calling on California to immediately increase oversight of online education to ensure students are receiving a quality education.”

Notable findings of the report include:

  • In every year since it began graduating students, except 2013, CAVA has had less than a 50 percent graduation rate, while California’s traditional public school graduation rate has hovered around 80 percent;
  • Some CAVA students log into their virtual classroom for as little as one minute a day, which is enough to give the charter its daily attendance revenue from the state;
  • While K12 Inc. paid almost $11 million total to its top six executives in 2011-12, the average CAVA teacher salary was $36,150 that same year — close to half of average teacher pay in California; and
  • In December 2011, the California Charter Schools Association called for the closure of CAVA in Kern County because the school did not meet its renewal standards.

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In 2011, the North Carolina General Assembly eliminated the much-lauded NC Teaching Fellows program, which prepares and provides for students eager to enter into a teaching career in their home state. As the last of the Teaching Fellows are set to graduate this spring, the program’s sponsor has released a retrospective report on the program’s impact since its inception in 1986.

“With declining enrollment in teacher preparation programs at our state’s colleges and universities and increasing numbers of teachers retiring, moving to other states or leaving the classroom altogether, the loss of this highly effective teacher recruitment effort will certainly be felt across North Carolina” said Keith Poston, President and Executive Director, Public School Forum of North Carolina.

Since it began, the [North Carolina Teaching Fellows] has graduated 8,523 Teaching Fellows, 79 percent of whom were employed in the public school system at least one year after completing their initial four-year teaching service requirement and 64 percent still in the public school system six or more years after completing the scholarship program’s service requirement.

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Jerry Tillman

Sen. Jerry Tillman

As the debate over school vouchers rages on before the state Supreme Court today, Senate education committee chair Sen. Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph) told N.C. Policy Watch he’s not for sending taxpayer dollars to private schools.

“They [private schools] are not regulated and we don’t know what they teach there, do we? Do you know?” said Tillman at the conclusion of Tuesday’s joint education appropriations meeting. A proponent of “school choice,” Tillman said he prefers the charter school model over private school vouchers.

“And do you know who’s the biggest recipient of school vouchers? A Muslim school,” said Tillman. “The Muslim schools are leading the pack. I’m not in favor of that.”

As of last fall, the Greensboro Islamic Academy was the leading recipient of school voucher funds, although recent records provided by the NC State Education Assistance Authority show that the top recipient is now Raleigh’s Word of God Christian Academy, with Greensboro Islamic in second place having received $142,800 in taxpayer funds this year.

State lawmakers passed a 2013 budget that tagged $10 million to be used for the “Opportunity Scholarships” beginning last fall. The vouchers, worth $4,200 per student annually, funnel taxpayer funds to largely unaccountable private schools–70 percent of which are affiliated with religious institutions.

Superior Court Judge Robert H. Hobgood found the state’s new school voucher program to be unconstitutional last year, but the program has been allowed to proceed while a court battle over the program’s legality continues.

Tune into WRAL this morning to watch oral arguments in the school voucher case taking place before the state Supreme Court.

Tomorrow, N.C. Policy Watch’s Sharon McCloskey will have a recap of today’s hearing.

 

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It’s been a very cold week in North Carolina, and many families are likely going a bit stir crazy now that school has been out for nearly a week in most locales thanks to an ice storm and record-breaking cold weather.

So, you might be thinking: when can we get the kids to the park?!

President Obama also had that thought on his mind when he launched his “Let’s Get Every Kid in a Park” initiative yesterday in Chicago.

The program offers the nation’s fourth grade students and their families free admission to any National Park as well as other federal lands and waters for a year, beginning with the start of the 2015-16 school year.

From the White House:

In the lead up to the 100th birthday of the National Park Service in 2016, the President’s Every Kid in a Park initiative is a call to action to get all children to visit and enjoy America’s unparalleled outdoors. Today, more than 80 percent of American families live in urban areas, and many lack easy access to safe outdoor spaces.  At the same time, kids are spending more time than ever in front of screens instead of outside.  A 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study found that young people now devote an average of more than seven hours a day to electronic media use, or about 53 hours a week – more than a full time job.

America’s public lands and waters offer space to get outside and get active, and are living classrooms that provide opportunities to build critical skills through hands-on activities.  To inspire the next generation to discover all that America’s public lands and waters have to offer, the Obama Administration will provide all 4th grade students and their families free admission to all National Parks and other federal lands and waters for a full year, starting with the 2015-2016 school year.

Something to look forward to as we huddle together, hoping the mercury climbs high enough to get our heat pumps working again!

For more information on the Let’s Get Every Kid in a Park initiative, click here.

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*Scroll to the end of this story for a response from the NC Department of Public Instruction

Politico’s Stephanie Simon published an investigative report today looking into the business dealings of British education giant Pearson, finding that the company’s success is due in part to negotiating lucrative no-bid contracts with public education agencies around the country — including one with North Carolina.

The investigation found that public officials often commit to buying from Pearson because it’s familiar, even when there’s little proof its products and services are effective.

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, for instance, declined to seek competitive bids for a new student data system on the grounds that it would be “in the best interest of the public” to simply hire Pearson, which had done similar work for the state in the past. The data system was such a disaster, the department had to pay Pearson millions extra to fix it.

The data system Simon refers to is PowerSchool, which the News and Observer reported last year “has so many problems that the accuracy of transcripts, athletic eligibility and the number of students enrolled in schools is uncertain.”

Many of those problems were fixed, and the state sought a discount from Pearson to reduce the $7.1 million price tag for the PowerSchool. It’s not clear if any money was refunded, however, nor is it clear whether the state or local districts will be responsible for the $6 million owed to Pearson next year for PowerSchool.

Simon’s investigation also found that in many cases, Pearson was never held to performance targets outlined in the contracts—if they didn’t meet the standards, they weren’t penalized.

In addition to PowerSchool, Pearson also backs one of North Carolina’s new online virtual charter schools, N.C. Connections Academy. The State Board of Education approved N.C. Connections academy just last week for a four year pilot program, alongside K12, Inc.’s N.C. Virtual Academy.

The state legislature required the State Board of Education to approve two virtual charter schools for the pilot program, and only two non-profit organizations applied — one backed by Pearson, the other by K12, Inc.

The approval came in spite of serious reservations on the part of some board members as well as education advocates who feared that North Carolina’s students could experience the same negative academic outcomes that have been experienced by virtual charter school students in other states, or that poor students would have a hard time accessing the technology and infrastructure necessary for online learning.

Read Stephanie Simon’s full investigation of Pearson here.

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2/18/2015 UPDATE: NC Department of Public Instruction’s CFO, Philip Price, reached out to N.C. Policy Watch to respond to the Politico investigation of North Carolina’s contractual relationship with Pearson for its new student data system, PowerSchool.

Price said DPI took 16 months to work with the NC Attorney General’s office and other key state-level education stakeholders to gain a waiver for bidding out the adoption and implementation of a new student data system. The impetus for continuing to contract with Pearson, said Price, was that the education behemoth also owned the state’s old data system, NC WISE. A significant costs savings would occur if Pearson also undertook the construction and implementation of PowerSchool.

“NC WISE cost $168 million to implement. Pearson charged us just $3.7 million to convert to PowerSchool,” said Price.

That figure doesn’t include additional monies ($1.25 million) that the state had to pony up for more training and help with migrating data from NC WISE to Power School. Even so, Price says, the state saved a lot of money going with Pearson.

Politico’s story also makes the allegation that Pearson is typically not penalized when it fails to live up to contractual obligations. But Price says at least in North Carolina, that’s not the case.

“We’ve gotten credits back since we established a service learning agreement,” explained Price, who says that if Pearson doesn’t meet certain agreed upon elements of the contract, they refund the state money. “$437,000 in September 2014, and we’re still receiving credits.”

Pearson also gave North Carolina a year of free content, worth $6 million, for its SchoolNet application, which allows teachers to build lesson plans and formative assessments.