A teacher in virtual charter hell

After 15 Months in Virtual Charter Hell, Darcy Bedortha quit her job as a high school English teacher for K12 Inc., the nation’s largest virtual education company. She couldn’t meet students’ learning needs, she writes in Education Week Teacher.

K12 pays full-time teachers $42,000 a year to teach a minimum of 226 students, writes Bedortha. Some full-timers have more than 300 students.

Students can enroll at any time.

In a given day in mid-November I would grade introductory assignments, diagnostic essays and end-of-semester projects, and everything in between, for each course (this month I had 30 separate courses). I found it to be impossible to meet the learning needs of my students in that situation.

Many students are phantoms, Bedortha writes. Fewer than 10 percent of students “attended” the weekly 30-minute “class,” which used an interactive blackboard. Only a small percentage communicated by email.

Most were behind in high school credits and “could not afford another failure.”

. . .  as I wrote this in early December, nearly 80 percent of our students were failing their classes.  At that time there were 303 students (12 percent of the school) enrolled in special education programs – and 259 of them were failing while 17 had no grade at all. Eighty-two percent of the 9th graders were failing. 

Other virtual schools face similar failure rates, writes Bedortha. Only 37.6 percent of students at full-time virtual schools graduate on time, compared to 79.4 percent of all public high school students according to a July 2012 National Education Policy Center report.

Virtual schools do best for mature, self-directed learners or for students with a homeschooling parent. Most students who’ve failed in schools with in-person teachers won’t succeed with less personal contact with a teacher. But they need an alternative to traditional schooling.

Virtual schools are bound to attract transient students. We need a way to fund virtual charters so they’re not compensated for students who aren’t using the school’s services.

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  1. Crimson Wife says:

    It has been my observation that most families whose kids are enrolled in a virtual charter pull them from it some time between the end of 8th grade and the end of 10th in order to enroll either in a B&M high school or in community college. Students who take the state high school proficiency exam in 10th can enroll in community college without ever finishing their high school diploma.

    So I suspect the 37% graduation rate figure cited is HIGHLY misleading.

    • I have heard of MN students who never attended any type of HS, but went directly to college through the PSEO program – but don’t know what they did at the ES-MS level. Perhaps going directly to CC is possible in other states.

  2. Perhaps our students would be better off with teachers who became teachers because of their interest in english, rhetoric, history, science, math, art, rather than in social justice.

    • Deirdre Mundy says:

      Good point. While I know a lot of homeschool families who gave up on k12 for a variety of reasons, there are some virtual classes that they rave about.

      For instance, there’s a retired English teacher out there who teaches a semester-long Shakespeare course online. Apparently her virtual classes meet once a week for lecture and discussion, she assigns and grades papers, etc. She has 8 classes of 25 students each (so, a K12-level course load) and apparently there is frequently a waitlist because the woman is magnificent and b/c homeschoolers need a chance to be in a lively discussion class.

      Which points to another problem with k12 from a homeschooling point of view… why join a program where you have to take whatever teacher you’re given when the internet + software like WebX allows you to seek out the best of the best?

      • cranberry says:

        Because WebX doesn’t offer “the best of the best.”

        The criteria for securing tenure at a university has very little to do with teaching, and nothing to do with an ability to teach K-12 correspondence students. Some of the EdX lectures are interesting, especially for people who already possess university degrees. That doesn’t mean that it can substitute for quotidian high school level classes.

        I’m not proposing that K12 is to be preferred! I think any for-profit enterprise will always have deep conflicts of interest when it comes to offering education. When profit is a motive, and there is no practical method for a third party to check the services offered, I would find other options.

        • GoogleMaster says:

          cranberry, I think Deirdre might have been referring to the video conferencing software WebEx rather than the online courseware EdX.

          • cranberry says:

            Good point. On the other hand, the EdX courses do include readings and study material.

            Determining quality of instruction is tricky. It might be possible for a group of homeschooling parents to cobble together an online assortment of instructors.

            How long could such an arrangement last, though? I’m not home schooling, but the materials offered by and for home schooling online vary widely in quality, subject, and content.

          • Deirdre Mundy says:

            Yup. WebX allows these teachers to run true discussion classes, turn mics on and off, see all the students and read facial expressions, etc. Very different from EdX! 🙂 Entrepreneurial teachers who love their subject matter and seek motivated students are using the software platform to put together classes. While it might be hard to find 200 independent students in driving distance, when the whole country is your ‘area’ it becomes laughably easy, to the point where these people can advertise by word of mouth alone!

          • Deirdre Mundy says:

            These classes are usually an individual teacher using the syllabus that SHE wants to. The draw for homeschoolers is that it gives the high school kids a good discussion class with someone who has really in depth knowledge. So…. someone will take “Shakespeare” for a semester.. or “The Oddysey” or…. “The French Revolution”. It’s not a whole curriculum by any means, but a chance for advanced students to go deeper with a really good teacher, and to have someone else grade their papers/answer their questions/ lead a discussion with kids from across the country.

            It’s not a scalable solution– you couldn’t use this to give great instruction to an entire public school, because the point is that these are unusually good, knowledgeable and enthusiastic teachers who are teaching classes of motivated, interested, well-prepared students grouped by ability.

            BUT courses like these are why K12 feels cramped and dull to homeschoolers.