Friday, June 24, 2016

AV#149 - Part 2. Colorado’s online charter schools

                                                                                                                                           June 23, 2016

 If the current picture looks anything like 2010-2014, time’s up.

Last week’s AV#148 presented a highly disturbing big picture of online charter schools. To help policymakers focus on a few Colorado online charters that reveal the most damning results, AV#149 summarizes what we saw while the state’s accountability clock was still ticking – through 2014.[i]  (I stay clear of even trying to interpret PARCC results and other data on school performance during 2014-15 and 15-16. A task for others!)  My hope is that, when the “clock” starts up again later next week, the state will zero in on such schools and ask: should they stay open in 2017?

Colorado School Grades – 2010- 2014

2010
2011
2012
2013
2014
Colorado Virtual Academy (COVA) – elementary*
F
F
F
F
F
HOPE Online Learning Academy – elementary
F
F
F
F
F
HOPE Online Learning Academy – middle
F
F
D-
D
F
See Addendum A for a more complete picture of these schools on Colorado School Grades.

*COVA “broke off its future school management relationship with K12, Inc.” at the end of 2013-14.  Colorado Digital Elementary, still within the ColoradoEd family, opened in the fall of 2014. [ii]
Both HOPE programs are on year 5 of the accountability clock. 

Those of us involved with the charter school world since 1993—when Gov. Roy Romer signed the new law—have followed the charter debate over quantity versus quality for over two decades.  Choice was never an end in itself, but at times charter advocates—especially in that first decade—often leaned on the side of patience. Give-them-a-chance. Start-ups are hard.  Major struggles are inevitable.  Perhaps, we said then, by year three or four the school will come together, turn a corner, figure it out, etc.

Some might point to the legislative declaration in the Charter School Act to say it invited this debate:   expand choice versus improve academic achievement.  Perhaps the split originated there.

Charter School Act - 22-30.5-102 Legislative declaration
academic achievement/quality
choice/quantity
1. (a) It is the obligation of all Coloradans to provide all children with schools that reflect higher expectations and create condition in all schools where these conditions can be met;
(b) Education reform is in the best interest of the state in order to strengthen the performance of elementary and secondary public school pupils…
2. …part 1 is enacted (a) To improve pupil learning by creating schools with high, rigorous standards for pupil performance;
1. c) Different pupils learn differently and public school programs should be designed to fit the needs of individual students and there are educators, citizens and parents in Colorado who are willing and able to offer innovative program, educational techniques….
2. part 1 is enacted (c) To encourage diverse approaches to learning and education and the use of different, innovative, research-based, or proven teaching methods.

Both matter.  And yet we cannot escape the obligation—from the very start, there in that law, 1. (h) “to hold charter schools accountable for performance.”  Our job continues to be to find that balance, to encourage “new and effective methods of educating children that are proven to be effective….”  And when a specific model does not prove effective, to admit it.  And to act.  No need to invite kids to bad schools.
 
In 2016, with charters as an established part of the public education system in Colorado, patience—give that school another year or two—now looks like indifference.  Especially when a school model has been in place for over 10 years. COVA opened in 2003, Hope Online opened in 2005.

With only eight full-time online charter schools, so some will say: why worry?  But last October four schools affiliated with ColoradoEd (http://www.coloradoed.org/), including Colorado Virtual Academy (COVA) and Elevate Academy, enrolled 2,435 students; three HOPE Online schools enrolled 2,138 students.  GOAL Academy might be the biggest “school” in the state: 4,070 students enrolled this year.  As Kids Count in Colorado 2016 reported, the number of online students has climbed dramatically (“over 400%”) from 3,332 in 2003 to 18,664 this past year.  The numbers are not small, and the impact huge, for far too many Colorado students.

Colorado’s online charter schools: Just a few schools, but big numbers (2015-16)
School
Grades
Authorizer (district)
# enrolled*
Colorado Digital Academy - Elementary
K-6
Byers
496
Colorado Digital Academy - Middle
7-8
Byers
219
Colorado Virtual Academy (COVA)
9-12
Byers
487
Elevate Academy
K-12
Byers
1,233
Guided Online Academic Learning (GOAL) Academy
9-12
Falcon 49
4,070
Hope Online Learning Elementary
K-5
Douglas County
1,150
Hope Online Learning Middle
6-8
Douglas County
530
Hope Online Learning High
9-12
Douglas County
458
TOTAL


8,643

A brief history (or what is known as “authorizer shopping”*)

Year opened
Grades EMH**
Authorizer – District or Charter School Institute
Change in Authorizer or charter contract.
Change in structure/status
Current structure/ enrollment
Colorado Virtual Academy (COVA)***
2003
E
M
H
Originally –
Adams 12
As of 2013, transferred to Byers.
Ended management by K12, Inc. after 2013-14. Became 3 distinct schools, 2 with new names.
1) COVA – 9-12
2) Colorado Digital Academy 7-8
3) Colorado Digital Academy K-6
Elevate Academy***
2014
MH
Byers
same
7-12 year 1 (2014-15)
K-12 year 2 (2015-16)
14-15 -       26 students
15-16 - 1,233 students
HOPE Online Learning Academy
2005
E
M
H
Originally –
Vilas School District


As of 2008, transferred to Douglas County School District.
Became 3 distinct programs in 2013-14.
High school program sought AEC status.****
Denied 2013. Approved 2014.
1) HOPE Online Learning Academy
9-12 - AEC
2) HOPE Online LA -Middle
3) HOPE Online LA - Elementary
GOAL Academy
2008
H
Originally CSI*****
As of 2013, transferred to Falcon 49.[iii]
Sought AEC status after opening.** **
AEC
Colorado Calvert Academy
2010
EM
CSI*****
No longer a charter school. Renamed Academy Calvert and now part of Academy 20[iv].
Colorado Provost Academy
2010
H
CSI*****
No longer a charter school. Renamed Mountain View Virtual as a  Colorado Digital BOCES High School.
**E=Elementary     M= Middle     H = High School
*** Each of the three COVA/Digital Academy schools and Elevate Academy is “a member of ColoradoEd’s family of quality schools” (http://coda.coloradoed.org/about-us/). ColoradoEd appears to be the one constant for these schools: ColoradoEd’s website states that it offers “one of the most established and experienced full-time, tuition-free online public charter school programs in Colorado, serving students for over 10 years.” (Bold mine.)
****AEC – Alternative Education Campus.  HOPE Online Learning High and GOAL Academy received AEC status, after they were created. The state needs to be certain that such changes are made for sound reasons—and not as an escape from poor results and, therefore, from the consequences of the Accountability Act.  See Addendum B, from a report on the low graduation rate of online schools nationally - and in Colorado.
***** At present, the Charter School Institute does not authorize any online charter schools.


With the accountability pause ending, the Colorado Department of Education, the state board, authorizers and charter school advocates alike need to ask: how are these schools doing? If the bleak story between 2010 and 2014 is unchanged, isn’t it time to say: you’ve had your chance.  The full-time online approach has not proved effective. At the very least, for K-5 students. Time’s up.

I focus here on HOPE Online and COVA, where we see consistently poor ratings on the School Performance Framework, over four years—or five.
   
HOPE Online Learning Academy - 2010-14 CDE School Plan Type
Opened in 2003 - authorized by Douglas County School District

2010
K-12
2011
K-12
2012
K-12
2013
K-12
Now 3 schools
2014
COMMENTS/
QUESTIONS

HOPE Online Learning Academy K-12


Turnaround
(29.1%)

Priority Improvement Plan (33.6%)

Priority Improvement Plan (38.3%)

Priority Improvement Plan (38.4%)
HOPE Online Learning Academy  Elementary
Turnaround
YEAR 5
(27.3%)
See #1 below, HOPE’s request to reconsider.
HOPE Online Learning Academy Middle
Turnaround
YEAR 5
(36%)
See #1 below, HOPE’s request to reconsider.
HOPE Online Learning Academy High
AEC Performance Plan (43.8%)
HOPE avoided being on PI/Turnaround 5 years in a row by becoming an AEC school. See #2 below.


1.        As results for HOPE’s students in grades K-8 continued to be unsatisfactory, the state saw no reason to change the rating from Turnaround—in spite of the request.

(“2014 Overwritten with years on clock from HOPE (3995), 2014 Denied request to reconsider”)

District
School
Initial Rating
District Request
CDE Recommendation
Douglas Cty
Hope Online Learning Academy Elementary
Turnaround
Priority Improvement
Deny
Turnaround
Douglas Cty
Hope Online Learning Academy Middle
Turnaround
Priority Improvement
Deny
Turnaround


2.      Was HOPE Online’s restructuring a way to categorize the high school as an Alternative Education Campus, where the more forgiving standards of AEC schools took it “off the accountability clock”?  (GOAL Academy also gained AEC status after opening, but it was always a high school program.)  Has HOPE’s high school program earned this “second life”?   NOTE: HOPE Online Learning Academy’s graduation rate in 2014 was 28.8%. The state average that year: 77.3% (Chalkbeat Colorado).
       On what basis do we allow schools that were set up for K-12, like HOPE and COVA (see below), to break up into three “schools”?  Is it being done to alter the consequences on the accountability clock? 
       Are online charters changing authorizers after several years of poor performance for the right reasons?
COVA - 2010-14 CDE School Plan Type
Opened in 2005 - Authorized by Adams 12 through 2012-13.  Authorized by Byers as of 2013-14,

2010
K-12 
2011
K-12
2012
K-12
2013
K-12
2014
Now 3 schools
In Byers
2014
COMMENTS/
QUESTIONS

Colorado Virtual Academy (COVA)
K-12

Priority Improvement Plan (41.6%)

Priority Improvement Plan (40.9%)

Priority Improvement Plan (38.6%)

Priority Improvement Plan (40.8%)
Colorado Digital Academy – Elementary
(35.5%)
Performance Plan
See #3 below- As a “new” school, given a Performance Plan.
Colorado Digital Academy – Middle
(52.2%)
Improvement Plan
See #4 below – As a “new” school, given an Improvement Plan.
Why?
COVA High School
(50.7%)
Improvement Plan
See #5 below-
 As a result, COVA avoided being on PI 5 years in row.  


A new school code and - voila! - we start all over on the accountability clock.  Really?

Go to CDE’s SPF reports for 2014 and you see that COVA (K-12), earned 42.7% points (which would earn a Priority Improvement rating.) But under FINAL RATINGS at CDE’s website, we find: “2014 Overwritten with rating from COVA H-level” (http://www.cde.state.co.us/accountability/performanceframeworkresults).   Comments bellows raise an obvious question for policymakers and the Colorado Department of Education: do we have clear and sensible guidelines around accountability when schools are “recreated” with new school codes?

Statements below, in bold, from CDE’s School Performance Framework, 2014:


3.   “COLORADO DIGITAL ACADEMY ‐ ELEMENTARY is a New School. BYERS 32J has assigned this school a Performance Plan type.”  https://cedar2.cde.state.co.us/documents/SPF2014/0190%20-%206241%20-%201%20Year.pdf
       Question: When schools are granted a new code, it appears that past performance with many of the same students does not factor in to their rating.  Was Colorado Digital Academy Elementary truly a “new” school as the 2014-15 school year began? True, enrollment dropped from 1,342 (COVA, K-6, ’13-’14) to 706.  But with a new school code, it opened with a clean slate—and the highest possible rating. Does this make sense?  (http://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2014/12/10/2014-state-ratings-by-school/#.V0M7CJErLIU)
The SPF for Colorado Digital Academy Elementary in 2014 shows:
Academic Achievement – Math and Writing – DOES NOT MEET 
Academic Growth – Math and Writing – DOES NOT MEET
Academic Growth Gaps - DOES NOT MEET in any category in Reading, Math, and Writing. https://cedar2.cde.state.co.us/documents/SPF2014/0190%20-%201752%20-%201%20Year.pdf


4.    “COLORADO DIGITAL ACADEMY – MIDDLE (6263) in BYERS 32J (0190) is a new school code but was previously part of an existing school. Historical data for the grades served under the new school code have been carried over, earning an Improvement Plan rating.”
        Question: What “historical data”?   


5.    “COLORADO VIRTUAL ACADEMY (COVA) in BYERS 32J has changed grade configurations from K-12 to 9-12. The assigned Improvement Plan rating is based upon performance of the new grade levels only.”  https://cedar2.cde.state.co.us/documents/SPF2014/0190%20-%201752%20-%201%20Year.pdf
        Question:  OK, a “new” school, but to be placed on an Improvement Plan seems to ignore COVA’s high school results for the previous three years, 2012-2014: proficiency in reading, under 62%; in writing, under 42%; in math, under 35%. In 2014 proficiency was below state average in reading (by 10 points), writing (by 14 points) and math (by 21 points) (http://www.cde.state.co.us/schoolview).  COVA’s graduation rate in 2014: 30.4%.  (http://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2015/01/22/find-your-schools-2014-graduation-rate/#.V028GJErLIU)
 (Addendum C offers a closer look at the four ColoradoEd schools now authorized by Byers 32J, with more questions and concerns.)


      “Nearly Half of States Opted to Hit Accountability Snooze Button” – Education Week, Aug. 2015

That headline, from a year ago, applied to Colorado too.  No longer. 

This has been my wakeup call, as if one were needed, as the accountability clock starts up again.  Yes, most of the information above is dated; I wanted to comply with the state’s directive on 2015 results.[v]  I know it is possible the schools featured here have demonstrated much improved academic achievement since the end of 2013-14.  I hope so.

But the 2010-2014 data tells me we should give online charter schools like these a careful review.  Do they stay open?  The burden of proof is now on them.

Another View is a newsletter by Peter Huidekoper Jr.  Comments are welcome. 303-757-1225 - peterhdkpr@gmail.com

Endnotes
1.  “The accountability clock (i.e., applies to schools and districts with a 2014 plan type of Priority Improvement or Turnaround) is paused for the 2015-16 school year” (http://www.cde.state.co.us/accountability/district_accountability_handbook2015).
2.  “Brian Bissell, head of the COVA board, confirmed the change Tuesday. It will go into effect during the 2014-2015 school year. COVA has struggled with poor academic performance in recent years amid questions about K12’s Inc.’s management of school resources—including teacher understaffing.” http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2013/06/13/colorado-online-school-dumps-k12-inc/
3.  “Recently, the GOAL Academy Board of Directors determined that it was time to seek an authorizer which could foster GOAL’s innovative spirit, support GOAL’s unique model, and contribute to GOAL’s continued success. Therefore, following a comprehensive search and review process, the GOAL Board of Directors has determined it appropriate to transfer GOAL’s charter to Falcon District 49 as D49 is one of the few authorizers in the nation designated as an ‘innovation district.’” From Press Release by GOAL Academy, March 6, 2013 - (http://www.goalac.org/common/pages/DisplayFile.aspx?itemId=21273270).
4.  “Academy Calvert K-8 Online School transferred to Academy School District 20 on July 1, 2015 as a district program. Previously the school was Colorado Calvert Academy State Charter School and was authorized by the Charter School Institute.” From the school’s 2014 UIP – (https://cedar2.cde.state.co.us/documents/UIP2016/1040-1901.pdf).
5.  School Percentile Rank Report, “Informational Report: Not for State Accountability” (http://www.cde.state.co.us/schoolview/performance).


Addendum A
Colorado School Grades* – 2010–2014 – Two online charter school programs, COVA & HOPE

2010
2011
2012
2013
2014
COVA – elementary
F
F
F
F
F
# out of total elem. schools
1356/ 1447
1414/ 1467
983/998
997/1009
978/1101
COVA – middle
F
F
D
D
C-
2010 & 2011 included all K-8 
1373/1447
1430/1467
455/491
461/503
396/505
COVA – high
D+
C-
D-
D
D
# out of total high schools
298/358
292/364
310/327
310/333
316/345






HOPE – elementary
F
F
F
F
F

1447/1447
1465/1467
981/998
1006/1009
999/1101
HOPE – middle
F
F
D-
D
F

1430/1447
1405/1467
464/491
454/503
493/505
HOPE – high
F
D
F
F
A-



313/327
319/333
6 of 56 alternative schools**
               *http://www.coloradoschoolgrades.com/                    **As of 2014, now evaluated by different measures as an AEC school.


Addendum B
 Online High Schools and Low Graduation Rates

Last month the 2016 version of Building a Graduation Nation added to concerns for Colorado policymakers when they look at the outcomes for online schools.  

I offer three quotes from that report seem particularly relevant to our state and our online schools.  Nothing to be proud of. (All bold mine)

“Schools offering all instruction online have greatly increased in recent years. Virtual schools were disaggregated in NCES data for the first time in 2013-14. The data shows that 87 percent of virtual schools are low-grad-rate schools with an average graduation rate of 40 percent. States with the highest percentage of non-graduates coming from virtual schools include Ohio, Idaho, Pennsylvania and Colorado.”
“We followed the evidence to understand more about low-performing high schools,” said John Bridgeland, president & CEO of Civic Enterprises. “Regardless of the type of school, we must insist upon results and ensure every student receives a high quality education. We need to get beyond labels and get all students what they need to succeed.”

“As the number of low-grad-rate schools grows in some states, it is necessary to take a closer look at when and where these schools are part of the solution or a wrong turn on the path to 90 percent graduation rates for all students,” added Jennifer DePaoli, senior education advisor at Civic Enterprises and the report’s lead author. 


Addendum C
Byers 32J School District – authorizer of four online charter schools

Byers is “a small, rural system which is located approximately 50 miles east of Denver along the I-70 Corridor.”  http://www.byers32j.k12.co.us/ourdistrict/
Byers enrolls 4 times as many online students (2,435) as it does in its own K-12 schools (505).
 
FACTS:
·         In the October 2015 student count, Byers enrolled 505 students, 283 in its elementary school and 222 in its 7-12 school.
·         This year, 2,435 students enrolled in the four charter schools authorized by Byers (see p. 2).
·         This year, the K-6 charter school, Colorado Digital Academy-Elementary, had 496 K-6 students.

Colorado Digital Academy - Elementary

½ day K
Full day K
1
2
3
4
5
6
Total
2014-15
64
0
82
97
101
105
124
103
706
2015-16
44
3
50
59
78
77
85
100
496

·         Elevate Academy, the new K-12 program that is part of ColoradoEd, grew from 26 students in year one to 1,233 students in year two.  This included 784 K-6 students.
NOTE: Elevate Academy’s website states it is “a tuition-free fully accredited online public school for grades 7-12” (http://elevate.coloradoed.org/). That website also speaks of its curriculum as “designed for students in grades 7-12.”  Elevate must have obtained permission to enroll students in all grades for its second year, even if it does not claim to serve those grades on its website.

Elevate Academy – K-12

Full day K
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
Total
2014-15
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
8
15
1
0
2
0
26
2015-16
107
110
108
120
102
107
130
116
106
95
53
48
31
1,233

QUESTIONS and CONCERNS:

1.    I imagine Byers, like most small rural districts, believes strongly in local control.  Odd - yes? - to consider that five times as many of the students enrolled “through Byers” live somewhere else in the state.

2.    Speaking of local control, does a small district like Byers have the resources to be a responsible authorizer evaluating the quality of education in online schools enrolling 2,435 students---who for the most part reside anywhere but in the Byers school district?  Especially for those 1,200 or so K-6 students?
And most especially, for those 481 K-2 students (325 at Elevate and 156 at Colorado Digital Academy – Elementary), when the state assessment (PARCC) begins at grade 3?

3.   Anyone else wonder, at the very least, about the value of taxpayer dollars going to six- and seven-year olds getting their public education online, given the results we see at COVA—and HOPE?
4.    Do we have evidence that online education works well for K-2 students—anywhere in the country?

On-Line Task Force Created by HB 14-1382 – and Byers 32J
Legislation in 2014 revealed that the state was growing concerned about the troubling results of our online schools.  HB 14-1382 created the On-Line Task Force.  Its report included a number of sound recommendations.  In light of the Questions and Concerns raised here, especially about Byers 32J, these recommendations might (still be?) what is needed for districts authorizing online charter schools. 

From the Report of the On-Line Task Force Created by HB 14-1382 –
Submitted to State Board of Education, House Education Committee, Senate Education Committee (Augenblick, Palaich & Assoc., Dec. 29, 2014) http://www.cde.state.co.us/onlinelearning/otfarchive

“The Task Force recommends to the General Assembly and the State Board of Education:
1.  That there be created a certification process for authorizers (Districts, BOCES, and CSI) of multidistrict on-line schools based on a specific set of quality standards and practices provided by the On-line Task Force.
2.  To support those quality standards and practices with a specific set of system and process
elements provided by the On-line Task Force for the Colorado Department of Education’s (CDE) review and certification of authorizer’s of multi-district on-line schools.
3.  That the certification of new authorizers of multi-district on-line schools begins in August of
2016, for implementation in the 2017-2018 school year.
4.  That CDE continue the certification of multi-district on-line schools until implementation of the
certification of authorizers of multi-district on-line schools begins.
5.  That multi-district on-line schools and their authorizers who are already certified by CDE at the
time of implementation of the new system of certification of authorizers of multi-district on-line schools be required to meet the new standards and practices, determined through the certification system, within five years of implementation, and every five years thereafter.
6.  That any current multi-district on-line school whose authorizer loses certification will continue
to serve their students through the completion of the school year when their authorizer’s loss of
certification occurred, and for no more than one additional school year.”

CDE tells me that legislation the past two years “was introduced that included the recommendations from the work of the online task force,” (SB15-201 & SB16-052), but that “in both years, the proposed bill was postponed indefinitely.”

Unfortunate.

But we have other ways to hold authorizers and low-performing online charters accountable.

On July 1, the clock will be ticking again.








 



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