The last time we discussed Georgia Cyber Academy was in response to parent comments about their significant roles as academic coaches under the online school’s instructional model.
Now, it is the state board of education discussing the state’s first online school, suggesting it will pull its charter if it does not improve services for students with disabilities.
Georgia Cyber Academy is part of K12 Inc., a for-profit company that is the nation’s largest virtual school provider with online public schools in 30 states.
The charter school’s parent company has been garnering headlines lately, many of which have not been flattering, including a scathing investigation by The New York Times.
A report released this summer by the National Education Policy Center found that less than 28 percent of K12-run schools were meeting Adequate Yearly Progress during the 2010-11 school year, compared with 52 percent of brick-and-mortar schools nationwide. Georgia Cyber also did not make AYP in 2010-2011
In the last three months, the company has come under fire in several states, including Florida where the state education department is investigating after several K12 teachers refused to sign class rosters showing students the teachers had never taught.
The Florida Center for Investigative Reporting/StateImpact Florida reported: K12 officials asked state-certified teachers to sign class rosters that included students they hadn’t taught, according to documents that are part of the investigation.In one case, a K12 manager instructed a certified teacher to sign a class roster of more than 100 students. She only recognized seven names on that list. “I cannot sign off on students who are not my actual students,” K12 teacher Amy Capelle wrote to her supervisor. “It is not ethical to submit records to the district that are inaccurate.” The documents suggest K12 may be using uncertified teachers in violation of state law.
In Tennessee, state education commissioner Kevin Huffman said in September that student performance at the K12 Inc.-managed Tennessee Virtual Academy was “demonstrably poor.”
Looking at the school’s report card — which is hard to find because the school comes under the umbrella of Odyssey School — Georgia Cyber Academy did not make AYP in 2010-2011 due to academic performance. The state Report Card lists 6,545 students in the school from kindergarten to grade 9.
The state board is concerned with the academic performance of students with disabilities. And the Report Card shows why.
Of the 320 Georgia Cyber students who took the End of Course Test in Math I, 54 percent failed. In the biology EOCT, 36 percent failed. But those rates jump for students with disabilities; the failure rate on Math I was 70 percent and 57 percent in biology.
On the third grade reading CRCT, 7 percent failed to meet standards. In third grade math, 28 percent failed. But looking only at special needs third graders, 52 percent failed to meet math standards and 9 percent failed in reading
In eighth grade, 2 percent failed to meet reading standards; 26 percent failed math.
But among special needs eighth graders, 12 percent failed reading and 58 percent failed to meet math standards. (Sixty-five percent of eighth graders with disabilities failed to meet social studies standards and 38 percent failed to meet language arts standards.)
State Board of Education members blasted Georgia Cyber Academy officials Tuesday, saying the online school is failing to meet the needs of its special education students.
GCA, Georgia’s first statewide online school, has seen its student population explode in recent years. Its number of special needs students has risen to 1,100 from 600 two years ago, according to the head of the school, Matt Arkin.
Board members said GCA has not increased its capacity to assess and teach its special needs students, despite a repeated push from the Georgia Department of Education. In unusually harsh language for a board that typically supports charter schools, members ripped Arkin and GCA.
“We have very serious concerns,” board member Brian Burdette said. “They have been warned several times that they are out of compliance. They have been given second chance after second chance.”
The board refused to take what would ordinarily be a procedural step in moving a $60,000 funding request from GCA’s board of directors toward approval. Seventeen other such requests were moved toward approval.
Board member Larry Winters reminded Arkin that the board has the authority to withhold other funds from the school “and is not afraid to use these powers.”
“This is the last warning,” he said.
Arkin told board members he and his staff will address their concerns. GCA is a charter school that was approved by the state, giving the state board the power to revoke its charter, a prospect Burdette hinted at Tuesday.
“If you don’t meet these benchmarks, your charter will come before us and you will be putting it in jeopardy,” he said.
In May, Georgia Department of Education officials, reacting in part to complaints from parents, reviewed how GCA assesses and teaches its special needs students and told the school it needed to ramp up its staffing in that area. The department gave the school until the end of August to comply.
The school asked for and received an extension to Nov. 1 to meet those requirements. Arkin said the school has hired 10 to 15 special needs staff members since May.
But department officials said a recent review of the school found that it continues to have a special needs staffing shortfall and other problems in that area.
Board members decided to take the unusual step of publicly criticizing the school and urging it to comply.
“This is not new news,” Burdette said, adding that he and his colleagues on the board do not want to revoke the school’s charter but will if it refuses to acknowledge its shortcomings.
“We are being forced to go a route we don’t want to go,” Burdette said. “They’ve got to get out of the denial phase.”
In an interview after hearing from board members, Arkin said he is not sure why they are unsatisfied. “We have not been anything but cooperative,” he said.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog