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K12 virtual school students lag behind, report says

Students taking online classes from K12 Inc. in four states, including Idaho, are lagging in test scores and graduation rates compared to students in traditional schools, according to a new study by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder. The study "raises enormous red flags," center director Kevin Welner told the Associated Press. K12 Inc. is the nation's largest for-profit online education provider, and it runs Idaho's largest charter school, the Idaho Virtual Academy, a state-funded online charter school that enrolls nearly 3,000 Idaho children across the state in kindergarten through 12th grade. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.

Note: The Idaho Statesman has a story today questioning the study's application to Idaho, as Idaho math and reading assessment results weren't out yet when the center did its analyses and therefore were missing from the study; Welner apologized to the Statesman and told the newspaper, "Idaho is not a focus of the achievement-outcome analyses." The AP report on the data issues is included with the original article below.

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An education research center is backtracking on how it characterized Idaho in a report about the nation's largest for-profit online education provider.

The Associated Press reported Thursday the study found K12 Inc. students in Idaho and four other states were falling behind in math and reading. But the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado issued a correction Friday, saying the student achievement findings were based on national evidence and not specific to any state.

Further, researchers examined federal data on Idaho but their information on the state's K12 students was incomplete compared to what they had for Arizona, Arkansas, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Specifically, researchers lacked Idaho's state math and reading assessment results.

Researchers maintain their overall conclusion that K12 Inc. students are lagging in math and reading.


Report: K12 online students lag in math, reading
By JESSIE L. BONNER, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A new report takes aim at the nation's largest for-profit online education provider and finds students taking K12 Inc. classes in Idaho and four other states are falling more behind in math and reading than their traditional school counterparts.

The study was released Wednesday by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder. Along with lagging test scores, the report says the rate at which K12 students graduate on time is far lower than in regular schools.

The study "into K12 Inc. raises enormous red flags," said center director Kevin Welner.

The group has previously issued reports critical of online learning. A study released by the center in October said school-choice advocates are pushing states to rush headlong into virtual education despite limited data on these programs.

The latest report looked at schools managed by Virginia-based K12 in Idaho, Arizona, Arkansas, Ohio and Pennsylvania and found that on average, they had a consistently lower proportion of their students meeting or exceeding state standards in reading, according to 2010-2011 test scores.

The report also said math scores were lower compared to the state average. The on-time graduation rate for K12 students was about 49 percent for that year, compared to about 79 percent for the states, according to the study. In Idaho, where K12 provides curriculum for the state's largest online charter school, state officials say students beat slightly the statewide average for graduation rates in the most recent year.

K12 has managed online schools in 29 states with mixed academic success.

The company contends that the report is flawed and fails to show the academic progress of students over time. The report finds K12 students are falling further behind in math and reading than students in regular schools, but doesn't provide evidence to back up that claim, the company said.

"To make such conclusions, one would need to know the academic starting point of the students, in this case, test scores from a prior school year when they were enrolled in a brick-and-mortar school," the company said. "That test data is largely unavailable and is certainly not included in the NEPC report."

The report relies on "static, end-of-the-year test data," said the company, which also noted that K12-managed schools tend to enroll students who are behind academically.

More schoolchildren than ever are taking classes online.

The debate over virtual learning has become heated in states like Idaho, where students have to take at least two credits online to graduate high school, under education reforms that were approved in 2011 and will go before voters in November.

While proponents say online classes help states save money while also better preparing students for college, opponents claim they replace teachers with computers and shift taxpayer money to out-of-state companies.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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