Who Is In Charge

Online students lag state averages

Two new studies point to a contradiction about full-time online schools – student academic performance is lower than that of students statewide but parents and students are positive about the online experience.

Laura Johnson works on a computer between classes at Florence High School in this <em>EdNews</em> file photo. Johnson moved to an online school but was back to a traditional school within a year.

“The majority of students and parents surveyed believe that online learning is a better fit for them than a brick and mortar school; however, many students continue to perform poorly academically in online, despite greater satisfaction,” according to a new report on full-time online programs by the Colorado Department of Education.

The report, “Characteristics of Colorado’s Online Students,” and a second study are to be presented to the State Board of Education Wednesday. The second report, “A Study of Online Learning: Perspectives of Online Learners and Educators,” was done for the department by researchers at the University of Colorado Denver and surveyed student, parent and staff attitudes about online education.

Full-time online education has boomed in Colorado. The CDE study reports the number of online schools increased from nine to 35 between 2003 and 2011 and that enrollment grew from 3,248 students to 16,464. A little more than half of those students are in high school.

As schools have grown, so have worries about quality. A 2011 investigation by Education News Colorado and the Rocky Mountain Investigative News Network found issues with student mobility, lagging achievement and lax oversight in the online system.

During the 2012 legislative session, some Democratic lawmakers considered legislation on the subject but no significant bills were introduced because of the press of other business and because of the reported lack of interest by House Republican leaders. The Nov. 6 election put Democrats back in control of both the House and Senate.

One 2012 measure, House Bill 12-1124, ordered a broad study of all types of digital learning. That privately-funded project is being done by the Colorado Children’s Campaign for the state and is due to the legislature by Jan. 31.

The state report presented to state board members was done because “as the number of students attending online schools has grown and changed over the years, interest and questions about online schools from policymakers, media, and the general public has been piqued. This study sets out to answer some of these questions,” according to the report summary.

Key findings of state report

  • Early reading proficiency is crucial for online students, but online schools were less successful than all schools at identifying struggling readers up to grade 3.
  • A larger percentage of ninth-graders new to online schools were non-proficient compared to all ninth-grade students.
  • Online students are more mobile, and student movement between online schools is related to poor academic performance and a higher dropout rate.
  • The online school graduation rate in 2010-11 was 22.5 percent compared to the state rate of 74 percent. The online dropout rate was 13 percent compared to about 3 percent statewide.
  • Many students who chose online schools were dissatisfied with their schools and transferred because of school culture and communication problems.
  • While the majority of parents and high school students surveyed believed online learning was a better fit, academic performance lags.

CDE Recommendations

  • Online schools should more accurately evaluate and diagnose younger students’ reading levels.
  • Schools need to modify programs and services to meet changing demographic needs.
  • Excessive movement between schools should be avoided, and when transfers are necessary it’s best that students move to a long-term situation.
  • Push-out policies by schools and districts should be discouraged.
  • Parents and students need to be better informed about the realities of attending online schools.
  • The state needs to consider different funding systems for both online and traditional schools to better accommodate student mobility and competency-based, rather than seat time-based, learning.

Highlights of the UCD study

Researchers surveyed K-12 parents and grade 9-12 students and interviewed staff at a dozen online schools. Some 1,247 students and 1,982 parents responded. Both parents and students expressed high levels of dissatisfaction with traditional schools and high levels of absenteeism at those schools.

Student interest in online education is motivated by choice of classes, the desire to graduate early and by problems at previous schools, including falling behind in classes and needing to make up credits.

Parents said they liked the choice of online classes, had concerns about the environments at traditional schools and saw online as an alternative to home-schooling.

According to the report, online staff members who were interviewed recommended, among other things, more professional development for online staff and consideration of an alternative accountability system for online schools.

Online school stats

From 2003 to 2011, the number of online schools increased from nine to 35.

This school year, 47 districts offer a full-time online education option, including multi-district and single-district programs.

Pupil enrollment in online schools increased from 3,248 students to 16,464 between 2003 and 2011, with the largest growth in high school students.

Online students have become more like the overall student population but are still 61.3 percent white compared to 56.1 percent in the overall population, as of 2011. The percentage of free and reduced lunch students is also slightly behind the overall percentage statewide.

names are in

Ten apply for vacant seat on the Memphis school board, but six live outside of seat’s district

PHOTO: Kayleigh Skinner
Former Shelby County Board of Education Chairwoman Teresa Jones confers with then Superintendent Dorsey Hopson during a 2015 school board meeting. Jones' seat is now up for an interim appointment.

Ten people have put their name in to become the next board member of Tennessee’s largest school district.

The appointee will fill the seat Teresa Jones vacated following her recent appointment as a municipal court judge, and would serve until the term expires in August 2020, not October as previously reported.

The interim member will join the school board at a crucial time, amid the search for a new superintendent to replace Dorsey Hopson, who left the district in December. Currently, Joris Ray is serving as interim superintendent.

Jones’ district 2 serves neighborhoods including North Memphis, Binghampton, and Berclair. Six applicants live outside of the district and Shelby County Commissioner Michael Whaley said this would likely prevent them from an appointment, but the commission is seeking clarity from the state and election commission.

Whaley also said the interim appointment was extended to August 2020 because Tennessee law doesn’t specify that special elections are necessary for the school board, so the interim will finish out Jones’ term.

The county commission is scheduled to name a successor on Monday Feb. 25, a day before the school board’s meeting that month. The commission is slated to interview candidates Wednesday at 10 a.m., but Whaley said more names could be added by commissioners prior to the vote on Monday We’ve linked to their full applications below.

Applicants are:

Althea Greene

  • She is a retired teacher from Memphis City Schools and childcare supervisor with Shelby County Schools. She is currently Pastor of Real Life Ministries.

Arvelia Chambers

  • She is a senior certified pharmacy technician with Walgreens. She said she’s a “passionate aunt” of three children in Shelby County Schools.
  • Her listed address is slightly north of District 2.

Aubrey Howard

  • He works as the executive director of governmental and legislative affairs in the Shelby County Trustee’s Office. He formerly worked for the City of Memphis, and said in his application that he previously ran for school board and lost.

Charles McKinney

  • He is the Neville Frierson Bryan Chair of Africana Studies and associate professor of history at Rhodes College. He is on the board of Crosstown High Charter School, and is the father of two Shelby County Schools students.

David Brown

  • He is the executive director of digital ministry at Brown Missionary Baptist Church and graduated from  Craigmont High School.
  • His listed address is slightly east of District 2.

Erskine Gillespie

  • Gillespie previously ran for City Council district 7 but lost. He is an account manager at the Lifeblood Mid-South Regional Blood Bank. He said in his application that he was one of the first students to enter the optional schools program in the Memphis district.

Kenneth Whalum, Jr.

  • He is a pastor at The New Olivet Worship Center and previously served as a school board member for the former Memphis City Schools; he was first elected in 2006. He has vocally opposed the process behind the 2013 merger of the city school system with legacy Shelby County Schools.
  • Whalum ran against school board member Kevin Woods in 2012 and lost.
  • His listed address is near the University of Memphis, not in District 2.

Makeda Porter-Carr

  • She is a research administrator at St. Jude Research Hospital.
  • Her listed address is in southeast Memphis, not in District 2.

Michael Hoffmeyer Sr.

  • He is the director of the University of Memphis’ Crews Center for Entrepreneurship in which he works with college and high school students. He graduated from Craigmont High School.
  • His listed address is slightly north of District 2.

Tyree Daniels

  • He helped found Memphis College Prep charter school. He lost to Jones in a school board race in 2012. Daniels is now a part of Duncan-Williams Inc. — the firm handling public financing for the project Union Row.
  • His listed address is in east Memphis, not in District 2.

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.