By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
The Broward School Board unanimously approved another one-year contract with K12 Inc., an embattled for-profit operator of online schools, on Tuesday.
According to the Miami Herald, the vote followed “little discussion.” The Herald reports that “under the $300,000 deal, K12 will continue to provide online learning services to about 70 Broward elementary school students.”
The Florida Center for Investigative Reporting has published extensive reporting on K12, which is one of the biggest online school providers in the country and currently operates in 43 Florida school districts, including Broward, Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, Orange and Duval counties.
The Herald’s story also highlighted FCIR’s reporting as part of a partnership with NPR’s State Impact Florida about an inquiry by the Florida Department of Education’s Inspector General into K12 practices. The inquiry found that K12 Inc. employed three teachers in Florida who did not have the right certification to teach some subjects.
Last year, FCIR/State Impact reported on a state investigation that found other problems with K12.
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.
According to Florida law, teachers must pass three exams to earn state certification as well as be certified for the subject and grades they teach.
However, school districts around the state continue to approve relationships with K12.
The state Department of Education inspector general last year investigated complaints from Seminole County that K12 illegally employed uncertified teachers and fraudulently submitted paperwork to cover up the practice. In a draft report, released in April, the state faulted K12 only for employing three teachers who weren’t certified in the subject areas they were teaching.
Broward administrator Christopher McGuire, who recommends renewing the contract, said the local families served by K12 appear pleased with the company’s performance.
“I’ve surveyed my parents,” said McGuire, who serves as school “principal” for Broward’s virtual middle and high school classes, which are run in-house by the district. “I don’t just take the word from the provider, I talk to the parents, they’re the ones who are dealing with this on a daily basis.”
McGuire’s positive assessment of K12 — the nation’s largest provider of online schools — contrasts with how the company has been received recently in some other parts of the country. In states including Maine, Illinois and Tennessee, elected officials in recent months have either questioned the quality of K12 classes or put the brakes on K12 expansion plans.
According to the Herald, in K12’s VP, Jeff Kwitowski, released a statement that said the state “concluded that the primary claims made by one county — Seminole County — were unsubstantiated [and] K12 teachers were certified to teach in Florida.”
However, Seminole County officials have maintained that the state’s inspector general did not conduct a thorough investigation.
A recent report by the left-leaning policy group, Progress Florida, also raised questions about the quality of the education K12 provides.
According the group’s report:
“…Notably only 27.7 percent of K12 Inc. schools make adequate yearly progress—a national metric of measuring student achievement—and this figure is merely half nearly half the rate achieved by public face-to-face schools. The on-time graduation rate for K12 Inc. schools is 49.1percent, compared to 79.4 percent for all students in the states in which K12 Inc. operates.”
Under Florida law, all school districts are required to offer an online learning option to their students. As the Hearald points out, if Broward officials did not renew their contract with K12, “it would have been forced to sign a new online-learning agreement with another state-approved company because the district’s in-house virtual school doesn’t serve elementary school grades.”