A week ago, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) dashed off a quick thought about Florida Virtual School, albeit with a provocative title, The Lie of Florida Virtual, and unsurprisingly, that brought clapback from persons associated with the school.
Before reporting the response, GOT would like to answer the question asked about why FLVS (Florida Virtual School) has become controversial. Simply put, on April 1 (no joke), the Florida State Board of Education authorized a disbursement of millions of dollars to FLVS so that the online option could expand capacity to 2.7 million children from its current level of about 200,000 by May 4, 2020.
2,700,000 … a number that conveniently matches the total enrollment of all school-age children in the state in all schools: public, parochial, charter, and private.
Not saying they are right, but it is not surprising that persons who resist Florida’s privatization efforts in the many avenues Florida has authorized, charter, schools of hope [sic], vouchers, online including the state-backed FLVS, suspect there’s a bogey in the woods.
Why? Why now? By May 4, Florida schools have only weeks, not even a month, left in the school calendar. What purpose would this serve?
It can’t be for this school year. It can only be for the future. Is mischief afoot? Ask Alaska, whose surprise, no-bid contract, with FLVS to masquerade as its own state-sponsored virtual school offering raised eyebrows in the 49th state.
That’s why Florida Virtual is suddenly visible and controversial.
Now for the clapback which came from FLVS teachers. BTW, GOT has no quibble with teachers. It is not those working under systems of misguided policies and offerings that causes concern. We are all in the business of doing the best we can for children and we all deal with systems that, under the weight of ‘ed reform,’ leave us in suboptimal conditions, be that virtual, charter, or tradtional settings.
I. “We can use a library, go to the home, or use our physical space (FL Connections).” Argue with GOT’s point that virtual schools depend upon physical locations in such a way as to make his point. These objections serve to point out that virtual education needs a physical location for state testing. The public school is the easiest option because all that needs to be done is send the child to the school and the people there have to do the rest. Use the library? Okay, but libraries restrict the hours a computer can be reserved. Plus, that means the virtual teacher has to do the actual administration whereas testing at the public school means the virtual teacher has no work to do. C’mon, you know you rely on public schools. If that option is not available, are you really going to go to the library for 90 minutes of each test session, student by student, in the three week test window? It can’t be done. The exception proves the rule: in other words, it is clear that virtual schooling needs the public schools to fulfill this legal obligation to test students.
II. The student-teacher ratio is an interesting point. Virtual teachers reported that they have loads of 145 to 160 students, which is comparable to the load of a core-subject high school teacher. If we do the math, and FLVS intends to ramp up to accommodate 2,700,000 students, that means they need 16, 875 teachers. They offered to train a few hundreds to build capacity. GOT feels very sorry for FLVS teachers who will see their student loads explode should the dreams of the governor and commissioner come to fruition.
III. “Not all courses need an EOC.” No, they do not. But as FLVS is a public school district by state law, that means the teachers are subject to the same laws including annual evaluations as traditional school teachers. They need certification, right? They need the data piece for the annual evaluation, right? Or did Florida sneak through an exemption for them?
IV. “Virtual teachers are on the phone all the time. In fact, their workload is two times as great as a teacher in a brick-and-mortar school.” Yes, in this great adventure that is called ‘distance learning,’ we are finding that out. But why is this a good thing?
V. “Virtual school has to teach the entire curriculum. Public school can stop short at the end of the year.” No, we really cannot. Students have to pass tests. Unlike a virtual school, when students can take as long as they need, public schools have to give students the bum’s rush to finish the meal and get out the door because they cannot delay the test. This is not an issue over which to snipe at one another. We all face unrealistic expectations from politicians and legislators who have never set a foot inside an actual school, virtual or otherwise.
VI. “FLVS is more rigorous than traditional schools.” Really? Seriously? Then you ought to read this: When I worked for FLVS, during the oral assessments (called DBAs- discussion based assessments) I could hear someone prompting students in the background…..furious pencil or whiteboard scratching followed by whispers. It happened a LOT. And it had to happen and be reported more than a lot for anyone to receive any consequences.
VII. “the FLVS Flex program for home-schooled students. They can take courses but they are exempt from state exams.” WTH?! Is Corcoran having his cake and eating it too?!
VIII. “FLVS has a Quality Assurance Department. It listens in and views communication between teachers and students, teacher grading and feedback … if the feedback isn’t personalized, the grade isn’t justified, they step in.” So FLVS micromanages, spies on, and does everything that abusive administrators do in a traditional school. How is this a plus?
IX. “FLVS uses DBAs (Discussion-based assessments).” See VI above.
X. “FLVS uses online proctoring services for tests. They record the screen, use the webcam to watch students, capture audio ….” But in these days of distance learning, these are the very practices that need debate. Are they appropriate? Spying on children in their bedrooms. Not something GOT is going to do.