Colorado Virtual Academy: Report finds low-paid teachers, huge workloads at online school

Categories: Education

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Teachers at Colorado's largest online school are likely overworked and underpaid, according to an investigation by KUNC reporter Grace Hood. She found that most of the teachers at Colorado Virtual Academy make less than $35,000 per year -- even middle school English instructors who, during the first semester last year, taught up to 240 students.

Randy DeHoff is a board member of Colorado Virtual Academy -- and former head of the Charter School Institute, which was the subject of our recent cover story, "A Hard Line." He told KUNC that high student enrollment numbers don't necessarily mean teachers are overworked. "We're not getting a consistent message from the teachers that they're overwhelmed," he said.

But teachers who spoke to reporter Hood said they were. At least one pointed the finger at the for-profit management company that runs the school, Virginia-based K12 Inc. That teacher, Casey Longo, suggested that K12 was more interested in making a buck than in ensuring that the class sizes were manageable for teachers and beneficial for students.

Hood's story is especially timely. Several Colorado lawmakers are considering measures to increase oversight at online schools, which historically have low test scores and high dropout rates. Yet enrollment in online schools is growing.

More from our Education archive: "Marcos Martinez, head of Ricardo Flores Magon Academy, resigns his post."

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15 comments
Liese
Liese

As a COVA parent for going on 7 years now I am sick of the oversight. All the hoops we have to jump through, turn in this, take this scantron, take this test....it is much more work to do COVA now than 7 years ago when the admin pretty much left me alone to school my child. My kids are getting the love of learning sucked out of them with all of the e-sessions and busywork. I pulled my son out of COVA in 9th and we went with Kaplan -which then turned into Insight (which is K12 also.) I am pulling my daughter out next year to join Insight. It seems strange because they are both K12 schools, but Insight has been much more flexible about leaving out all of the busywork that shows nothing and takes up time.

COVA's first mistake was when they switched the terms 'learning coach' and 'teacher' a few years ago. I AM THE TEACHER, I am here with my kids all day long answering their questions, guiding them through the work, etc. I am not a learning coach as they have now labeled me. 

I also hate that we used to have the option of going year round but now they are not sending out my new materials until the Fall, so that we can be boxed up like all the other COVA children. God forbid that you have children who finish work and get ahead, we need to trample down the ones who go ahead and drag up the ones that fall behind so that everyone can be 'average'. 

Stephanie Stambaugh
Stephanie Stambaugh

As a COVA parent for nearly 7 years, I am first of all shocked at the lack of journalistic integrity on Grace Hood's part. This "investigation" is one sided and lacks journalistic integrity because it has absolutely ZERO interviews with Parents, Learning Coaches or Students. Why weren't we asked any questions on what teachers say to us or how our students are thriving in COVA? And why is there no comparison with brick and mortar schools who have enormous budgets and teacher salary issues? Hood doesn't mention it because online schools are nothing like brick and mortar schools, but her article fails to describe the difference. What is even more shocking is to see someone who states they used to work for COVA in these comments, EDAntesKT in the original article linked above, and yet like the others mentioned in this article, hides their name, when if they no longer work for COVA they should not fear any retribution. Why did they not share openly with the parents who they are if they are so concerned about warning us and the public so we can determine for ourselves if their statements aren't based on their own disgruntled opinion about COVA? As with the lack of information in Hood's article, what else is disturbing is the inaccuracy of this poster's facts. The most erroneous being the graduation rate of our high school students. COVA has a statistic that no brick and mortar school that I know of in Colorado has bragged about, and that is we have a 100% graduation rate for high schoolers who start in COVA's high school program from the beginning. What the poster and Hood fails to mention is that our school's overall numbers each year take a hit and are lowered because COVA is willing to take in and embrace HUNDREDS of students that brick and mortar schools across this state have failed. But where is any of this information in the article above? It isn't. The only red flag that should be raised is this and other one sided articles appearing in the media in recent months is that they do nothing to improve online schools by one sided reporting and they all seem to lack any knowledge of what our students do on a daily basis. What Grace Hood fails to ever state is any solution to the so called problems COVA has, and if teachers are overworked with 150 to 300 students, why are they? She fails to mention the amount of HIGH QUALITY course work (lessons at levels my children never got in brick and mortar) and materials K12 provides us, including some but not all supplies and for some students, computers. Grace Hood also fails to detail what COVA teachers do for us on a daily basis. As a parent what I can tell you is that they do not teach my children DAILY like brick and mortar teachers do. What K-8 COVA teachers do is support my student's learning with online sessions, presentations, do one on one sessions for struggling students, grade assignments, communicate about monthly elluminates, events, work sample submissions through email, they take part in school functions and become some of our children's best advocates. So do High school teachers who also monitor online school message boards and supplement K12 assignments like university teachers do for online courses. But they do not sit in a classroom daily and teach 300 students. Parents or family member teach students DAILY or keep high schoolers on track daily. Parents, learning coaches teach and oversee students daily work, put in student's attendance, and if it is not done, THEN teachers intervene. Where in Grace Hoods article does she describe that or ask about the accountability of PARENTS making sure students are getting their work done? It doesn't. We love our COVA teachers, and of course all teachers across the nation should be paid more, it's immoral that they're not. But why didn't Grace Hood ask the teachers who are supposedly upset in this article if they knew the salary COVA offered them wasn't good enough, why did they come to work for COVA? Teachers are told their salary before they accept their positions, so if they didn't like the salary why did they take the job? Were they promised something they didn't get? The article doesn't say this either. The fact is this. Grace Hood's one sided reporting isn't helping COVA and other online schools, instead it puts all online students at risk of losing their school. Students are faced with an onslaught of factors that keep them from being successful in their school work daily, everything from bullies, drugs, illnesses, or incompetent or pedophile teachers that we've seen mentioned in the news lately. But at COVA so many of those factors are removed. Grace Hood doesn't mention that nor does she mention the success stories of students. She and her editors apparently haven't also thought to mention what it would mean, if because of informatory articles like this one, our school's future could be put at an overinflated risk. What would Grace Hood do with our thousands of COVA students? Where would they go if her one sided "investigation" puts my two son's success at jeopardy? My two sons are both high achievers, both on the honor roll, but she's willing to jeopardize my students and even the most vulnerable COVA students, like a special needs student or just a student who has been bullied and came to COVA to escape, all at risk of losing their school. Why isn't her editors asking her these questions? The answer is the media's need for big headlines without any consideration for the victims it creates with biased one sided reporting is what is driving Hood's article, not a search for ALL the facts.

Guest
Guest

The one thing that is so miss understood with the online schools is that it is a lot of work on the parents part and if parents are looking for an easy road by placing their child/children in an online school they have looked at it wrong.  Again I am just a parent that has taken this year to home school or cyber school all four of my children but that is the way I see it as home schooling not a school that I am not a part of.  There is a responsibility of the Learning Coaches to be there for the children and it is wonderful to have the licenced teachers to back us up, but they are not the only resource for our childrens' education they are just a part and when everyone is doing their part there are results.  My second daughter a 5th grader has struggled in school since her 1st grade year in a public traditional school where she was degraded in front of the whole class by the teacher and has struggled in school ever since.  She was placed in a charter brick and mortar school the very next year.  She did better but still struggled was in a grade behind in reading and math so this is our first year of COVA and she was placed in 5th grade math and we struggled for weeks in the beginning and I didn't think we were going to make it but I never saw that she couldn't do it it just that I needed to spend a lot of one on one with her to help her through it and now she is doing some pre-algebra and math I know I did not learn in 5th grade and doing very well mastering all of her assessments on the first tries.  I am amazed at one on one education can really do for a child and it has not even been a full school year.  So it is a lot of work but when it comes to my childrens' education well work it, but it has nothing to do with the teachers but how much I as a mom cares, because in the end no one cares as much as me for their education. And by the way they have wonderful teachers, they have helped us to make it this far. 

RJCKL
RJCKL

   I am another parent of an online school student at COVA. My son was struggling in the traditional school system when he started first grade he was ahead and by the end he was behind or barely keeping up. I was very involved and working with the teachers, but it wasn't enough and he was starting to get lost. So I went for a different route. I pulled him out and started COVA. The turn around was amazing. He is finishing up second grade and now and is already working on third grade curriculum. Online school provided flexability that a traditional school could not provide.   Online schools get a bad rap because they take on cases where students are struggling and they work with the students to advance them at their own rate. Is there improvement? Absolutely! Is it always going to show the same way it shows in my son no. Every student has their own story. As far as drop out rates that is a case by case senerio. I know in my case it has been a huge sacrifice for me to stay home and oversee school while living on just my husbands income. If anything extremely negative were to happen in our finances I would be forced to place my son back in public school so that I could return to work. Simple things like that can negatively impact drop out rates. There many other situations that also hurt the drop out rate.  Where teachers are concerned I can't speak directly to how they feel about their work load and if they are appropriatly copensated for that work load, but I can say that the teachers shoud be able to handle a much larger student base then a teacher in a traditional school. We do not need to work with our teacher 5 days a week, 8 hours a day. Our teacher is always available when we need her, and she is always helpful.   Online school has been wonderful for our family. I wish articles like this showed both sides of the story and not just all the negative aspects. It is negative articles like this that dissolves the ability to seek out good alternatives for children to receive excellent education, and creates false notions that anything other than traditional school is lacking.

Morbid95
Morbid95

I have two daughters in online schooling and they love it. My freshman will be graduating two years early because she has been able to work at her own pace and pass all classes without any disruptions. Both my girls feel very safe doing online school rather then going to public school where there is bulling and kids bringing weapons to school. Both girls have better grades now and enjoy going to school. We still have communication with teachers but not on a daily basics, its only if we need them. So they are not over worked and under paid. If the funding for online schooling is taken away I'm not sure what we will do. My girls are able to work at their pace, when they want, and in a quiet enviroment which is something they would not get in a public school. When my youngest had to go to a public school she cried everyday and at least once a week some kid brought in a weapon, she is a 4th grader. This is not safe and I wont send her back. So please do not cut funding to online schooling. It is important to many families out there. The classrooms are already crowded and you have cut so much from public schools, DONT take away what we have for online school. Its safe and much better then public school. We attend Karval Online.

Ralstonlass
Ralstonlass

While I cannot comment on the experience of the teachers, as a parent I have been very satisfied with my daughter's education at COVA. Her middle school was not doing well and having her homeschooled with Cova (I see it as a hybrid as well) has worked wonderfully. The important thing with online schooling is parental involvement. You can't expect to just drop your kid off at the school and assume they are getting a good education. You have to be involved whether it is a brick and mortar school or an online education. Just my two cents!

SchoolChoiceParent
SchoolChoiceParent

Another story missing a key component of this issue...the STUDENTS and their families. I have been a cyberschool parent for the past 7 years...we continue because we see results. Cyberschooling isn't the easy way out...it takes hard work ...and dedication on the part of the teachers, parents, and students. And considering that this model is basically in it's infancy, it's unfair to judge it when it's working within a system of policy and legislation that is geared towards a traditional model. This may look like an attack on online education's finances and accountablity, but what it really is is an attack on school choice. I am all for accountability, but we can twist and turn data on all schools to make a point, but what is this doing to advance education? Colorado...we are at a turning point here...we can encourage innovation and reform and put best practices into place for ALL public schools or we can continue to spin our wheels and see the further decline or our schools.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth

Why haven't you spoken with parents and students about this? COVA has has done for my daughter what no brick and mortar school could. She is moving at her own pace and has all the help she needs. Not ONCE have I felt that her teacher was unreachable or too busy for her.  Do some real research and get in touch with the parents and students as we are the ones that walk this road every day and I think it happens to be a pretty great road to walk!

Jamilie1
Jamilie1

My daughter has been on-line schooling for 6 years now, and we have loved every moment of her incredible education.  Virtual learning is so misunderstood and underrated by the masses that stand outside the equation and judge what is not considered traditional.  As far as low test scores, my child has always tested well above the average.  In fact, this school year, at the age of 12, she has gone into the 9th grade and is earning an A average.  Although we are no longer with COVA, we felt the need to switch when people with no understanding began imposing rules and regulations that made it more difficult for us to relize the benifits that we had in the previous 5 years.  We have found a new on-line school that is not as big as COVA, and therefore not the same target for rules and regulations that do NOT add to the educational experience.  

Hsdoolittle
Hsdoolittle

Online school is a hybrid of traditional and homeschooling.  Teacher ratios can be higher because they aren't solely responsible for the student.  If my child was in a classroom of 240 kids for one teacher, I would be outraged! But we are in COVA with a high student/teacher ratio.  Guess what, I am not outraged.  I am satisfied that my child is getting one on one tutoring under the supervision of a licensed teacher.  If he doesn't understand something, we stop, go over it until he gets it, ask the teacher for help if there is a problem in "getting it", and get it.  The rest of the class doesn't move on.  In a traditional class my child would have to "learn it on his own" outside of class or ask the teacher (does a teacher have time to give 30 students 30-60min of extra help each day or when needed?) or get help from a parent.  Online schooling is a hybrid.  If you leave out critical components when criticizing it, you aren't getting it.  You can complain that a hybrid car gets horrible gas mileage when you leave out the electric motor.  You can build an argument that hybrid subsidies have been a total waste of tax payer monies.  But really, a hybrid car isn't just a gas motor.  Online schools aren't really just teacher directed.  They are teachers and parents working together for the best solution for individual children.  As for test scores and drop out rates, the whole picture needs to be seen there.  My moderate to severe dyslexic son has tested "unsatisfactory" on standardized tests.  He has also shown great progress.  My son is learning, and I feel bad for COVA.  My son's wonderful progress is looked upon as bad test scores for them.  We are the failures because my son learns differently as a dyslexic.  My son's measurable growth goes down in the COVA is failing category.  Well, COVA is sticking it's neck out to be the "failure" so my son can succeed.  I am thankful for COVA.

Michael Roberts
Michael Roberts

A passionate take, Stephanie. Thanks for sharing it.

Michael Roberts
Michael Roberts

Thanks for sharing your daughter's experiences, Ralstonlass. Much appreciated.

Michael Roberts
Michael Roberts

Thanks for the post, Parent. We're going to make it an upcoming Comment of the Day. Congrats.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth

Where are you schooling now? We are currently using COVA and I am afraid of having to leave for the same reason you stated above.

Jamilie1
Jamilie1

We have found Insight School of Colorado to be great!  Who knows what the future holds with busy body regulators running amok, but as of now, they have been most accommodating (on so many levels) and my daughter is enjoying school without looking over her shoulder anticipating what change may lurk around the next corner.  Hope this helps!   

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