Thursday, April 23, 2015

Questions from readers on TNVA, Manifesto, and even Agora Cyber

From time to time I enjoy sharing some questions I receive from readers of my blog here. As always, I wish to begin by saying how much I appreciate all who take moments from their day to read what I have to say. I do not take it lightly, and I am honored that the readership continues to grow.

Now, on to some questions.

Q: Agora Cyber severed their contract with K12 on the management side late 2014 with their charter up for renewal. Do you think TNVA should have done the same thing in light of what has transpired the past few days?

A: I actually offered up a solution for the TNVA issue that included keeping the school open if they found a new provider of services. I am not sure if that was ever on the table nor can I be certain it would have prevented it from being closed as it appears it will be. Contractual arrangements between K12 and Union County (TNVA home school district) might have prevented this option as well.

Opening the door to that possibility could have turned the debate from a Yes-No argument over closing TNVA to finding ways to serve the 1300 students moving forward.

Q: As a teacher at Agora Cyber I am troubled with the transition currently taking place and have trust issues with the new leadership team and concerns about their ability to lead the school. Any advice here in PA for a concerned teacher and are there any cyber/virtual schools that are "doing it the right way" as you say?

A: Transitions are tough so I feel for you. While I am not aware of the specifics of what is going on with Agora one of the first steps new leadership should take does not involve processes or organization charts. Instead, it involves developing trust. Change inherently brings with it trepidation and too often leadership forgets the emotional side of the change while focusing on the part that can be measured. Again, not sure this is what is going on with Agora but yours is not the first email expressing these types of feelings.

My hope is it all works out properly because there are 10,000+ students that are being impacted with this transition.

And yes, there are virtual schools (even in PA) that are working hard to serve students properly. Typically they fly under the radar because they are focused on the task at hand. In a future post I will try to highlight some that are doing virtual right.

Q: In your Manifesto you talk about a "culture of retention," can you explain that more?

A: Virtual schools, like other public schools, are funded based on count dates throughout the year. Some have single count dates while other states have basically rolling count dates. This means that schools are funded for the number of students they are serving based on those counts.

Too many virtual schools are focused on these count dates as the barometer for their recruiting success. In my opinion, they should instead focus on the number of students they are serving on the last day of the school year -- how many students stayed with them after enrolling. Schools that have a culture of retention start here.

Second, schools with this type of culture understand retention and enrollment are synonymous. Retention begins when a family first says "Yes" not in the spring when it is time for families to begin making decisions about the next school year.

Third, schools with a retention culture are more concerned about proper fit than overall numbers. While it is up to the family to ultimately decide if the public virtual school is right for them, the schools carry the burden of communicating properly to the family to help them with this decision. Virtual schools talk about educational choice yet treat it like a sales approach. Instead, a school with a retention culture must view this as a decision process to determine appropriate fit. This means communicating what it takes from the student and the family to succeed in this environment.

As a virtual school, would you rather enroll 500 students and keep 90% of them, or enroll 1,000 students and lose 50% of them? One is a retention approach and the other a sales approach.

Q: Do you think blended learning is the answer?

A: I actually do not believe there is one, single answer. And, I wonder if we are even asking the right questions when it comes to educating our kids. We work so hard to standardize education yet we celebrate diversity in life. We look for ways to scale when data continually demonstrates the effectiveness of more personalized approaches. We look to programs, processes and technology to solve our problems when perhaps we should be looking at the relationships more.

Blended learning can be and should be part of the solution, just as virtual and traditional brick-and-mortar schools should be. My hope is we take an "And" approach instead of an "Either/Or" approach. Let's look for ways to include instead of deny.

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