Virtual Schools; Not-So-Virtual Loopholes

After failing to meet state standards, the Texas Virtual Academy is supposed to be shut down. So how has the for-profit company running it?
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At this point, there shouldn’t be any more Texas Virtual Academy. It should have shut down because it failed to meet state standards two years in a row.  Instead, students attended yet another year, with almost no interruption, thanks to a loophole that advantages for-profit companies offering .

TXVA as its known, was one of three experimental virtual schools in Texas, all offering all-day virtual education for students, as early as third grade.

I wrote about the Texas Virtual Academy in my September story on for profit companies in the education industries. The school is one of the

The Texas Virtual Academy is a full-time school geared toward students between third and eleventh grades. It differs from other public schools in two major ways. It’s an online-only school, meaning students sit in their homes and take classes over the Internet. And though it’s paid for with public dollars, operations are managed entirely by a for-profit company, K12 Inc.

The school’s website is still located on the K12 Inc. server, and the school’s teachers are still K12 Inc. employees rather than state workers. But this year, the school will be housed at a different charter institution, which means its record of unacceptable student achievement has been wiped clean.

For the last five years, Texas Virtual Academy (through contractor K12) has been housed at the Houston charter school Southwest Schools. The Virginia-based K12 corporation continues to create the curriculum for the school and even trains the teachers.

But it hasn’t exactly been successful. For two of the last three years, the school has failed to meet state standards.

The setup isn’t unusual. These companies, known as for-profit educational management organizations, or EMOs, operate in both brick-and-mortar and virtual charter schools. According to a 2009-2010 report from the National Education Policy Center, these for-profit management companies are increasingly prevalent among virtual schools. Texas has allowed for three full-time virtual schools, including the Texas Virtual Academy. All are housed either within charter schools or traditional schools, and all are run by for-profit companies.

Southwest Schools ended its contract with K12 Inc. and shut down the academy for the current school year. Yet that was hardly a problem for K12, which simply got a contract with a different charter school. This year, K12 and Texas Virtual Academy are housed within Responsive Education Solutions in Houston. DeEtta Culbertson, a spokesperson for the Texas Education Agency, said Virtual Academy parents and students shouldn’t notice the change.

But the school does get a new campus number―meaning the performance record of the last several years is no longer associated with its new incarnation. Texas Virtual Academy has a clean slate. Parents looking into the school now housed at Responsive Education Solutions won’t see the institution’s poor track record at Southwest Schools.

Texas prides itself both on tough education assessment standards available to the public and non-traditional learning opportunities. In this case, K12 Inc. found a loophole to make them mutually exclusive.