Want to be a Teacher in a Cybercharter School?

December 20, 2012

Thinking about picking up a little extra cash, using your teaching certificate before it expires, and, in the words of the leading online K-12 corporations, teaching an "award-winning curriculum that engages young minds with a rich combination of online interactive and offline hands-on learning" and enjoying "a new kind of powerful, personalized connection" with students"? Well then, maybe you should take a job teaching in the Colorado Virtual Academy or the Arizona Virtual Academy or Pennsylvania's Agora Cyber Charter School.

Or maybe not. Just listen to the experiences of a few of these teachers who cast their lot with a cybercharter.

In the interview, eight of the ten questions they asked me were about how I would go about finding new students and convincing their parents to enroll them. I stopped the interview and asked them to clarify precisely what position I was being interviewed for.

I worked at Colorado Virtual Academy [COVA] as a teacher; here is what I know for sure. The teachers for K-8 do not teach; they are secretaries, customer support, and marketing reps for COVA. The parents do 98% of the teaching or the kids teach themselves using a "first class" curriculum.

As a former teacher at COVA myself, I can tell you that COVA treats the teachers there like garbage. They get paid pitiful wages and get no respect from the administration or the school board. COVA is nothing more than glorified home school. COVA is merely concerned with the bottom line and with test scores.

COVA's student achievement is affected by class size — enormous (almost criminal) class sizes. I was both a K-8 and a high school teacher. At the K-8 level, I had 75 "homeroom" students and supported 300-350 students in my content (which is impossible, but very, very lucrative for K12). At the high school level, the numbers were higher with 350-450 students to teach in my content. K12 and COVA will say that those numbers reflect beginning-of-the-year enrollment and do not take into consideration attrition. Not true. My numbers didn't change much all year and I basically became a full-time grader when at the high school level (not a teacher!) . I was also told at various times by the principal at the middle school level that I needed to "teach all content areas" and get used to supporting students in every area (math, science, history, etc.) and across many grade levels (K-5th grade or 6th-8th grade in all content areas). This is how K12 makes money. They load up class sizes and hire as few teachers as possible (and the pay averages out to be about $10 an hour).

What I really need to do is get them on the phone, open my computer, open their computer and walk them through it. That would take an hour plus. You can’t do that with 250 students. You can’t.

They treat teachers with the utmost disregard and couldn't care less about their students educational needs. Their only concern is appearances and test scores, which they have tried to manipulate in many different ways over the last seven years.

The teachers at COVA are qualified teachers, but are used as nothing more than customer service representatives in order to market the program and smooth over panicked families who discover that they have made the wrong choice concerning their student's education.

And what if you don't have a teaching certificate or yours lapsed? Find the right state and it could be no problem. When one of the cyber-charter giants applied for a charter in San Francisco and was turned down, a charter was subsequently issued by the California State Board of Education (after, in the words of one reporter, a little money was spread around). Now, California has a law on the books that says any teacher in a charter school in California must be certified to teach in the state. Many certified teachers in California make a decent living. This apparently did not fit well with San Francisco's Flex Academy's business plan. So Flex Academy hired a couple of teachers certified in California and entitled all the rest of the "teaching" staff "teaching assistants." But in the end, it may not matter since so many of these cybercharter teachers are basically recruiters and marketers any way.

 

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Gene V Glass

Gene V Glass is currently a Senior Researcher at the National Education Policy Center and a Regents' Professor Emeritus from Arizona State University. Trained originally in statistics, his interests broadened to include psychotherapy research, evaluation methodology, and policy analysis. He was...