AUGUSTA, Maine — As Maine moves forward with exploration of virtual charter schools and greater use of digital learning, K12, an online education company that was in line to provide curriculum for a Maine virtual charter school until it withdrew its application, is under investigation in Florida.

In 2011, Maine law was amended to allow charter schools in the state. Maine has no virtual charter schools. However, the Maine Virtual Academy, one of nine groups that filed a letter of intent to submit applications to open charter schools in Maine this year, proposed to contract with K12 “to provide curriculum, teaching and school management services.” The Maine Virtual Academy withdrew its charter school application on Aug. 7.

The Associated Press reports that the Florida Department of Education i s investigating K12 for allegedly using uncertified teachers in violation of state law and asking its employees to cover up the practice.

The investigation launched in January centers on whether K12 officials asked certified teachers to sign class rosters that included students who allegedly took classes from teachers who had not been certified by the state, according to documents obtained by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting and StateImpact Florida.

K12 representatives reportedly asked officials in the Seminole County Public Schools in 2009 if teachers without state certification could lead online classes funded by the district. The uncertified teachers would be supervised by a certified “teacher of record,” according to the report.

After consulting with the Florida Department of Education, Seminole officials denied the request. Emails forwarded by a K12 employee to the school district allegedly indicate that K12 went ahead with the practice.

Seminole Public Schools then surveyed parents of students who had taken K12 online courses. Only 36 percent of parents said their child’s teacher was the one K12 had listed. At that point, Seminole officials asked the Florida Department of Education to investigate. That probe uncovered irregularities in other school districts, according to the Associated Press report.

K12 officials declined interview requests. In a statement, spokesman Jeff Kwitowski said the company is working closely with investigators.

“We do not believe the allegations against K12 regarding teacher certification are accurate,” he wrote. “K12’s policy is to follow teacher certification requirements. K12 teachers assigned to teach students in Florida are state certified. Because K12 is continuing to work with state officials on this matter, further comment would be inappropriate.”

K12, founded in 2000 by William Bennett, a longtime voice for conservative political causes who served as U.S. secretary of education under President Ronald Reagan, is an $864 million publicly traded company whose stock price has more than doubled in the last year.

The company made two donations totaling $19,000 to the RGA Maine 2010 PAC in 2010. That political action committee bought advertising to support Gov. Paul LePage’s campaign.

The Maine Department of Education does no direct business with K12, according to David Connerty-Marin, a spokesman for the department.

K12 is listed as a donor on the website of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, to which the department has looked for guidance on reform issues, but “we have no conversations with K12 about anything,” Connerty-Marin said Tuesday.

“Local school districts contract with vendors to provide specific online courses for kids throughout the state,” Connerty-Marin said. “If local districts come to us with questions about K12 as a result of the story, we will certainly help them look into it.”

The Maine charter school law requires that teachers be “qualified,” not certified, according to Connerty-Marin The statute reads, “All full-time teachers in a public charter school must either hold an appropriate teaching certificate or become certified within 3 years of the date they are hired, except for those with an advanced degree, professional certification or unique expertise or experience in the curricular area in which they teach.”

An advisory group that met for the first time this month to work on a digital learning plan for the state “will address a lot of these issues, including questions about certification,” Connerty-Marin said.

The group will delve into whether all online teachers of Maine students have state certification, whether reciprocity with other states would be effective or if other quality control measures should be put in place.

“We don’t know what happened in Florida,” Connerty-Marin said. “If Florida law required certified teachers and they weren’t using them — if they were breaking the law — it certainly should be of interest to districts in Maine using them and the Charter School Commission.

“We need to watch this investigation closely, and whether the accusations are true or not, we need to investigate ways to ensure that Maine’s approved online providers are, in fact, following Maine statute and employing certified teachers,” Rep. David Richardson, R-Carmel, House chairman of the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee, wrote in an email to the Bangor Daily News. “Implementing Seminole County’s practice of having virtual teachers sign off on their class rosters certifying that they actually taught them might be a good place to start.”

“Maine must move cautiously around all virtual charters schools,” said Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, also a member of the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee. “The sub-par results from others states cannot be ignored. Instead, let’s continue giving students options to take a class or two in subjects not offered in their schools.”

The Associated Press contributed to the report.

23 replies on “Online education company with ties to Maine under investigation in Florida”

  1. Alas, the absence of quality control is common to these for-profit online enterprises. But then the UME System is pushing for ever more online courses both to reduce further as many full-time faculty as possible and to ignore serious questions about the “delivery” of instruction. The System prefers to spend hundreds of thousands on highly paid consultants rather than hire more faculty and offer higher quality courses. 

    1. If BDN was printing lies or distortions about Maine Virtual Academy I’m sure their well paid public relations person would be quick to contact the BDN and demand a retraction.

      Corporations are people with free speech rights according to Republicans.

      1. I don’t suggest that the BDN is printing lies or distortions. I’d like a reaction and an explanation from the “academy,” whose spokeswoman has been quoted about its high educational goals.

  2. And this is the company who will be “educating” children in Maine? I’m sure that the fact that they donated almost $20,000 to a PAC that was used exclusively for the benefit of Mr. Paul Richard LePage’s campaign is just a coincidence. This tea party parrot madness has to end. First they let the insurance companies write the laws on insurance reform. Then they pass tax cuts which benefit mostly Maine’s wealthy and try to tell us that everyone will benefit. Now they want to gut Maine’s education system and replace it with unqualified teachers. All this from the man who promised us “People Before Politics”. The State of Maine can not take 2 more years of this tea party parrot insanity. It has to be stopped.

  3. why hire certified teachers when you can hire uneducated ones for less pay and earn more profit? 

    While I agree there is benefit to utilizing technologies not previously available, I believe these need to be reviewed/scrutinized by others than those who achieve positions of power through the financial support of some of these organizations.   A properly vetted curriculum could improve consistency and quality of education, particularly in rural areas where some teachers may not consider employment. 

  4. My daughter used this program a couple of years ago, she said it was much more interesting and better than her present high school experience.  Just because a teacher is certified it doesn’t always mean they know what they are doing.  Just recently I had to contact my local high school principal to report  several notices I received home from a teacher that had misspellings, incorrect uses of commas and several grammatical errors.

    1.  I had looked into this program briefly for my daughter, as we were at odds with her school over the teacher she was to have this year. Thankfully, after many months of fighting, she was placed with a different teacher, so we didn’t need to look into things further. Would you be willing to share some of your (well, your daughter’s) personal experiences with it? All I knew of the company was the commercial I’d seen on tv. I was hesitant to try anything that I didn’t know much about. Granted, I didn’t do much homework on it, as we were informed of the teacher switch not long after I thought this may be an option.

    2. Funny we value spelling so much but not math skills? I find that so funny in a way . Most educated people pick on my spelling. That being said some took calculus with a 4.0 average and Are like a 2nd grader compared to me in math skills.

  5. Online teachers get to work for 3 years before becoming certified? So essentially, they’re teaching children without having offered any solid proof that they actually know what they’re doing. Then, when their 3 years are up and their lack of skill and knowledge makes certification impossible, they get fired and the next generation of uncertifiable “teachers” takes their place. Nice way to save money on teachers, enhancing corporate profits and shortchanging kids.

  6. Republicans do not care about you.

    Holding elected office is just a way for them to skim, shovel and scam taxpayer money into their own pockets – or the pockets of their cronies.

    Throw them out this November.

    Yessah

  7. Interesting, isin’t it, that no where to be seen or heard is the current DOE Commissioner, Steve Bowen. And that K12 is headed by Bill Bennett is also not just an amazing cooincidence. Distance learning is possible but not in the K-12 area’s. Distance learning is aimed at the older and adult student’s. Both of them know this. But the ‘why’ and who’s hand is in the cookie jar is now the real question. And with the Election of a new Statehouse coming up, and education being a sure thing to be debated, this is a subject that’s sure to be looked into.

    1.  I think that parking your child in front of a computer and expecting them to learn is unrealistic. However, distance learning, when used in a home school setting can be useful in my opinion. The person (usually a parent) who does the homeschooling may not be proficient in all areas of study. Using a distance learning system allows for teacher instruction from someone who (hopefully) knows what they are talking about.

  8. It is so very important to keep public schools public and free from privatization….The Repugs and Dims want to privatize everything…prisons, social security….any where there is to make a buck….Look at what the Dims are doing to education in Chicago…

  9. All for the almighty buck. Shouldn’t the buck stop here? This is about our children’s future and our society’s future. Again let the elite few profit at our children’s expense, not to mention the lack of human contact with instructors and other students. How are these children suppose to learn interpersonal skills needed in life and the world of work? There is more to education than “learning result” smarts.

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