Friday, May 27, 2011

Connections Academy vs K12: Virtual Charter Schools

How rude! I start a new blog on homeschooling, and the first real post I make is about an alternative to home-schooling: public virtual charter schools.

Well, it's a hot topic in our state right now, and many home-schooling families and families thinking about home-schooling are really confused. So, I thought I would give it a little review.

Louisiana is now offering an alternative to the normal brick and mortar public education on the form of virtual charter schools, and it’s giving parents a choice between 2 of them, both run by nation-wide companies. Louisiana Connections Academy is run by Connections Academy (, and Louisiana Virtual Charter Academy is run by K12 (

In practice this "too good to be true" answer to the school system is just that - many parents who pull their kids out of school thinking that they'll be doing "school on-line" are greatly disappointed.  In talking to the people at both K12 and CA, they aren't forthcoming with lots of specific answers, just reassurances - and reassurances make me nervous.
In my 14 years of home-schooling the 5 kids, we have tried the range of home-schooling methods, from the traditional all-in-one curricula to unschooling. We spent several years following Charlotte Mason’s ideas, and finally settled into the relaxed homeschooling we’ve been doing for a while.   

 I’ve been curious about the state sponsored charter schools since I’ve heard of them years ago, and I’m seriously considering doing one or both with the 3 kids I’m currently homeschooling.  I’m still not completely decided about what to do, but I wanted to be more informed nonetheless.

Part of what bothered me is that, although these two schools are often operating in the same states, on the surface they look the same. Next, I couldn’t find any true, semi-objective direct comparison of the two, despite that many people have used both. 

Both are free public schools. So yes, you are enrolling your child into the state provided education.
Both stick to the state required test schedules for L E AP, iLeap and G E E .

** side notes:
  • K12 is a much larger school. More people who've used it = more feedback to pull from.  I'm not slanted, but that's why I've written more on it.
  • Where did I find my info: I mainly looked for reviews written by families who actually used the schools (not just researched) and lots of personal blogs (gotta love these things!). I gave more credence to those who used it longer than a year and with multiple kids. I also called both schools several times each.
  • I do not vouch that this information is 100% correct. Each time I called the different schools, I often get a different answer. So if a point is really important to you, call, verify, get it in writing, etc.
  • If you have contradictory info, let me know and I'll check it out.

CA = Louisiana Connections Academy
K12 =  Louisiana Virtual Charter Academy


General Information            
  • Starts Aug 17
  • Couple weeks before school starts, teacher contact w/ dates & locations for tests
  • Scan-tron type assessment (on-line) at beginning of school year
    • Child can be promoted or retained based on scores – decision is up to teacher
    • K-8 students assigned 1 teacher: s/t ratio 30-40/1 – most curricula done at home w/ learning coach.

  • 3 levels in each
    • Beginner
    • Intermediate
    • Advanced
            Middle School           
            High school    
            Most curricula is K12 specific (i.e. not like Saxon Math)
            Foreign Language
                        Power Glide
                        Con: no teacher

  • Contact trough e-mail and an occasional face to face meeting.
    • Most communication is through learning coach, not student
  • High school, students assigned a teacher for each subject.
    • More virtual classroom stuff

  • log daily: 6 hours / day
  • flexible in hours you choose to school, but a minimum hours per, any day
  • must be met    
    • High school    
      • 1 live lecture per week per class (NOT recorded & viewed later)
        • Must attend the virtual classes
      • a 2nd optional lecture if extra help is needed
  • Computer Time          
    • 20% lower grades
    • 30-40% middle school
    • 60% high school

General comments from users (can be either a pro or con)                     
  • more advanced academics than CA  
  • fast paced       
  • need to be strong in basics to excel   
  • a-lot of subjects          
  • Not as much teacher interaction as CA         
  • Less use of technology than CA - more work w/ at home books, no skyping or dvd-like tutorials  
  • sequential       
  • all curricula & supplies shipped to you
  • daily agenda & prep list for teachers (but you don’t have access to this before school starts)
  • required “meetings” with teachers
  • Not much learning coach pre-time, but be prepared to spend a large portion of the day assisting
  • Appeals to the kinesthetic learner through the use of manipulatives and flash media.
  • Auditory learner through the use of reading room stories and CD's
  • Allows a steady pace for reluctant learner
  • Or skipping ahead for the motivated learner.
  • A-lot of activities per lesson, but once the student has mastered the object, he can move ahead without doing all activities.
  • As child gets used to it (may take a year or more), they become more independent

  • student can test out of lessons they know     
  • If finishes a year's course early, can start on next grade level's course - maybe nly for paid curricula, not free public schools
  • mastery based rather than letter based - 80% or higher on end of lesson eval to progress    
  • lessons can be accessed through any internet connection on any computer  
  • Optional activities for each lesson to help with mastery
  • Gets the child ready for college like classes w/o the classroom environment (something I lacked before) – tests, deadlines, expectations (part of life)
  • 8th grade and below, you have more control over meeting objectives. The teacher is there to help, not dictate.
  • Can view lesson plans a couple of weeks before school starts
  • Has a Study Island your child works on for a few minutes each day to help prepare for state tests, which I like better than teaching everything for the test
  • Found more positive on K12 than CA, but I think K12 is a bigger program (more people = more feedback)
  • High School   
    • schedule a little more rigid
    • less flexibility
    • Virtual classes have to be participated in at the time scheduled
  • a bit difficult for students who are behind    
  • may take longer than 6 hours a day for kids who are behind
  • Would be very hard for a family who had no structure to their day
  • Will need a computer for each child, even if the child is not on it all day. Otherwise multiple children have difficulty “scheduling” their school work
  • Impossible for a single or working parent.

General thoughts                  
  • Will be time consuming, rigorous and at time hard, but it will bring children up to speed for their age
  • Better education
  • If you starting out w/ a young child or pulling a child from school, K12 would work well and serve you better in the end than CA
  • If your child is very self-motivated and works at an accelerated pace, K12 is better
  • Very systematic in its approach. If you did well in regular school and think your child would do well in regular school, it’s not bad especially if you start them in K12 young
  • You’ll be overwhelmed the first month. If you can stick it out, it’ll get better.
  • Mixed reviews, either loved or hated, but I see a common thread.
    • Those who love it
      • Have self-motivated learners
      • Learners that catch on fast and work at a fast pace
      • Start out in K-3rd grade or
      • Pull their kids from school or have always used a traditional curricula for their kids (Classical hs’ing or prepackaged curricula)
    • Those who hate it
      • Have children “behind” for their age/grade level
      • Children who have to be cajoled into schoolwork regardless of the source
      • Children who have been homeschooled for several years with little or no traditional structure (un-schooling, relaxed home-schooling, Charlotte Mason approach or even unit-studies)

Connections Academy

General Info:
  • School starts Aug 15
  • Online placement tests for middle & high school kids to place them – about 30 min tests for each math & language arts
  • Teacher will contact to figure out where the child should be placed and can have child work above or below grade level
  • Student/teacher ratio under 30 to 1
  • K-5 has one teacher
  • Above 5th one teacher for each subject
  • To progress to the next lesson, they have to be passing 67% or higher (not mastery)

  • doesn't look like it has extra curricular classes, but if doing well in core, after 30 days can enroll in extra curricular. Therefore it focuses first on the core subject.
  • if finish one grade's curriculum, can move ahead into the next grade's
  • Subjects
·         Math
o       Scott Foresman enVisionMATH to 5th grade
o       Prentice Hall Math 6th grade
·         Language Arts
o       Scott Foresman Reading to 5th grade
o       Glencoe Literature 6th
·         Social Studies
o       Scott Foresman Social Studies to 5th
o       Glencoe History 6th , 8th
o       Online 7th
·         Science
o       McGraw Hill Science to 5th
o       Glencoe Science 6th
·         Gifted classes 3-8 in LA, Math & Science
·         High school: basic, standard, honors & AP

  • homeroom teacher weekly talks and updates
  • Contact by phone w/ students 1/week
  • live classes - weekly (all ages, more often for high school kids)                   
  • can have one-on-one live lessons if need extra help  

  • log daily: 5.9 hours /day
    • Any time, any day of the week                     
  • certain lectures that must be watched by the high schoolers; if they are unable to be logged in at the time of the lecture      
  • Minimum time for each class but it is by the week and can be done at any time, even on week-ends
  • Live lessons mandatory:
    • 1 per week per subject – all depends on specific teacher
    • Recorded, but want students to participate as much as possible (again depends on teacher you get)

  • Provides 1 computer / family
  • more interaction w/ teachers & other students          
  • teacher actually determines at what pace the student learns
    • ability to work ahead, a 3rd grader doing higher math
    • if behind, can be at a lower in a course
  • Virtual classes are recorded, and though encouraged to attend all, can be watched later

  • grade based rather than mastery based. Need a 67% to pass.           
  • High School   
    • schedule a little more rigid
  • Sounds more like “school at home” than K12 w/ the on-line classrooms & required attendance
  • Less flexible about days/times
  • Assignments determined by individual teachers. So like with public school if you get a good, organized teacher, then YEAH. Otherwise, frustration.

General Thoughts:
  • Easier than K12 for the child, but doesn’t teach as much
  • If your child is behind for his/her age, is not used to a structured school day or is an older student, starting w/ CA wouldn’t be bad. You can always switch to K12 the next year
  • Probably more like regular school at home.
  • Several complaints that you can not move ahead grade levels in subjects or even work too much ahead of the rest of your cyber class. When I ask the help people, they say that you can, but it’s at the teacher’s discretion. That also may be different state by state.

If I had to sum up the differences, in a few short statements (and again, this is from no actual experience):

Lower Grades & Middle School
CA is more of an actual virtual school where the student interacts with a teacher on-line, and that teacher, like a public school teacher, has a great deal of decision power on how the student’s education goes. It’s a grade based system, just like a normal school. The student has the lesson which is mixed between parent taught, skype-like lectures and on-line activities, and then he takes a test. Pass or fail, he moves on (at least that’s my understanding).

Most complaints on CA seem to be because the teacher, who has a great deal of control, doesn’t do what the parent wants (move a child ahead, hold a child behind, isn’t terribly professional, waits until the last minute to give assignments, etc).  Some of these complaints are valid. The teachers are human and may be very competent and helpful or not.

K12 is more like the traditional all-in-one curricula where the parent is responsible for 90% of the education but reports back to an outside arbitrator.  The parent teaches the lessons either how it’s presented in the material or however else they see fit (and yes that is encouraged). All the arbitrator (aka teacher) needs is to know that you are covering the material adequately. They even tell you that the “hours you log” are subjective. As long as you claim to have worked 6 hours a day, they’re happy b/c the state is happy.  The student has some supplemental stuff on-line and tests. It’s a mastery system, so the student has to know 80% of the information before he can move on.

Most complaints on K12 have to do with the amount of the work presented. Parents are nearly always overwhelmed at first, and they do expect that. Because it’s a mastery system, the parent eventually figures out that the students don’t have to do all the work – just until they master it. Every student needs a different amount of practice & review, so they present the max they think you’ll need.

Despite that K12 isn't technically home-schooling, on a day to day basis it looks identical - at least 8th grade and below. The parent spends a great deal of time teaching, reviewing and testing.  You do get support though that an otherwise home-school family wouldn't get. In exchange for the support though you are held accountable for how much your children learn.  I found this interesting

High school:
Both schools are very similar once the kids reach 9th grade. More and more classes are on-line. The teachers are more involved with the students on a day to day basis. The main difference at this level seems to boil down to the assessment system. CA is still a graded system. After a lesson, you take the test and get a grade. K12 is still a mastery system – you don’t advance until you know 80% of the material.


  1. Very thorough post. Its nice to see all the information I had been researching gathered in one place! I am Louisiana too and I hope you and yours are having a great school year.

  2. Thank You for your time and effort and sharing what you have learned about CA and K12. I just began homeschooling my 4th grader a month ago and I was certain SOS was the right curriculum. I know I haven't given it much time but I don't feel its engaging him. He's highly visual and kinesthetic and gravitate's towards classical a bit. K12 seems to suit kinesthetic and notable for mastery learning activities. A mom who just joined scouts last week says it's the best for a kinesthetic. CA seems very rigid and doesn't leave much time for 'home schooling' but their demo is visually interesting with interactive illustrations. Your research is very informative. I really have to look into K12. THANKS !

  3. Thank you for this thorough comparision. I'm considering schooling my kids again. I used to use k12 (California Virtual Academy). Then had to put them in regular public schools. Now that I'm thinking of doing it again, I needed info on Connections. You provided just that.

    I used k12 for the first several years of my kids' educatiion. I personally loved it. Very straight forward; you follow the lessons. My kids loved it too. After reading your blog, I'm thinking of going back to k12.

  4. Thank you for putting this together. We are having a heck of a time making a decision to continue to HS or use these public options. Looks like one main dis-advantage is losing a lot of the flexibility you have when you HS.

  5. Thanks so much for the information. Very helpful! :)

  6. just wanted you to know this is my first yr in k12 my daughter will be starting kindergarden. school starts aug 8th

    1. With LAVCA? My youngest son is starting K this year as well, so we may run into each other.

      I have heard amazing things about both the K curricula and the teacher from friends who had kids in K last year. I'm excited about it!