Thursday, April 19, 2012

Assessing LAVCA's High School - at least for the first half of the year

Good gogely-mogely! It’s been 8 months since I’ve posted. Obviously, I’ve been a bit overwhelmed with my year with K12.  Can I sum up all that’s happened? Probably not even a little. But I can try. Let’s start with age rather than date.

I pulled Jojo out of K12 in November.  Her first homeroom teacher wouldn’t place her in 9thgrade, stating that unless she was in public school before and I had the records to show that she was in 8th grade the previous year, she had to be placed using her age.  Found out later that that wasn’t exactly true.  The teacher could have moved her back to 9th, and it wasn’t really that difficult, just a bit of paperwork. I suspect that she (the teacher) didn’t want the extra paperwork and didn’t care whether or not my child failed.

With all of our children, except the oldest and now the youngest, we’ve delayed schooling by a year. So she had never done 9th grade work. For some subjects that wouldn’t matter, but in English and math it usually does. All of this I explained to her homeroom teacher.  Her advice, muddle through it.

Jojo is my industrious child. If I give her a basic list of things to do, she’ll do them all and do them correctly.  She’s not a slacker by any means; she’s hardworking and perseverant (at least for a 15 year old).

Monday through Friday from 7am to about 5 pm she was in her OLS (on-line school) working. She would take a few minutes break for lunch, but not everyday.  She would often grab a sandwich and eat it while working. 

Let me go back and state what I didn’t know before school started.  K12’s K to 8 system is totally different than the high school’s system. For 8th graders and below, when the parent logs in to their own profile, we can see all that our child has done that day and all that they are supposed to do. We see which live on-line classes they have and when they have them. We see their grades, their progress and what they need to step up in.

And it’s easy. One click gives you the overview of that child. One more click and you zoom in on a specific subject, or even a specific lesson. For Meme’s work, I could track it daily, fuss at her when she wasn’t doing what she was supposed to and make her go back over lessons that she didn’t quite get.

High school is a totally different beast. I can’t really see anything my child is doing. It’s actually part of a different system and nothing similar to the K to 8 system. More different than, say, yahoo mail is to g-mail. You see the general similarities – yes those are the subjects and I think those are the lessons. Everything looks different. And the parent can not see what the child is doing.

Technically you have access to their profile, but the system warns you as you try to reach it that if you change anything, it’s also changed on the student’s profile. So if I looked over a future lesson, it would mark that lesson as having been read. I did this a few time and got severely fussed at by Jojo, who accidentally skipped lessons because they were marked as read. I could see the scores for some of the classes (not all), but not the tests themselves unless I wanted to mess things up on her end.

After a few mess-ups on my part – I was just trying to see how she was doing – I left her alone with her schoolwork. Of course I asked her everyday how things were going, and she usually said fine or groused a little about not liking one subject or the other.

Knowing Jojo, I was fairly certain that even without me looking over her shoulder, she would do what she needed to do. She does not shirk work. She may grouse about it, but she does do it.

For those three months, I thought all was fine. I knew that there were some administrative problems. Her homeroom teacher, after a month of never returning phone calls or e-mails, took maternity leave. Tenth grade then got an interim homeroom teacher. Then, a couple of weeks later, they switched to another homeroom teacher. 3 different homeroom teachers in 3 months.

It doesn’t sound like a big deal until you remember that the homeroom teacher is the liaison between you, your student and the school.  Again, just like in a normal school, your experience can be wonderful or horrid depending on the teacher you get.  Your teacher can do what is best for your child, even if it creates more paperwork. Or they can lie and tell you that there is nothing they can do because they don’t care.

Jojo got the latter.  I knew about this problem, but I kept hoping that as the year progressed, it would smooth out. I am a very patient and understanding woman.

Another huge difference between the K to 8 system and the high school system is that the K to 8 has their curricula pre-laid all out at the beginning of the year. It’s a generic standard curricula (don’t get me wrong, I love their curricula), that will provide lots of extra work for the child who needs it or give the option to skip ahead to the test for those who don’t. So in its generic-ness, it can be adapted for each child. But the lessons themselves are all laid out from the beginning of the year. The teachers are there to help, but they don’t determine the lessons.

K12’s high school is the opposite - all teacher driven. You child’s teachers each give assignments, grade non-multiple choice tests, and direct the flow of the school year for your child. 

From the beginning of the year, I knew that some courses were having problems being loaded. What I didn’t know was that, although her biology course didn’t load until the second month of school, her biology teacher was holding them responsible to “catch-up” to where they should be.  Some of her other teachers were doing this as well. I even overheard a teacher during a live lecture telling the kids that if they were not at 50% by the end of the first semester, they would not get a passing grade.

It didn’t matter that the child was working everyday on her lessons or that the children didn’t have certain courses for the first one to three months, the teachers were adamant that the students be at the half-way mark by January.

Mid November, Jojo came to me distraught, and I had no clue why.

“Mom, I’m failing all of my classes.”  How could that be? She was working 10 hours a day and weekends too. She had been telling me about her classes everyday.

“But you have the highest grades in both English and history. You’re at least not failing those.”

“I am if I can’t get to 50% by the end of first semester. It doesn’t matter what my grades are, I’ll still fail.”

“Okay. What about the other courses?” I knew that biology, math and Spanish were difficult for her, but she was doing all of her assignments. If she wasn’t passing, then surely the teacher would let me know.


“I’m doing okay in biology and Spanish, but I don’t get the math at all.  I’ve asked the teacher several times for help, and they don’t ever answer back.”

I sat down and had her show me around her OLS. She was telling the truth. Despite all of the difficulties, they still need to be at 50% by the end of the first semester.

“Several of your courses didn’t load right away. They’re not holding you responsible for that?” They were. Especially her biology teacher, who was the same homeroom teacher who never answered back, whose course didn’t load for a good month and a half and took maternity leave almost immediately.

Her father and I took several days to think about it, asked her many more clarifying questions and then pulled her out.

My assessment:

LAVCA K12 should not have tried to do high school their first year here. Although they were only dong 9th and 10th grades, they did not have the administrative or faculty support system in place to get that much done successfully. Why?

  1. They are based out of New Orleans, which is still half desolate. They had a difficult time finding teachers.
  2. They still don’t have a principal. It’s April, and they still don’t have a principal.
  3. The OLS (on-line school) had many, many problems for the first few weeks. There were days when we couldn’t access our classes. For K to 8, that’s not such a big deal. They have quite a few courses that aren’t solely on-line. But ALL of high school’s stuff is on-line. A day without the OLS is a day without the ability to get any schoolwork done.
  4. They did not have teachers for all of the subjects before school started. They were still getting their faculty together weeks into school.

That’s all I can remember off the top of my head, but I do remember there being more reasons that they should have stuck with K to 8 the first year.

Next school year, they’re going to offer 11th grade as well. My suggestion, wait another 2 or 3 years before trying LAVCA’s high school.  By then things should be settled, all of the kinks worked out and the support system in place.

Also, demand that they give your child what your child needs. Be that testing, moving to another grade or simply helping with assignments. If your homeroom teacher won’t do it, go over their head. Don’t be shy about demanding the help your child needs.