In Wisconsin, poorly performing virtual charters won’t affect their districts
A little-known provision slipped into the Wisconsin budget signed by Gov. Scott Walker would keep low-performing virtual charter schools from dragging down the report cards of districts that host them.
The new law excludes the achievement scores of virtual charter schools from districts' annual state report cards if more than half the students enrolled in the virtual school reside outside the district.
The provision was sought by the leaders of the only two virtual schools in the state to receive failing grades on their most recent school report cards: eAchieve Academy, hosted by the Waukesha School District, and iForward Academy, hosted by the Grantsburg School District. Both districts still met or exceeded the state's expectations on their annual report cards.
But State Superintendent Tony Evers is critical of the change, saying it's inconsistent with the idea of bringing all publicly funded schools into the same school accountability system. He sought unsuccessfully for Walker to veto the item.
Proponents say virtual charters should be treated differently because they're serving many children not living in the district, who often have not been successful in other school settings and are coming to a virtual charter as a last resort — often bringing low achievement scores with them.
Rick Nettesheim, principal of Waukesha's eAchieve Academy, said district report cards are meant to track the progress of students from elementary school through high school, and virtual school students often come from outside their resident district, which wouldn't accurately reflect the achievement of the district.
"The truth is that virtual schools draw in by their very nature a fairly diverse population of students," Nettesheim said. "Some of that diversity is a large group who are not successful in their resident school, and they look to virtual school as a last hope."
Because they are online programs that allow teachers and students to work from home, virtual schools can enroll children all over the state through the state's open enrollment program.
The Department of Public Instruction lists 32 virtual charter schools for the 2014-'15 school year, with three more proposed for the upcoming school year.
In 2013-'14, the most recent year report cards were issued, 27 of the 31 virtual schools that received state report cards "met expectations." Two "exceeded expectations," and two "failed to meet expectations."
No schools or districts will receive report cards for the 2014-'15 school year. Separate legislation signed by Walker in May paused the system for a year while a new state test was implemented.
Report cards assess performance
In recent years, Wisconsin created a new system to judge public school and district performance. Annual report cards distributed to the public now rank schools and districts in one of five categories, from "significantly exceeds expectations" to "fails to meet expectations."
Michigan expands access to online speech therapy for underserved students
Michigan schools are now eligible to receive Medicaid reimbursement for speech telepractice services, just as they do for on-site services.
According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services policy, live, online speech-language therapy, also known as telepractice, is simply “subject to the same provisions as therapy provided to a patient in person.”
Live, online delivery of speech-language services—also known as telemedicine or telehealth—is a mode of delivery that has been shown to produce the same or better results when compared to onsite delivery. Telepractice is recognized as effective by the American Speech Language Hearing Association, and supported by dozens of published, peer-reviewed research studies.
Under federal mandates of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), school districts are required to provide students who have special needs with special education and related services such as speech-language therapy. In spite of this requirement, a nationwide shortage of speech-language pathologists (SLPs) and Michigan-specific challenges—including long commutes to hard-to-reach schools, difficulty attracting professionals to high-crime areas, and serving large bilingual populations—make it difficult to appropriately staff speech-language pathology programs.
Telepractice has been a viable alternative for several years, but a lack of Medicaid reimbursement effectively penalized districts that chose to use it—even when telepractice was their only practical option. Now that telepractice is Medicaid reimbursable, Michigan schools can choose telepractice as a therapy delivery method without having to forgo Medicaid funds.
“This is a huge win for Michigan schools and their students, making sure that there is equitable access to services students need,” said Clay Whitehead, co-founder and co-CEO of PresenceLearning, which offers live online speech therapy services. “Michigan made a smart move here, as the federal government has delegated the decision to approve online services as a valid means of delivery to the states. As such, Michigan was able to help a huge number of students with a simple memo. No complex plan review was required. We look forward to seeing other states follow Michigan’s lead.”
Providing free wireless hotspots helps this district close the equity gap
A new device and hotspots program is helping students in a St. Louis district connect to devices and internet after the last bell. Often, the biggest hurdle is just getting kids on a reliable connection.
Bloomfield Public Schools has created a remarkably effective blueprint for narrowing and eventually eliminating the achievement gap using parent and community engagement, holistic accountability, a positive school climate, and a rigorous curriculum. In this webinar district leaders discuss the challenges they faced and describe their blueprint for success:
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