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Pearson Wants to Expand Its Virtual Schools Market; Its “Connections Academy” in Louisiana Is No Selling Factor

May 29, 2019

Connections Academy is a virtual K12 (and possibly pre-K12) school operated by education business mammoth, Pearson.

According to Pearson’s February 2019 earnings call, Pearson is focused on expanding its Connections Academy market. Pearson is undergoing restructuring; it has (and continues to) reduce its workforce and has been selling off less-profitable companies in an effort to recover from unrealized profits, including those Pearson expected from Common Core (CC) and CC-related PARCC testing.

(For Pearson’s market performance over the last decade, click here.)

Pearson reports that the US virtual schools market is worth more than $1.5B and that it sees a “strong pipeline of 2 – 5 new schools in 2019,” with a plan to “scale up in existing states [and] target states with high growth potential.”

In April 2018, Pearson announced opening three new Connections Academies. The way that Pearson establishes its virtual schools in the US is as charter schools:

In our virtual schools business we partner with charter boards to run fully online schools.

Regarding its virtual-ed Connections Academies, Pearson also reports a “competitive advantage” in its “strong brand” and “good learning outcomes.”

Good learning outcomes. Reads like Pearson is aiming for increasing sales of (at best) a mediocre product.

Just so long as it sells, amIright?

Louisiana has one of Pearson’s Connections Academies. It filed documents with the Lousiana Secretary of State in April 2009 as a limited liability company (LLC) and also as an associated nonprofit in March 2009, with the nonprofit (“Friends of Louisiana Connections Academy”) paying the LLC as an “independent contractor” (see the nonprofit’s 2012 tax form as an example of the nonprofit paying the LLC).

In November 2018, the Connections LLC dissolved, and a second nonprofit was created in February 2019, “Louisianans for Quality Virtual Education, Inc.”

In August 2016, Louisiana Connections Academy registered a new logo, and in 2016-17, the school was renamed University View Academy, Inc.

The University View Academy website reflects Louisiana Connections Academy’s name change; however, the page touting its academics is seriously out of date, showcasing the Class of 2016:

A TRADITION OF ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE AND ACHIEVEMENT

University View Academy has consistently improved its state performance score over the past five years, jumping 8 points higher in 2016. Also, our students logged one of the top five growth rates in the state in the number of successful test takers for Advanced Placement exams, a growth rate twice that of the state’s average in the same time period.

Class of 2016 Student Achievement:

  • $1.7 million in college scholarships

  • 91% enrolled in college

  • 60% AP pass rate for University View Academy test takers

Below is a list of the Universities and Colleges where our 2016 graduates were accepted:

Baylor University, California Institute of the Arts, Washington University of St. Louis, Vanderbilt University, Louisiana State University, Tulane University, Xavier University, Louisiana College, Rhodes College, Southeastern Louisiana University, University of Louisiana Lafayette, Loyola University, Louisiana Tech University, The University of New Orleans, Millsaps College, Spring Hill College.

The above page is a reference to the school’s C-letter grade (75.6), which can be found here by searching “2015-16”; “Louisiana Connections Academy.”

In 2016-17, University View Academy (aka Louisiana Connections Academy) also received a C (80.8).

In 2017-18, the school grading formula was changed; according to the new formula, University View Academy received a D (59). It would have had a C using the old formula, but a lower C (71.5) than in both 2015-16 and 2016-17.

Showcasing school score declines isn’t so much of a selling factor. Neither is drawing attention to a sharp decline in an already-below-average graduation rate.

In 2015-16, University View Academy had a four-year graduation rate of 62% (below the state average of 78%). In 2016-17, University View’s graduation rate dropped to 54% and continued its decline to 43% in 2017-18.

Interestingly, the last academic updates in the University View Academy website (those for the Class of 2016) include messaging about “91% enrolled in college.” However, according to the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE), University View Academy only had 50% enrolled in college, with that percentage declining to 43% in 2016-17 and 37% in 2017-18.

What has increased over time is University View Academy’s/ Louisiana Connections Academy’s total revenue:

  • 2011: $44,503
  • 2012: $5,245,008
  • 2013: $10,848,970
  • 2014: $11,001,043
  • 2015: $16,526,434
  • 2016: $19,830,912
  • 2017: $21,201,688

According to the University View Academy’s 2016 audit report, Glenda Jones is listed as “school leader”; she received $132,511 in total compensation for overseeing the online education of 2,102 students.

By 2016-17, the online school had a superintendent. According to University View Academy’s 2017 audit report, superintendent Alonzo Luce received $221,040 in total compensation for overseeing the online education of 2,231 students.

Two years later, in August 2018, Luce was replaced by Michelle Clayton. In May 2017, Clayton was serving as East Baton Rouge (EBR) Schools deputy superintendent; her ascendancy as the next EBR superintendent was assumed to be a given when she surprised her colleagues with her departure. After serving as assistant superintendent for University View Academy for one year, Clayton became Luce’s successor.

The question is how long Clayton will remain as University View Academy superintendent if the school grade continues to be D (or drops to F) and if the school’s graduation rate continues to sink in the boggy waters of Beyond Too Embarrassing for Updating Our Website.

As it stands, Pearson’s Louisiana-based  Connections Academy product is losing its luke-warmness to qualify even for the middle-of-the-road, slightly-committal phrasing, “good learning outcomes.”

But it is profitable, and profit is what Pearson is after.

rotten apple

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Interested in scheduling Mercedes Schneider for a speaking engagement? Click here.

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Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

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