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website reflects Louisiana Connections Academy’s name change; however, the page touting its academics is seriously out of date, showcasing the Class of 2016: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

_________________________________________________________________________________

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.

6 Comments
  1. LisaM permalink

    Profits over people….seems to be the American way.

  2. Jack X permalink

    While your article provides some interesting points, including some I agree with, I want to clarify a few things having worked at University View Academy. When the school rebranded as University View Academy in 2017, the board severed its relationship with Pearson and Connections Education. The process began in mid 2016 with the hiring of a new superintendent, Luce, the school taking over some operations (like benefits) from Connections, and for the 2017-2018 school year, the school ditched the Connections curriculum and went with other vendors. The school’s current D SPS reflects its first year without any Pearson/Connections involvement, so the education quality has declined since the breakaway. University View Academy/Foundation for Louisiana Students is NOT affiliated in any way with Pearson, while the effort Louisianans for Quality Virtual Education, Inc. is designed to resurrect a separate Connections Academy.

  3. B Hou permalink

    I find this data and comparison quite interesting since University View Academy(UVA) created its own school and learning management system which is completely different from the Pearson/Connections Academy (LACA) model. Based on this data, it is clear that LACA was superior since the decline in scores and graduation rates came along with UVA.

    I also find it interesting that LACA spent less on the head of school and had more money for teachers and students while UVA paid the superintendent almost twice as much as cut back on money for families and teachers. With LACA.

    I think it’s also important to note not only the salary increase of Luce and the current superintendents, but the purchase of multiple million dollar properties that UVA has been doing since it became its own school. The school has purchased several buildings and a hotel to create an entire campus for an online school. LACA’s leadership salaries were a lot less and they did not purchase multiple buildings. When UVA came along, they took money away from the students, families, field trips, teachers, travel for testing where LACA provided all those expenses. The superintendents and leadership, building purchases took up the money that was once there for the teachers and students. These major changes also caused the loss (due to quitting of resigning) of about 2/3 of LACA’s staff. The new, inexperienced teachers coming in definitely did not help and did not follow the connections education model for online best practices; all of this is clearly evident with the decline in scores and graduation rates for UVA.

    I think it’s important for the citizens of Louisiana to know how UVA operates and how completely it is from Pearson/Connections Academy. A new LACA would have that model and vision of students first and would be what so many families loved when it opened up in 2011. I bet the scores and graduation rates will start to improve again with the LACA model; after all, it is LACA that was the number one online school in Louisiana, not UVA.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Examining Corporate Entities In K-12 Online Learning | Virtual School Meanderings
  2. Pearson Embraces the Digital Knock-Off of Authentic Education | tultican

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