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La. Virtual School’s Whopper Course Sizes, with a Side of Edgenuity

January 23, 2021

At the outset of the tumultuous, 2020-21 pandemic school year, I was asked if I preferred to teach at my district’s virtual school rather than return to the classrrom in person.

I declined, for two reasons. First of all, I did not want to put myself in a position in which I could be assigned hundreds of students because virtual school has no physical space restraints to stymie a ridiculous overload. And second, I did not want to risk losing my position (including my physical classroom and my particular course responsibilities) at my current school.

However, even though I declined, when I was asked if I would like to teach virtual school, I assumed the request entailed actually teaching— meeting students virtually for class at a set time, and assigning my own class assignments via computer. It seems that such an expectation is also in line with guidance from the Louisiana Department of Education. Some key requirements:

  • Teacher-led instruction with student-teacher interaction (e.g. live teaching, pre-recorded lesson, office hours, individual instruction, small group instruction) is a regular component of student instruction.
  • Teachers regularly provide and set clear expectations for opportunities involving student-to-student interaction in a virtual setting (e.g., discussion boards, responding to peer assignments, live chats, etc.)
  • Students have daily communication with a school staff member regarding academics (e.g., a check-in phone call, teacher-led instruction, email exchange, teacher feedback on student work, small breakout groups, chat, messaging applications such as Remind, etc.)
  • Teachers have opportunities to collaborate to plan virtual instruction and adapt and annotate materials for the virtual classroom.

What I now realize is that the teachers who are working at my district’s virtual school are not teaching– they are supervising “caseloads” of students who are expected to complete a canned curriculum, Edgenuity, mostly “independently.” From the St. Tammany Virtual School FAQ:

How are teachers involved?
Louisiana certified teachers, counselors, and administrators provide online support.

How will teachers monitor students?
Teachers will monitor students through three ways: attendance (4 hours of online work per day), progress towards weekly goals, and academic proficiency.

What learning platform will be used?
Edgenuity, developed in partnership with Accelerate Education, is the platform for grades K-5. This is where the courses are located and where parents and students can also locate due dates and read class announcements. Edgenuity is the platform for grades 6-12. This is where the courses are located and where parents and students can also locate due dates and read class announcements.

Will my child’s teacher provide real-time instruction through video?
Instruction through the STPPS Virtual School is primarily through an online learning platform that allows students to work independently. Each school day, teachers will be available for tutoring and assistance. Teachers will also monitor each student’s progress, take attendance, and grade assignments as needed.

And from the St. Tammany Virtual School Handbook:

Due to the nature of virtual instruction, STPPS Virtual students are not confined to attend school or access their course work at a specific time of the day.

• Students must work on the online courses daily.
• A minimum of 20 hours each week should be spent actively working for attendance purposes.
• If the student does not meet the minimum numbers of hours, they will be marked as absent.
• If the student is absent for any reason, parents must ensure that the child completes make-up assignments for all absences from their teachers upon return to their online academic coursework.

Teachers are called teachers, but in virtual school, teachers apparently don’t teach. Instead, they manage student caseloads.

“Caseload” is the word that associate superintendent Pete Jabbia (who was the interim superintendent until his son Frank was hired as the new superintendent) used in this January 14, 2021, meeting when discussing maximum class sizes for the district. Pete Jabbia’s class size report begins at 11:37 of this meeting video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J5oWj0nFwqE&feature=youtu.be and is transcribed as follows:

Good evening, board members, members of the audience. Each year, I do a report to the board on class size. Just as a reminder, there are some mazimum class sizes provided by the state, that says that kindergarten thru third grade, no more than 24, and in grades four thru twelve, no more than 33.

I am happy to report that we are not seeing any of those numbers; in fact, we are a lot less. I also want to let the board know and members of the public that when we do this teacher-pupil ratio, it is a true ratio, a true class size, of the classroom teacher. It does not include librarians, guidance counselors, and itinerant teachers of any type. So, we’re talking about just the teachers of record in those schools. These are class sizes. The report was posted on Board Docs for you.

As you can see, this was not a typical year. With the COVID year, our numbers are a lot less than what they normally are, with class size ranging in kindergarten at 15.7 up to our sixth thru twelfth ratio of 18.4. In prior years, those numbers hover around 17, 18, 19, in grades K thru 3. They usually range anywhere from 20 ro 25 in grades 6 thru 12 and in 4th and 5th, also. So, that’s the report. Again, if you have any questions, I’ll certainly be happy to try to answer those.

At this point, board member James Braud asks about whether 24 is the maximum for K thru 3 or an average. Pete Jabbia reiterates 24 is the maximum for K thru 3, and 33 is the maximum for four thru twelve. He adds, “We have no one exceeding the maximum.”

Then, another board member, Ronald Bettencourt, asks if the class ratios include enrollment at the virtual school:

Mr. Jabbia, what about the virtual school?

Pete Jabbia’s response:

I don’t have the… that’s not class size. That’s more of a caseload. I don’t have those numbers, Mr. Bettencourt. I’m sorry. We should be in compliance, I think, though, with all the state regulations with the virtual school and caseload. I don’t have those, I just did the actual, since ther’s no classes for virtual school, it’s basically how many students that you have, and not a particular class, so I only took the typical, brick-and-mortar schools K thru 12.

As for the enrollment counts that Pete Jabbia did not have on hand: In October 2020, public education advocate and retired teacher Lee Barrios submitted a public records request to St. Tammany Schools for those counts. You can find them here.

By Jabbia’s logic, since students in St. Tammany’s Virtual School never have to assemble (even online) as a class, as far as that teacher caseload goes, student load is irrelevant. The sky is the limit. 

Indeed, unlimited enrollment is particulary obvious in the virtual high school numbers.

First-semester biology, 282 students; first-semester environmental science, 461 students– both belonging to the same teacher of record (who has an additional 91 students in two other classes).

Yowsa.

First-semester US History, 306 students; first-semester World History, 129 students, AP US History, 48 students– all assigned to one teacher.

First-semester English I, 381 students; first-semester English I Honors, 55 students– both courses, one teacher.

First-semester Algebra I, 394 students assigned to one teacher, who also has another 125 students in 3 additional courses.

First-semester Government, 567 students. One teacher.

First-semester English II, 299 students; first-semester English II Honors, 68 students– same teacher.

Alg II, 220 students; Spanish II, 208 students; Spanish I, 193 students; Computer Science, 93 students; Pre-calculus, 81 students; Algebra III, 72 students; Algebra II Honors, 57 students; Pre-calculus Honors, 29 students; Spanish III, 3 students; Business Math, 49 students. All. Overseen. By. One. Teacher.

How thin can you spread your peanut butter and still call it a sandwich?

When a single teacher is responsible for tutoring and regularly communicating with 400, 500, 600, 700 students on a pre-fab curriculum that students are expected to primarily complete independently, you tell me how much quality education is transpiring here.

As for whether virtual school students should be included in class counts: Lee Barrios also asked that specific question of the state. You can read the state’s response in this letter, dated January 19, 2021. Below is the text:

Dear Ms. Barrios,

On January 15, 2021, the Louisiana Department of Education received your email seeking information pursuant to the Public Records Act of Louisiana, R. S. 44:1 et seq. and containing the following request:

As per Louisiana Public Records Statute, please provide:

Information, documentation, or link to teacher:pupil ratio and/or caseload size policies for virtual classes run by loacl traditional school districts. I am looking for policy that specifies what the maximum number of students a teacher can supervise as virtual classes. Bulletin 741 does not seem to address this.

In response to that request, the Department provides the attaced file titled “Bulletin 741.” The teacher:pupil classroom ratios, both in-person or virtual, are subject to the policy outlined in the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) Bulletin 741 Section 913 titled Class Size and Ratio. As such, the Department is not in possession of any additional responsive record.

Please telephone or write if you have any questions.

Sincerely, 

/s/

Lindsey Dupree

Tel: (225) 342-3572

Email: LDEPublicRecords@LA.gov

Below is the entire Section 913 referenced above:

§913. Class Size and Ratios

A. The maximum enrollment in a class or section in grades K-3 shall be 26 students and in grades 4-12, 33 students, except in certain activity types of classes in which the teaching approach and the materials and equipment are appropriate for large groups.
B. No teachers at the secondary level shall instruct more than 750 student hours per week, except those who teach the activity classes.
1. When a number of staff members are involved in a cooperative teaching project, the amount of each person’s involved time may be counted in computing the individual teacher’s load.
C. The maximum class size for health and physical education in grades K-8 and in physical education I and II shall be 40. No class may be combined with physical education I or II if the total number of students taught is more than 40.
D. The system-wide, student classroom teacher ratio in grades K-3 shall be a maximum of 20 students to one classroom teacher.
1. An LEA may request a waiver of this requirement from the state superintendent of education provided that the teacher has demonstrated effectiveness as defined by BESE in Bulletin 130—Regulations for the Evaluation and Assessment of School Personnel.

Notice that the language above is not just for maximum class size, but also for maximum section size. The virtual school might not be organized into classes per se, but it is organized into sections by course designation.

I’d like to see Pete Jabbia ask the state for a waiver to allow a single virtual teacher to be responsible for several hundred students in a single section, and I’d like to read the state’s response.

One final word, about Edgenuity:

Edgenuity uses grading algorithms that can be gamed. This means that a student can achieve high marks without learning any content. For more on this issue see this September 02, 2021, The Verge article, which begins with the situation of University of California professor Dana Simmons’ son, Lazare, and references Simmons’ tweets below.

 

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7 Comments
  1. speduktr permalink

    Ah, the “virtues” of virtual education. I think we are all going to have to march in the streets. What a joke!

  2. Laura H.Chapman permalink

    How are the providers of this sham program paid? How are salaries for “caseload managers” determined.
    This is huge and disgusting money-pot.

  3. Edgenuity–oh, yes, they were tightly entangled in the deception and corruption of Alabama education under the tenure of the former speaker of the AL House, Mike Hubbard, who was convicted and sent to prison. Their contract with him was one of the items on his indictment. It made the newspapers here thanks to a few good reporters but never became a household word. It has not gone away either! My hometown has a contract with them. Sort of reminds me of the Covid 19 epidemic–keeps going around and changes all along and is very difficult to defeat.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Mercedes Schneider: The Hoax of Online “Learning” in Louisiana | Diane Ravitch's blog
  2. The Brief, Distressed Life of a Virtual School | deutsch29: Mercedes Schneider's Blog

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