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Florida Investigation Criticizes K12 Inc. on Teacher Issues

A preliminary report issued by the Florida Department of Education's inspector general has found that the for-profit online provider K12 Inc. assigned teachers working with one district to classes outside their certified fields, and provided records of educators teaching students with whom they had no interaction.

The report, which was recently made public, is not final. The inspector general's office has since received responses to the document from K12 and the Seminole County school system, the district from which the complaints about the company's practices emerged, and those materials could affect the outcome of the inspector general's final report, a spokeswoman for the department of education said.

Seminole County officials had also accused K12 of using teachers who were not certified in the state of Florida, but the Office of Inspector General Mike Blackburn said it did not find evidence to back up that allegation.

K12 officials, in their response to the draft report, said they had already taken steps to address monitoring of student and teacher records addressed in the investigation, and they said many of Seminole County's original complaints about out-of-field teaching did not hold up.

The inspector general's draft report includes summaries of detailed interviews with employees of K12 and Seminole County, where the company has provided virtual classes. K12 is a major provider of online education with a nationwide presence. There are more than 120,000 students enrolled in K12-managed online and blended public schools in 32 states and the District of Columbia, company officials told Education Week earlier this year.

As it has grown, the company has faced scrutiny and criticism about its academic showing. The company had been sued by investors, who claimed they were misled by K12's business practices and academic peformance. Earlier this year, the company announced it had reached a tentative settlement of that class-action securities lawsuit.

The Seminole County schools' director of instructional technology, Diane Lewis, made a number of complaints to the inspector general last year alleging that K12 used teachers who lacked proper certification and provided the district with inaccurate information about which teachers were assigned to work with individual students.

Lewis had conducted her own research on the issue, calling parents whose children were listed in 2011 as being enrolled in online classes and asking them who had taught those courses, according to the report. The class rolls contained 519 student-enrollment entries; Lewis said she found 61 students listed with at least one teacher they did not have, according to the report.

Through reviews of archived data, interviews, and other means, the inspector general found "no evidence" that K12 used teachers who were not certified in Florida. But it did find that on class rosters describing classroom assignments, teachers were improperly listed as working with students when in fact there was "no student interaction or student recognition." The state investigators also found instances in which K12 "could not provide evidence of direct instruction by teachers that hold the appropriate certification for at least two courses."

K12's response to the report acknowledges that "certain record-keeping systems and staff training should be improved to ensure that teacher, student, and course records are more accurately collected and retained." The letter from a lawyer representing the company, Kenneth W. Sukhia, says that K12 has already taken many steps to revamp its training and recordkeeping over the past few years.

But K12 reacted more strongly to allegations of using out-of-field teachers. Sukhia told the inspector general that K12 was able to offer "direct proof" that out-of-field educators were not being used in many cases, despite the district's allegations. In other cases, K12 was simply not able to find documentation to show that the teachers were subject experts, he said.

"[T]he OIG has based its finding on the fact that in a handful of cases, K12 was not able to unearth records, two years after the fact, to affirmatively disprove or otherwise categorically refute Seminole's claim that K12 teachers were teaching out of field," the lawyer wrote.

Seminole County officials, in a letter to the inspector general, said they believed the investigation had too narrow a focus by concentrating only on the 2010-11 academic year. The district also called on the office to expand the inquiry to other parts of the state where K12 runs online programs.

"The school board is concerned the [office] did not investigate K12's practices in other Florida districts," the Seminole County letter said.

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