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NCAA Bans Coursework Completed by Athletes in 24 K12 Inc. Virtual Schools

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The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) won't accept coursework completed by student athletes at two dozen virtual schools operated by K12, Inc., as of 2014-15, at any Division I or Division II college or university.  

K12, the Herndon, Va-based online education company, was notified on April 9 of the development, after learning in 2012 that its schools were placed under NCAA "extended evaluation" review for the eligibility of their courses, according to Mary Gifford, senior vice president of education policy and external relations, during a phone interview today. She called that "a good process where the NCAA reviews courses on an individual basis," but was less sanguine about this latest development.

Students must register for initial-eligibility certification through the NCAA. Most of the students affected by the announcement participate in individual sports like gymnastics, swimming, diving and golf, where the option to attend school online gives them more time to practice and train, she said.

Eleven of the 24 schools impacted are from the California Virtual Academies. Two more K12 schools—San Francisco Flex Academy and Silicon Valley Flex Academy—are blended high schools where students attend the learning center daily and receive face-to-face instruction from certified teachers, according to company spokesman Jeff Kwitowski.

Beyond California, all of the schools are online-only. Three  are in Washington state, two in Colorado, and one each in Ohio, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Nevada, and Georgia. A full list of schools is available on the Athletic Scholarships website, which reported that the virtual schools in question are considered "nontraditional high schools" offering courses that don't meet the NCAA's requirements for nontraditional courses.

The NCAA, a private organization, did not respond today to our inquiry seeking an explanation of where K12 fell short in meeting their expectations. K12, a publicly traded company, manages schools and offers blended learning programs in more than 30 states, and enrolls 125,000 students. This ruling by the NCAA would impact less than 1 percent of them, Griffin said.

On its blog, K12 indicated that the NCAA has revised legislation for nontraditional courses, students and instructors. The requirement is that teachers and students must have "ongoing access to one another" and "regular interaction" throughout the duration of the course.

"However [the] NCAA does not provide schools any measurable standard or rubric used to determine what they believe is a suitable level of student-teacher interaction. Despite repeated requests, the NCAA will not publish specific student-teacher interaction guidelines for nontraditional courses, including online and digital courses," wrote Kwitowski in his blog post.

It was in 2009, when students were "moving from sophomores to juniors" in the organization's evolving high school program, that K12 began working with the NCAA to get its courses approved, Gifford said. "In 2012, we shifted from blanket approval to the extended evaluation process, which we didn't have any objection to," as long as there's a rubric to follow to establish and maintain eligibility, she indicated. That rubric has not been forthcoming, nor have the measurements that would explain adequate teacher-student interaction, she said.

One college student, a Division I diver in Arizona who received some of her credits from a K12 school, had the eligibility of her coursework denied, then reinstated when her college appealed, the K12 officials said. The company's own appeal fell on deaf NCAA ears.

"In Arizona, teacher testimony was submitted as part of an appeal. But that was not an acceptable demonstration," Gifford said, noting that written documentation from a credentialed professional was ruled unacceptable.

For students concerned about their eligibility in this school year, the NCAA's Eligibility Center indicated that coursework completed from spring 2013 through spring 2014 will be "subject to further review on a case-by-case basis."

The company has been in the headlines with other bad news this school year, including an under-enrollment of 11,000 students, which hit its stock price last fall. My colleague, Sean Cavanagh, recently reported on an investor lawsuit targeting K12, and the stock sales of its former CEO Ron Packard, as well as the fact that the company launched Fuel Education as a new brand without keeping "K12" in its name.


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