Ball State U’s Virtual Charter School Faces Uncertain Future

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

A struggling online school based out of Indianapolis has only narrowly avoided closure with a vote on the future of the school being postponed until mid-2017.

Action on the Hoosier Academy, a virtual school operating out of Ball State University, has been delayed by the State Board of Education following a decision to hear an interim report in January of next year that will include students' grades from 2015-2016 and respective graduation rates, writes Emma Late Fittes from The Star Press.

The unanimous last minute decision to postpone action on the school, which has received consistent ‘F' grades for the past 5 years in the state's A-F ranking, comes amid concerns over the future of the 4,000 students enrolled within the online curriculum. There are also concerns that teachers at the school will look for other opportunities due to the questionable future of the school, reports Peter Balonon-Rosen from Indiana Public Media.

Key to avoiding closure was the development of the spinoff charter school ‘Insight', which was authorized by Ball State University. It has separate leadership and greater support for students who have higher social-emotional needs, reports Balonon-Rosen.

This has not come without criticism, with the Board of Education questioning the motivation behind the creation of the second charter school, which falls under the same institutional umbrella as the Hoosier Academy.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz raised questions regarding the effect of the new arrangement on the A-F rating system and why Insight was needed to assist students with higher needs, writes Chelsea Schneider from the Indy Star.

Schneider reports that Byron Ernest, a member of the state board defended allegations that the development of the second charter school was an attempt to dodge the closure. Ernest stated:

"[W]e need to get those kids that were so far behind into a situation where we could get a handle on how to help them."

Ball State University faces a tough fight from now until the publication of the final report in January 2017.

Shaina Cavazos of the Indianapolis Business Journal writes that the University will need to come up with a compelling reason for why the school should remain open.

The leader of Ball State's charter authorization efforts, Robert Marra, believes that based on past students and their achievements, the school has a positive future ahead. Marra also believes that the Academy should be exempt from accountability rules as students enrolled at the school have special needs.

However, data shows that around 60 percent of students in grades 10-12 are behind in credits and many came to the school in that situation.

Cavazos writes that the Academy:

"… scores the worst across the board—on test scores, graduation rate and dropout rate—when compared to the state's other online schools. The school's ISTEP scores were far below state averages in 2015, 27 percentage points below the average in English and 30 percentage points below in math. The graduation rate has also been consistently low, at 21 per cent in 2015 compared to the 89 per cent state-wide average."

Ball State received $412,200 in funding during the 2014-15 school year to run Hoosier Academy Virtual.

The State Board of Education will meet again on October 5.

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