According to corporate documents obtained by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting and StateImpact Florida, the number of students overseen by a single teacher at Florida online schools operated by K12 Inc. is nearly twice as high as the student-teacher ratio at state-run virtual schools. According to StateImpact, an investigative reporting project which is a partnership between local media and National Public Radio, teachers working for K12 oversee as many as 275 students — which far exceeds the maximum class size of 150 at the Florida Virtual School run by the state education agency.
Luis Huerta, who is a professor and studies online education at Columbia University, says that this means that online teachers regularly manage groups of students that are ten times larger than those in traditional brick-and-mortar schools. He said that the idea that a teacher can alone oversee the progress of 275 or even 300 students "just doesn't make sense."
According to company documents, the student-teacher ratios is better in districts that pay more per student, but they are always higher than in virtual schools run by the local governments. Currently, the company operates online schools in 43 Florida districts, including Miami-Dade. The company-operated schools offer classes for all grades within K-12.
K12 has come under fire for high student-teacher ratios and poor student performance in Arizona, Georgia and Tennessee. A July 2012 study by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado found that K12's students fell further behind in reading and math scores than traditional students.
The online educator is now under investigation by the Florida Department of Education for allegedly using improperly certified teachers and asking employees to cover up the practice.
The teacher-student ratio numbers came from a confidential memo by the company's vice president of school services, Chris Hughes, which was written in 2010. The memo outlined the formula used by the company to set class-size limits. According to the formula, school districts that paid more for each student had better ratios in the schools operated by the company.
School districts that pay $4,000 or more per student receive a 225-to-1 student-teacher ratio in high school classes. Districts paying less than $3,000 per student have a 275-to-1 ratio.
Although Florida's Class Size Amendment sets the upper limit on class sizes at 25, it doesn't cover online and other non-traditional schools. In the state-operated Florida Virtual School, the maximum class size is set at 150.
Although there are no generally accepted recommendations when it comes to maximum class sizes for online schools, experts are in agreement that the degree of teacher involvement in the classroom does have a substantial impact on student achievement.