The Texas Commission on Virtual Education met on April 27 to discuss innovative online models in overview and to hear from entities using online models around the country. An archive of this hearing can be found here.


This report is intended to give you an overview and highlight of the discussions on the various topics taken up. It is not a verbatim transcript of the discussions but is based upon what was audible or understandable to the observer and the desire to get details out as quickly as possible with few errors or omissions.


Members Present: Rex Gore (Chair), Hannah Smith (Vice-Chair), Bernie Francis, Josue Tamarez, Sen. Bettencourt, Rep. K. King, SBOE Member Little, Dr. Danny Lovett, Rep. Morales, Rep. Shaheen, Dr. Annette Tielle, and Sen. West


Opening Remarks:

  • Hannah Smith announced as Vice Chair


Panel 1: Presentation 1 and Presentation 2

Utah State Sen. Howard Stevenson, Utah Virtual Education Model and Policy

  • Provides background on their personal experience in virtual education
  • 6 different virtual education programs have been developed in Utah; all founding legislation requires a third-party evaluator
  • 2005 legislation provided English language software for every ESL student; since implementation, NAEP scores have improved
  • 2008 legislation provided for computer-based-in-home kindergarten readiness; named UPSTART
    • Waterford is the provider; legislation required them to focus mainly on minority, special education, and English learners
    • Program supplies computers and internet access; also required provider to provide parent efficacy training
  • Have funding for 30k children in Utah, provider has increased service number to 55k
  • Found that learning growth rates have more than doubled
  • Shaheen – What is adaptive learning? Is just 15 minutes online?
    • Software adapts to the student’s ability; meets them where they are at
    • There is no face to face, but the parental piece is the most important; highlights the importance for immigrant/ESL students and families
  • TEDGlobal has called it one of 8 audacious ideas to change the world; has offered funding for every state that puts a pilot in place
  • Program cost has been reduced to $800 dollars per child due to increase in program size
  • West – Notes learning loss due to COVID-19 and the switch to online learning; how did this program not see the same negative effects?
    • Did not have learning loss because program has always been fully online
  • Have a K-3 reading software program that serves 55k students who read below grade level; provides data to teachers on what the student needs help on
    • A test class had 95% improvement rating in grade level equivalency growth
  • Tielle – What was the data source that determined educational growth
    • The State Board of Education compared the DIBELS and statewide assessment
  • To know the effect of this software and not provide it would be educational malpractice
  • West – What is DIBELS?
    • Tielle – It’s a reading assessment to determine early literacy skills
  • Tielle – Are reading specialists providing the DIBELS? Is hard to administer
    • Teams come to each program area at least 3 times a year
  • Tielle – Any specific assessments given to English language learners? Texas has TELPAS
    • State-checked on the Upstart program and on software for EL
    • Do not have those specific results
  • Bettencourt – Programs are basically productivity tools; any accountability to ensure we can record productivity? Comments on bifurcation between reading and mathematics?
    • All software has build-in feedback for teachers to where students are at
    • Use a program, leaRn, to create accountability reports
    • NAEP scores; the tenth percentile students of academic achievement
  • Francis – Concerned there is no national clearing house with these successful programs
  • Lovett – All 6 programs use Waterford? Concerned about the term teaching with “fidelity”
    • Are different providers; we studied which ones worked
    • None of these programs are mandated on a school or teacher


Panel 2: Presentation

Lisa Edgar, ASU Digital Prep

Julie Young, ASU Digital Prep

  • Were asked to develop a K-12 ASU Digital Prep based on what was created in Florida
    • ASU program is like Florida’s, except it is integrated within the University
  • Is a misconception students will leave the brick-and-mortar school for full time virtual
  • 1k full time virtual at Florida; 4k full time virtual at ASU currently
  • If you set up the right accountability outcomes everything changes
  • Have spent between 450-700k on course development
  • Goal is to provide education pathways so students can do college at the earliest stage they are capable to
  • Next school year will have 6 new education models
  • On the 5th school year as ASU prep and seen enormous growth in part due to COVID
  • FY 2022 served 56k students, with 410k semester enrollments, and over 400 teachers
    • Teachers are certified within the state they teach in
    • Teachers who work within ASU go through a blended learning credential
  • 1k global/domestic partners, 17k teachers trained since August 2021, and more than 330 district partnerships
  • Design programs with school district’s problems in mind; many school districts are creating their own online programs and we are providing curriculum
  • Shaheen – What is the difference between adaptive testing/learning?
    • Students experience the course differently based on their prior knowledge; program adapts and remediates as time goes on
    • Google powers our servers
  • West – Program is based off of “new learners” and who are the “new learners?”
    • The screen-based learners from K-12 who are Millennials or Generation Z
    • Important to have human involvement integrated within the technology program
  • Big challenge of this process is training teachers to be supportive to digital learners
  • Francis – Does virtual give us the opportunity to come up with one teaching standard? Do we have the opportunity to set this one standard?
    • No, teachers must be certified in each state
    • For blended online there is a standard, but would be in addition to state credentials
  • Overviews data from the program including 75% of students being admitted into post-secondary and having learning growth during the pandemic
  • Recommendations:
    • Maintain an incubation period to avoid competing for funding with our school districts
    • Elect a performance-based model, only fund if students are successful and ensure done with fidelity
    • Give students opportunities to participate in many different learning models simultaneously
    • A quality vetting process at the state level of providers that has enough flexibility to have ongoing improvement within the courses
    • Avoid the either/or thinking regarding teachers and digital or brick and mortar teaching
  • Bettencourt – Any data on successes in math classes? Want concrete data on this
    • Have not seen the same gap in mathematics during COVID-19 as the whole nation did
    • Are exceeding the state average in math
  • Tamarez – Teachers are gravitating to these types of programs; has any thought been put into virtual brick and mortar?
    • Yes, many teachers are leaving brick-and-mortar for virtual programs
    • Districts are adapting by creating their own online programs so they can keep the funding in their district
  • Lovett – Are all kids accepted in the program who apply? Screening in the program? Profile of successful students?
    • Yes; more successful are those who are self-starters and organized
  • Lovett – Asks about funding; data on those who do not complete the course?
    • Arizona is still funded on a seat-time model; Florida is funded 100% on funding
    • Modeled the program on an 85% completion rate; if they leave, they typically go back to brick-and-mortar
  • Lovett – Need to be aware Texas’ accountability system is different than these other states
    • Would recommend a minimum completion rate for providers
  • West – If a student leaves, a public school would then be responsible for their accountability?
    • Is an inner-district transfer approach
    • Lovett – Texas students have to be there in October to count towards the accountability


Panel 3: Presentation

Dr. Louis Algaze, CEO of Florida Virtual School Network

Mike Miller, Florida Virtual School Network

  • Founded in 1996, FLVS serves K-12 curriculum in all 67 districts in Florida; either directly or through a consortium
  • Also work with schools inside/outside Florida that are not within the school districts
  • Over 190 digital courses that have been created and maintained
  • Instruct flex and full time; teachers are state certified and individualize instruction to students
  • 6 virtual schools in Florida; 3 are part-time schools
  • Free to qualified K-12 students throughout the state; are 11-12k qualified students
  • Member – What does qualified mean?
    • They live within the boundaries of the state of Florida
  • School of record and operate under traditional school dates; funded based on completion
  • Over 244k flex and full-time students served in SY 20-21; FLVS students outperform state averages
  • Funding in Florida is performance based
  • 75% of flex FLVS students are in grades 9-12; within the program there is a very large homeschool population
  • Students outperform states averages on AP courses and standardized exams
  • West – Virtual students outperform other students across the board? How do your inner cities do?
    • Outperform the average; perform at about the same rate as the state, in some cases we are closing the achievement gap
  • Curriculum development is the largest department; are continuously updating and improving courses
  • Gore – Can do this year-round? Arizona noted they spent between 450-700k on course development
    • Yes; have spent hundreds of thousands on development
  • West – Remember there was a lot of dissent on this in the Florida legislature before it was passed, has changed?
    • There is bipartisan support
  • Tielle – How would those in ESL, special education, and students who need intervention be accommodated?
    • Would be difficult for certain students; some have excelled online
  • Tielle – If a student is not successful, they can go back to brick-and-mortar?
    • Parents will always have that option; school also gets funding to help with those with mental health issues
  • Is legislation for students who pass certain exams, they get 100% scholarship to state universities
  • Tielle – What does a successful online student look like?
    • May be a majority, but those who perform well come all over the place
    • Were created as a pillar for Florida’s education system; needs to be kept in mind here that it is a compliment to education
  • Lovett – Have a LMS? Does Florida mandate what homeschoolers are taught?
    • Have our own and have the ability to pour it into other LMSs
    • Require is a certification by a teacher that a student completed those standards
  • Lovett – Demographics of FLVS reflect the rest of the state?
    • Yes, are very close
    • Lovett – Surprised; would think its kids who are already comfortable online
    • State of Florida did mandate all students have to take one online course; recommends Texas consider starting kids as soon as possible online
  • Gore – College credit, have agreements with universities? Have say in the higher education courses?
    • Yes, are articulated agreements; do not see that need


Panel 4: Presentation

Zachary Adams, Tennessee AP for All

  • Is a partnership between TDOE and Niswonger Foundation to offer virtual AP courses to students across the state; is an asynchronous platform
  • Used an existing model and used TDOE to scale it across the state
  • Over 1,800 students are taking 15 different AP courses in the program’s first year; increase to 18 in the fall
  • Are apart of 109 Tennessee school systems; 88% of all public-school systems in the state
  • Offers teachers opportunities to complete the AP College Board certification for free; also offers mini-grants
  • Saw a 52% increase in enrollments Spring 2022 compared to Fall 2021
  • Majority of enrollments are in AP PSYCH; have not found a good vendor for AP CHEM
    • Lovett – Respect you would not do it unless there is a worthwhile component
    • Francis and Adams discuss science vendors
  • Tamarez – Are all your teachers in Tennessee?
    • Yes; is a requirement; licensed/certified mean the same in the state
  • Tielle – Training for pre-AP?
    • Are discussing this now for middle schools


Panel 5: Presentation

Emery Gorsch, Student

  • Loves school in part due to the environment of the school model we work with
  • Flexibility around our school allows for other opportunities like philanthropy, volleyball, etc.


Katie Flanagan, Village High School

  • Program has helped teacher work life balance and has been sustainable for students and faculty; has been no burnout

Nathan Gorsch, Village High School

  • Students in program can pursue passion, have family time, be able to invest in others, have a rich social experience, and still be able to succeed academically
  • Minutes of instruction is less of a concern, greater concern on results and course completion
    • Not opposed to accountability
  • Are a hybrid/blended program; 430 students currently enrolled and have 100 on a waiting lsit
  • Gore – Is attendance or course completion apart of your funding?
    • It is attendance based specifically for the month of October, as well as the progress of students within grade levels
    • Have some of the highest test scores within district; majority of students are in the classroom four out of five days
  • Bettencourt – Does the hybrid work to keep math scores up?
    • All math has an in-person component
    • It is like college, we incentivize them to attend
  • Lovett – Are teaching synchronous and asynchronous?
    • Unlike electives the core classes of the program are asynchronous
  • Lovett and E. Gorsch discuss that there are less “growing pains” with a good online system
  • Lovett – How many children fall behind and do not complete?
    • Not very many; less than 5% do not complete at all
  • Lovett – Screening process for perspective students?
    • Have applications at the beginning of the year
    • Is based upon if a kid wants to try or not
  • Tamarez – Do they have to finish work at home or on campus?
    • No parameters other than they must get their work done; notes teachers have 3 hours free for office hours
  • Gore – Is there any disciplinary problems with these children?
    • Have had 4 disciplinary problems in 7 years
    • Most of the problems disciplinary involved in traditional school is adult-created due to a request for power that students don’t want to give