Hundreds of Plano ISD parents withdraw students from online learning, alleging lack of rigor

Hundreds of parents who enrolled their children in Plano ISD’s Virtual Academy have changed their minds, with some saying the online Edgenuity learning software program was largely to blame.

Edgenuity, the subject of a Buzzfeed News investigation released this week, has faced criticism in Texas and across the country. The computer-based curriculum relies heavily on prerecorded videos, online reading and assessments that are typically graded by computer algorithms.

Some districts adopted the program last year when the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated virtual learning, and some, including Plano ISD, are using it this school year as an option for parents who were concerned about sending their unvaccinated children in person.

“It was very tedious and very elementary,” Plano parent Jamie Jackson said of the Edgenuity program this year. “My daughter is in first grade and they were teaching kids to count to nine. I don’t think that even meets the [Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills] standards. We also would only get one hour of instruction a day.”

Initially, 1,625 Plano students in kindergarten through sixth grade enrolled in the program after the application period opened Sept. 1, according to data presented during a recent school board meeting. Two weeks later, numerous parents requested to withdraw their children.

The updated student enrollment in the virtual program is 1,111, according to the district. During the meeting, the district offered no specific reasons why hundreds of parents withdrew their children from the program and did not respond to repeated requests for comments about the program and the concerns some parents have raised.

Plano made the top-50 list of safest cities in the nation, according to a new study by WalletHub.com, a personal finance website.

Under the program, students in grades kindergarten through fifth spend from 60 to 90 minutes per day in a live session with their teachers in one of the four core content areas, according to Plano ISD’s website. The majority of lessons are completed independently. In sixth grade, students primarily do independent work and teachers provide office hours of up to two hours per week, according to the website.

Plano parents told The Dallas Morning News they found Edgenuity software to be glitchy and not user-friendly for students and themselves. Some questioned the quality and rigor of the program and said they’re concerned about a lack of facetime with teachers.

“It’s not what you would expect from a [Plano ISD] education,” said Jackson, who decided to remove her children from the district and enroll them in other online programs.

In Facebook posts about the program, other Plano parents said that on a couple of occasions, a teacher never showed up for an online class and students were left staring at one another on their computer screens.

The issue of COVID-19 safety, especially masks, has been divisive in Plano ISD and other districts, some of which have been sued by parents. In September, the Plano school board rejected an attempt to extend the district’s temporary mask mandate.

Comments indicate that some of the parents chose online learning because they have concerns about COVID-19 and safety precautions the district has in place. Others have children with health issues that would make a fight against the virus especially difficult.

Community members packed an emergency meeting of the Plano ISD school board regarding mask mandates in August. The board decided on a temporary requirement for face coverings and voted Tuesday, Sept. 21, not to extend the mandate.

Issues with Edgenuity

The BuzzFeed News investigation found that parents across the nation have said they are unhappy with the Edgenuity program. It included the review of hundreds of pages of court and school documents nationwide and interviews with more than 50 people, according to the news outlet.

Districts were desperate to find options for online learning during the pandemic, which came at a high cost to the quality of student education, the analysis found.

Fort Worth ISD stopped using Edgenuity for virtual learning this year after the district received feedback that it “probably was not as rigorous or as engaging or as meaningful as our community wanted,” Jerry Moore, the district’s chief academic officer, told BuzzFeed.

Edgenuity has raked in millions of dollars from districts nationwide that use the program, according to BuzzFeed.

In a statement to BuzzFeed, Edgenuity defended its program, saying it is proud of how it worked with school districts to ensure it had the curriculum and support to teach students.

Virtual learning in Plano ISD

Plano ISD had informed families this school year that they could enroll students in a yearlong virtual academy if they met certain provisions and if the legislation to fund the program, Senate Bill 15, was finalized.

The district chose Edgenuity to work “in combination with PISD curriculum to engage students with fun, meaningful courses, and curriculum,” its website states.

Since the Sept. 14 deadline to withdraw students from virtual learning, additional requests have been denied because staff and students were reorganized to accommodate the virtual program, Courtney Gober, assistant superintendent for Student, Family and Community Services, said in a recent presentation to trustees.

Students whose withdrawal requests were denied will be required to finish the school year in the virtual academy in the district. It was initially made clear the program would be a yearlong commitment, Gober said.

The state plans to fund the virtual academy through Sept. 1, 2023, he said.

Although teachers cannot be required to teach online under state law, Gober said the district had many volunteers for the position.

Plano parent David Dong said his son, a second-grader, performs above grade level and is able to keep pace with the Edgenuity program, but he wonders about students who can’t.

He said he’s pleased that the district has offered parents an online learning option, but improvements are needed instead of the district taking what he called a “take it or leave it” stance.

Other districts, such as Frisco and Dallas, managed to put together quality online programs this year, and Plano ISD should have done the same, Dong said.

Jackson enrolled her second-grade daughter in the Roscoe, Texas-based Lone Star Online Academy and her son, a high school sophomore, in iUniversity Prep, a tuition-free Texas online college prep public school based in Grapevine-Colleyville ISD.

The Lone Star program sent her several boxes of materials, including books and art supplies, Jackson said.

“And I like that for every single class, we have about 2.5 hours a day with a teacher,” she added. “The rest of the time we work on lesson plans that guide you through everything.”