Parents raise questions about transparency, accreditation of state’s e-learning program

Published: Aug. 27, 2020 at 3:16 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Local parents are raising concerns about the multi-million dollar e-learning platform the state is using this year and how transparent the company was with its accreditation.

It started with a conversation about what’s best for the children this school year.

“We decided that it was possibly best for one child to go,” said mother Eileen Zenah. “The other child has different learning needs. We decided maybe it was best for him to be at home.”

So Zeanah did what any mother would do. She started researching the e-learning option for the upcoming school year. The state spent over $12 million on the SchoolsPLP platform. Zeanah wanted to know what that was buying.

“The first part you see is trusted, approved, accredited,” said Zeanah.

She says the company listed an accrediting agency called COGNIA on its site, but her search hit a dead end after that.

“When I clicked on COGNIA and typed in SchoolsPLP, it said no results found,” said Zeanah.

Zeanah says she reached out the COGNIA for clarity and in a letter provided to the agency it said the program “is not an accredited institution with our organization.”

In a statement provided by COGNIA to WBRC it said, “Schools PLP is not and has never been accredited by COGNIA or its predecessor organizations. To our knowledge the school has not operated under another name. If a school changes its name it is required to notify us via a substantive change notification form, and the school would retain its accreditation status baring any commission authorized change in status. We have no record of a change in this school’s name.”

“My initial reaction was that I can’t believe what is in front of my eyes,” said Zeanah.

She says SchoolsPLP removed COGNIA’s logo after her conversation.

State Superindent Dr. Eric Mackey says any issues with SchoolsPLP may have with accreditation won’t hurt your child’s credits for graduation.

“What we’re providing is a digital curriculum so the teacher doesn’t have to build a textbook if you will from scratch,” said Dr. Mackey. “We don’t accredit books in the library, we accredit schools.”

Parents say the discrepancies raise broader questions about ethics.

“If a company is willing to do that, what kind of integrity is behind this company?” said Zeanah.

Dr. Mackey said about 14 companies submitted proposals and a group of 40 educators vetted the proposals.

The latest statement to me from the state says:

“We’ve heard of this issue recently however, there appears to be a misunderstanding. The ALSDE believes SchoolsPLP does business with a non-profit school district to provide a full virtual learning experience around the country. SchoolsPLP reported the non-profit school district they do business with that provides this virtual school is Cognia accredited with highly qualified instructors. This type of product/service is not what ALSDE has purchased from SchoolsPLP. The ALSDE/SchoolsPLP contract is more akin to what ALSDE has purchased in the past for students in grades 9-12 as part of the ACCESS program. (ACCESS offers a full program model with ACCESS teachers and a separate “franchise model” where schools utilize the curriculum only for delivery by its own teachers.) So, ALSDE did not contract with SchoolsPLP for a true “virtual school” which typically includes the vendor providing teachers, special education services, etc. Since ALSDE contracted for digital curriculum resources only, accreditation is not relevant. For example, textbook companies do not seek accreditation, which is reserved for institutions that provide full delivery of education.”

WBRC reached out to SchoolsPLP for comment but have not heard back.

Copyright 2020 WBRC. All rights reserved.

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