Oct 31, 2017

Why I Withdrew My Kids from Connections Academy (After Only a Week)

virtual school, online school review
If you've ever homeschooled, you know that sometimes you need to shake things up a bit; in my experience, trying something new, school-wise, leads to unexpected learning opportunities. This reality, combined with the fact that my son was seriously struggling with reading and math facts, prompted me to enroll my children into an online school called Connections Academy this fall.

Enrolling in Connections Academy

For years, I'd heard about Connections Academy - a national virtual school, advertised on tv, radio, and the internet. Before enrolling, I read all the information on their website, as well as in their physical brochure, and thought, "Why not?" I enrolled them just a few weeks before school was supposed to start.

The enrollment process was mostly painless. I did it all online, but you can call and have a representative help you. The biggest pain was getting my children's immunization records and birth certificates. What can I say? As a homeschooler, I'm just not used to that. Still, it wasn't a real problem.

I also got us set up to use Connections Academy's online system - which is basically a hub page for each child and parent. The parent's site shows the progress and grades of each child, plus any important notices from the teacher or school. Parents also have access to a (barely used) online forum, and lots of online materials about schooling at home. The children's sites allows kids to receive and send information to their teachers, see their day's assignments, and do online school work.

There was a dull, mostly common sense video I was required to watch before school began, plus orientation videos for each child to watch. I realized later that these videos weren't up to date, and covered some issues incorrectly. For example, the school had recently changed the way they mark attendance, and that information hadn't been updated in the videos or anywhere on the website.It caused a lot of confusion among the parents.

The Connections Academy Curriculum

Shortly before school started, I received an informative and friendly phone call from my son's teacher. It was immediately apparent she'd been a teacher for a long time and understood children well. She wanted to know all about his learning disability, what he loved to learn, what he was good at learning, and so on. I was excited for my son to work with this lady, who did an excellent job of keeping in touch with me - and with  my son, too.

I also received a phone call from one of my daughter's teachers. (She's in middle school, so you'd expect her to have multiple teachers. She was assigned two - one of which neither she nor I ever had contact with.) I was completely unimpressed with this teacher's phone call. He seemed disorganized and we felt we were just another thing to cross off his to-do list. He also forgot to tell us an awful lot of information.

We ended up starting school without any of the materials Connections Academy promised to provide. That was because I signed my kids up rather late in the game - and as it turned out, it wasn't a huge deal because books aren't very important at Connections Academy. When we did receive our supplies, I was disappointed.

First, we received one laptop. But, as I learned in our first week, Connections Academy is almost 100 percent online. There was no way for my children to share a computer. I ended up letting my daughter use the laptop supplied by Connections Academy, while my son used my personal work laptop. The children also received some art, P.E., and science supplies - but they were almost laughable. For P.E. both kids got a jump rope and a yoga DVD. Fortunately, there were options outside of yoga (which is religion based, so why was it offered by Connections Academy, which is publicly funded?). For science, there were cheap supplies, like tiny plastic magnifying glasses. On the other hand, there was a very long list of supplies I was supposed to provide, and as it turned out, many of them weren't even necessary.

The textbooks were disappointing, too. Oddly, my son (the youngest of my children) had far more books than my daughter. I quickly realized everything was Common Core. The social studies seemed accurate, but it was terribly dumbed down. (For example, there was an extremely simplified story of the pilgrims.) The same thing with the science book. (We're talking "tadpoles turn into frogs.") Both books were something I might have used when my kids were in preschool, and were way too babyish for my son now.





The reading was mostly done online and we could never get the reading website to function correctly. And the math. Ugh. It was all the bad things you've heard about Common Core. In lieu of teaching math facts, it taught strategies for figuring out math facts when you don't have them memorized. Worse, the methods were overly complicated. Instead of making math easier for my son, they made it so much harder. He was incredibly frustrated. I asked his teacher if we could choose a different curriculum. She said we could not.

My daughter was having a tough time, too. All her work was online, and often it was repetitive...in a way that made me think nobody had read the entire curriculum. Although she's a good student, she wasn't doing well. For example, she got a very poor grade in science - a subject she loves - so I wanted her to go back and re-read the lesson. We couldn't find a way for her to do that.

So I called her teacher. His line had been disconnected. So I emailed him. The following day (because, in our experience, Connections Academy teachers are never available until the next day), he emailed back and said there was no way for my daughter to re-read the material. There was no science book available to her; the material was only online, and once it was accessed, it wasn't available again. I was shocked. How does a student master a subject if she can't re-read and study it?

Connections Academy pounds into parents' brains that they are "learning coaches," not teachers. And yet the "real" teachers were mostly absent. I was never able to talk to a teacher the same day I called him or her. My son's teacher called once every other week to touch bases, but my daughter's teacher first forgot to set up our bi-weekly phone call, then never called on the day he was supposed to. Supposedly, there were a few times when the teacher and all his or her students would go online to a sort of chat room with the teacher Skyping, but that didn't happen often, according to the schedules I was given.

Leaving Connections Academy

I'd started Connections Academy hoping it would help my son. But the reading wasn't any different from what we'd done before, the math was totally confusing and convoluted, and science and history were far below him. I knew it was time to withdraw the children.

I emailed my son's teacher as a courtesy, then tried to call Connections Academy. No real person was available, so I left a message, explaining we were withdrawing immediately.

The same day, I received a phone call from my son's teacher. She was understanding and tried her best to be helpful, even saying I could call her if I needed help with my son's education. I was sad to say goodbye to this lady, even if the system she was working in really wasn't utilizing her talents effectively.

I also revived a phone call from my daughter's teacher - the quickest reply I'd ever received from him. He tried to talk me out of withdrawing and even backtracked on what he'd said about not being able to re-read lessons - but I'd had enough.

And then I waited for Connections Academy to contact me and tell me how to return their materials.

In the meantime, we returned to good old fashioned homeschool. And I kid you not, my children both learned more in one day of homechool than they did in a week and a half at Connections Academy.

Then I waited some more for Connections Academy to contact me.

Then, suddenly, I received a message that my children had been absent from school and I needed to remedy that immediately. I called Connections Academy again. No real person answered the phone. I left another message; this time, I was more firm.





Weeks later, I could finally no longer log into the parents' site. But I still had all the materials the school sent me. I was anxious to return them, too, because Connections Academy made a big deal out of the fact that parents are responsible for any damage to the laptops. That piece of equipment was a liability; I wanted to send it back!

Finally, a month and a half later, Connections Academy contacted me via email and explained how to return their materials.

Some Good Can Come From Bad

The good news is, we learned a lot from our bad Connections Academy experience. My children learned they like homeschooling a lot better than public school (even virtual public school) and that books are way, way better than computers. I was reminded what I love about homeschool, and I also gathered something I should have realized sooner: These online schools are all federally funded; therefore they are all Common Core. (There are some virtual and charter schools that, while Common Core, are based on sound learning techniques. Connections Academy, however, isn't one of them.)

In the end, we felt re-invigorated to homeschool, and discovered renewed interest in our subjects. And my son? He's suddenly making leaps and bounds in both reading and math.


1 comment:

  1. I had never heard of them before. From all I've heard about Common Core, it is ridiculous! With having four children, I had trouble juggling. Turns out I'm not the mom who can teach 4 kids all their subjects in groups or individually and do it right! We started using Abeka Academy a few years ago. My son is the only one who has used it for 100% of his schooling since 1st grade. We enroll in an umbrella instead of them, though, so we can make it work for us. If you enroll with them, you have to send some things in and even have your child call and read and be graded by someone there. I like to keep the control in the homeschool setting and be able to tweak it to work for us. I love, love, LOVE their reading program. It is all phonics based and makes a lot of sense. If you are interested, research it. They have a new thing this year where you can get 10 hours of schooling for $50 and do any grade you want. That means you could back your son up and get in all the review he needs. It also lets you try it out for cheap without committing to anything. Also, you can re-watch any lesson up to 10 times with them and you DO have a book. The lessons are pre-recorded, but my kids have always felt like they were part of the class. I've only had the need to try to reach a teacher about 3 times total. You don't actually reach the teacher, but you do reach a human (college student there) who will be sure you get your question answered. We don't pay the $50 slots. We just purchase the whole grade kits. You have to supply your own computer device, but they send you every student text and work book needed for the year and all of the teacher grading books so you can check their work. We have been more than happy, including my kids loving their teachers. Nothing is Common Core, but it is religion-based education. If you ever think you want to know more about it, feel free to email me. I just wanted to tell you about it since your son could use help with reading. All of my kids were reading actual books at the end of K5 with this curriculum, and I have a couple friends who switched their kids to it after having issues and now they are reading well, too. They were doing a free 30-day trial of their video lessons for new people, as well. Not sure if that is still going on or not.

    ReplyDelete