Anaheim Union High School District announced last month the launch of their new online school. (Image by Julianna Phan)
Oxford Academy

Opinion: The deception behind AUHSD’s new online school

The Anaheim Union High School District announced on May 7 the launch of Cambridge Virtual Academy, an online junior high and high school that will start accepting students during the 2020-2021 term.

The school’s opening results from a consistent decline in district enrollment, as well as years of discussion between AUHSD and its business and educational partners. The social distancing measures suggested by Governor Gavin Newsom in response to COVID-19 have accelerated those plans.

According to AUHSD superintendent Michael Matsuda, the motivations for CVA are twofold: to increase enrollment in the district and, more importantly, to provide an alternative for struggling students.

Currently in the process of recruiting teachers from AUHSD staff, CVA plans to prioritize civic engagement and the five C’s —critical thinking, collaboration, communication, creativity and compassion — rather than academic achievement.

For instance, the admissions team will evaluate applicants based on “disposition” instead of testing or transcripts, and all grades will be required to complete an annual capstone project.

The district’s efforts to diversify educational options are conducive to making school accessible to as many students as possible, especially with the uncertainty of the ongoing pandemic.

The official press release and the realities of CVA’s development, however, reveal a disconnect between AUHSD’s expressed values and how they choose to publicize their schools.

The district’s marketing campaign, marred with several references to Oxford Academy and Cambridge University, along with misleading details of CVA’s resources, exploits the prestige of other schools and undermines AUHSD’s self-proclaimed purpose of reforming education.

“Generation Z is going to need different skills beyond traditional academics,” Matsuda said. “Our focus is to […] develop a sense of healthy self-compassion, […] friendship [and] career, which is [not] defined [externally] by test scores or college or money.”

The district’s official CVA page and media appearances flaunt a contradictory mindset.

The virtual academy’s description begins not with the aforementioned aspirations of nurturing well-rounded, self-fulfilled leaders, but with AUHSD boasting the status of CVA’s namesake, Cambridge University, and, as described on the website, its “twin pillar of academic excellence and achievement.”

Not only did they replicate Cambridge’s mission statement word for word and label it as their own, but the district also takes advantage of Oxford’s reputation — emphasizing how CVA was “inspired by Oxford Academy, [the] #1 school in Orange County” with “unparalleled success in the most prestigious universities in the country,” according to their website.

In other words, AUHSD flaunts Oxford’s Ivy-bound alumni and US News and World Reports rankings to advertise CVA, blatantly disregarding their supposed goal of redefining academic success.

The district also falsifies the extent of opportunities that would be available at CVA. Despite the comparisons to Cambridge University and Oxford Academy, AUHSD has not established relationships between CVA and the other institutions.

Cambridge University most likely does not even know that CVA exists, and there are no similarities between Oxford and CVA other than their district.

The CVA webpage promotes the district’s success in athletics and the visual and performing arts even though students would have little to no access to those activities as an online school, let alone during social distancing.

The academic and socio-emotional support services touted by AUHSD include nothing more than the CVA teachers and a dozen social workers shared among 30,000 students.

CVA will indeed offer many of the opportunities available at all AUHSD campuses, including the Anaheim Innovative Mentoring Experience program and the educational pledge that guarantees transfer admission from community college to UCI.

Given the economic and public health ramifications of COVID-19, a comprehensive online education may be essential for some students to continue attending school.

However, even if CVA effectively expands educational options, AUHSD’s fraudulent marketing obscures their true priorities.

In characterizing the online school by Cambridge’s name, Oxford’s rankings, and dubious student resources, AUHSD targets families outside the district that chase reputation and overlooks the current in-district families they allegedly support.

As a result, CVA only introduces more students to AUHSD while capitalizing on the regressive, external indicators of success that even they consider insufficient.

If CVA genuinely caters to students who cannot return to or thrive in traditional classrooms, then the district’s insistent appeal to prestige is hypocritical and tasteless; they should instead clarify what opportunities and advantages CVA would actually entail and compare it to seat-based schools.

If otherwise, then CVA confirms the district’s willingness to compromise compassion and their students’ education in favor of keeping their enrollment high.