An article in a publication called “The Financial Investigator” took a close look at K12, the for-profit online “education” corporation whose growth had made it a darling of Wall Street. The article paid particular attention to the “churn rate” at K12 online schools. That is, how many students left in a given year. In the Ohio Virtual Academy of K12, a staggering 51% of students turned over in a single year. That helps to explain why the name of the game for the for-profit online academies is recruitment. So long as the corporations can keep their numbers up, they will collect tuition money from the state, usually double their real costs.
The more the for-profit academies churn, the more they earn. And every dollar they collect comes right out of the public school budget. In Pennsylvania, where nearly half the school districts are in financial distress, the diversion of dollars to for-profit academies is harming the great majority of children who attend regular brick-and-mortar schools. And bear in mind that the online charters–whether they are for-profit or not–get terrible results.
Last week, I had a debate about education entrepreneurs on Twitter with Justin Hamilton, the press secretary for Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. I made clear that I was referring to for-profit schemes like online academies. I am very dubious, no, actually, I am opposed to spending taxpayers’ money on for-profit education management organizations or for-profit charter schools. I kept pushing Justin to say that he agreed, or the U.S. Department of Education agreed. He would not. They choose to stand silently by while corporate suits target children as profit opportunities.
It seems to me that the U.S. Secretary of Education should denounce for-profit education. It wastes money; it supplies bad education; it gets terrible results. But as we have seen in relation to for-profit higher education, high-priced lobbyists work Congress and state legislatures to protect their industry. For-profit higher education is a $30 billion industry, and it has the wherewithal to call off the regulators.
As the expose of K12 in the New York Times reminds us, the highest goal of for-profit corporations is profit. Not education. Not the development of young people. Not character. Not the good of society. Profit.