Archives for category: On-Line Education

A report from “In the Public Interest,” an organization that tracks privatization.
The outlook for the profiteers is not so bright. That is good news. So is the news from Alaska and Maine.

“National: As U.S. revenues of for-profit education companies slump, they look overseas for greener pastures. “Outside the U.S., it’s a wide-open area to run in without as much scrutiny,” says Michael Moe, chief executive officer of GSV Capital Corp. There is speculation that as part of a reshuffle of the Washington Post’s parent company, Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway may acquire Kaplan. Kaplan International teachers will be rallying this Thursday at Kaplan’s New York office to demand a fair contract. “A year-and-a-half after voting overwhelmingly for Guild representation, Teachers at Kaplans International Colleges are still fighting for a contract that provides basic benefits for the 90% of the workforce that is part-time. Management refuses to budge. Kaplan ESL instructors, backed by their students, say enough is enough.”

I was also happy to learn from this site that school voucher legislation is stalled in Alaska because two Republican senators are worried about how vouchers will affect public schools. I testified by telephone to the Slaska legislative committee, and I am pleased to see that the committee is thinking through the consequences of this reckless proposal. Many realize it has nothing to do with education.

In Maine, a state legislative committee voted 11-2 to impose a moratorium on virtual charter schools, which is a priority of Governor Paul LePage, a disciple of Jeb Bush. There is interest in a virtual charter controlled by the state, not by external for-profit corporations. Legislators may have been thinking of the 2012 award-winning news story about the political and financial interests–the profit motive–behind the push for virtual charters in Maine.

About once or twice a month, In the Public Interest sends out an email newsletter highlighting major issues and the latest news on privatization and responsible contracting. We keep you informed on new resources and efforts around the country to protect democratic control of public services and assets. *We never ask for donations.*

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Peter Greene teaches in a small town in Pennsylvania. He hasn’t studied the research on Cybercharters but he can tell you which students they attract and how they are affecting the public schools in his town.

If he read the research, he would find out that Pennsylvania is utopia for virtual charter schools, having 16 different companies advertising for students. Students drop out almost as fast as they drop in. These “schools” are very profitable. The founder of the first virtual charter in Pennsylvania was charged with the theft of millions of dollars; actually, so was another virtual charter founder.

And the research shows that students learn less in virtual charters in Pennsylvania.

Here is Greene’s take, from a teacher’s perspective.

Plunderbund writes here about the largest charter school in Ohio. Its revenues are staggering, its test scores and graduation rates are low, its political contributions to its allies top $1 million.

“The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) is the largest charter school in the state of Ohio. The online school is easily the largest charter school in Ohio, is larger than the vast majority of Ohio’s traditional school districts, and received over $88 million in state funding last school year. This year that amount is expected to jump to over $92 million.

“On the latest report cards released by the Ohio Department of Education, ECOT continues to rank below all of the 8 large urban schools that are often-criticized by legislators and in the media for their “sub-par” performance.

“For graduation rate, a key indicator for the long-term success of a school/district, ECOT’s 4-year graduation rate is a paltry 35.3%, while their 5-year graduation rate of 37.8%, which is only slightly higher, was still over 25 points worse than the lowest urban school district, Cleveland, which checked in at 63.3%. While we now see the legislature writing laws to specifically regulate Cleveland and Columbus more tightly, the charter school laws that apply to ECOT continue to be more lax.

“And while the data on performance for this school of 13,836 students (11th largest “district” in the Ohio) is bad enough, the financial games played by the school’s owner/operator are even worse. We wrote a comprehensive piece about ECOT back in 2011, but since then the school has continued to grow and continued to siphon ever larger sums of money away from higher-performing schools.

“On December 8, our post, Ohio’s Largest Taxpayer-Funded Charter School, ECOT, Receives Bonus Check, described how the school was up for approval of an additional $2.9 million dollar bonus from Governor Kasich’s Straight A Fund.

“On December 10, we posted a follow-up, ECOT Founder Living VERY Well Off Ohio’s School Funding Dollars, where we went into greater detail about the financial games being played and won by ECOT’s Founder, William Lager.

“Today, we have another update to the political donations and financial windfall experienced by Lager.”

Keep reading.

A North Carolina Appeals Court turned down K12, the publicly traded corporation that operates virtual charters.

It wanted to open a virtual charter in the state, but the State Board of Education did not act on its request, so it was denied.

K12 sued, and for now, has lost.

When the Legislature goes back into session, we will see whether the rejection sticks.

K12 has a history of astute lobbying and strategic political contributions.

K12 gets very poor marks from researchers and poor results, but that never stands in the way of its expansion.

Besides, the expansion of online charters is a priority for ALEC.

Every once in a while, I read something that sticks with me and reverberates in my mind. That was my reaction when I read E.L. Doctorow’s remarks at the National Book Awards. These are words to savor, chew on, and ponder.

“Victor Navasky, publisher emeritus of The Nation magazine, introduced E. L. Doctorow, the recipient of the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Mr. Navasky recalled that Mr. Doctorow once said: “There is no room for a reader in your mind. You don’t think of anything but the language you’re in.”

“Edgar, I have news for you,” Mr. Navasky said. “You may not have us in mind, but you are in a roomful of your grateful readers.”

Mr. Doctorow took the stage and cooled the mood down with a somber speech on technology, government surveillance and the Internet. (Somewhat uncomfortably, Amazon.com and Google were sponsors of the event.)

“Text is now a verb,” Mr. Doctorow said. “More radically, a search engine is not an engine. A platform is not a platform. A bookmark is not a bookmark because an e-book is not a book.”

“Reading a book is the essence of interactivity,” he added, “bringing sentences to life in the mind.”

You have never seen the name Whitney Tilson on my blog
before now. Tilson is a hedge fund manager who is a major supporter
of KIPP, Teach for America, and Democrats for Education Reform. I
have heard that he has written unpleasant things about me, like
calling me a union shill. I avoid mentioning him as I see no value
in personalizing issues and I try not to become engaged in ad
hominem exchanges.

To my surprise, Tilson reached out to let me
know that he had written
a devastating critique
of the online charter corporation
called K12. As a financier, he knows more about the business than I
could ever fathom. He wanted to let me know that we are in accord
that K12 delivers a poor quality of education.

I was glad to see a leader of this movement trying to clean out the Augean stables.
Also, I was gratified by his conciliatory action in writing me.

We have exchanged a few emails. At some point, we may meet. I have
never called him any names. Perhaps he will now stop questioning my
motives and recognize that I write with as much sincerity as he
does. He knows–perhaps he always knew–that I am financially
independent and had no reason to sell myself to the unions or
anyone else.

I support teachers’ unions, because I believe that
teachers need a collective voice, just as other groups
in society do (think: Chamber of Commerce,
AMA, ABA, DFER, Etc) I support unions, although I have never
belonged to one, because they protect the rights of working people
and help poor people enter the middle class. I believe the attacks
on unions—and their diminishing numbers— have contributed to
the growing income inequality in this country and the shrinking
middle class.

It is good to tone down the rhetoric. But I will not
waver in my belief that public education, democratically
controlled, is a pillar of a democratic society.

Nor will I compromise my conviction that those entering the education
profession must be well prepared for the hard work of their chosen
profession.

Nor will I abandon my opposition to the widespread
assumption that test scores are the best and only way–or even an
accurate way–to measure students, teachers, or schools.

Nor will I be persuaded that schools alone can end poverty, no matter what
their scores. Schools are part of the solution, but much more is
needed, meaning social and economic change. We will see where this
goes. I appreciate Tilson’s offer to reason together. I am all for
that. What he wrote about K12 is devastating. Everyone should read
it.

I often receive questions, on and off the blog, about
virtual charter schools. This post will summarize the key things
that you need to know to be an informed consumer. Begin with the
politics and money promoting virtual charter schools. Colin Woodard
won the prestigious George Polk award last year
for this expose
of the effort to bring virtual charter
schools to Maine. It is a stunning piece of investigative
reporting. Virtual charters have a terrible track record. They have
a high attrition rate, low test scores, and low graduation rates.
Their one positive feature is that they make a lot of money for
investors. This is
what the National Education Policy Center wrote
about
virtual charters. This is what CREDO
found about the performance of virtual charters
in
Pennsylvania, the state that has more of them than any other. This
is what the
New York Times wrote
about K12, the biggest of the
virtual charter corporations. This is what
the Washington Post
wrote about virtual charters. This is
the
post I wrote about a statement
called “Digital Learning
Now!” written by a group led by Jeb Bush and Bob Wise to promote
the expansion of virtual charters without any regulation. The post
contains a link to the statement. Campaign contributions and
lobbying have allowed the cyber charters to expand without adequate
regulation and supervision of their quality or financing. The head
of the nation’s largest cyber charter school, Nicholas
Trombetta, was indicted only days ago
by federal
prosecutors, charged on 11 tax and fraud violations and accused of
stealing nearly $1 million. In the future, if your state
superintendent or governor or legislators want to bring virtual
charters to your state, send them copies of these reviews. Be aware
that some may be pushing virtual charters because they want to cut
costs by replacing teachers with computers or because they received
campaign contributions from the individual corporations that stand
to benefit. And do not forget that the money that the virtual
charters receive is taken away from public schools across the
state. This money is then used for advertising, recruitment of new
students, and paying off investors.

Paul Horton teaches history at the University of Chicago lab School. He has been writing brilliant critiques of corporate reform. In this post, he reviews the history of efforts to make education rational, predictable, and measurable.

A few nuggets:

“Have you ever read Dr. Seuss’, The Butter-Battle Book? It made perfect sense to me, a Cold War military brat. The “boys in the backroom” were very smart. They were data whizzes and they invented computers that made them a lot smarter than everybody else. Both the “Yooks” and the “Zooks” believed that those “boys in the back room” could figure out solutions to every problem. But the biggest problem was that only human beings who could effectively communicate, not computers or data, could solve the world’s problems. “The boys in the backroom” were only doing what they were told: they were the smartest, but not the best communicators in town. None of those “boys” said, “making more weapons that can kill more people might not be the best way to go.” But everybody believed in them, almost religiously, to the brink of nuclear war. Slim Pickins didn’t bat an eye when he decided to ride his big A-bomb to victory.

“This might seem strange to you, but, from my very humble perspective, we might need another Dr. Seuss to write a book with a similar theme, but in a different setting. The question has become, what happens when the “boys in the backroom” take over after the “Yooks” and the “Zooks” have stopped threatening each other? What happens when one of the “boys in the backroom” becomes the richest guy in the world and decides that he wants to build “Gatopia”? What happens if he convinces many of the other richest guys that our country is doomed unless we completely tear down and rebuild the way that we teach our kids? And what happens when he and many of his very wealthy friends tell the red and blue politicians that he and his friends can make sure that they will not get campaign funding if they don’t support “Gatopia”?”

Gatopia “seeks to turn human beings into computers that are efficient and well behaved. Most importantly, computers do not ask questions or demand accountability: they do what they are told.”

Horton describes how he fell in love with learning and recognizes that Gatopia has no room for the experiences he had:

“Learning for me was about connecting with a human being. Learning was reflected in my ability to write something. I wanted to please my very demanding teachers, I wanted to conform to their expectations of excellence. I dreaded the conference to go over a paper that fell hopelessly below those standards, but respected my teachers for holding me to them.

I want my son to have teachers like I had, and I want the same for his kids. I do not want “the boys in the back room” telling me how my kid and grandkids should be educated. Sometimes the smartest people can’t think up the most important questions. Democracy requires citizens, and computers cannot produce citizens. Computers often mask deficits that we most need to develop. Data is not knowledge. We are in grave danger if we are tempted to believe that it is.”

I was invited to contribute an article of 500 words to a special issue of Scientific American. I assumed that most of the other articles would be unalloyed cheerleading for the wonders of technology. So I decided to talk about both the promise and the perils of technology.

I have seen teachers doing amazing things with the Internet. I have gone to conferences where thousands of teachers were learning how to use technology creatively. I know that technology, in the hands of inspiring teachers, can bring learning to life and empower students to self-direct their studies.

But it is in my nature to look at questions from all angles. That is what is known as critical thinking.

So I wrote about three ways in which technology may be a danger to education.

First is the for-profit online charter school, which provides a poor substitute for real education but is quite profitable.

Second is the use of computers to grade essays, which severs the teacher-student relationship and mechanizes what should not be mechanized.

Third is the effort to impose Big Data on school issues, assuming that inputting enough data will somehow tell teachers what each student needs.

I end thus:

“Here is the conundrum: teachers see technology as a tool to inspire student learning; entrepreneurs see it as a way to standardize teaching, to replace teachers, to make money and to market new products. Which vision will prevail?”

Idaho has a problem, and it may not be unique to Idaho.

One of the most powerful families in the state is the Albertson family, which runs the Albertson Foundation.

It seems that one of the family heirs has made millions of dollars by investing in the online charter company K12, and now the Albertson Foundation thinks the whole state should get behind the for-profit corporation and put their kids online. Follow the money.

The foundation has been running “public service ads” with the slogan “Don’t Fail, Idaho,” insisting that the kids in Idaho are doing horribly on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the federal tests. What’s the cure? One guess.

The ads claim that 60% of children in Idaho are “not proficient” on the NAEP tests, but they don’t explain that “proficient” on NAEP is a very high level of performance, what I consider a very strong A or B. The NAEP state coordinator from 2002-2012 tried to explain what the NAEP labels mean, but he probably did not persuade the Albertson Foundation.

Here are the facts:

In fourth grade reading: 31% of children in Idaho are below basic, just below the national average of 34%.

In eigth grade reading, 19% are below basic, well below the national average of 25%.

In fourth grade math, 17% are below basic, about the same as the national average.

In eighth grade math, 23% of the kids are below basic, well below the national average of 28%.

Idaho is not failing.

What would really fail Idaho would be to put large numbers of students into K12 virtual academies, which have high attrition rates, low test scores, and low graduation rates.

Idaho, don’t fall for a bill of goods.

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