Archives for category: On-Line Education

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.

Far-right Governor Pat McCrory has brought in an aggressive leader for his strategy to privatize public education and dismantle the teaching profession. That is Eric Guckian, the governor’s tip advisor on demolishing–re, transforming –North Carolina’s education system.

Guckian is a TFA alum with long experience in the corporate reform movement. He wants “an aggressive K-12charter school environment in the state.”

At a meeting of the governor’s task force on education (which has no teachers on it), “Guckian presented five pathways for education in North Carolina that included a call to dismantle walls and textbooks for “digital online solutions;” having the business community play a larger role in developing educational pathways; job-embedded professional training for teachers; and basing teachers’ salaries on their “outputs in the field.” You can see where this is heading: profits for corporations, a welcome mat for for-profit virtual providers, and no professional preparation for teachers.

A proposal–Senate Bill 337–is already in the works in the ALEC-dominated Legislature to set up a charter commission that takes supervision and authorization of charters away from the State Board of Education and gives it to a new charter-friendly board. This charter board will be able to authorize charters over the opposition of local school boards. Senate Bill 337 is extreme in its commitment to deregulation. Charters would be able to take any unused public space for only $1. They would not be subject to conflict of interest laws. Their employees would not be required to pass criminal background checks. Their teachers would not require certification of any kind. High school teachers need not be college graduates. They would be relieved of diversity requirements.

See more at: http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2013/06/19/mccrory-education-advisor-eric-guckian-calls-for-aggressive-charter-school-environment-in-north-carolina/#sthash.QuvJ7V2e.dpuf

President Obama will unveil his technology plan for American education today in Mooresville, North Carolina.

Joy Resmovits reports on Huffington Post:

“President Barack Obama imagines a country where teachers know what’s happening in their students’ brains.

“He wants “teachers to have an ability to assess learning hour by hour and day by day,” a senior White House official said Wednesday. “That vision … is really not possible with the connectivity we have today.”

“That’s why on Thursday Obama will speak at a school in Mooresville, N.C., to unveil an initiative that aims to give 99 percent of America’s public schools high-speed connectivity over the next five years.”

Mooresville has won national attention because it provided laptop computers to every student in fourth grade and above, and its graduation rate shot up. The superintendent says there were other reasons for the increased graduation rate.

A few things about North Carolina: the Democratic Party held its 2012 National Convention there. It is a right-to-work state. The state spending on public education is 48th in the nation. Teachers’ salaries are 46th in the nation. Legislation introduced this spring by the president pro tem of the state senate would strip teachers of all tenure rights. At the same time that the legislature is attacking the pay and tenure of career educators, it allocated $6 million to hire inexperienced Teach for America teachers. The legislature also plans to expand the number of charters, free of conflict of interest regulations, free of diversity requirements, and free to hire uncertified teachers.

Technology is a wonderful thing, and all schools should be connected to the Internet.

But I would respectfully suggest to President Obama that there are far larger issues he should tackle right now, like defending the very existence of a teaching profession, defending academic freedom of educators, supporting the nation’s public schools, resisting privatization, and helping states provide equality of educational opportunity, with enough resources to meet the essential needs of students.

The good work of many parent organizations and local school boards achieved a positive result yesterday when the Legislature passed a bill reducing the number of tests needed to graduate high school from 15 to five.

Public sentiment was strongly opposed to the massive testing regime that had grown out of control and beyond reason.

More than 80% of the state’s local school boards had passed resolutions opposing high-stakes testing.

And the parent groups led the charge to persuade the legislature that testing had become a burden, not a means of improving student achievement.

The parent group called TAMSA (Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment) was also known as “Moms Against Drunk Testing.”

However, do not believe for a minute that the Texas Legislature has turned wobbly overnight. At the same time that they passed House Bill 5 to reduce the number of tests needed for graduation, they also passed a bill that will vastly increase the privatization of Texas public education by lifting the cap on charter schools. Another bill opens up the state to unlimited expansion of online corporations, the predatory companies that take dollars away from public schools while providing inferior education.

This is the language opening the door to exploitation of public dollars by the online industry:

7:13 p.m. by Morgan Smith

Legislation expanding online education in Texas public schools is heading to the governor’s desk. Both the House and Senate have adopted the final version of HB 1926 from Rep. Ken King, R-Hemphill.
The bill opens up the state’s virtual school system — which is now restricted to school districts, charters, and colleges — to nonprofits and private companies. Currently, many course providers within the virtual school systemalready subcontract with private companies. Starting in middle school, HB 1926 also requires all districts to offer students a chance to take online courses, though it limits the number of those classes students can take to three per year.
The Texas Education Agency would authorize course providers, renewing their approval every three years depending on student performance.
The online industry is powerful in Texas, and it lobbied hard to open the door to its inferior products. There is no evidence to support the value of online courses or homeschooling online at the government’s expense. There is a wealth of evidence that these courses and virtual schools are a waste of money.
So, score this legislative session as a victory for the critics of high-stakes testing, and a victory for the vultures who want to suck money out of the public system for their own enrichment.

TAMSA issued the following press release after the testing bill passed:

Dear TAMSA Members:
Today, legislators in the Texas House and Senate voted to adopt House Bill 5 as recommended by the Conference Committee. TAMSA commends this effort and would like to specifically thank Speaker Joe Straus, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, Representative Jimmie Don Aycock, Chair of the House Public Education Committee, and Senator Dan Patrick, Chair of the Senate Education Committee, for their extraordinary leadership and commitment to shepherding HB 5 through the legislative process. Rep. Aycock and Senator Patrick and their committees personally listened to days of parent and student testimony on how the excessive focus on state-mandated standardized tests is negatively impacting Texas schools and student learning. These leaders met with stakeholders and other members of the legislature to diligently craft HB 5. Rep. Aycock and Sen. Patrick have set a new threshold in Texas for legislative access and transparency.
HB 5 has been extensively debated and amended during this legislative session. This much-needed legislation reforms and reshapes public education at the high school level, in particular revising the testing, curriculum, and accountability regime in Texas. Under HB 5, state-mandated STAAR exams required to be passed for high school graduation will be limited to five:  English 1 and 2 (reading and writing combined into one test), Algebra 1, Biology, and US History. HB 5 also eliminates the provision that required 15% of EOC scores to count in students’ final grades, as well as the cumulative score requirement. Two additional state-designed standardized tests, Algebra 2 and English 3, can be administered at the school district’s option. Further, HB 5 provides flexibility in high school curriculum that will allow Texas students to pursue their interests, while retaining rigor and allowing all high school graduates to be eligible for admission into Texas public colleges and universities. This bill also modifies the school accountability rating system.
“Texas parents have been extremely active and involved in the legislative process for the last two years since realizing the detrimental impact of the new STAAR tests,” said Dineen Majcher, President of TAMSA. “Parental involvement significantly helped legislators to understand the dire, albeit unintended, consequences of the current system. We have worked together to craft meaningful solutions.”

On behalf of parents across the state, TAMSA expresses its deepest appreciation to the House and Senate leadership and members for taking bold and positive action on behalf of Texas students.

TAMSA

The writer of this article, Colin Woodard, recently won the George Polk award, one of the highest honors in journalism.

The article is bout a sordid effort to promote technology as a for-profit enterprise in Maine schools. To introduce a Maine virtual charter school, to require online courses for graduation, and to follow a script written not by educators but by lobbyists.

This is a classic. Don’t miss it.

A new report reviews the advent of online courses for community college students.

It was prepared by the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Online courses are popular because they seem to be a way to take courses at home, whenever it is convenient.

This is especially valuable for community college students because they are adults with multiple responsibilities.

What are the results?

Community college students who take online courses perform worse and persist less than those who take face-to-face classes.

This is the conclusion in the study:

“CCRC’s studies suggest that community college students who choose to take courses online are less likely to complete and perform well in those courses. The results also suggest that online courses may exacerbate already persistent achievement gaps between student subgroups.”

Online courses are not for everyone. They may actually be demotivating because of the lack of a personal relationship with an instructor. Once again, the hype is greater than the reality.

Cyber charters are profligate in wasting taxpayer dollars. A recent article on the Huffington Post reported that they spent nearly $100 million on advertising over a five year period. The biggest cyber charter, K12, spent more than $20 million in the first eight months of 2012.

In Ohio, home of rapacious and ineffective cyber charters, it costs the cyber operator $3,600 per student. But the corporation collects $6,300 per student. This leaves lots of dollars for profit and advertising.

Would it surprise you to know that the owners of the Ohio cyber charters give major campaign contributions to the governor and legislators?

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