Archives for category: Online learning

In a truly wonderful article in Sunday’s New York Times, David Kirp of the University of California at Berkeley lays waste the underpinnings of the current “education reform” movement. Kirp not only shows what doesn’t work, he gives numerous examples of what does work to help students.

Kirp explains in plain language why teaching can never be replaced by a machine. Although the article just appeared, I have already heard about angry grumbling from reformers, because their ultimate goal (which they prefer to hide) is to replace teachers with low-cost machines. Imagine a “classroom” with 100 students sitting in front of a monitor, overseen by a low-wage aide. Think of the savings. Think of the advantages that a machine has over a human being: they can be easily programmed; they don’t get a salary or a pension; they don’t complain when they are abused; and when a better, cheaper model comes along, the old one can be tossed into the garbage.

David Kirp dashes cold water on the reformy dream. Today’s reformers devoutly believe that schools can be transformed by market mechanisms, either by competition or technology. Kirp, author of “Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America’s Schools,” says that the tools for the improvement are not out of reach and do not depend on either the market or technology. His common-sense formulation of what is needed is within our reach, does not require mass firings or mass school closings, privatization, or a multi-billion dollar investment in technology.

But Kirp writes:

“It’s impossible to improve education by doing an end run around inherently complicated and messy human relationships. All youngsters need to believe that they have a stake in the future, a goal worth striving for, if they’re going to make it in school. They need a champion, someone who believes in them, and that’s where teachers enter the picture. The most effective approaches foster bonds of caring between teachers and their students.”

Reformers have made test scores “the single metric of success, the counterpart to the business bottom line.” The teacher whose students get high scores get a bonus, while those whose students get low scores get fired, just like business, where low-performers are laid-off. And, just like business, where low-profit stores are closed, and new ones are opened “in more promising territory, failing schools are closed and so-called turnaround model schools, with new teachers and administrators, take their place.”

Kirp says bluntly:

“This approach might sound plausible in a think tank, but in practice it has been a flop. Firing teachers, rather than giving them the coaching they need, undermines morale. In some cases it may well discourage undergraduates from pursuing careers in teaching, and with a looming teacher shortage as baby boomers retire, that’s a recipe for disaster. Merit pay invites rivalries among teachers, when what’s needed is collaboration. Closing schools treats everyone there as guilty of causing low test scores, ignoring the difficult lives of the children in these schools — “no excuses,” say the reformers, as if poverty were an excuse.”

Kirp throws cold water on the reformers’ favorite remedy: “Charter schools,” he writes, “have been promoted as improving education by creating competition. But charter students do about the same, over all, as their public school counterparts, and the worst charters, like the online K-12 schools that have proliferated in several states, don’t deserve to be called schools. Vouchers are also supposed to increase competition by giving parents direct say over the schools their children attend, but the students haven’t benefited.”

As we have frequently noted, Milwaukee should be the poster child for both voucher schools and charter schools, which have operated there for nearly 25 years. Yet Milwaukee is one of the nation’s lowest performing cities in the nation on the federal NAEP tests. Milwaukee has had plenty of competition but no success.

What’s the alternative? It is obvious: “talented teachers, engaged students and a challenging curriculum.”

Kirp points to the management ideas of W. Edwards Deming, who believed in the importance of creating successful systems in which workers were chosen carefully, supported, encouraged, and enabled to succeed by the organization’s culture. The best organizations flourish by supporting their employees, not by threatening them.

Kirp identifies a number of models in education that have succeeded by “strengthening personal bonds by building strong systems of support in the schools.” He refers to preschools, to a reading and math program called Success for All model, to another called Diplomas Now, which “love-bombs middle school students who are prime candidates for dropping out. They receive one-on-one mentoring, while those who have deeper problems are matched with professionals.”

Kirp cites “An extensive study of Chicago’s public schools, Organizing Schools for Improvement, identified 100 elementary schools that had substantially improved and 100 that had not. The presence or absence of social trust among students, teachers, parents and school leaders was a key explanation.”

Similarly, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, “has had a substantial impact on millions of adolescents. The explanation isn’t what adolescents and their “big sibling” mentors do together, whether it’s mountaineering or museum-going. What counts, the research shows, is the forging of a relationship based on mutual respect and caring.

Despite the success of programs cited by Kirp, which are built on personal relationships, “public schools have been spending billions of dollars on technology which they envision as the wave of the future. Despite the hyped claims, the results have been disappointing.”

Kirp concludes that “technology can be put to good use by talented teachers,” but it is the teachers who “must take the lead. The process of teaching and learning is an intimate act that neither computers nor markets can hope to replicate. Small wonder, then, that the business model hasn’t worked in reforming the schools — there is simply no substitute for the personal element.”

David L. Kirp is a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of “Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America’s Schools.”

In their rush to privatize public education in Tennessee, the Governor and the legislature enacted legislation in 2011 authorizing the Tennesee Virtual Academy, an online charter school run by K12 Inc.

K12 is a for-profit corporation started by Michael and Lloyd Milken. It is traded on the New York Stock Exchange. It earns millions for its owners but has received bad reviews in the New York Times and the Washington Post. The National Education Policy Center wrote a devastating critique of its academic results, as did CREDO in a report about Pennsylvania. In that state, virtual charter schools do worse than either public schools or brick-and-mortar charter schools.

Nonetheless, Tennessee wanted to be in the vanguard of the privatization movement. K12 partnered with Union County public schools, which collect 4% of K12’s proceeds. K12 pockets the other 96%, which is drawn from public schools across the state. The K12 virtual school is one of the lowest performing schools in the state, but Commissioner Kevin Huffman lacks the grit to shut it down. Despite its poor results, enrollment continues to grow. The company uses public dollars for recruiting, marketing, and advertising, and parents are persuaded by the sales pitch and the free computer to try homeschooling. Unfortunately, students often lack the motivation to stick with the program, and many drop out and return to their local public school, minus the state tuition grant.

Instead of shutting the school down, after three years of poor results, Commissioner Huffman announced that he would not permit the next entering class of 626 students to enroll. If the TVA were a public school, it would have its doors nailed shut. But Huffman decided to give TVA more time and to ignore its dismal results.

In a pattern that is typical for virtual charter schools, the students at the TVA have low test scores and high attrition. When the students return to their public schools, they have low proficiency. Meanwhile, their home district loses money, and K12’s bottom line grows.

Meanwhile a Washington-based organization that advocates for school choice blasted Huffman. The Center for Educational Reform said:

“The Center for Education Reform strongly condemns the recent directive by the Tennessee Education Commissioner to un-enroll 626 students from the Tennessee Virtual Academy (TNVA), denying them their school choice rights.

“It’s an outrage that these 626 legally enrolled students are now being forcefully turned away, just two weeks before the start of the school year,” said Kara Kerwin, president of The Center for Education Reform. “This represents an unreasonable attempt by Commissioner Huffman to virtually block the schoolhouse door.”

To CER, school choice is far more important than school quality. No matter how low the test scores or the graduation rate, no matter how high the attrition rate, CER will fight for students’ right to choose low-quality schools. How this is supposed to improve U.S. education is a mystery.

Except for a small number of students with compelling reasons to stay home instead of going to school, virtual charter schools are a waste of public funds.

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If data and research matter, the worst reform in U.S. education is the virtual charter school.

The League of Women Voters–one of the few national organizations with integrity about education issues (I.e. has not been bought by the Gates Foundation) issued a report about these floundering “schools,” that typically have low test scores, high dropout rates, and low graduation rates. Only a devotee of the Jeb Bush reform school would want to invite these ineffectual schools into their state. Poor New Mexico. Its acting state commissioner Hannah Skandera used to work for the Jebster himself, so whatever Florida has done to bring in for-profit hucksters must be brought to New Mexico, of course.

So New Mexico has a K12 virtual charter (listed on the New York Stock Exchange, founded by the Milken brothers), and a Connections Academy, owned by the much unloved Pearson.

Here is the study conducted by the New Mexico League of Women Voters.

Here is an article by Bonnie Burn in the Las Cruces Sun-News explaining why the League of Women Voters opposes for-profit schools. Actually, she is wrong on one point. There is a growing body of research that shows the ineffectiveness of virtual charters. However, they are highly profitable.

Will the Secretary of Education Arne Duncan speak out against for-profit virtual charters? Will elephants fly?

This prize-winning story by investigative reporter Colin Woodard follows the money trail in Maine, as Governor Paul LePage seeks to make a name for himself in the world of digital learning. It was originally published two years ago, but remains relevant. Woodard dug through more than 1,000 documents that he obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, and his story won the George Polk award.

Starbucks received wonderful publicity for its offer to pay the tuition of thousands of workers who took online courses at Arizona State University.

But there is a catch.

“Any Starbucks employee who works at least 20 hours per week will soon be able to complete his/her junior and senior years of college at Arizona State University (ASU) Online, thanks to a deal between the coffeehouse colossus and the institute of higher learning. But not everyone thinks that the new plan is such a great deal for Starbucks employees.

The Starbucks College Achievement Plan, which replaces an earlier tuition assistance program in the company’s benefits package, was officially unveiled at a public forum in New York’s Times Center. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan put in an appearance at the forum during which he told Starbucks employees, “I urge you to take advantage of this.”

A joint statement from Starbucks and ASU hailed the new tuition reimbursement plan as “a powerful, first-of-its-kind program designed to unleash [a] lifetime opportunity for thousands of eligible part-time and full-time U.S. partners (employees).” Under the new plan, employees who complete their freshman and sophomore years at ASU Online would receive a major discount, and the remaining two years would be totally free.

Sounds great, right? Not according to Sara Goldrick-Rab, professor of educational policy studies and sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who said she found it “incredibly problematic” that Starbucks has decided to limit its tuition assistance to a single online university.

““ASU Online is a profit venture,” said Goldrick-Rab. “And basically, these two businesses have gotten together and created a monopoly on college ventures for Starbucks employees.”

“Although ASU is a public university, its online wing is definitely a revenue-generating enterprise, helping the university manage its finances in an era of declining state aid. Online courses are taught by ASU professors, but much of the technical and administrative work that goes into managing ASU Online has been handed over to a private company, Pearson.

“In addition to limiting student choices, Goldrick-Rab said she believes it will leave them with a shoddier education. Recent research has suggested that online-only classes may leave low-income students at a disadvantage. Those are precisely the people, said Goldrick-Rab, who are mostly likely to enroll in ASU Online through the Starbucks program.

“These studies indicate that online education not only doesn’t work well for them, but can also propel them backwards,” she said. Students would also be expected to become full-time students, while still working an average 20 hours per week at Starbucks.”

And that is not all. The New York Times reports: that “students could have to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket, and wait months or years before being reimbursed.”

“That feature of the program was not mentioned in the Starbucks news release announcing the program, or on its publicly accessible web page about the program. But as word of it leaked out, educators and education experts took to the Internet to say that the benefit was less than it seemed, and might even frighten away some potential users.

“Given the upfront cost, it pushes a lot of risk onto the student,” Rachel Fishman, an education policy analyst at the New America Foundation, wrote in a blog post dissecting the program.”

Eduardo Porter, a business columnist for the New York Times, writes enthusiastically about a new and inexpensive way to “skip college.”

He writes:

“This week, AT&T and Udacity, the online education company founded by the Stanford professor and former Google engineering whiz Sebastian Thrun, announced something meant to be very small: the “NanoDegree.”

“At first blush, it doesn’t appear like much. For $200 a month, it is intended to teach anyone with a mastery of high school math the kind of basic programming skills needed to qualify for an entry-level position at AT&T as a data analyst, iOS applications designer or the like.

“Yet this most basic of efforts may offer more than simply adding an online twist to vocational training. It may finally offer a reasonable shot at harnessing the web to provide effective schooling to the many young Americans for whom college has become a distant, unaffordable dream.”

“Intriguingly, it suggests that the best route to democratizing higher education may require taking it out of college.

“We are trying to widen the pipeline,” said Charlene Lake, an AT&T spokeswoman. “This is designed by business for the specific skills that are needed in business.”

“Mr. Thrun sounded more ambitious about the ultimate goal: “It is like a university,” he told me, “built by industry.”

Correct me if I am wrong, but this sounds very much like vocational training, not college.

Porter rightly says that college is out of reach for many young people, and he is right. One of the reasons it is out of reach is that many states are shifting the financial burden from the public to the student. That’s short-sighted. Surely higher education should be available to many more young people, and the way to make it more affordable is to reduce the cost by government subsidies.

Job training is not enough. The doors to higher education should be open to all who have the will and the ability to pursue it, without regard to their income.

Once upon a time, community colleges were free. Once upon a time, states subsidized public higher education to keep costs low.

Here is a book that argues that public higher education should be free. What a dream. Our society invests our treasure elsewhere.

Keystone State Education Coalition
Pennsylvania Education Policy Roundup for June 3, 2014:

In God We Trust? How about a bill that would require charter and cyber schools to post their PA School Performance Profile scores prominently in any advertising paid for with public tax dollars?

Blogger Rant:

At a recent school board meeting I voted against authorizing a payment to Agora Cyber Charter School. Why? During the NCLB regime, Agora never once made AYP; this year their PA School Performance Profile Score was 48.3 (scale of 100). In my district, our Middle School score was 94; our High School score was 96.4. Agora is run by K12, Inc., a for-profit company founded by convicted bond felon Michael Milken. K12 paid it’s CEO $13 million from 2009 through 2013 and spent our tax dollars on over 19,000 local TV commercials. I do not believe Agora should receive one cent of my neighbors’ tax dollars.

Instead of posting “In God We Trust”, how about a bill that would require charter and cyber schools to post their PA School Performance Profile scores prominently in any advertising paid for with public tax dollars?

An article in the Akron Beacon Journal shows how virtual charters design advertising campaigns to appeal to students who are unhappy and feel bullied at school

“With profits on the line, private charter school companies are advertising on television, radio, billboards, handbills and even automated telephone messages to entice students away from public schools.

“And with words such as free, flexible, one-on-one and find your future — and taking opportunities to play on fear — the privately run, publicly funded schools are being quite successful.

“Enrollment in Ohio charter schools now stands at more than 120,000 in nearly 400 schools, with seven more schools expected to open next year. These quasi-public schools enroll less than 7 percent of Ohio’s students and receive $912 million in state tax dollars, about 11 percent of all state funds set aside for primary and secondary education.”

Some charters spend as much as $400 per student on advertising. Some public schools advertise to lure students back. All the money spent on advertising is taxpayer dollars that should be spent in classrooms.

Some of the ads feature students who talk about how they changed their life by enrolling in an online school, free from bullying. But the reporters interviewed a student who was not happy with her experience:

“Gretchen Carle, 19, a former student at Howland High School near Warren, also went to ECOT to escape bullying. Her experience with the online school, however, was different, she said in an interview.

“There wasn’t a lot of interaction with the teachers like they said there would be,” Carle said. “You were on your own with everything. It was very hard for me until I got a tutor.”

“Carle’s parents, not the school, paid for the private tutor. She never graduated and declined to talk about what she is doing currently.

“A video, “I Choose Life Skills,” posted in October, features a testimonial by a student identified as Tanya. In it, she says she can work at her own pace, with a highly qualified teacher or, if she chooses, from home “in my comfy PJs.”

“At that point, she is shown relaxing in a recliner, with a computer on her lap, while eating grapes. She also promotes the flexible class schedule that allows her to keep an outside job to take care of her family while earning a diploma.
The 30-second advertisement ends with the student saying, “I choose free tuition. I choose to take control of my life. I choose Life Skills high school. What do you choose?”

Back in 2011, the Florida legislature decreed that every student must pass an online course as a graduation requirement. Was this decision based on research about the value of online learning? No. It was justified as a means of readying all students for an online workplace but there is as yet no solid evidence that students learn better online. Perhaps it was sheer coincidence that the legislature’s mandate coincided with former Governor Jeb Bush’s determination that digital learning was the wave of the future; Jeb launched a national campaign, well funded by the technology industry, to promote digital learning, including a high school graduation requirement to take at least one or two courses online or no diploma. Six states have since adopted Jeb’s propsal and require students to take at least one course online as a graduation requirement. That sold a lot of new hardware and software but there is still no evidence of its necessity or value.

The Orlando Sentinel found that many seniors are familiar with digital technology but they have not met their graduation requirement:

“More than 11,000 Central Florida 11th-graders — about 43 percent of the region’s juniors — have not yet passed an online course, even though they must do that to earn a diploma next year. The class of 2015 is the first to fall under the online-learning requirements the state adopted four years ago.

“Spencer Thompson, 16, met the requirement at his parents’ insistence, but he isn’t surprised many classmates have not.

“I think it’s forcing a lot of kids to do something they don’t want to do,” said the junior at Hagerty High School in Seminole County.

“Some teenagers think they learn better with an in-person teacher, Spencer said, and some have found it a hassle to fit an online course into their schedule. Online courses, he added, are a useful option — he’s taking a virtual math class next year — but shouldn’t be required.”

Now districts are scrambling to find ways to help students meet the requirement for virtual coursework. “Orange, Seminole and Volusia schools next school year will enroll any 12th-grader who hasn’t taken an online class in new “blended learning” economics or government courses.

“These courses will be taught during the school day, with a teacher at the helm, but at least 50 percent of their lessons — enough to meet the state’s requirement — will be delivered via computer. Because economics and government both are required for graduation and typically taken senior year, administrators have a captive audience and a way to make sure students meet the online rule.”

Some students don’t have a computer or Internet access at home. Some prefer face-to-face interaction with a teacher. For a time, students took their drivers education courses online, but “the Legislature later decided that would not count for the graduation rule.

“This year, lawmakers reversed themselves, so if Gov. Rick Scott signs the latest bill, starting in July students can again use an online driver’s education class to help earn their diploma.”

Really, it shouldn’t matter what course the student takes as long as the purpose of the mandate is filled: to divert more public money to private vendors.

In Maine, Jeb Bush’s “Digital Learning Now” campaign stalled when a local reporter wrote an award-winning story about the money trail connecting Bush’s Foundation for Educational Excellence, the tech vendors, and Maine politicians.

A reader offers this perspicacious view of Pennsylvania’s cybercharter industry. There are 16 of them in the state. The founders of two of the major cybercharters are currently under indictment for siphoning millions of dollars of public funds:

The reader writes:

“Running a cyber-charter in PA is as good as printing money. No oversight and a system that completely ignores the actual costs of the system. If the Commonwealth of PA went shopping for used cars the same way, it would walk onto the lot and tell the salesman, “Here’s twenty grand. Pick out any car for me that you want, and keep the change.”

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