Archives for category: Online learning

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.”

Temple University law professor Susan deJarnett studied Pennsylvania’s 16 Cybercharters and found that they make huge profits while providing few services.

“Parsing the tax documents for the 12 cyber charters for which information was available, she found that cyber charters carry large surpluses and spend what she considered a disproportionate amount of Pennsylvania tax dollars on advertising, travel expenses and contracts with outside management and service providers.”

Fewer teachers. No custodians. No heating bills. No savings.

The money for the Cybercharters comes out of each district’s budget, depending on its per pupil expenditure:

“If a regular-education student from Lower Merion school district attended a cyber-charter in 2011-2012, Lower Merion (which then had a per-pupil expenditure of $22,140.70) sent the cyber charter about $17,000.

“If a regular-education student from the Philadelphia school district attended the same cyber-charter, Philadelphia (which then had a per-pupil expenditure of $12,351.74) sent the cyber charter about $8,500.

“Same cyber school. Same cyber-education. Outrageously different price tag.”

An obvious incentive to poach students from rich districts.

Two of Pennsylvania’s best known charter founders are under indictment. With so many millions in play and no supervision or regulation, bad things can happen.

When I started public elementary school in Houston, we learned to write with pens that were dipped in an inkwell. I think it was called a quill pen. This was not easy for me because almost every desk had a wooden arm for right-handed students, and I am left handed. I had to contort myself to dip my pen and write on a desk meant for right-handed students.

Then about the time I was in second grade, we got ball point pens, which was a huge technological step forward. However, they smudged something awful. As I wrote, in my cramped left-handed way, the ink smeared my fingers and my left hand. I came home ink-stained every day.

When ball points were eventually improved so that the ink did not smudge, it was wonderful for us lefties.

But always there was the trusty pencil. We could all count on our #2 pencil, so long as there was a nearby pencil sharpener, or a pocket knife to bring back the point.

This writer joins me in distrusting the exclusive reliance on online testing. I could give many reasons why it is a terrible idea, not only including cost, but emphasizing that it shifts control to outside authority. Someone decides what knowledge is of most worth. It is not teachers or scholars. Chances are it is a committee at Pearson.

A great scholar once said to me: “Let me write a nation’s tests, and I care not who writes its songs.”

Here is a reader, in praise of the pencil:

“It becomes a test to take the test. Where are the content advocates now? Are we really ready to replace the technology of the pencil. Computers will come and go, breakdown, become obsolete. This has never happened to the pencil, a very reliable technology.
Pencils will help our children be career and college ready at less cost. Don’t need to hire technicians; and they are so abundant and available, that they can be found on the floor of any classroom at the end of the day.”

This article suggests that Rocketship charter schools is preparing a new generation that has mastered the art of learning online and interacting with computers.

Students spend two hours daily at the computer, supervised by aides, not teachers.

This saves money.

These instructors monitor up to 130 kids at a time in cubicles in the schools’ computer labs. Rocketeers, as students are called, sit looking at computer screens up to two hours per day, supposedly learning by solving puzzles.

Business leaders such as Bill Gates often stress the need to train kids for the jobs of the future—digital animators, nanotech engineers? But it looks more like the Rocketeers are being prepared for online “microtasks” at Crowdflower, which contracts out data categorization and de-duplication.

According to a recent wage and hour lawsuit, these microtaskers are often paid as little as $2 an hour.

Overall, the growth these days is not in skilled, middle-class jobs like public school teaching—which is shrinking, thanks to charter chains like Rocketship—but in low-wage jobs.

It’s no coincidence that Rocketship employs the same kind of de-professionalized, non-union workforce it seems to be training. Half its teachers have less than two years’ experience; 75 percent come from Teach for America.

Rocketship charters will open next fall in many cities.

Is this the wave of the future?


Darcy Bedortha is a guest writer for Anthony Cody’s blog.

She tells her story as a Lead Teacher for a K12 virtual charter school.

She confirms all the worst fears of critics of virtual charters.

They make a lot of money. They are passionate about profits, not students.

Students need one-to-one contact with a human being. They don’t get it.

In a long and heartbreaking post, she writes:

I was an English teacher, so my students would write. They wrote of pain and fear and of not fitting in. They were the kinds of young people who desperately needed to have the protective circle of a community watching over them. They needed one healthy person to smile at them and recognize them by name every day, to say “I’m glad you’re here!” Many of my former students do not have that.

The last thing these young people needed, I came to realize during my time with K12 Inc., was to be isolated in front of a computer screen. A week or two or three would often go by without my getting a word from a student. They didn’t answer their email, they didn’t answer their phones. Often their phones were disconnected. Their families were disconnected. My students also moved a lot. During my first year at the school I spent days on the phone trying to track students down. This year I struggled to not simply give up under the weight of it all.

In the fall of 2013, 42 percent of our high school students were deemed “economically disadvantaged.” I had a number of students who were not native English speakers. I cannot wrap my head around how to serve a student who is unable to read or comprehend the language that the virtual curriculum is written in, let alone learn the technology (when it is functioning) without sitting beside them in the same space. Many of my non-native speakers had parents who did not speak English at all. These students often struggled for a very short time, and then I never saw their work again. They dropped out, moved on.

The school officials make millions of dollars. The virtual charter works for them.

Why are we allowing public dollars to flow to these non-educational institutions?

Silly question. They give campaign contributions. They lobby. They are strategic in advancing their goal: Profit.


Turns out the iPads purchased by LAUSD are way more expensive than what other districts are buying. And they have already been discontinued: obsolete already.

No wonder tech vendors are thrilled with Race to the Top: Ca-Ching !


Lots of dough for devices. Not so much for the arts, libraries, small classes.

This reader reports fro Pennsylvania, which has 16 cyber-charters, all drawing money from local school districts.

“We kind of know what happens. In PA, we have limited brick-and-mortar charters, but we’ve been dealing with cyber-charters for a few years now.

“It is a crushing formula for reimbursement– the state gives the charter the per-capita cost for each student. That generally translates into about 10K per student taken from the home district and redirected to the cyber school (the cost is greater for special needs students).

“In my mainly-rural district two years ago, the total cost of cyber-students to the district was about $800,000. And then the district closed two elementary schools with the stated intent of saving— about $800,000.

“How charters will affect school districts will depend a great deal on the funding formula imposed by the state. In Pennsylvania, cyber-schools are choking smaller school districts.”

Last Sunday, the Néw York Times had a lengthy editorial lamenting the sorry state of math education in the U.S. the editorial said that our kids find math boring, so they don’t major in math or become engineers. The Times barely mentioned the pernicious effects of standardized testing, which surely mars math tedious.

But the Times writers should visit Pasadena, California, which has developed a model program for the use of technology. It is certainly NOT boring. It demonstrates foresight, planning, vision, and purpose. And it seems to be very exciting!

“In sixth through eighth grade classrooms in Pasadena Unified School District, elective Robotics classes hum with activity as teams of excited kids use laptops to build robots during the school day. Students show off the robots’ abilities in a fun end-of-year “final exam” Expo open to the entire community, and those meeting a basic academic requirement will create and code video game and other apps in the just-launched App Academy at Pasadena High School.

There are no admissions tests, no magnet school attendance restrictions, and no GATE requirements to take the elective Robotics class; interested students simply choose the elective.

For the past three years, Pasadena Unified has offered real technological literacy and computer programming classes for public school children in two out of four high schools (with plans for all) in the district — and yet its big, slow-moving neighbor to the west, Los Angeles Unified, isn’t paying attention. Neither is the rest of California, to its detriment.

Under the direction of a visionary team housed in the Pasadena Education Foundation’s STEM initiative, children in Pasadena Unified’s majority-minority, 68% free-and-reduced lunch schools with many English language learners figure out how to code in hands-on, engaging ways. These students apply math, design, engineering, marketing, and even arts learning to their creations.

The goal is to offer programming and App Academy high school classes across the entire district, and with support from faculty at CalTech, rocket scientists at NASA/JPL, and Pasadena’s burgeoning tech incubator community, they appear on track to achieve this. There’s no reason Silicon Beach on Los Angeles’ westside or Silicon Valley up north can’t help with in-kind assistance — and crucial funding via revenue to the state — to scale this highly effective model to every single school district in California, not just the ones lucky to have a high-tech hub in their backyard.”

How great is that !

The link:

Adam Schott and James Jack write here about the poor performance of cyber charters in Pennsylvania.

You might even say the abysmal performance of cyber charters.

Pennsylvania has 16, more of them than any state in the nation, and six more want to open. No wonder they want to open. It is a lucrative business.

They write:

If it was viewed as a single school district, Pennsylvania’s expansive cyber charter sector would represent Pennsylvania’s second-largest district, with more than 35,000 students attending 16 schools statewide. Cyber charters received approximately $366 million in taxpayer funds in 2012-13—drawing payments from 498 of the state’s 500 school districts.

Their performance is awful:

In 2011-2012, just one of the state’s then 12 cyber charter schools met state academic thresholds for adequate yearly progress, while eight schools landed in one of several stages of “corrective action”—the lowest level of academic performance.

A 2011 report by Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes that examined Pennsylvania charter schools found that “performance at cyber charter schools was substantially lower than the performance at brick-and-mortar charters.”

Last week, Research for Action and our colleagues at the Education Law Center weighed new data: School Performance Profile scores, which are at the heart of the state’s new accountability plan under its No Child Left Behind waiver. We examined scores for the 11 cyber charter schools for which complete data were available—together, these schools educate nearly 17,000 students, or roughly half of the statewide cyber charter enrollment.

All 11 cybers scored among the lowest schools in the state. Not one of these cyber schools met or exceeded the average performance of Pennsylvania’s public and charter schools.

In fact, according to the state’s data, the average performance of cyber charters was more than 33 points behind that of traditional public schools, and nearly 23 points behind brick-and-mortar charter schools. Put another way, cyber charters—despite recent expansion—represent less than one half of one percent of the state’s schools, yet account for more than one-third of the state’s lowest-scoring based on that data.

Pennsylvania’s cyber charter schools enroll a student population that broadly reflects the state as a whole in terms of special education identification rates, English language learner status, and other characteristics. Yet the sector’s performance is well below that of the overwhelming majority of public schools, both traditional and brick-and-mortar charter schools.

Pennsylvania policymakers have an obligation to make decisions informed by all available evidence. We urge them to carefully consider the performance data on cyber charters as they consider further expansion of this sector.

Adam Schott is Director of Policy Research at Research for Action and a former Executive Director of the State Board of Education. James Jack is a Senior Research Associate at RFA.

Alice Mercer’s review
of “Reign of Error
” addresses the question raised by some
EdTech reviewers about where I stand on the use of technology in
the classroom. She quotes from the book to demonstrate that I
strongly believe in the value of technology as a tool to transform
and enliven teaching.

Why read a few sentences in a dull textbook
about John F. Kennedy’s electrifying Inaugural Address when you can
watch it in the same amount of time, get a visceral sense of the
man, hear his voice, watch the crowd react, and get a vivid
real-time overview of the world he was describing?

Why read about an event when technology can take you to the scene?

Mercer also understands and explains the lure of technology to those who see
the schools as an emerging market, a chance to tap into scarce
public dollars. She knows that entrepreneurs hawking
“personalization” and “individualization” are often
thinking about adaptive testing and test prep, not creative ways to
engage young minds in exploring new ways of learning. And when a
financially strapped district spends $1 billion on tablets and
iPads instead of repairing crumbling buildings, we must ask about


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