Over the years, it has become obvious that virtual charter schools are a sham. ECOT in Ohio was a spectacular failure, which made millions for its for-profit owner (“the ECOT man”) but cost taxpayers over a billion dollars that should have gone to public schools. The founder of the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School is now in jail, convicted of stealing millions of dollars, but convicted only of tax evasion, not embezzlement. June Brown, who operated K12 Inc. schools in Pennsylvania, avoided conviction because of her advanced age (she kept the money).

K12 Inc. is perhaps the biggest of the shams because it has the most students. It is listed on the New York Stock Exchange. It makes handsome profits, but its students drop out at a high rate and get low test scores on state tests. The NCAA stripped 24 of the virtual K12 Inc. schools of accreditation a few years back after it discovered that students were often taking the K12 Inc. tests without bothering to first sit for instruction. NCAA officials saw tests that included “true-false” questions, and observed that students could take the test again if they failed. Any number of K12 Inc. virtual schools have been engaged in fraudulent practices that led to fines or even jail sentences for their operators.

K12 Inc. has been repeatedly criticized for the poor performance of its students. They start behind and they don’t catch up. See here. See here. See here. See here.

K12 Inc. originated with Ron Packard, who was paid $5 million a year to run it, Michael Milker, the ex-felon who invested in it, and Bill Bennett, the ex-Secretary of Education who was supposed to sell it to home schooling families (but had to step back after making a comment on his radio show that the best way to reduce crime was to encourage the abortion of black babies.)

Politico interviewed Kevin Chavous, a close ally of Betsy DeVos, who adores for-profit virtual charter schools. He promised to do better in the future.

K12 INC. PUSHES TO DO BETTER AMID CRITICISM OF VIRTUAL SCHOOLS: Low graduation and attendance rates have led to widespread scrutiny in recent years of virtual schools, which allow students to do Internet-based schooling on a computer at taxpayers’ expense. One of the largest providers is K12 Inc., which serves 110,000 students in 31 states.

— Kevin Chavous, a former D.C. council member and a founding board member of the American Federation for Children school choice group that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos used to chair, took over a year ago as president of the company’s academics, policy and schools group. He recently stopped by the POLITICO newsroom, and offered insight into work underway at K12 Inc. Here’s what he shared:

— Tracking students. Chavous said the company rolled out a new system to more closely track both student and teacher performance and focus on “aggressive engagement” to ensure students are logging on. Teachers and administrators are held accountable when students aren’t progressing. He noted that only 11 percent of K12’s first-time students are on grade level when they start, so many have a long way to go to catch up academically. “We are going to be very disciplined about making sure we have growth with all of our students,” Chavous said.

— ECOT collapse. Even though K12 wasn’t affiliated with the massive Ohio virtual school ECOT that closed earlier this year, Chavous said its collapse has been a wakeup call. He said about 4,000 of its former students moved to Ohio Virtual Academy, a K12 school. One big lesson is that the “onboarding process” is important, so he said in Ohio they’ve started requiring mandatory orientation so there’s a clear understanding among students and parents of what’s expected. Another lesson, he said, is that providers need a better understanding of each student’s academic needs from the get-go.

— Desperate parents. Chavous said he’s spent hours listening to inquiries from parents calling to ask about attending a K12 school. Nearly half are parents whose kids have been bullied, he said. “Ninety-five percent of those phone calls, the parents are full of desperation,” Chavous said.

— School violence. After school shootings, he said K12 sees an uptick in calls, and safety concerns are one reason parents like online education. “We’re filling a need that others aren’t filling. That means we do have a responsibility to fill that need academically in the right way. And … our company takes that charge on,” he said.

— Future of school choice. Chavous said he thinks DeVos’ support for virtual schools has had little effect on the work K12 is doing around the country. “It really hasn’t had an impact on policy shifts that we’ve seen,” he said.