Archives for category: Virtual Charter Schools

Nancy Bailey writes that the best way to fire Betsy DeVos is to vote for Biden and Harris.

She writes:

If you’re Democrat or Republican, and you care about public education, vote for V.P. Joe Biden to remove Education Secretary Betsy DeVos from the U.S. Department of Education! Four more years of Betsy DeVos means the end of public education.

With a President Biden, public schools have a chance of surviving. With a President Trump, they don’t. It’s as simple as that.

You may be thinking, Democratic leadership has failed public education in the past. Many were disappointed in the Obama administration’s Race to the Top.

Once there’s a President Biden, the country can remind him of this. But the odds of losing our schools with a President Biden is less of a worry now than leaving DeVos in her perch at the U.S. Department of Education.

There are dozens of reasons to check the Biden/Harris ticket. Public schools affect every other issue on the ballot, every issue we face as a nation. Democratic public schools are the backbone of the nation.

She goes on to explain why we all should be worried about the damage Trump and DeVos can do if given four more years to transfer public funds to non-public schools.

Emily Harris teaches A.P. U.S. History at Will Rogers High School in Tulsa. She writes here about her faith in the public schools. She is concerned that some students have enrolled in the EPIC virtual charter school, which has a horrible record and operates for profit.

I am a teacher at Will Rogers High School. My husband, John, is a teacher at Nathan Hale High School. We are proud our 1-year-old son, Andrew, will become a fourth-generation Tulsa Public Schools student. As generations of our family have done before us, we will choose Tulsa Public Schools. My grandmother is a Central Brave. My father-in-law is a Will Rogers Roper. My mother is a Hale Ranger. My father, husband, sisters and I are Edison Eagles.

Our public schools are part of the fabric of what makes us Tulsans. Many of you reading this can say the same about your family. These schools have history. They have tradition. They have proud alumni. We cannot give up on them.

Tulsa Public Schools began the 2019-2020 school year planning for a $20 million budget shortfall caused by years of improper state funding and declining enrollment. Despite more than a decade of underfunding, many Tulsa Public Schools teachers have persisted in challenging working conditions. These teachers know what it is like to face obstacles and overcome them for hope that all students will reach their full potential. Tulsa Public Schools teachers will carry the same tenacity and spirit of optimism with them as they take on the challenges presented to them this school year.

The Tulsa Public Schools of my parents’ generation did not have to compete for students with suburban districts and online charter schools. Recent reports show that Epic, an all virtual charter school founded in 2011, is seeing a recent surge in enrollment. It has now surpassed Oklahoma City and Tulsa to become our state’s largest school district. Epic Charter Schools may sound like an appealing option to parents in the short term, but data from an Oklahoma Watch investigation in 2019 showed that only 14.7% of Epic graduates enrolled in an Oklahoma public college or university compared to 43.6% of Tulsa Public Schools graduates. This is concerning as it points to the assumption that Epic’s model is more about compliance to meet graduation standards rather than preparation for a student’s life beyond K-12 education.

Epic is contributing to declining enrollment in Tulsa Public Schools. The result is critical state funding being siphoned away from traditional public schools. Unlike Tulsa Public Schools, Epic is a statewide school district, and does not serve as a pillar of our community. When our community supports Tulsa Public Schools, they are undoubtedly making a worthwhile investment in the future of Tulsa….

Here’s what I do know for certain: I will spend each day working in my empty classroom on the fourth floor of Will Rogers High School. I will do my best with technology to teach American history and serve Tulsa students from a distance. I will work with my talented colleagues to collaborate and come up with creative solutions to challenging and unprecedented issues. We will carry with us a mindset to serve students first.

I choose Tulsa Public Schools, and I will continue to serve Tulsa students for many years ahead. The possibility of a truly equitable Tulsa community for all depends on your support of our public school system. I assure you, my students’ hopes and dreams are worth it. Teachers cannot wait for the day when we get to see our students in person. Until then, I ask that you please have faith in teachers. Have faith in Tulsa Public Schools.

A judge in Oklahoma Fined the company that manages EPIC virtual charter school $500,000 for trying to suppress the fre speech of a critic, plus his legal fees.

Unfortunately, despite poor results and ongoing legal controversies, enrollment at EPIC and other virtual charter schools is soaring due to the pandemic.

An Oklahoma County district judge leveled a $500,000 fine against the nonprofit overseeing Epic Charter Schools on Wednesday.

Judge Cindy Troung sanctioned Community Strategies Inc. for filing a libel and slander lawsuit against state Sen. Ron Sharp last year. Truong dismissed the lawsuit in February. On Wednesday, she ruled the case was an attempt to censor Sharp’s free speech.

The judge decided the nonprofit was subject to a fine under Oklahoma Citizens Participation Act, a law that sanctions plaintiffs who file meritless lawsuits intended to silence critics.

Troung also awarded Sharp $35,912 to cover all of his legal fees. A news release from Sharp said the senator is “very pleased” with the judge’s decision.

Epic will appeal the ruling, said Shelly Hickman, assistant superintendent of communications…

Sharp, R-Shawnee, has been one of Epic’s most outspoken critics. In multiple news releases and comments to media, he alleged Epic unlawfully counted student enrollment and misused taxpayer dollars.

Truong threw out the lawsuit and said Sharp’s public comments about Epic did not rise to the level of actual malice, which is the standard to prove libel and slander against a public entity.

“Clearly, Epic was trying to do this to destroy my credibility and to divert attention from what I was asking,” Sharp said after the lawsuit was dismissed in February. “The fact that they filed this just before the deadline for legislation, they clearly wanted legislators to be intimidated by this lawsuit.”

The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation alleged Epic illegally inflated its enrollment counts and embezzled millions in state funds, according to court documents filed last year. Epic has denied any wrongdoing. No charges have been filed.

As we have seen in recent weeks, Trump and Betsy DeVos want public schools to reopen for full-time, in-person instruction. Yesterday, in an interview with Chris Wallace of FOX News, Trump reiterated that he will stop federal funding of any schools that don’t comply. He said that children don’t get the virus and they don’t die from the virus. He said nothing about the vulnerability of educators. Wallace pointed out that most federal funding Is earmarked for poor children and students with disabilities but Trump was adamant that schools must reopen fully or face his wrath. He has offered no funding for making schools safe for Reopening, and he has abdicated any responsibility for federal leadership. He said in the same interview, when asked whether people should wear masks as public health experts advise, that mask-wearing was a decision for governors and individuals.

It seems like only yesterday that Trump and DeVos were cheerleaders for online learning, as Politico points out.

President Donald Trump’s newfound disdain for online education is a sharp departure from what his administration and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have long championed in terms of policy on virtual learning.

As he presses schools and colleges to physically reopen their doors this fall, Trump has dismissed online learning as an acceptable strategy that local education leaders can employ as they face surging coronavirus cases in many parts of the country.

“Now that we have witnessed it on a large scale basis, and firsthand, Virtual Learning has proven to be TERRIBLE compared to In School, or On Campus, Learning,” Trump said in a tweet last week. “Not even close! Schools must be open in the Fall.”

In events and media appearances over the past several weeks, the White House and administration officials have repeatedly insisted that the nation’s schools and colleges must physically reopen classes — and that online instruction, fully or partially, isn’t an appropriate alternative. They’ve threatened to use federal funding as a lever to prod schools into physically reopening.

The Trump administration has been clear that it’s concerned that schools remaining closed would be a drag on the economic recovery that the president is banking on ahead of the November election. “If we don’t reopen the schools that would be a setback to a true economic recovery,” Larry Kudlow, Trump’s top economic adviser said this week.

Trump blasted Los Angeles school officials earlier this week for a “terrible decision” to keep the nation’s second-largest school district online-only when classes start in several weeks. Many other large school districts across the country are also defying Trump’s demands to physically reopen.

“It’s not a matter of if schools should reopen, it’s simply a matter of how,” DeVos has repeated several times in recent weeks as she’s become a main spokesperson for the Trump administration’s push to reopen schools. Schools, she has said, “must fully open and they must be fully operational.”

But the Trump administration’s focus on in-person instruction in traditional school buildings is a stark change for DeVos, who has long been an ardent proponent of virtual schools and individualized digital learning options for students.

As secretary of Education, she has also taken action to promote online instruction in both K-12 schools and higher education, steering money and grants toward digital learning options and scaling back federal regulations in order to promote distance education.

Advertisement
DeVos last year traveled the country on a “Rethink Education” tour in which she repeatedly called for education leaders to question longtime assumptions about what K-12 and higher education looks like — which she noted hasn’t changed much in several centuries.

“It’s past time to ask some of the questions that often get labeled as ‘non-negotiable’ or just don’t get asked at all,” DeVos said during a 2018 speech. Among them: “Why do students have to go to a school building in the first place?”

DeVos also touted “high-quality virtual charter schools” as “valuable” option during her confirmation process. She and her husband previously were investors in K12 Inc., one of the nation’s largest virtual school companies.

This speedy reversal has left boosters of online learning confused and dismayed.

To add to the confusion, DeVos continues to promote online higher education.

The virtual charter industry is anticipating growth in enrollments and profits, thanks to the pandemic.

The largest of the virtual charters is the K12 Inc. virtual charter chain, listed on the New York Stock Exchange, whose revenues exceeded $1 billion this year.

Executives haul in big salaries (one of K12’s founders, Ron Packard, was paid $5 million a year but has since moved on to lead other charter chains). Michael Milken was an early investor in K12 and Bill Bennett was a prominent leader until he made racist remarks that caused him to be removed.

The most important thing to know about virtual charter schools is that they have dismal track records. They enroll as many students as possible through heavy advertising and marketing, but their graduation rates are low, their test scores are low, and their attrition rates are high.

Numerous studies of virtual charter schools agree that their results are very poor. A CREDO study in 2015 concluded that students in virtual charters lose ground in reading and lose the equivalent of a year of instruction in math.

While findings vary for each student, the results in CREDO’s report show that the majority of online charter students had far weaker academic growth in both math and reading compared to their traditional public school peers. To conceptualize this shortfall, it would equate to a student losing 72 days of learning in reading and 180 days of learning in math, based on a 180-day school year. This pattern of weaker growth remained consistent across racial-ethnic subpopulations and students in poverty.

The studies of virtual schools by Gary Miron and his colleagues report graduation rates of about 50%, as compared to a graduation rate of 83% in traditional public schools, as well as low performance compared to regular public schools.

So, if you want virtual learning at home and you don’t care if your child actually learns anything, sign up.

This is the incredible but true story of the improbable rise and precipitate collapse of the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), which sucked nearly $1 billion out of public schools in Ohio over nearly 20 years. It was written by James Pogue and published by Mother Jones in 2018.

Read this article in full.

Pogue describes ECOT’s founder William Lager as a “washed-up lobbbyisr” with big dreams, scribbling on napkins in a Waffle House in Columbus, Ohio. He succeeded in creating a virtual charter school that soon became the largest charter school in Ohio. He created related businesses to supply the goods and services for his growing business. He gave generous sums to politicians. Governor John Kasich loved ECOT. He was a commencement speaker.

So was Jeb Bush, who saw ECOT as the future of American education. He was a commencement speaker too. The state auditor gave ECOT an award for the quality of its audits.

However, as ECOT’s enrollment grew, so did its problems. Its attrition rate was staggering. Only 40% of its students graduated. Parents complained to state officials that their kids weren’t learning anything. But state officials, most of whom received donations from Lager, didn’t listen.

Classes began in September 2000, and by the end of the school year ECOT had 3,000 students and had become the state’s largest charter, bigger than many of Ohio’s public school districts, according to Lager. “We were given five months from the day that our charter was approved to the first day of school,” he wrote. “I’m pretty sure I couldn’t plan a wedding in that period of time (and given my track record with marriages, probably shouldn’t!).”

It soon became obvious there were problems. Jim Petro, then the state auditor, issued a brutal assessment of the school’s first year, finding that “ECOT did not have any written policies or procedures for enrolling students,” that it exhibited an “inability to provide computers to students at the beginning of the school year,” and that in two months there were “106 instances in which the reported student was either less than 5 years old or greater than 21 years old, contrary to legislated age requirements.” It also found that the school received almost $1 million in the month of September 2000 as payment for the students it claimed to be educating, although that month “only 7 students logged-in to one of the available computer-based instruction systems.” In other words, during the first month of operations, only about 1 of every 300 ECOT students managed to access Lager’s revolutionary new online education program.

Astonishingly, and despite the auditor’s conclusion that the school was paid an additional $1 million the following month for students it couldn’t account for, ECOT was allowed to carry on…

By 2006, ECOT was growing into a behemoth, and Lager was growing rich. His private companies eventually billed ECOT for at least $153 million, most of it taxpayer dollars. These companies were largely insulated from state oversight. In 2002, a law put forth by Republican legislators had given oversight authority of certain charter schools to chartering agencies, like Lucas County ESC, which were left largely responsible for monitoring the schools that paid them. Charter management companies like Altair weren’t—and still aren’t—required to report what percentage of the state funds they received was paid out in individual salaries. But two early state audits show that at least in the first two years of ECOT’s operation, more than $1 million in fees paid to Altair went to Lager personally.

He began to pour that money into politics, donating $1.9 million over the course of 18 years, mostly to Republican candidates. Some high-level ECOT or Altair employees also frequently donated to pro-charter candidates, according to one former ECOT administrator and state records. “I was bothered by it, to a degree, but I stayed out of the politics and just did my job,” he said. “That was what I was getting paid for, and I didn’t care about getting involved with Mr. Lager or any of that other stuff.”

In one instance reported by the Akron Beacon Journal in 2006, Lager gave $10,000 over a four-day period to the gubernatorial campaign of the former auditor, Jim Petro, who had since been elected as the state’s attorney general. Four ECOT or Altair employees, along with their spouses, each donated $5,000 to Petro during the same four-day span—totaling at least $50,000 from ECOT and Altair staff during a primary campaign. One couple that contributed $24,500 had never donated to a state or federal campaign until that year. Petro lost but remained the attorney general. And soon, despite his lacerating assessment of ECOT’s first year, he gave the commencement address at the school’s 2006 graduation ceremony…

Across the country, many state legislatures were increasingly permissive of charter schools, and their enrollments were skyrocketing. From 2006 to 2016, they would nearly triple their enrollments nationwide, from 1.2 million students to 3.1 million. In Ohio, the system had grown from almost nothing to 70,000 students in just 10 years, and the charter lobby was becoming one of the most influential in the state. “There were a lot of powerful lobbies in Columbus,” Stephen Dyer, who was elected to the Ohio House in 2006, told me. “You had coal, you had general energy companies, you had nursing homes. I never saw any sector get everything they wanted except charters.”

Amid the national wave that overturned the GOP majority in 2006, Ted Strickland, a Democrat who wanted to get a handle on charters, was elected as Ohio’s first Democratic governor in 25 years. But a sudden flood of almost $900,000 in campaign cash from a group headed by Betsy DeVos, who long before becoming Trump’s education secretary was active in pushing the most radical approaches to school deregulation, helped to keep Ohio’s House of Representatives in Republican hands. Over the four years of Strickland’s tenure, charter industry allies in the Legislature blocked many of the governor’s attempts. “I don’t think all political contributions are efforts to do something nefarious,” Strickland told me. “But in this case, I think it was so obvious that these schools were so bad and were failing and had such lax oversight. I cannot give the Republican Legislature the benefit of the doubt and say that they did not know.”

“When you have a situation where public moneys are used to enrich individuals,” he added, “who then in turn support the politicians that support the policies that enrich them—it may not be illegal, but I think that fits the definition of corruption…”

In June 2010, Jeb Bush flew to Columbus to give the commencement speech at ECOT’s graduation. It was just one among several efforts to boost Lager’s business. The next year, Bush would push for increased funds for e-schooling in Ohio—never mind that ECOT’s test scores were some of the worst in the state, worse than those in all but 14 of 609 Ohio school districts. And in the months following his commencement address, Bush would convene a Digital Learning Council with support from major tech companies including Apple, Google, and Microsoft. The council—which Lager sat on—contributed to laws in Florida, Utah, and Wisconsin that helped steer public money to online education companies. Nationwide, online charters would soon educate an estimated 200,000 students a year, even as one study of their performance compared the educational shortfalls they produced to a student losing “72 days of learning in reading and 180 days of learning in math” out of a normal school year. “The US education system currently operates as an eight-track tape in an iPod world,” Bush said, after Gov. John Kasich signed a 2011 bill encouraging e-learning in the state. “Ohio is on a path to transform education for the 21st century…”

“You will have had no other speaker more committed to the ECOT idea than Governor Kasich,” Lager told the crowd as he introduced the governor in 2011. “With his help, we see nothing but clear sailing.”

ECOT was a huge financial success but an educational failure. Students were counted as enrolled if they logged in for only one minute in a day.

Students, in fact, weren’t required to participate in online classroom learning at all, according to another ECOT official’s testimony regarding the 2015-16 school year. (Educational requirements could be satisfied through field trips or homework.)…

Only in recent months [2018] have Ohio politicians begun to distance themselves from the school. Last August, the state Republican Party returned $38,000 in donations from Lager and another $38,000 from his lieutenant at Altair, Melissa Vasil. Yost put Lager on warning in January by publicly suggesting that the ECOT founder, who over the years has purchased a $3.7 million home in Key West, Florida, along with a lakeside retreat and properties around Columbus, could be expected to personally repay some of the tens of millions of dollars ECOT owes the state. A few days later, a framed photo of Yost was reportedly removed without explanation from the lobby at ECOT’s headquarters.

“I don’t think there’s any conscionable reason why Lager should make the profits that he makes off of educating kids in public schools,” a former ECOT administrator told me. He defended his accomplishments at ECOT and said that for many children he worked with, online schooling really was the best option—safer for kids who had been bullied or threatened by gangs, and more flexible for students whose families might be transient.

But those successes came at the cost of more than $1 billion in public funding, much of it diverted from better performing Ohio schools, and at least 15 percent of that money—about $150 million—was paid to Lager’s private companies, subject to almost zero oversight or transparency. In 2017, Columbus’ public schools posted a four-year graduation rate of 74 percent. ECOT’s was 40 percent. Nevertheless, that year Columbus schools sacrificed $11 million in funding—about 3 percent of their total state allocation—to ECOT.

In January 2018, ECOT collapsed, owing the state $80 million.

Betsy DeVos is still promoting virtual charters like ECOT, where students learn nothing.

Now, in the midst of the pandemic, virtual charters are promoting their inferior product to gullible parents.

I posted yesterday that Betsy DeVos set aside more than $300 million of the billions in coronavirus aid to advance her personal agenda of undermining public schools. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who is chair of the House subcommittee that oversees education appropriations, criticized her misuse of the funds.

Chalkbeat has the story.

Betsy thinks the days of learning in physical buildings are obsolete.

I have often posted the research on virtual charter schools. The 2015 CREDO study showed the abject failure of online charter schools. Their results are abysmal. The most EPIC charter scandals are associated with virtual charters like ECOT in Ohio, now bankrupt, and the A1 chain in California, where 11 people were indicted for the disappearance of more than $50 million in state funds.

Betsy’s ideas are a proven failure.

“In The Public Interest,” a nonpartisan organization that supports a healthy public sector, has identified eleven warning signs that privatizers are targeting your school district.

Read them and be prepared to defend your public schools from privatizers and profiteers!

Here are the first six. Open the link and learn about the other five:

As students, parents, educators, and school districts struggle to adjust to the Covid-19 pandemic, others see the crisis as an opportunity to escalate their efforts to further privatize public education. For years, “education reformers,” private companies that want to profit from public education dollars, and others have worked to undermine public education by privatizing all aspects of it—from charter schools, to contracted out bus services and cafeterias, to private testing companies, to software and hardware providers touting the benefits of virtual/online education.

With the current need for districts to rapidly switch to distance learning, many of these same privatization advocates and corporations are using the crisis and the resulting confusion as an opportunity to greatly expand their privatization agenda by offering to help solve some of the problems that the crisis is creating.

The pandemic is creating a fiscal crisis for state, local, and school district budgets and these same forces are also offering up privatization as the solution to these longer-term economic problems. Consequently, we are seeing a major push now by online (virtual) charter schools to greatly increase their number of enrolled students. We are also seeing a major push by “EdTech” companies (education software providers, online pre-packaged classes and tests, computer hardware, cloud computing companies, and others) to peddle their goods and services. These companies seek to offer their services as a way to radically reshape education and education budgets for the long term by dramatically cutting back on qualified classroom teachers and overhead expenses of brick-and-mortar schools.

What to watch for:

Public education advocates need to be vigilant to ensure that during this crisis no long-term commitments are made that increase the privatization of public education.

Below are eleven warning signs and some follow-up questions to help advocates determine whether and how privateers may be trying to make inroads in your school district.

1. Emergency powers have been requested, given, or exercised by superintendents that circumvent normal oversight rules.

• Have emergency powers been granted to district or state superintendents of education? What, if any, are the limits to those powers? When will the emergency powers end?
• How are school boards informed of decisions being made, contracts being entered into, etc., under those powers? Does the board have the authority to review or overturn those decisions?
• Are other emergency orders being put in place? What do they waive or change?
• Are there efforts to suspend open meetings and public records laws?

2. Procurement rules and processes are being suspended, overruled, or ignored.

• In response to the crisis, has your district, locality, or state suspended normal procurement rules?
• Are procurements being made outside the normal process?
• Are there guarantees ensuring that the district isn’t entering into long-term contracts?
• What, if any, transparency is there in the procurement and contracting process?
• Who is responsible for the contracting process and what monitoring and oversight is
there?

3. Virtual/online charter companies are expanding their outreach and recruitment of students.

• Have online charters increased their advertising and recruitment activity in your area?

4. Charter schools and their advocates are pushing to change or ignore authorization and oversight rules.

• Are charter schools attempting to change or relax authorization, oversight, and renewal guidelines?
• Are charter schools requesting or being granted increased funding or extensions on funding or renewal periods?
• Are existing charter schools seeking to expand enrollment caps?
• Are districts providing additional services or technology to charter schools?
• Are there efforts to suspend or disregard open meetings and public records laws for
charter schools?
• Are there efforts to create long-term distance learning contracts with charters?
• Who is monitoring charter schools for compliance with all legal requirements? Are all
the services being delivered?
• Are charter schools ignoring requests for information?

5. Existing charter schools and new charter schools are pushing for immediate charter expansion.

• Are charter school chains or management organizations seeking expansive contracts to provide larger scale education services or replace schools struggling before the crisis?
• Are charter schools advocating for new or additional facilities, or changes in rules regarding facilities?
• Are homeschool charters aggressively marketing payments to families to be used to pay for educational and enrichment programs or services?

6. Education technology companies (hardware and software companies, online testing and lesson planning companies, etc.) are aggressively soliciting the district offering immediate solutions.

• Are education technology companies approaching the district to provide services during the crisis? Which companies? What services? Will those services be needed after the crisis has passed?
• Are companies that already have contracts with the district being allowed to expand those contracts?
• Are companies offering free introductory contracts that are tied to long term obligations?
inthepublicinterest.org
• Are educational technology companies offering free hardware that requires the district to purchase or lease software or other services?
• All students do not have equal access to the Internet. What—if anything—is being done to ensure equal access?
• Who evaluates education technology software for cost and effectiveness? Are new contracts for education technology being executed? What are the durations and terms, and who is providing oversight?
• Is there a protocol for ensuring that student and educator data is secure? What is the policy for responding in the event of a data breach?

I earlier posted Rep. Rosa DeLauro’s outspoken criticism of Secretary DeVos for diverting CARES (coronavirus relief) funds to her pet projects (anything but public schools). DeVos wants to liberate America’s students from public schools, despite the fact that the legislation does not authorize her to follow her own wishes. DeVos has this wacky idea that learning online is “student-centered,” when it is not. We already know from experience and research that virtual charter schools are typically the worst schools in every state that has them.I should have first posted the DeVos announcement:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 27, 2020
Contact: Press Office
(202) 401-1576 or press@ed.gov

Secretary DeVos Launches New Grant Competition to Spark Student-Centered, Agile Learning Opportunities to Support Recovery from National Emergency

States can compete for more than $300 million to rethink education by creating flexible K-12 models, developing postsecondary tools that aid economic recovery

WASHINGTON — U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced today more than $300 million in discretionary grant funds will be available for states to use to create adaptable, innovative learning opportunities for K-12 and postsecondary learners in response to the COVID-19 national emergency. The grants will be funded through the Education Stabilization Fund (ESF), authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law by President Donald J. Trump.

“If our ability to educate is limited to what takes place in any given physical building, we are never going to meet the unique needs of every student,” said Secretary DeVos. “The current disruption to the normal model is reaffirming something I have said for years: we must rethink education to better match the realities of the 21st century. This is the time for local education leaders to unleash their creativity and ingenuity, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they do to provide education freedom and economic opportunity for America’s students.”

The CARES Act provides $307.5 million for these discretionary grants, which the Department will divide between two competitions: $180 million for the Rethink K-12 School Models Grant and $127.5 million for the Reimagining Workforce Preparation Grant.

The Rethink K-12 School Models Grant is aimed at opening new, innovative ways for students to access K-12 education with an emphasis on meeting students’ needs during the coronavirus national emergency. The competition is open to state educational agencies which can apply for funds in one of the three categories:

Microgrants for families, so that states can ensure they have access to the technology and educational services they need to advance their learning
Statewide virtual learning and course access programs, so that students will always be able to access a full range of subjects, even those not taught in the traditional or assigned setting
New, field-initiated models for providing remote education not yet imagined, to ensure that every child is learning and preparing for successful careers and lives
The full Notice Inviting Applications (NIA) will be available online today.

The Reimagining Workforce Preparation Grants are designed to expand short-term postsecondary programs and work-based learning programs in order to get Americans back to work and help small businesses return to being our country’s engines for economic growth. The full NIA for this competition will be issued later this week.

Secretary DeVos continued, “Current students and displaced workers will be navigating a very different job market and economy once America reopens. This competition is a tremendous opportunity for states to think creatively and strategically about what their workforce needs will be and how to support entrepreneurs and small business in order to get the economic engines in their states firing on all cylinders again.”

Application packages for these competitions will be available within two weeks. Applicants will then have 60 days to apply. As with most of the Department of Education’s discretionary grant competitions, applications will be evaluated by a panel of independent peer reviewers, and the highest-scoring applications will be funded. For additional information about how to apply, please visit https://oese.ed.gov/offices/education-stabilization-fund/states-highest-coronavirus-burden/.

The Department continues to update http://www.ed.gov/coronavirus with information on COVID-19 for students, parents, educators and local leaders.

For more information about COVID-19, please visit the following websites: coronavirus.gov, cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html, and usa.gov/coronavirus.

We have known for a long while that the worst scandals in the charter sector are intertwined with online learning and cyber charters. Consider the bankruptcy last year of ECOT (the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow) in Ohio, whose owner collected $1 billion from the state over nearly 20 years, but declared bankruptcy rather than pay the state $60 million for inflated enrollments.

Then there is the infamous A-1 scandal in California, where the owners and several cooperating school districts were indicted in San Diego nearly a year ago for the theft of $50 million from the state, a scheme that involved phantom students.

Yet here we are in the midst of a pandemic and most schools have been shutdown to protect students and staff from exposure to the coronavirus. Almost overnight, millions of students were required to continue learning by going online. The platforms are different, but tens of millions of students are engaged in distance learning.

Kathleen Porter-Magee of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute sees this asa fortuitous moment, an opportunity to revolutionize education. She calls it “A Revolution in Education, Born of a Necessity.”

She says, seize the moment.

She writes:

Said more simply: Those working “in the arena” to run great schools and support great teachers are charging full steam ahead to make the most of this period of remote learning. Those who have been quick to dismiss distance learning as “ineffective” are looking in the rearview mirror and imagining a world where past must be prologue, rather than embracing the innovation that this moment may well have sparked.

You will not be surprised to learn that I disagree. From what I see and read and hear, I believe that parents want to get back to their own work. They don’t want their children home all the time, learning at a screen. Those who want to home school are already doing it. More important, I think that students must miss their friends, their teachers, their social life, their teams and activities. Home Alone is a drag.

And then there is the inconvenient CREDO study of 2015, which found that students in virtual charter schools fell behind their peers in brick-and-mortar public schools. In a school year of 180 days, the online students lost 44 days in reading and 180 days in math.

If you want our whole society to go backwards, distance learning and cyber schooling will do it.