by Max Brantley
Required reading for the Arkansas Board of Education, Arkansas legislators and anyone interested in "school reform":
It's a major investigation by the New York Times into on-line schools, "virtual charter schools" or however you want to style them. This is directly relevant here because the article focuses on K12 Inc.. And what is K12? It is a for-profit corporation. In the anything-goes-Huckabee era, K12 (founded by William "Slot Machine King" Bennett) drove the formation of the Arkansas Virtual Academy, which reaps significant amounts of public tax dollars for the corporate sponsor. Its expansionist vision has mostly been restrained here. But it never quits trying. It was denied an expansion from 500 to 1,500 students in June
And what does the NYT find generally about the virtual charters?
* They amount to a public subsidy for home schoolers.
* The teachers made available to work with students on-line are underpaid and have crushing student loads.
* Profit for the private investors appears to be their most important product. (No kidding. They get per-pupil tax money equivalent to schools that have cafeterias, gyms, labs, principals, real teachers instead of parent volunteers, computers, equipment, desks, etc.)
* Student results are uninspiring (a study shows only one in three of the "virtual schools" are making acceptable progress as measured by No Child Left Behind Standards).
My favorite nugget in the story was a quote from a K12 executive that the outfit's "core competency" was lobbying public officials. Not children. Not education. Lobbying — on which the company spends huge sums. As the Times put it, the online charters "score better on Wall Street than in classrooms." Said the Times:
... a portrait emerges of a company that tries to squeeze profits from public school dollars by raising enrollment, increasing teacher workload and lowering standards.
Current and former staff members of K12 Inc. schools say problems begin with intense recruitment efforts that fail to filter out students who are not suited for the program, which requires strong parental commitment and self-motivated students. Online schools typically are characterized by high rates of withdrawal.
Said an education researcher:
“These folks are fundamentally trying to do to public education what the banks did with home mortgages.”
In other words, the profiteers get the public's money. If the students fail, society pays, not K12.
Speaking of charter schools: Here's another dirty little secret about how many of them operate. They don't make accommodations for disabled students, as conventional school districts are required to do.