by Max Brantley
Connections Academy is a division of Connections Education, LLC, which is owned by the UK-based, publicly-traded international media conglomerate Pearson PLC (LSE:PSON, NYSE:PSO).On-hand to defend the application — including responding to national findings of poor math performance by on-line charters generally — was a University of Arkansas professor and Arkansas legislators, Sen. Bart Hester and Rep. Jim Dotson. Walton-paid charter school lobbyist Gary Newton is also tweeting cheers fromj the sidelines. They happen to rely heavily on conservative corporate sources for their campaign financing, including Walmart money.
The company's website says it provides "free" services since it does not charge students, but the services are far from free as they divert taxpayer dollars from the public school system to a private for-profit firm, Connections Education, that made an estimated $190 million in revenue in 2011. (Pearson's total revenues in 2014 were approximately $7.75 billion, with an adjusted operating profit of approximately $1.15 billion.)
Connections Academy contracts with public school districts and charter schools to provide online classes for K-12 students. Connections Academy operated 33 schools in 2013 and had more than 62,000 "Full Time Equivalent students" in 2014. But some of those schools are failing. In September 2013, Politico reported that, "Ohio’s six biggest cyber schools all got Fs on their state progress reports, meaning students learned nowhere near a year’s worth of material in a year of studying online." Ohio Connections Academy received $19.2 million in taxpayer funds for 3,123 students, but those students are failing to meet adequate yearly progress by large margins (-11.3 in reading, -15.7 in math, -17.2 overall.)
Connections Academy has ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and other organizations promoting a for-profit educational model from which it stands to benefit financially. Both on its own and as a member of ALEC, Connections Academy has pushed a national agenda to replace brick and mortar classrooms with computers and replace actual teachers with "virtual" teachers. Many have questioned the company's extraordinary revenues, generated at taxpayers' expense. There has also been criticism of the quality of the teachers, the lack of government oversight and democratic accountability, as well as the appropriateness of taking children as young as five out of a classroom of their peers and putting them in front of a computer screen, according to the Washington Post.