Virtual School Meanderings

December 1, 2011

Tactics of The Neo-Liberals/Conservatives in K-12 Online Learning

On Tuesday, I described that the Politics Of K-12 Online Learning is a real thing and, unlike those that are trying to claim otherwise, is based on ideological grounds.  On Wednesday, I described the neo-liberal and neo-conservative Ideologies of K-12 Online Learning.  Today I want to look at some of the tactics that these neo-liberals and neo-conservatives use when advocating on behalf of their ideologically motivated support of K-12 online learning.  Or rather, I want to examine how these ideological proponent react in the face of evidence against their cause…

As I see if, there are really three main strategies that I have seen employed on a regular basis and I’ll use some recent examples of negative items to illustrate each of these tactics.  The three tactics are:

  1. Claim methodological issues or that the finding is an irregularity.
  2. Jump on one small error or omission, while ignoring the overall focus on the piece.
  3. Ridicule your opponent, change the focus of the story, or duck the issue altogether.

To examine these tactics I will use the following pieces of negative attention:

Let’s look at the first negative piece: the NEPC’s report Online K-12 Schooling in the US: Uncertain Private Ventures in Need of Public Regulation.  The main message from this report is that there is little evidence to support the effectiveness of full-time K-12 online learning and that we need more regulation in this area to ensure that those with ideological motivations don’t take advantage of the situation for their own greed.  The report cites several recent examinations of full-time K-12 online learning performance in Minnesota and Colorado as evidence of the lack of research supporting this form of online learning.

Now, let’s examine some responses to that piece:

The first of these three responses (i.e., Union policy shop wants to stop learning online) is a blog entry by Tom Vander Ark, where he refers to the NEPC as a “union policy shop” and the report as a “hit piece.”  He begins by providing a slanted summary of the report, and then begins the duck and cover routine (i.e., tactic #3).  He writes things like: “Then they get to the point—they hate full time virtual schools.” or “The report raises a ridiculous set of concerns” or “there are (OMG!) for-profit companies involved in online learning.”  And then he cites his own resume and why he supports his position.  At no point does he really address any of the specific issues raised by the authors of this report, and he basically skirts the main message.

The second of these responses (i.e., “Unregulated” online learning providers?) is a blog entry written by Bruce Friend. In the NEPC report, the authors end with four specific areas of concern – in addition to the overall message that we should be cautious about throwing open the doors to this unproven form of educational delivery.  One of those four areas was concerns over the authentication of the source of students’ work.  Now I’ll be honest with you, I disagree with the NEPC authors that this is any more of a concern in the online environment than it is in the face-to-face environment.  But with that disagreement, I don’t lose sight of the overall message of the NEPC report. Friend on the other hand, uses this invalid NEPC concern as a reason why the report should be discredited (i.e., tactic #2).

The third response (i.e., Do Virtual Schools Need Regulation?) on the NEPC report is a blog entry from Rob Darrow.  Of the three entries, I’ll admit that Rob does the best job of summarizing what the report actually says (even copying and pasting the goals directly from the report).  Rob’s tact in attempting to discredit this report is to attack the methodology of the report.  Rob provides a laundry list of articles and reports that he feels the authors should have cited as a way to essentially discredit the comprehensiveness of the NEPC authors’ coverage of the research in our field.  What he is trying to say is that the NEPC report should be viewed in suspect terms because they, in his opinion, overlooked all of this other research.

Moving on to our second negative piece: The Nation‘s article on “How Online Learning Companies Bought America’s Schools.”  This article provides a list of who’s who in this ideological warfare to privatize America’s public schools through the use of online learning.  While I will acknowledge that some of the claims of conspiracy theories that the author makes may be stretching it a bit, the main purpose of the article is to highlight how a group of ideologically like-minded individuals, that all seem to be closely connected, are largely responsible for what appears to be a mass movement.  There are two good examples of the neo-liberal/neo-conservative response to this article.

The first response (i.e., The Nation’s Online Learning Omission / The Nation’s Online Learning Omission) is a blog entry by Bill Tucker that was posted on different two blogs.  Tucker’s blog entry provides what he sees as the summary and motivation of The Nation‘s article, and then points to the fact that the Florida Virtual School (FLVS) is a public institution (even though the mentions of the FLVS in the original article were focused on historical events or the infamous Florida Tax Watch report). Essentially, Tucker points what he feels is specific omission that the author has made in an attempt to discredit his work (i.e., tactic #2), and then goes on a tangent about the success of the FLVS, Standford’s Online School for the Gifted, and the North Carolina Virtual Public School (i.e., tactic #3).

In the second response (i.e., The Nation Hit Piece Had Little to do With What’s Good For Students), Tom Vander Ark uses his blog to do what Vander Ark does best.  He again refers to this negative piece as a “hit” piece, incorrectly describing it as a piece that was “condemning anyone promoting innovation in education” and saying that he wasn’t “even going to link to it because they embarrassed themselves.”  Then in true slapstick fashion, provides a “Top Ten List” of things they got wrong – which is another veiled attempt to ridicule the article (i.e., tactic #3).  The list itself has little to do with the article’s main point that a small group of well financed, well connected individuals are largely responsible for efforts to use online learning as a way to impose an ideological agenda on the American education system.

The third negative piece that I wanted to look at was The Wall Street Journal‘s article on “My Teacher Is an App.”  This article does a pretty good job of setting the stage for what full-time online learning might look like (both from the student’s standpoint if you were watching them to what is actually happening online with their descriptions of different levels of teacher interaction and involvement), accurately describing the current state of practice of full-time K-12 online learning, when questioning the results from these programs by looking at some of the recent evidence that has found students in these cyber charter schools performing at lower levels than their brick-and-mortar counterparts (but giving column inches to those involved in the practice to justify and talk away these negative findings)…  Overall a fairly reasonable and balanced piece – at least in my opinion.  However, not everyone saw it like me.

The first response (i.e., WSJ Picks Problems, Misses the Promise of Learning Online) is a blog entry written by Tom Vander Ark.  His response follows the usual pattern, as he accuses the authors of focusing on the negative realities instead of the future promise – basically a strategy that says ignore what is actually happening and focus on what could happen.  Then he reverts to another list (only top eight this time – maybe David Letterman’s people called and complained about his usage of the “Top Ten”).  If you examine the list, you’ll see examples like: “The article points to lower math scores and less progress for full time online students.  I’m afraid this is just not an accurate comparison.  Like charter schools, the longer students stay in online schools the better they do.” (i.e., tactic #2).  The research that Vander Ark is pointing to is not an accurate comparison either because the longer a charter school (and the same can be said about an online charter school) is around the more effective they become at weeding out lower performing students (which raises the charter school’s overall performance, and because those lower performing students return to their traditional public schools it further lowers their comparative performance).  I will acknowledge that the research the article cites is probably not an apples to apples comparison, the research Vander Ark is pointing to is also not an apples to apples comparison.  There are several other platitude statements in his list, but none that actually have the support in research.  For example, Vander Ark writes “They call the Florida Virtual history course a video game and suggest kids breeze through it.  Conspiracy Code is an innovative game-based approach to both English and history that  engages students and build persistence but is certainly no less rigorous than a traditional course.”  However, there has yet to be an published, independent research on student performance using that game.  Vander Ark concludes his blog entry with a list of six things that the author missed.  This list includes similar unsupported statements.  For example, the third item is that “Online is accountable.”  If you’ve been following the news coming out of Virgina this week (see Will Virginia’s first virtual school report separate test results?), there is little accountability built into many system (also, look at the main point of the NEPC report above).

In the second response (i.e., “My Teacher is an App” Thoughts about the article), another blog entry, Rob Darrow provides a response to both The Wall Street Journal article and a blog entry written by Will Richardson.  Similar to the earlier entry above, Rob relies upon the tactics of questioning methodology (i.e., tactic #2), while failing to consider the methodological limitations of some of the research he cites himself.  For example, in responding to a statement above graduation rates and what can be done about the low numbers in some jurisdictions, Rob writes “Online or blended learning can do this and research has shown this.”  The link simply takes you to a main links page on Rob’s consulting website that on face value contains no research.  If you cared to stick around and explore a bit, the links on the side provide alphabetical lists of articles reports and other literature – some research-based, others not – that you can scroll through.  Not sure exactly what research Rob intends for us to look at, but I can guarantee the casual reader would have no idea where to begin (hell, I’m considered an expert in this area, I didn’t know where to begin).  As another example, in response to a comment about the amount and quality of teacher interaction, Rob concludes his point by writing “Online teachers in many cases interact more with students individually online than they do face-to-face.  (As one example, see Lowes et al, 2007).”  First, notice the qualifier that “in many cases” – which of course opens the door for the statement “but in many other cases…”  Second, the research that Rob cites is a single study into a four week professor development course for teachers at six different schools in three different states.  Are we to assume that teachers from six schools in three different states will have the same experience as 16 year olds or 12 year olds of 8 year olds?  Finally, in another one of Rob’s responses related to student performance, he writes:

Most students who enroll in full time online charter schools do so because they have either been pushed out (behavior, attendance or credit deficiency issues) or become disenchanted by traditional public schools. (See: Zimmer et al, 2009).  The challenge for any  school other than traditional public schools is the same:  how to erase past negative  educational experiences to promote a love of learning and how to promote longevity of attendance.  The current reality is that many students enroll in charter or online charter schools for a year or less and then move to a different school – sometimes another charter, sometimes another traditional school and sometimes just drop out.

What he is saying here is that the sample for these cyber charter schools are often skewed towards the lower end of the scale and straight-up comparisons aren’t a fair representation – essentially it is comparing apples and oranges.  I don’t disagree with Rob here.  But where is this concern for skewed sample when Rob is referring to the research that shows K-12 online learning is effective?

The final negative piece I wanted to use as an illustration is the I-News Network and Education News Colorado 10-month investigation on online K-12 schools in Colorado.  Essentially, this was a comparison of student performance of these full-time K-12 online learning programs or cyber charter schools in the State of Colorado.  The three-part series basically says that students in these cyber charter schools do not perform as well as students in the face-to-face environment (part two).  The series also underscored the fact that these cyber charter schools often receive the funding for the student on the state’s count day, but the students regularly drop out of their online programs and return to their brick-and-mortar schools.  However, the cyber charter schools still get to keep the money and the brick-and-mortar school is left having to educate a child that they didn’t get funding for (part one).  Finally, that the state has little oversight or system of accountability for these cyber charter schools (part three).  There are three responses to this series that I want to discuss:

The first response (i.e., Colorado’s crummy policies lead to crummy virtual schools) comes to us from a blog entry written by Michael Horn.  As you can tell from the title of this entry, the first tactic that Michael uses is tactic #3.  He ignores the fact that the corporation that are running these cyber charter schools are making profit from students that they aren’t providing any education to, and blames the Government (recall McChesney’s [1999] description of the neo-liberal initiatives, “undermine the dead hand of the incompetent, bureaucratic and parasitic government, that can never do good”).  Then he changes his strategy to address the unfavourable student comparison by stating, “As I’ve written numerous times, studying whether online learning is more or less effective than traditional learning is invariably asking the wrong question.” (i.e., tactic #2).  The problem is that in the very next paragraph, he begins with “And just because many studies show that on average online and blended learning work better than does face-to-face learning.”  The link is a blog entry, where Michael is extolling the value of blended and online learning because of a study that asked the wrong question of whether online learning is more or less effective than traditional learning, but got the right answer this time.

The second response (i.e., Moving away from a count date in Colorado) is a blog entry posted by the executive of one of the for-profit cyber charter companies.  In this entry the corporate executive also ignores the fact that his company is making a lot of money by not servicing students that they are getting funded to service, and again blames the Government of Colorado and its policies (i.e., tactic #3).  After spending some time blaming the Government, he then moves to the issue of student performance where he cites that:

  • In 2010, COVA graduated 100% of students on time (in 4 years) who were enrolled in the school since their freshman year.
  • COVA students showed strong academic growth scores based on widely used and nationally-recognized Scantron Performance Series Assessments.  COVA students exceeded the Scantron national norm group in math and reading.

What these figures don’t count are students that removed themselves from the program during the COVA’s four week trial period, in which a student can drop out of the program and not be considered ever having enrolled (i.e., tactics #2).  The one study out there that has examined these trial periods (and also completion definitions) found that K-12 online learning programs often use these trial periods as a way to weed out students who will be unsuccessful; sending them back to the brick-and-mortar schools to inflate their lower range scores.

The final response to this series (i.e., Take Another Look at Colorado Online Results) was a blog entry written by a staffer at Getting Smart (another initiative founded by Tom Vander Ark).  This entry follows the same pattern as the other two: it begins by blaming the Government policy, but makes no mention of the legalize theft of educational tax dollars (i.e., tactic #3) and then cites methodologically limited research countering the series claims that students performed lower in these full-time K-12 online learning programs (i.e., tactic #2).

Now I could go on and pick just about any negative piece that has come out about K-12 online learning in the past three years and find examples of these three tactics in action.  These are just some recent examples, and are by no means an exhaustive coverage of any of these four negative pieces.  Early next week (i.e., Monday or Tuesday), I’ll conclude this discussion with some thoughts on my own position in light of this ideologically co-option of K-12 online learning, and its continued assault on public education.

24 Comments »

  1. Michael,

    In summarizing my response to the article in The Nation, you’ve used many of the tactics that you illustrate above. It is not at all a small omission for the writer of an extensively researched article on privatization and online learning to prominently mention the country’s largest virtual school four separate times and fail to note that it’s a public entity. This type of omission greatly oversimplifies the reality and as I note in my post, leaves the reader with the idea that online learning = privatization. While someone with your knowledge of the field knows that does not have to be the case, that is what the casual reader is left with.

    You characterize my position as “neo-liberal.” You define this in an earlier post as: “guided by a vision of the weak state. Thus, what is private is necessarily good and what is public is necessarily bad.”

    Ironically, in my response to The Nation (and in a number of other articles I’ve written), I’m making the exact opposite case: I’m highlighting the ability of the public sector to innovate and succeed. That’s also why I mentioned both the NC Virtual Public School and also the Communities in Schools nonprofit/public school collaborations. While I don’t share your aversion to the private sector, I think it’s critical to emphasize that it’s not the only route to developing online learning.

    Since you are writing about political viewpoints, let me be explicit. Often, progressives treat online learning as if it was an invasive species to be feared, rather than an opportunity to help solve ongoing educational challenges. Progressives put themselves in an untenable position when they reflectively oppose any changes to education systems and when they can’t offer an alternative viewpoint of how to take advantage of these opportunities in the right way. I reacted to The Nation article because it perpetuates this destructive frame.

    The reality is that just as modern workplaces bridge multiple online and offline communications modes, the future for education is neither a fully virtual nor a parallel system, but an integrated one. The overwhelming majority of students will continue to attend physical schools. However, increasing numbers of students will also take courses or parts of courses online, moving back and forth seamlessly between the traditional and virtual—just as they do in every other aspect of their lives. I don’t think we disagree on this.

    Thus, online learning does not have to be an alternative to public education, but a way in which public education begins to connect all the assets—families, communities, youth development organizations, etc.—into learning opportunities that transcend physical boundaries. This could offer amazing opportunities for youth, but may also be very disruptive to traditional institutions and in-school/out-of-school boundaries. We’ll need all sectors—public, private, and nonprofit—to make this work. But, since many of these changes are going to happen regardless, it’s especially important that progressives — and the public sector — not retreat into a defensive posture. Public institutions and most importantly, teachers, should embrace new organizational forms and options, focusing on opportunity and equity rather than a specific mode of education.

    Comment by Bill Tucker — December 1, 2011 @ 11:28 am | Reply

    • Bill, sorry your two attempts at responding initially ended up in my spam filter (not a commentary on the content of your remarks I’m sure).

      If you look at what I wrote about your response to The Nation‘s article, I don’t characterize your response specifically as neo-liberal. I have simply used it as an example of tactics that both neo-liberals and neo-conservatives use. Although your faith in the free market to solve all of the problems ailing the education system (consistent with the view of your non-partisan thinktank) would generally fall into that category. Based on reading everything you have written about K-12 online learning, I personally feel comfortable in placing you in that neo-liberal camp – even if you don’t meet every characteristic 100%. In much the same way I have difficulty in placing myself between classical liberalism and socialism, as some of the descriptors of each describe me fairly well.

      I don’t think I’ve characterized your response to The Nation‘s article incorrectly. In every reference that the authors of that article make in reference to the FLVS, they do so in relation to its activities on the for-profit front (namely its K-5 partnership with Connections). The first reference – “SB 2262, a bill to allow the creation of private virtual charters, vastly expanding the Florida Virtual School program, languished and died in committee.” Now if the authors mistakenly believe that all FLVS is a private virtual charter school, I’d agree with you. But just a bit later they specifically reference the K-5 program, “His education law expanded the Florida Virtual School to grades K-5, authorized the spending of public funds on new for-profit virtual schools and created a requirement that all high school students take at least one online course before graduation.” The next reference to FLVS is simply a statement of fact based on the Florida Tax Watch report, “In some cases, as in Florida, where educating students at the Florida Virtual School costs nearly $2,500 less than at traditional schools, such reform has been sold as a budget fix.” The fourth and final reference states “It also contracts with Florida Virtual School to provide cloud computer solutions,” the it in this instance is Microsoft – where the authors are arguing that Microsoft is using the FLVS. Looking at these four references, you’d have to ignore the fact that the thrust of the article is about for-profit entities involvement in K-12 online learning to come to the logical conclusion that these authors think FLVS is a private sector company. In fact, this is what I suggested you did with your response. Ignore the main message to argue one of the specifics – and a questionable one at that – in an attempt to discredit the remaining four screens of information.

      Its interesting that you write:

      Often, progressives treat online learning as if it was an invasive species to be feared, rather than an opportunity to help solve ongoing educational challenges. Progressives put themselves in an untenable position when they reflectively oppose any changes to education systems and when they can’t offer an alternative viewpoint of how to take advantage of these opportunities in the right way.

      Given that progressive are generally painted as being wrong, as wanting to hold students back, to chain them to their desks in industrial age drop-out factories, and that anyone who questions the infinite wisdom of the neo-liberal/neo-conservative agenda is not working in the best interest of the students. In this kind of black and white environment that has been painted in the United States, can you blame most progressive for not trying to engage in shades of gray discussions? The funny thing about this is if you go beyond the United States, progressive institutions in other jurisdictions – like teachers’ unions for example – are quite supportive of K-12 online learning. I think the problem is if you keep poking a guy with a stick, eventually he’ll start taking swings at you. Proponents of K-12 online learning have been poking progressives for quite some time now. Are you really surprised they’ve responded with the same kind of all or nothing, black or white perspective on the issue?

      Your reaction to The Nation‘s article wasn’t a shades of gray response. In much the same way Michael Horn opposed any regulation that restricts K-12 online learning, your response was not to say that based on one of four references to the Florida Virtual School in a four screen article that there may be ambiguity about whether FLVS was a public or private sector organization. You’re response was that the article was poorly researched because the authors weren’t perfectly clear on that one reference and it did little to add to the discussion, even in your comment about “perpetuates this destructive frame” above reflects this. The reality is that this article does a lot to add to the discussion because few people within the field of K-12 online learning, let along those outside of the field, understand the neo-liberal/neo-conservative perspective of K-12 online learning and the corporate forces pushing that agenda (largely in the form of non-partisan organizations).

      Comment by mkbnl — December 1, 2011 @ 2:25 pm | Reply

      • Michael,

        We’ll have to agree to disagree on the extent of the omission in the article.

        I am not surprised by the “all or nothing, black or white perspective” that you write about. I also understand where the defensive reaction comes from. Still, I find it both counter-productive and self-defeating. For example, per your point above, teachers unions in the United States have also been quite supportive of online learning (though not private enterprise involvement). But, it’s also no surprise that if progressives frame the issue in terms of unions vs privatization, then unions will oppose online learning. That’s what I meant by a destructive frame.

        I do, though, take strong exceptions to your inaccurate characterizations of my views and work:

        “Although your faith in the free market to solve all of the problems ailing the education system (consistent with the view of your non-partisan thinktank) would generally fall into that category.”

        This is flat-out wrong and would be quite surprising to those with those beliefs that I regularly critique. Here, for example, is my critique of the regulation-free approach of the Digital Learning Now effort (http://www.quickanded.com/2010/12/digital-learning-council-recommendations-missing-details-on-quality.html):

        “But, while the recommendations accurately identify the barriers that constrain virtual education, they are light on details for ensuring that innovation actually leads to more high-quality educational options. They suggest, for example, that states evaluate “the quality of content and courses predominately based on student learning data,” yet provide few details on how to accomplish this difficult task. Likewise, recommendations for “Quality Providers” focus heavily on the removal of barriers to competition, but offer little discussion of how to enact the recommendation for “a strong system of oversight and quality control.” Too often, the recommendations assume that quality will naturally result from regulatory relief.

        Virtual education is in a time of rapid growth as school districts, for-profit providers, and nonprofit start-ups all move into the online learning world. But without rigorous oversight, a thousand flowers blooming will also yield a lot of weeds. In many ways, the K-12 virtual learning market called for by the 10 Elements resembles the one that exists in higher education, with many providers and funding that follows students. There, we have seen innovative ideas to make college more accessible and affordable. And, we’ve also seen a lot of abuse, poor performance, and deep-pocketed lobbying to resist oversight — all from institutions that are fully-accredited.”

        This need for a balance of both innovation and regulation is a constant theme in my work. And, I’ve consistently called out bad actors and poor performance. For example:

        * http://www.educationsector.org/publications/developing-public-agenda-virtual-learning,
        * http://www.educationsector.org/sites/default/files/publications/OhioE-SchoolsBlogSeries_RELEASE.pdf
        * http://www.educationsector.org/publications/lessons-online-learning
        * http://www.educationsector.org/publications/four-implementation-challenges-high-quality-digital-learning
        * http://www.quickanded.com/2011/10/laura-johnsons-unhappy-online-learning-journey.html
        * http://www.quickanded.com/2011/10/state-online-learning-reports-reveal-growth-concerns.html

        Thank you for the opportunity to trade ideas and perspectives. In the future, though, I would appreciate if you checked your assumptions and claims about either my writing or my politics. And, we’d all do a lot better if we engaged with the actual content of ideas rather than the labels we apply to them.

        Comment by Bill Tucker — December 1, 2011 @ 3:11 pm

      • Bill, your comment “teachers unions in the United States have also been quite supportive of online learning (though not private enterprise involvement)” surprises me. I know the the one cyber charter school in Pennsylvania that is unionized, but beyond that I haven’t seen much in the way of support. There was only an article yesterday about a teachers union in California trying to ban all online courses at public schools (see The California Teachers Union Is Close To Banning Online Courses At State Schools). Wasn’t it the teachers’ union in Wisconsin that brought about the court case that caused all of the legislative changes three or so years ago? Doesn’t Terry Moe and Paul Peterson regularly talk about online learning as being something that will cause teachers’ unions to lose pretty much all influence within the education system? This is a far cry from the PPTA in New Zealand who complain that their Ministry of Education is not doing enough to support e-learning in their country or the OSSTF passing a resolution that states that online learning should be available to all Ontario students.

        As for your position, it is an interesting set of readings you sent. And like I said in my earlier comment, I fully acknowledge that most people don’t meet all of the characteristics of these political labels all of the time. For example, I thought your reviews of the Fordham papers and the Ohio eSchools series, as well as your commentary on the recent New York Times pieces, were basically arguing the case made by neo-liberal proponents of K-12 online learning.

        And I think these labels are important, as these labels provide a lot of information that is often covered by the surface speak. With all this talk about the best interests of the students, and no mention about the McDonaldization of public education, it is difficult for someone not familiar with these issues to get a full appreciation for the situation. When I speak with my colleagues in Canada and elsewhere outside of the United States, they really don’t understand why people oppose what the proponents of educational reform are proposing because everything they say makes intuitive sense to them. They just don’t understand what is behind the coded language that someone like yourself understands. While I wouldn’t put you into the same category that I place Michael Horn and Tom Vander Ark, faith in the free market – even a free market with some minor regulations – still characterizes your general view.

        Comment by mkbnl — December 1, 2011 @ 3:44 pm

      • Michael,

        What you are missing is that the opposition to online learning in the cases you cite is not necessarily about online learning, but often about opposition to charters or private entities. Given the large numbers of districts that are now starting their own online learning programs, there are many unionized teachers involved in these activities. There are also a number of entities in the middle, such as Florida Virtual School. They are not unionized, but have not faced strong opposition.

        In fact, the NEA, the nation’s largest teachers union, has recognized the potential for the virtual teaching environment to improve the entire profession, explaining that “online teaching can extend the boundaries of the profession, making it more flexible, more creative, and in a word, more professional.”* The NEA has produced two booklets discussing the virtues of online education and, in 2002, adopted a policy statement that aligns with virtual school leaders on a key issue—the ability for qualified teachers to teach across state lines.**

        It’s clear that teaching online has quite a different structure than the traditional unionized school and that changes are in store for the profession. It remains to be seen whether unions embrace this and write their own stories about the future or just react defensively to stories from those like Moe.

        * National Education Association, Guide to Teaching Online Courses (Washington, D.C., 2006), available online at http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/onlineteachguide.pdf.

        **See National Education Association’s policy statement on “Distance Education” adopted by the 2002 Representative Assembly, along with Guide to Teaching Online Courses and Guide to Online High School Courses.

        Comment by Bill Tucker — December 1, 2011 @ 4:14 pm

      • Bill, I’m the first to admit that I don’t believe this to be a black and white issue (in fact I was the first to admit that above). At is base level, the Wisconsin court case was about the fact that the Government of Wisconsin was breaking its own education laws with how it allowing at least one cyber charter school to operate. But at this stage of the development of K-12 online learning, I’m not sure you can simply divorce online learning from its market driven application as easy as you are implying that it can be. I also wonder if lack of opposition can really be taken to mean that they are supportive? As you’ve pointed out, there are clearly bigger fish to fry in the K-12 online learning field.

        I’m also not sure that a position from a nine year old policy paper is still a valid reflection of the organization’s current beliefs! Back in 2002 there very few cyber charter schools, the vast majority of online learning were supplemental students taking advanced or Advanced Placement mathematics, science and second language courses. These students were attending schools where these courses were in most cases just not offered. A lot has changed in the field and practice of K-12 online learning in those nine years!

        A lot has changed in the educational reform movement in those nine years! For example, in 2002 Diane Ravitch was still out promoting her two year old book entitled Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform. Given that you know the politics of education reform, is this still reflective of Ms. Ravitch’s views on the matter?

        Comment by mkbnl — December 1, 2011 @ 5:20 pm

      • Bill, if you listen to the author of that The Nation article here, he indicates very early in the interview that he knows FLVS is a non-profit entity.

        Comment by mkbnl — December 2, 2011 @ 8:01 pm

  2. Maybe we were twins, but i completely agree with you. To many people, both left and right, both advocates and opponents, see only black and white, ignoring simple truths that are an important part of the conversation. Yes, it doesn’t help when hit pieces from either side go overboard, but each side must acknowledge the seeds of truth and deal with them. the first three paragraphs of my last post say so much. Well done.

    Comment by Brian Bridges (@bbridges51) — December 1, 2011 @ 11:29 am | Reply

    • Brian, I don’t think that anything listed above is a “hit” piece. I think that Vander Ark describes them that way because they touch a nerve by hitting a little too close to home. Regardless, he (and others) miss the overall message by getting caught up in the details – or maybe they do get the larger point and realize the full implications of it and that’s why they feel the need to discredit it.

      Comment by mkbnl — December 1, 2011 @ 12:09 pm | Reply

  3. Hmm, neo-liberals and neo-conservatives, never thought of the ongoing conversation like that. A very thoughtful post. I never really thought of what I write as a “tactic” but, I think you have named all of them. I do like to refrain from Tactic 3 (ridicule your opponent), although I don’t think of this as having an opponent. But, I would agree that Tactic 1 and 2 (methodological issues and one small omission) are the ones I most see from others. I believe you have illustrated the importance of good methodology in research in many of your posts.

    Regarding your comment about the “research” on my website (“Not sure exactly what research Rob intends for us to look at”) , your research is listed along with others. And, you are right, the research and reports listed on my website are just that: some of it is “research” and some of it is “reports”…just like the articles and reports mentioned in this blog post…part of the ongoing conversation and narrative about online learning. Glad to have the ongoing academic interchange and dialogue because this will make the entire profession and research about online learning stronger.

    Comment by Rob Darrow, Ed.D. — December 1, 2011 @ 11:42 am | Reply

    • Rob, without re-reading the entry, I don’t believe that I accuse you of tactic three – which isn’t just ridiculing your opponent, but also includes changing the subject or other non-debating strategies. Having said that, I would place you squarely in the camp of neo-liberals/neo-conservatives that I have been discussing this week (and I don’t mean that as an insult, in the same way that I don’t consider calling myself a left-leaning liberal or right-leaning socialist an insult).

      On the “Not sure exactly what research Rob intends for us to look at” comment, what I meant was that you essentially provide a link that gives the whole body of K-12 online learning research. But you provide it in specific reference to online or blended learning can help improve graduation rates. I think it would take the average reader of your blog quite some time to sift through all of that research to find specific evidence that online and blended learning can help improve graduation rates. Compare that with how you used Lowes et al. (2007) in the other piece where you sent the reader to a specific piece of literature that you felt supported your statement.

      Comment by mkbnl — December 1, 2011 @ 12:07 pm | Reply

  4. [...] Tactics of The Neo-Liberals/Conservatives in K-12 Online Learning [...]

    Pingback by Statistics For November 2011 « Virtual School Meanderings — December 3, 2011 @ 6:24 pm | Reply

  5. [...] one of my entries last week (see Tactics of The Neo-Liberals/Conservatives in K-12 Online Learning) I mentioned an article from The Nation, well the author was on this radio show – as was [...]

    Pingback by WGCU – Virtual Education « Virtual School Meanderings — December 6, 2011 @ 10:59 am | Reply

  6. Mike – Mike you couldn’t have hit the nail much harder on the head. I rattled something off about this in my G+ the other day (https://plus.google.com/u/1/115865267746976977369/posts/FtFRd6pnxWj) but your post really helped cement it. Well done.

    Comment by Glenn — December 13, 2011 @ 5:29 pm | Reply

    • I saw your Google+ post and read through both documents. My biggest concern in all of this is generally coming from supposedly unbiased or non-partisan organizations. While some of us can see through these claims to understand their ideological agenda, the average John Q Public can’t and largely trusts these claims of not having a dog in this fight.

      Comment by mkbnl — December 13, 2011 @ 5:57 pm | Reply

  7. [...] the beginning of the month, I posted the entry Tactics of The Neo-Liberals/Conservatives in K-12 Online Learning (after posting Politics Of K-12 Online Learning and Ideologies of K-12 Online Learning).  In [...]

    Pingback by Tactics of The Neo-Liberals/Conservatives in K-12 Online Learning – Part Two « Virtual School Meanderings — December 20, 2011 @ 1:03 pm | Reply

  8. [...] past month, I described in two entries the tactics that the neo-liberal and neo-conservative proponents of K-12 online learning use when reacting to [...]

    Pingback by Critiquing K-12 Online Learning « Virtual School Meanderings — December 28, 2011 @ 8:59 am | Reply

  9. [...] Tactics of The Neo-Liberals/Conservatives in K-12 Online Learning [...]

    Pingback by Statistics For December 2011 « Virtual School Meanderings — December 31, 2011 @ 11:27 pm | Reply

  10. [...] learning.  Now if you actually take a look at the entry in question, they use one of the common tactics of the neo-liberals/conservatives in K-12 online learning that I have outlined in the past – “Ridicule your [...]

    Pingback by EDTECH597 – Commentary Entry: Examining The Neo-Liberal Response To The North Carolina Cyber Charter School Case « Virtual School Meanderings — July 25, 2012 @ 8:01 am | Reply

  11. [...] Tactics of The Neo-Liberals/Conservatives in K-12 Online Learning [...]

    Pingback by iNACOL 10 Weeks of Activities for Better Blogging: Week 10 – Putting It All Together « Virtual School Meanderings — January 4, 2013 @ 8:16 am | Reply

  12. [...] Tactics of The Neo-Liberals/Conservatives in K-12 Online Learning [...]

    Pingback by Statistics for March 2013 | Virtual School Meanderings — April 1, 2013 @ 7:54 am | Reply

  13. […] whatsoever.  Essentially, they use many of the strategies that I have outlined before (see Tactics of The Neo-Liberals/Conservatives in K-12 Online Learning and Tactics of The Neo-Liberals/Conservatives in K-12 Online Learning – Part Two).  In this […]

    Pingback by EDTECH597 – Commentary Entry: Examining The “Understanding And Improving Virtual Schools” Report And The Reponse To The Report | Virtual School Meanderings — July 9, 2013 @ 8:00 am | Reply

  14. […] a two-part entry on the Tactics of The Neo-Liberals/Conservatives in K-12 Online Learning (see Part One here and Part Two here).  I mention this because there was an illustration of these tactics last […]

    Pingback by K12, Inc. School Misleads And Misdirects | Virtual School Meanderings — October 15, 2013 @ 8:09 am | Reply

  15. […] Tactics of The Neo-Liberals/Conservatives in K-12 Online Learning […]

    Pingback by Statistics For 2013 | Virtual School Meanderings — January 1, 2014 @ 3:27 pm | Reply


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