Virtual School Meanderings

December 20, 2011

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

At 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 that first entry, I indicated that the neo-liberal and neo-conservative proponents of K-12 online learning use three main tactics:

  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.

In that entry, I neglected one that is also a very common tactic – the use of isolated, individual cases as representative of their field.  This is most often manifested by using examples of students and parents.

One recent example of this was an entry that Tom Vander Ark posted in response to the New York Times article entitled, “Profits and Questions at Online Charter Schools.”  Tom posted an entry entitled 10 Parents Respond to the New York Times’ Hit Piece, where he presented stories from ten parents from a variety of states that tell a story about how wonderful and successful cyber charter schooling is.  Yet as we have already seen in the investigative report entries from Colorado and Arizona that I posted earlier today that there are as many students that cyber charter schools fail, as there are students that find success in these environments.

This tactics is designed to pull on the heart strings of the reader or the legislator, that without the opportunity to attend a cyber charter school that these students or these parents would have had no opportunity for education success for themselves or their children.  The fact of the matter is, for each student that these neo-liberals and neo-conservatives trot out, the other side could trot out an equal number who have been failed by cyber charter schools (and I often wonder why they don’t sometimes).

Another good example is this Letter from the Heart, written by a parent of a student attending Arizona Connections Academy.  The letter talks about the parent’s child and her special interest in ballet, an interest that she has been able to pursue because she is able to learn online.  Essentially, online learning is working for this student.  These profiles or portraits – like those in Tom’s blog entry – are presented to prove that full-time online learning is a good thing and that students like this young lady are the norm.  However, if we look at the investigative report that I posted this morning from Arizona, one of the articles provides how some of the larger online schools in Arizona are performing.  Take a look for yourself (note that this includes both full-time and supplemental):


AIMS reading passing rate

AIMS math passing rate

State label*

State grade (A-D)

Graduation rate (2008-09)







Primavera Online High School**






Arizona Virtual Academy






Pinnacle Online High School






Arizona Connections Academy






Sequoia Choice Arizona Distance






Mesa Distance Learning (Mesa
Public Schools)






Note that not a single full-time online school in Arizona is able to match the state average for the percentage of students who are proficient in reading or mathematics and none are able to match the state’s graduation rate.  The only schools that reach the state-wide average in any category is the Arizona Connections Academy and Mesa Distance Learning, which has a higher percentage of students proficient in reading than the state average (while Arizona Virtual Academy is only one percentage lower in this category too).

Based on this data, it appears that any student profiled from any of these programs is the exception to the norm.  Most of these students would have fared as well or better had they stayed in an average brick-and-mortar school (and I will acknowledge that some of these students do come from below average schools).

The bottom line is that this tactic is designed to get people to believe that the students and parents profiled would not have found success unless the cyber charter option was available to them, and that they are representative of the whole population of cyber charter families.  Clearly, this is not the case and the other side should do a better job putting students who have been failed by the cyber charter system front and center to counter this political marketing tactic.


  1. I just want to say that your postings on this topic have been very helpful in framing the discussion. It is far too easy to only see the dominant perspective in which I am currently marinating…



    Comment by Dennis — December 20, 2011 @ 7:29 pm | Reply

    • No problem Dennis. I’ve been trying to push this counter narrative for some time now. For most of that time it has been focused on the research side of things, trying to counter that dominant view that K-12 online learning is automatically effective (and by virtue of the fact that it is online that it must be high quality). Over the past semester, I have wanted to spend more time and more of my writing on countering the dominant narrative when it comes to the ideologically reasons why people have been supporting this movement.

      Comment by mkbnl — December 20, 2011 @ 7:36 pm | Reply

  2. […] 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 these kinds of articles.  As you all know, my […]

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

  3. […] 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 opponent, change the focus of the […]

    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

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

    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

  5. […] 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 instance, the main tactics are to “claim methodological issues” and […]

    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

  6. […] 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 week that was just […]

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

  7. […] In this instance, I am picking on Connections Academy, largely because they were the ones that scrolled through my stream with the same ad on about six different state cyber charter schools.  But I will be honest and say based on the research that is available, their statistics appear much better than that of K12, Inc. – who also rely upon this (and other similar) strategies… […]

    Pingback by Marketing Cyber Schooling – Connections (Part II) | Virtual School Meanderings — September 9, 2015 @ 11:08 am | Reply

  8. […] Tactics of The Neo-Liberals/Conservatives in K-12 Online Learning – Part Two […]

    Pingback by Responses To CREDO’s Online Charter School Study 2015 | Virtual School Meanderings — October 27, 2015 @ 9:08 pm | Reply

  9. […] entry was originally posted under the title Tactics of The Neo-Liberals/Conservatives in K-12 Online Learning – Part Two and is being re-posted as a part of my participation in Increase Your Digital Clout Day […]

    Pingback by Attack Strategies From Educational Reform Proponents | Virtual School Meanderings — December 29, 2015 @ 1:09 pm | Reply

  10. […] I find it kind of ironic that seven and a half years ago I wrote two entries on the tactics of the neo-liberals/conservatives in K-12 online learning, and now I see them being used in Ontario.  As a means of review, the three tactics that I […]

    Pingback by EDTECH537 – Audio Entry: Ideology And The E-Learning Proposal In Ontario | Virtual School Meanderings — August 6, 2019 @ 7:00 am | Reply

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