Virtual School Meanderings

January 23, 2013

This Is What Happens When There Is Deregulation And No Oversight In For-Profit K-12 Online Learning!

theftThis is what happens when legislators open up the K-12 market to allow for-profit online learning companies to operate with little to no oversight.

This is the situation that many of the neo-liberal think tanks, advocacy groups, and professional associations have been arguing for in many states.  They’ll say that they are against these kinds of actions – and I’m sure they don’t condone the theft of public funds.  But the bottom line is the massive deregulation they call for and arguing that any real measures of oversight are needless impediments to the growth of online learning, in the end will lead to more and more situations like this one!


  1. You say the neo-liberals are the ones calling for massive deregulation of schools? Is that a typo or did you intend to say that?

    Comment by GingerLewman — January 23, 2013 @ 8:49 am | Reply

  2. Wait are you saying that neo-liberals calling for massive deregulation? Is that a typo or did you intend to say that?

    Comment by GingerLewman — January 23, 2013 @ 8:51 am | Reply

  3. Ginger, yes it is the neo-liberals who are looking to deregulate education to allow for increased for-profit investment. Neo-liberals believe that the free market is the solution to all social problems and the more regulations that exist, the greater the constraints on the free market to be able to solve whatever the problem is.

    In their view, education could be fixed is we simply ran it like we do the fast food industry. So if you want a Big Mac it is standardizations so it is the same Big Mac at any McDonald’s you go. However, you can also personalize or individualize your Big Mac by asking for no pickles or extra Mac sauce. However, you are also free to choose to go to Burger King and get a Whooper instead, with the same standardization and ability to personalize.

    Comment by mkbnl — January 23, 2013 @ 9:07 am | Reply

  4. Maybe I missed something, but EdChoices was mentioned as a non-profit organization (not for-profit). Also, they were being regulated by the state of Oregon, thus the lawsuits. We had a similar case here in Idaho recently when a local large public school district had a “budget shortfall” of $4.3M, and the superintendent stepped down. So financial mismanagement (and potentially fraud) can exist in all types of educational entities.

    Comment by lisadawley — January 23, 2013 @ 9:14 am | Reply

    • Come on Lisa… We all know that all of these cyber charters are non-profits in their base operation. A non-profit board is set-up and the only real responsibility it has is to hire the for-profit company that runs the school. That’s how almost all of the [State_Name] Virtual Academy (i.e., K12, Inc. schools) and [State_Name] Connections Academy (i.e., Connections Academy schools) operate.

      I don’t dispute that fraud can occur in any setting, but when any regulation is seen as a constraint to opportunity – which is how these neo-liberal organizations portray any meaningful way to provide oversight to their operations – that becomes a problem and allows for this kind of thing to happen.

      Comment by mkbnl — January 23, 2013 @ 11:54 am | Reply

      • Ok, so I still don’t get where “neo-liberals” are about setting up for-profit schools. You’re going to have to help my poor little brain understand this. Because to me, one of the most powerful liberal educational entities is the NEA, the teacher union, which is so NOT for for-profit schools.

        So help me, would you? Instead of using an amorphic term, could you name these so-called neo-liberals, please? Give specific examples of who these people/groups are and how the term “neo-liberal” applies to them?

        I wonder if you’re calling Libertarians “neo-liberals?” I’m just so utterly confused here. Because Fox News tells us that liberals are all about over-regulation, not massive deregulation. Just confused with your terminology.

        Comment by GingerLewman — January 23, 2013 @ 12:37 pm

      • Ginger, you are mixing up liberal and neo-liberal. They are not the same thing. The prefix neo essentially means that something is new and different, often times referring to new and abnormal.

        Go back and read the entry that I posted entitled Ideology of K-12 Online Learning and it should help clear things up for you. It explains this term in relation to K-12 online learning and is fully cited.

        Comment by mkbnl — January 23, 2013 @ 12:43 pm

      • I suppose my point is that you use this incident to support your views re: neo-liberal organizations seeking relief from regulation, yet the lawsuit IS an example of regulation on these exact type of agencies. So are you saying, “See the fraud that occurs? Neo-liberals are wrong, we need all that regulation and more,” or ? I do understand you think “neo-liberals” are incorrect, but what’s your proposed solution?

        btw I’m not a big fan of labels, they push people into combative corners and black/white positions where the issues really are blurred. After 52 years on this planet, I still can’t figure out if I’m a democrat, republican, independent or liberal. I don’t really “fit” into parties, and I don’t enjoy politics. I want to see more solutions, and less BS and rhetoric.

        ps i’ve worked in state-run institutions most of my life, “survived” heavy bureaucratic oversight and accountability that wastes millions of dollars every year, and drowns creativity and innovation, and yet, there are for-profit publishers that make billions from all those non-profit students. Are non-profits or government controlled institutions really the way to go in all cases of education? I’m an advocate for a variety of forms of educational organizations, alternatives for diverse contexts and diverse people.

        Comment by lisadawley — January 23, 2013 @ 11:53 pm

      • For-profit corporations always have been and are always going to be involved in education – at all levels. It is simply impossible to remove them (and I’m quite convinced that we shouldn’t even try). What I object to is twofold. The first is the believe that Adam Smith’s invisible hand is the answer to every social problem in society. Competition creates winners and losers, it doesn’t create winners and other winners. It is just as true in business and as we continue to see in the US education system. What makes matters worse is that those who are in the greatest need when it comes to education are more often than not the losers in the competitive system that the neo-liberals have created.

        The second is the abdication of responsibility for public education that occurs with charter schooling legislation – and is seen with most cyber charter schools. This isn’t a public, non-profit institution running a school and contracting with private corporations to provide certain services and/or products. This is a case where the public, non-profit institution washes its hands of all aspects of providing that public education and hands it over to a corporation who’s main interest is maximizing the profits for ts owners (be them public shareholders or private citizens).

        This case is an example of what can and does happen with the massive deregulation that has occurred around charter schooling and cyber charter schooling. And if you trace any legislative attempt to provide regulations in this field, you’ll see if opposed and lobbied against by those neo-liberal proponents of K-12 online learning. Limits on annual growth or maximum size, limits on geographic enrollment, attempts to tying funding to retention and performance, schemes to create more open reporting procedures, etc. are all regulations that the neo-liberal proponents of K-12 online learning have fought against – and, with the dominance of neo-liberal ideology in both main political parties in the United States, have been successful.

        As for labels, I always find it interesting that the people that complain the most about them are the ones in the dominant position. Educational reformers in the United States don’t want to talk about the fact that their policies and positions are based on a very specific ideology. That doesn’t change the fact that their policies and positions ARE based on a very specific ideology. And it is an ideological issue, not a partisan issue. You use the example of “democrat, republican, independent or liberal” – which are all political parties or partisan positions, not ideological ones. In my youth, I considered myself very much a partisan and identified VERY strongly with one political party in particular. Oddly enough, in the almost dozen elections that I have voted in since turning 18 I have only actually voted for that party twice. As I aged I discovered that I wasn’t a partisan, but I did associate strongly with a specific ideology – and depending on the jurisdiction and, moreso in the Canadian context, often the party leader from time to time different political parties are more aligned with my ideology than others.

        There is an underlying ideology to the educational reform movement in the United States. Anyone who doesn’t see it or doesn’t want to admit it is either lying to themselves or simply naive. The question that each person has to ask themselves is do they accept that ideological response as the answer to this particular social problem? Beyond my own personal ideological perspectives, the evidence thus far suggests that the neo-liberal educational reform agenda has done little to improve the quality of education in the United States.

        Comment by mkbnl — January 24, 2013 @ 12:12 am

  5. Michael, thanks for further articulating your position. I initially responded to your post because of the sensational headline, yet saw irony in the fact that it WAS regulation that resulted in the lawsuits that are now pending. Now, I’m trying to understand if you really see what’s happening with US education as an either/or situation, you’re either neo-liberal or you’re not, and if you are, you suck! lol

    I agree with your first point. Free market approaches aren’t a full solution, but they are one solution. We are also seeing other interesting educational solutions evolve that somewhat mirror political upheaval we’re seeing around the globe, driven by the people for the people. Some of these are at the local level, some are at a larger scale level…and yes, larger scale typically will involve either a for-profit or non-profit organization who can organize that level of interaction. I’m thinking of things like Coursera, Udacity, Kahn Academy, MOOCs, etc.

    You say there is AN underlying ideology to the US reform movement. My perspective is that there are multiple underlying ideologies for those engaged in educational reform (although we mostly hear about the large corporate focused initiatives in the press), sometimes there is overlap, and sometimes there is deep digression among those ideologies. I would not label myself as a “neo-liberal,” yet there are aspects of that ideology that I feel are worth attention in some contexts. I do believe in and work to support participatory and emancipatory innovation in educational settings. This, above all, is my focus. I’m not sure what label to put on that frame, call it what you will. What you may see as naive, I see as complex and worthy of more teasing out to understand the many, many variables of what creates a dynamic, healthy society. Innovation and regulation require very careful balancing and positioning in an educational environment. Too much regulation creates a Hitler-like work environment focused on compliance. Too little regulation creates a loose space where some thrive, and some fail, and people get tempted to focus on money instead of learning. My life’s work is teacher emancipation, it has been so for many years. As my expertise has developed, I do believe there is a value to my time, and I would appreciate compensation that mirrors those of my male peers. That’s about it. Does that make me neo-liberal in your vew?

    Comment by lisadawley — January 24, 2013 @ 1:01 am | Reply

    • Lisa, I don’t know if you are a neo-liberal or not. You haven’t provided enough information. I can tell you that if this sounds like you, than maybe you are:

      Neo-liberal initiatives are characterized by free market policies that encourage private enterprise and consumer choice, reward personal responsibility, and entrepreneurial initiative, and undermine the dead hand of the incompetent, bureaucratic and parasitic government, that can never do good, even if well intended, which it rarely is. (McChesney, 1999)

      Neo-liberals are the most powerful element within the alliance supporting conservative modernization. They are guided by a vision of the weak state. Thus, what is private is necessarily good and what is public is necessarily bad. Public institutions such as schools are ‘black holes’ into which money is poured—and then seemingly disappears—but which do not provide anywhere near adequate results. For neo-liberals, there is one form of rationality that is more powerful than any other—economic rationality. Efficiency and an ‘ethic’ of cost-benefit analysis are the dominant norms. All people are to act in ways that maximize their own personal benefits. (Apple, 2005)

      One of the key features of the definition is the nature of governance and oversight – as well as the involvement of the private sector. By definition, your “support [of] participatory and emancipatory innovation in educational settings” is not necessarily neo-liberal in nature, not unless you feel that the ONLY way to achieve that participatory and emancipatory behaviour is through the private sector (and, by extension, the education system is in need of reform to remove it from the shackles of the “Hitler-like work environment focused on compliance” that you describe). At its base, neo-liberal educational reformers would like to see an education system in your country much like the US health care system – where there is a public system and a private system. Each individual has the choice and, in theory, the public options are as good as the private options – if not they would go out of business. The problem is a system like that creates an environment where if you have capital of some kind, you get one level of service and if you don’t you get an lesser level. This is the winners and the losers that I was speaking of. In the case of education, that capital to date has been a combination of economic, social and political capital – but the end result has been the same, with free market experiments creating educational opportunities for those that possess that capital and decreasing the resources available to those that don’t have that capital.

      The specific examples that you describe (e.g., “Coursera, Udacity, Kahn Academy, MOOCs, etc.”) are all things that could be done within the public system of education. For example, with the exception of Alberta, there are no charter schools in Canada. In most provinces, parents have limited amounts of choice based on their geography or their economic means to be able to choose which school their children attend. Yet the level of K-12 online and blended learning activity is proportional to what we see south of the border, where it is being driven by governments (and supported – admittedly cautiously – by teachers unions), using the kinds of things that you describe. Almost 15% of students in British Columbia will take an online course this year. Last year it was estimated that 25% of students in Ontario were involved in blended learning. For most of the past decade, students and teachers in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland & Labrador have had access to the provincial learning management system and course content, and make up between a third and a half of the users of the system. The Learn program in Quebec interacted with over 150,000 students through their online and blended programs. Both public and private online schools in the country have established presences overseas in countries like China and India, to provide Canadian education to students at a distance (many of whom will receive a Canadian high school diploma without ever having set foot in this country). All of this is happening in a primarily public system, a public system in some provinces that provides options for students to attend regular public schools, French immersion schools, or Catholic schools (although the Catholic option is not available in every province, and is due to constitutional issues in place at the time the province was admitted to Canada).

      New Zealand is another example, with lots of innovative and creative things occurring. I could provide a similar list as I have in Canada. The system in place is New Zealand is that every school is a self-governing school, and with the exception of a couple of the urban areas, schools are geographically restricted. What this means is that in operation, it would be as if every school in the United States was a charter school, but all run within the public system with little for-profit corporate involvement beyond what we have historically seen (e.g., textbook publisher, vending machine, cafeteria services, etc.). New Zealand is an interesting example because every school essentially acts like a charter school (in terms of their legislated operations), but the neo-liberals that are currently in power are moving forward with plans to introduce charter schooling into the country – to allow for the kind of more direct corporate involvement that we see in the U.S., U.K., and Australia. I can’t seem to find it, even though I’ve spent about a half hour trying to locate it, but there was a Kiwi blogger that looked at the trends in the PISA performance of the countries that have adopted neo-liberal and other politically right educational reform and compared them to New Zealand. It was a part of a discussion that blogger was having on the potential to introduce charter schooling, as well as to further standardized (and narrow) the curriculum in that country. It was interesting to note that countries like New Zealand and Canada, that had resisted those kind of reforms had actually fared better than the neo-liberal reforming countries. While New Zealand is likely not comparable to places like the U.S., U.K., and Australia for a variety of reasons, I’d suggest that Canada is. We’ve been able to succeed without creating a free market system of winners and losers. We’ve done it with significant cultural and ethnic diversity. The US on the other hand continues to narrow the curriculum, further standardizing it to allow corporations to make even more profit without having to account for regional or state differences, and continues to create more and more free market educational systems – like the ones featured in this article. And all it has to show for it is continued poor performance by its students!

      Comment by mkbnl — January 24, 2013 @ 7:39 am | Reply

  6. […] This Is What Happens When There Is Deregulation And No Oversight In For-Profit K-12 Online Learning… […]

    Pingback by Statistics for January 2013 « Virtual School Meanderings — February 2, 2013 @ 7:52 pm | Reply

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