Virtual School Meanderings

July 9, 2013

EDTECH597 – Commentary Entry: Examining The “Understanding And Improving Virtual Schools” Report And The Response To The Report

As I mentioned in the EDTECH597 – Week 5 entry for my EDTECH597 – Blogging In The Classroom course, I wanted to post a sample of a commentary entry.

About a year ago, the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) released a report entitled Understanding and Improving Full-Time Virtual Schools.  The authors of the report examined the “student characteristics, school finance, and school performance of K12, Inc.-operated schools.”  In the report itself, the authors generally found that there was little transparency in the finances of K12, Inc. schools beyond what was required by state regulations, and even following state regulations it was difficult for an educated reviewer to discern how much of the funding was actually spent on the student and how much was profit for K12, Inc..  The authors also found that students attending K12, Inc. schools did poorer on statewide standardized testing than the statewide average.  The authors acknowledge that standardized testing was limited in many respects, but as this was how traditional brick-and-mortar public schools are judged as being failing schools.  Finally, the authors found that K12, Inc. students tended to include fewer English language learners, fewer special education students, fewer free and reduced lunch students, and more gifted students.

In one of the more balanced pieces, Education Week reported Study Renews Call to Slow Growth of K12 Inc. Virtual Schools.  The piece does a reasonable job in outlining what the authors found in the report, and also presents the K12, Inc. rebuttal.  It is interesting to note that there is a direct link to the K12, Inc. statement, but no direct link to the report which prompted the actual news item in the first place.  But overall, it is one of the more balanced pieces.

Another bit of coverage from my own neck of the woods was a piece that ran on MLive entitled Study says K12 cyber school students falling behind, company calls report ‘deeply flawed’.  While the piece does outline the author’s findings, it spends considerable time presenting the K12, Inc. side.  For example, in addition to presenting K12, Inc.’s position, the author of the MLive piece presents the oft-cited claim that the findings of the NEPC can’t be trusted because of who funds them (like the motives of K12, Inc. are somehow impeachable and beyond reproach).  It also prominently features the findings of an University of Arkansas study that found favourable results for a K12, Inc. school – but does not raise any issues with the reliability and validity of the study (as I did when I pointed out the fundamental flaws in the study in the last year’s EDTECH597 – Commentary Entry: Dissecting The Arkansas Virtual Academy Study) or present any of the numerous research studies that have found full-time K-12 online learning students (including those in K12, Inc. schools) performed much worse than traditional brick-and-mortar students.  Essentially, while the MLive piece attempted to present itself as a balanced piece, it is quite clear that the reporter took the side of K12, Inc..

A final response to the NEPC report comes in the form of a blog entry from one of the prominent neo-liberal blogs in an entry entitled Online Learning Studies Must Evaluate Individual Student Trajectories.  The author of this blog entry makes no attempt to be balanced 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 instance, the main tactics are to “claim methodological issues” and “change the focus of the story.”  The methodological issues that the author focuses on is the use of statewide standardized testing and annual yearly progress as being an invalid measure (and the authors of the report themselves note the limitation of these measures, but since this is what is used to judge a traditional brick-and-mortar school as failing, we might as well compare apples and apples).  In terms of changing the subject, they also focus on the issue of student performance on statewide testing and how it doesn’t account for the fact that the students in full-time cyber charter schools are often further behind when they enroll in their online programs.  While this may be true – there is no research to support the claim one way or another, there is mounting evidence that after attending a full-time cyber charter school that students on average are further behind than they were when they started the full-time cyber charter school (or when they left their traditional brick-and-mortar schools).  It is actually kind of funny that the blog entry author cautions against making “apples-to watermelon-comparisons,” yet that is exactly what cyber charter school proponents want us to do.  They want us to use one measure to close traditional public schools and to condemn the traditional school system as failing our students, but you better not use those same measures to judge how well cyber charter schools (and charter schools in general) are performing.  Not only an apples and watermelons comparison, but a real “do as I say, not as I do attitude!”


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