Virtual School Meanderings

December 29, 2015

Attack Strategies From Educational Reform Proponents

This 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 26/30.

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):

School

AIMS reading passing rate

AIMS math passing rate

State label*

State grade (A-D)

Graduation rate (2008-09)

Statewide

76%

59%

None

None

76%

Primavera Online High School**

59%

18%

Performing

None

68%

Arizona Virtual Academy

75%

43%

Performing

C

23%

Pinnacle Online High School

None

None

None

None

28%

Arizona Connections Academy

79%

43%

Performing

C

38%

Sequoia Choice Arizona Distance
Learning

60%

28%

Performing
Plus

D

46%

Mesa Distance Learning (Mesa
Public Schools)

82%

44%

Performing
Plus

C

4%

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.

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