Virtual School Meanderings

August 27, 2018

Profit For Everyone: The Corporate K-12 Online Learning Gravy Train Keeps Running

So in the past week or so I’ve had a couple of things come across my electronic desk that have underscored the fact that there’s lots of money to be made in the practice of K-12 online learning…  And everyone wants to line up at the trough.

When we think of money and profit in the K-12 online learning sector, it is often focused around the for-profit corporations that directly manage cyber charter schools and use the funding provided to “educate” the students that enroll to enrich their corporate officers and shareholders.

The first was a report from the Florida State Attorney, who was asked to investigate whether there were any improprieties in the contract, request for payment, and actual payment the district made to K12, Inc..

In the end, the attorney found that K12, Inc. had mistakenly billed the school district for “up to $594,000 for one year of virtual school services,” as opposed to the $1,837,925 that some K12, Inc. representative mistakenly billed the district.

The second was an article came through my inbox around the same time the Florida State Attorney report came to my attention.

Virtual Education Is Increasingly a Big Profit Center. But at What Cost to Students?

L.W. had just begun his freshman year at Roosevelt High School in September 2014 when he got into a fight with a group of seniors in the cafeteria. Police were called, and when officials with the St. Louis Public Schools reviewed the incident, they labeled it a “group fight.”

They also determined that L.W. should be placed in an alternative education program at Beaumont High School. But his mother objected, and so the assistant superintendent decided instead to place him in Roosevelt’s virtual education program.

To continue reading, click here.

Note the section that begins with the bolded text, which reads:

Since Brown retired from Grandview, his Show Me State Virtual Education company has received $60,000 each year from the district. The contracts also include incentives. For example, the 2015 contract states that if the district earns more than $200,000 in net profit, Show Me State Virtual Education will receive 25 percent of the profits above that threshhold. In 2017, the contract states that if there are any net profits that year, Brown’s company receives ten percent.

The use of the word “profits” on the contracts, which are one-page documents with typos and parts scratched out in pen, is “ridiculous,” Miron argues.

“Virtual schools can bring in extra money for public schools, but you can’t call it ‘profit’ because they are nonprofit entities,” he says.

Luis Huerta, a professor of education policy at Columbia University adds, “If there is ‘profit,’ it should be returned to the district for students’ services.”

Brown is also a paid consultant for K12, according to the Virginia-based corporation. Zoph says the district pays Brown to promote the virtual school program around Missouri. Brown now lives in Tennessee, but Zoph says he drives to Missouri each month.

“From Grandview, I get paid for expenses and that’s all you need to know,” Brown says when asked about compensation from the district. “What my personal company does and how I get money is not of your concern.”

In promoting Grandview’s Missouri Online Summer Institute in various publications, Brown is usually not identified as the owner of Show Me State Virtual Education or as a paid consultant for K12; he has variously been described as the “former school superintendent” or the “summer school director.”

In a 2017 column in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Why Missourians need to know about this summer school,” Brown is described as the “coordinator of the Missouri Online Summer Institute” and his district email is listed. That’s even though he is no longer a Grandview employee.

Basically, in one case you have a corporation that billed a school district for an amount that was more than three times what they were owed for the services that they rendered, and in the second you have a former district official that as he was walking out the door created a lucrative opportunity for himself as a middle man.

And all of this is paid for by money that is supposed to be used to educate children.

August 1, 2018

EDTECH537 – Video Entry: Vox – The Problem With Online Charter Schools

As I mentioned in the Week 6 entry for my EDTECH537 – Blogging In The Classroom course yesterday, today I wanted to post a sample of a video entry.

I came across this news item video from Vox that was released earlier this year and features a good colleague of mine, Gary Miron.

July 30, 2018

EDTECH537 – Image Entry: Increased Growth, Decreased Oversight

As I mentioned in the Week 6 entry for my EDTECH537 – Blogging In The Classroom course yesterday, today I wanted to post a sample of an image entry.

In reality, all of my  entries are image entries because I always include the logo for the Department of Educational Technology at Boise State University in those entries.  However, the real goal of the image entry is to use the image to enhance or be the feature of the overall entry.  So…

Used without permission from an article in The Denver Post.  Click on the image to be taken to the article.

This image first appeared in an article in The Denver Post entitled “Oversight yet to catch up with Colorado’s burgeoning online schools” that was first published in 2011, but updated in 2016.

There are some interesting facts on this image, and I’d encourage you to head over and read the full article.  While dated, the notion that full-time K-12 online learning programs continue to increase and growth, at the same time that the oversight of these programs continues to be lacking – even in instances of extremely poor student performance or potential shady business practices – continues to this day!



July 16, 2018

EDTECH537 – Commentary Entry: Reflecting On Why Understanding Research Methodology Matters

As I mentioned in the Week 4 entry for my EDTECH537 – Blogging In The Classroom course earlier this morning, I wanted to post a sample of a commentary entry.

As I prepared to write this commentary entry, the first thing I did was a search for “commentary entry” on my blog to see what I wrote about last year.  It was interesting as I reflected on all of the commentary entries that I have posted in the past as a part of my sample entries for this class.

HMH Fuse Pilot Study Will Fissle (2011)

  • this entry discussed on the flaws in the research design of a mobile learning initiative, which stemmed from a press release from the company claiming promising/wonderful results during the pilot

Comparing Apples To Apples (2011)

  • this entry focused on the fact that comparisons that are generally made between students learning online and students learning in the classroom are often like comparing apples and oranges because the samples from each population are so different

Dissecting The Arkansas Virtual Academy Study (2012)

  • this entry examined the methodological flaws of a single cyber charter school study, and how that called into question the positive results that the researchers found in favour of the cyber charter school

Examining The Neo-Liberal Response To The North Carolina Cyber Charter School Case (2012)

  • this entry looked at the way in which proponents of cyber charter schools attacked the decision in North Carolina to limit their numbers, focusing primarily on the lack or misuse of research in their arguments (as well as a healthy dose of dishonest marketing)

Examining The “Understanding And Improving Virtual Schools” Report And The Response To The Report (2013)

  • this entry described a National Education Policy Center report on cyber charter schools that found that they performed quite poorly, while serving a demographically more elite group of students – and the response from cyber charter school proponents exhibit their lack of understanding of or simple misuse of the research (as well as a healthy dose of dishonest marketing)

Complete Guide to Online High Schools: Distance Learning Options For Teens & Adults (2013)

  • this entry was actually a review of a book that Ton Nixon sent to me, which did a good job of providing a thorough listing of full-time online learning options for students (without commenting on the performance or calibre of any of the programs)

Examining Full-Time Online Student Performance in Michigan (2014)

  • this entry examined the MEAP data from Michigan (i.e., their standardized testing data) for all of the cyber charters in the state, and then questioned why policymakers would decide to expand full-time K-12 online learning based on this data)

Marketing Cyber Schooling (2015)

  • this entry simply described the marketing experience that I had with one cyber charter school

What Theory Fits A Comparison Of Virtual And F2F Learning Environments? (2015)

  • this entry outlined a request I had received from a doctoral student about their studies, and I felt the need to respond to describe to the student why their proposed study was not a methodological reliable or valid study

Online Learning And At-Risk Students (2016)

  • this entry examined the potential, based on recent research, of online credit recovery as a useful tool for student learning, and how the earlier claims were not supported by that research

The Problem With the Media Coverage of K-12 Online Learning (2017)

  • this entry dissected what I described as the intellectually dishonest and biased media coverage around cyber charter schools, and how proponents of cyber charter schools (and the media too) generally use a healthy dose of dishonest marketing to counter a lack of research evidence to support their cause

As I look through these items, you’ll notice some themes.  The first theme is that there is a general focus on how research is use, misused, and ignored within the realm of K-12 distance, online, and/or blended learning by supporters of technological initiatives, policymakers, legislators, and -at times – journalists.  The second theme is that much of what is written about and the actions taken around cyber charter schools is not supported by the available research.

I’d like to say that these observations are no longer the case, but unfortunately they are.  The current state of affairs can still be summarized as I wrote in my 2017 commentary entry:

…you have some expert that talks about the unrealized potential, and the fact that the research shows that these programs often do incredibly poorly compared to the traditional brick-and-mortar learning.  You often have some legislator or policy person or traditional brick-and-mortar personnel that is advising caution, maybe even complaining to some extent about the situation – but never to the level that is being called for by the academic [and is never willing to actually do anything about it beyond pay lip service].  Countering these positions, you have some combination of an online school official (or someone connected with the online program), a parent of an online student, and/or an online student themselves.  Invariably these three individuals are lauding the online program as being some kind of saviour for them and students like them.

And this sums up the debate around K-12 distance, online, and blended learning in the United States – and I do say in the United States specifically, because once you look outside of the US, there is a very different perception and conversation that happens around the practice of K-12 distance, online, and blended learning.  Interestingly, the main differences in the field between what occurs in the US and what occurs everywhere else is the nature and level of involvement of for-profit corporations in the education system.  And while I often advise students that correlation does not equal causality, I believe that this might be an exception to that rule!

May 14, 2018

Misleading Headlines – Can Online Education Help Reform Rural Schools?

This past Saturday the first item that was in the Virtual Schooling In The News was:

Can online education help reform rural schools?

Can online education help reform rural schools?
Students in rural communities are not performing academically as well as their peers at urban and suburban schools, according to a recent study from the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty. Distance-learning programs are one way to foster reform in these rural areas, researcher Will Flanders writes.
RealClearEducation (5/8)


The report in question is entitled Apples 2 Apples: The Definitive Look at School Test Scores in Milwaukee and Wisconsin for 2018, and it written by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL).  According to the Center for Media and Democracy, WILL is “a conservative, libertarian, public interest law firm backed with millions in grants from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. WILL is a member of the State Policy Network, a web of right-wing ‘think tanks’ and tax-exempt organizations in 49 states, Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C., Canada, and the United Kingdom” (see  So as you might imagine, they use a questionable methodology to ensure that the charter schools come out on top.

The reason I bring it up today is because of the news item above.  In the article from Real Clear Education, they write:

Online education also represents an important path for education reform in rural communities. Online programs can allow rural families to access distant schools, with curricula that may better fit their needs of their children.

The interesting thing is that if you look at the WILL report, the word “online” doesn’t appear at all.  The word “cyber” only appears once – in the name “Central City Cyberschool.”  The word “virtual” appears three times – two of which are names: Rural Virtual Academy and Wisconsin Virtual Academy High.  The third instances is a sentence that reads, “seventeen non-instrumentality charters operate outside of Milwaukee, however many of these are virtual schools or schools devoted to at-risk students” (p. 4).  So there are no statements about the value of online education in the report at all, but this new outlet seems to think otherwise.

Interestingly, the new outlet describes itself as “the [RealClearEducation] team curates the smartest news, opinion and punditry offering its readers a comprehensive, non-partisan summary of the top education news happenings of the day.”  The key word is “non-partisan,” which as you can see in this case means taking a report from a right-wing think tank and then make ideological assertions that aren’t even mentioned in the report.

Anyway, I wanted to add this analysis…

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