Virtual School Meanderings

January 28, 2016

“National School Choice Week” Fueled by Major Right-Wing Funders and Corporate Lobby Groups

A good reminder for folks about this corporate-driven, privatization effort in public education.

“National School Choice Week” Fueled by Major Right-Wing Funders and Corporate Lobby Groups


Contact: Nikolina Lazic,

MADISON, WI — With 32 governors proclaiming this week “School Choice Week,” and more than 16,000 scheduled events listed on the promotional website, #NationalSchoolChoiceWeek has become a big deal, and not by accident.

Launched five years ago by the Gleason Family Foundation—which spent more than $4.3 million on the project in 2014—the week has grown rapidly through the backing of advocacy groups and deep pockets of funders focused on promoting charters, vouchers, and tax credits that aid private schools, including religious and for-profit ventures.

In federal and state budgets, “school choice” policies often divert or reduce Americans’ tax dollars available for traditional public schools that educate our most underserved students or for investment in sustainable and innovative community schools that are truly public.

Today, for example, the State Policy Network (SPN) is holding a “Tweet-up” to promote school “choice” and its fight “to limit government and advance market-friendly public policy at the state and local levels,” and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is using the week to pitch a “revolutionary” universal education savings account bill for Washington, DC, introduced by Senator Ted Cruz.

The Center for Media and Democracy, a watchdog group on corporate influence on public policy, is urging reporters to examine the interests behind the PR push on school choice.

“The National School Choice Week website’s Partners page provides a who’s-who gallery of Koch network groups, corporations, and billionaires promoting privatization,” said Lisa Graves, CMD’s Executive Director, adding: “although the week features many local events, it is backed by national entities, some of which are hostile to the idea of public schools and whose goals have included full privatization. No story about National School Choice Week is complete if it does not mention the special interests behind the choice agenda.”

NCSW’s website lists numerous partners, including the Walton Family Fund, ALEC, SPN, the Freedom Foundation, FreedomWorks, Cato Institute, Reason Foundation, the Heritage Foundation, the James Madison Institute, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—many of which have ties to the Koch brothers’ political network. David Koch ran for Vice President in 1980 on a platform that included privatizing public schools, and his brother Charles started pushing school choice in the 1960s. Together they have funded an array of groups that spread that agenda.

For example, both SPN and ALEC have received financial support from the Koch funding network in addition to corporations. ALEC is a pay-to-play operation whose board includes K12, a for-profit “virtual” school company that has also sponsored SPN activities. At ALEC task force meetings, corporate lobbyists and special interest groups vote as equals with legislators on bills to expand charters, vouchers, and tax credits that serve the choice agenda—in addition to other bills that attack worker rights, environmental protections, and more. Koch Industries has been on ALEC’s board for decades and the Koch family fortune is one of the biggest funders of ALEC.

As CMD has documented, the charter school industry has been fueled by more than $3.6 billion from the federal government over the past two decades in addition to billions from states and from wealthy choice advocates like the billionaire Walton and DeVos families. This surge in cash has created a league of lobbyists urging legislators to send more tax dollars to this industry.

Here are some additional resources CMD has created about the school privatization effort:

CMD also notes that People for the American Way (PFAW) has published a useful, detailed report: “The Agenda of National School Choice Week: Don’t Be Blinded by the Bright Yellow Scarves.” Also, the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD) has documented more than $200 million in fraud and waste by charter schools. Additionally, In the Public Interest (ITPI) also has resources on charter schools and school privatization, including polling. (CMD has worked with ITPI, CPD, and PFAW on issues.)

Dustin Beilke

Dustin Beilke is a freelance writer from Madison, WI. He has written for a number of publications, including Newsday,, The Nation, PRWatchThe Progressive, In These Times, Mother Jones, The Capital Times, and The Onion.

January 18, 2016

Article Notice: Focus on Technology – Virtual Charter Schools in the United States

Folks may not have noticed this item in the EBSCO Alerts over the weekend.

Childhood Education

Volume 92, Issue 1, 2016


Hani Morgan, Editor

pages 92-94

Focus on Technology: Virtual Charter Schools in the United States

Note that the full text is available at the website.

December 28, 2015

Report – How Charter School Governance in Pennsylvania and Philadelphia Measures Up

Another item that may have gone under the radar screen over the holidays…

There are over two dozen references to virtual or cyber charters in the report.  Below is the top sheet information and the actual report can be found at:

charter schoolGetty Images / Klaus Vedfelt

Philadelphia has the nation’s third-largest charter school population.

Charter schools are tuition-free, taxpayer-supported institutions that are granted the right to operate without many of the rules that govern traditional public schools. Most hold classes in buildings, but some, known as cyber or virtual charters, operate online. Questions surrounding the way charters are authorized, regulated, renewed, and shut down are a major component of the debate about public education in Pennsylvania, particularly in the School District of Philadelphia. Over half of the state’s roughly 160 brick-and-mortar charters are located in the district, and the city’s charter school population—more than 60,000, accounting for about 30 percent of its public school students—is the nation’s third-largest, behind the districts serving Los Angeles and New York City. Only four large districts—New Orleans, Detroit, the District of Columbia, and Cleveland—have higher percentages of students in charters than does Philadelphia.

To gain perspective on charter school governance in the School District of Philadelphia and the state, The Pew Charitable Trusts compared the rules under which charters operate in Pennsylvania with those in 15 other states, all of which have at least one major urban school district with a substantial number or percentage of its students in charters. The states are California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin. Nationally, 43 states and the District of Columbia permit charters.

The comparison showed that although regulation varies among states, Pennsylvania’s approach is similar to what a number of other states are doing. But there are differences, too, including the low percentage of charters it has closed in recent years and the high percentage of noncertified teachers it allows charters to employ. Among the additional findings:

  • In Pennsylvania, the authority to create brick-and-mortar charter schools rests with the governing body of each local district, which in Philadelphia is the School Reform Commission. Similar authorization processes are in place in five of the other 15 states studied. In two states, the state education department has sole responsibility to create charters. The other eight have multiple entities that can authorize them, including local school boards, mayors, the state, and universities.
  • Oversight responsibility, which includes decisions about opening and closing charter schools, almost always rests with the authorizing body or bodies, as it does in Pennsylvania. The states’ accountability requirements for schools are similar.
  • Charters in most of the states, including Pennsylvania, are granted blanket waivers from the rules governing traditional public schools. Uncertified teachers are permitted to make up as much as 25 percent of a charter’s teaching staff in Pennsylvania, a higher percentage than is allowed in most of the other states.
  • In recent years, Pennsylvania has been among the states least likely to open or close charter schools. On average, it increased the number of charters in the state by 7.5 percent per year; the median for the states studied was 9.4 percent. Closings decreased the number of charters in Pennsylvania by 1.3 percent; the median was 3.4 percent. In most of the states examined, including Pennsylvania, charters were usually closed for financial mismanagement and, on occasion, suspected fraud, although poor academic performance also led to closures.
  • Relative to the other states studied, Pennsylvania has a high percentage of charter students enrolled in statebased cybercharters. Across the country, seven states bar charters of any kind, and 11 others do not allow cybercharters.

November 14, 2015

New and Noteworthy from Mathematica

Note the K-12 online learning item about half way down…

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NOVEMBER 11, 2015

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American Evaluation Association and Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management presentations

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Evidence-Based Standards for Mental Health InterventionsJonathan Brown, associate director of health research, discussed measure development and implementation for evidence-based mental health interventions with an Institute of Medicine committee. Read the white paper,“Strategies for Measuring the Quality of Psychotherapy,” co-authored by Mathematica and the National Committee for Quality Assurance.

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Experts Contribute to Child Obesity Policy Agenda

Senior fellows Ronette Briefel and Mary Kay Fox are members of anAmerican Academy of Pediatrics policy roundtable series on developing a comprehensive and actionable policy agenda for healthy weight from prenatal development through age 5. About the series.

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Online Charter Schools Struggle to Engage Students

Charter school artwork

A new report describes online charter schools that deliver instruction to students in their homes. The report uses surveys of principals to provide the first nationwide picture of how online charter schools operate. It finds that although these schools use innovative methods, they also have high student-teacher ratios, make substantial demands on parents, and typically provide students with only three to six hours of live instructional time per week. Fact sheet.

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Using Administrative Data to Improve Child WelfarePhoto of children sitting in a group

In this podcast, Ann Person, director of the Center for Improving Research Evidence (CIRE), and senior fellow Matthew Stagner explore trends in using administrative data to improve public child welfare programs, the focus of CIRE’s recent research forum.

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Blog iconSenior researcher Yonatan Ben-Shalom discussed findings from the Stay-at-Work/Return-to-Work Policy Collaborative on The Hill’s Congress blog.


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Social Media SpotlightTwitter graphic



“Staffing a Low-Performing School: Behavioral Responses to Selective Teacher Transfer Incentives.” This article in Education Finance and Policy(subscription required) examines responses to a program that offers incentives for high-performing teachers to transfer into their district’s hardest-to-staff schools.


“Medicaid 1115 Demonstration Evaluation Design Plan.” This report lays out the general design and approach of a national, cross-state evaluation of four different types of Medicaid section 1115 demonstrations: (1) delivery system reform incentive payments, (2) premium assistance for Medicaid expansions, (3) beneficiary engagement/premium payments, and (4) managed long-term services and supports. Key features.

“Hospital Acquisition of Physician Groups: On the Road to Value-Based or Higher-Priced Care?” Over the past two decades, hospitals have acquired an increasing number of physician practices to improve revenue and market share and also prepare for payment reforms. However, this study in JAMA Internal Medicine (subscription required) examines a growing body of research showing that costs increase when hospitals employ physician practices. Challenges and costs. Related CHCE forum.


Photo of woman and children walking in Bihar, Incia“Midline Findings from the Evaluation of the Ananya Program in Bihar.” This report evaluates the impacts of a comprehensive package of interventions that aim to improve maternal and child health in Bihar, India, after two years of implementation. Learn about the findings.

“Evaluation of the Zanzibar Interconnector Activity: Findings from the Hotel Study.” This study, part of the evaluation of an energy sector project in Tanzania, examined how the installation of an electrical cable connecting Zanzibar’s Unguja Island influenced outcomes for hotels. Hotel study findings.

About Us: Mathematica, a nonpartisan research firm, conducts policy research and surveys for federal and state governments, foundations, and private-sector and international clients. Our mission is to improve public well-being by bringing the highest standards of quality, objectivity, and excellence to bear on the provision of information collection and analysis to our clients.

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October 27, 2015

Responses To CREDO’s Online Charter School Study 2015

As a follow-up to the entries on New National Study Details The Operations And Effects Of Online Charter Schools and CREDO – Online Charter School Study 2015, I have to say that I have found the immediate response kind of funny.

The first thing to remember is that CREDO has tended to publish pro-charter research, and that this particular study was funded by the Walton Foundation (who love all things school choice).

The second thing to remember is that researchers that have reviewed previous CREDO reports have had significant concerns with the research methodology that CREDO uses.  For example:

In most of their past research, CREDO has tended to find that charters are doing a good job using this questionable methodology.

Now in the current Online Charter School Study 2015 CREDO has found that there is little redeeming about student performance in online charter school.  So we all know what is going to happen – in fact, I’ve written about what was and is going to happen…

And of course, the predictable happened/is happening…

K12 Inc. Responds to Online Charter School Report / Analysis of Online Charter School Study by CREDO/Mathematica/CRPE

  • even though the study found that online charter schools enroll fewer disadvantaged students, but still claim that they do enroll more at-risk student (i.e., argue that the research is wrong)
  • raises same critiques about the methodology that organizations like the NEPC (linked above) have been raising for years
  • data is dated and the findings are different now, they have their own internal, non-reviewed, corporate reports to prove it

CREDO Study of Online Learning Gets an Incomplete

  • highlights the minor positive aspects of the report (even though the report is almost completely negative towards online charter schools)
  • raises same critiques about the methodology that organizations like the NEPC (linked above) have been raising for years
  • data is dated and the findings are different now,the for profit corporations (who have no vested interest in keeping the gravy train going) have their own internal, non-reviewed, corporate reports to prove it
  • co-opts the findings for a call for some of his own pet projects (i.e., things iNACOL wants that would open open the market to allow for more profiting and pillaging).

Response to CREDO at Stanford Report

Reaction to New Online Charter School Study

  • summarizes the findings,then complains about the fact that the study didn’t include their pet project (kind of like the journal reviewer that recommends rejection of your manuscript, and then outlines the study that they would have done if they were in your shoes)

Analyzing the CREDO Online Charter School Report: A Call for Improved Performance Metrics and Quality Assurance

  • summarizes the findings, then co-opts the results for a call for some of their own pet projects

Findings in Stanford Online School Study Have No Bearing on Blended Learning

  • summarizes the findings, then complains about the fact that the study didn’t include their pet project

National Alliance Responds to CREDO’s Virtual Charter Schools Report

  • ignore the evidence and argues that charter schools work, research from this same group (ignoring the flawed methodology that now even online charter advocates acknowledge) says so
  • we should close charter schools that don’t work (while at the same time fighting against any meaningful regulation or policy that would allow states to do this)
  • charter schools only serve a small number of students (but make big profits for the companies that do serve that small percentage)
  • finally, confound the issue by reminding us that the study didn’t include blended charter schools, and those are examples of online charter schools that do work

CER Responds to Online Charter School Report

  • even though the study found that online charter schools enroll fewer disadvantaged students, but still claim that they do enroll more at-risk student (i.e., argue that the research is wrong)
  • raises same critiques about the methodology that organizations like the NEPC (linked above) have been raising for years
  • changes the topic altogether (“Will someone please things about the children!”)

Shouldn’t surprise anyone…

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