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 17, 2018

EDTECH537 – Guest Blog Entry: My Journey To and Through K-12 Online Learning Research

As I mentioned in the Week 4 entry for my EDTECH537 – Blogging In The Classroom course yesterday, today I wanted to post a sample of a guest blog entry.

Jered Borup is the professor-in-charge of George Mason University’s Blended and Online Learning in Schools Master’s and Certificate programs that are devoted to improving teacher practices in online and blended learning environments. Previous to earning his Ph.D. at Brigham Young University, Jered taught history at a junior high school for six years. He has also taught online and blended courses since 2008. His current research interests include developing online learning communities and identifying support systems that adolescent learners require to be successful in online environments. A full list of his publications can be found at

As a junior high school teacher, I commonly used technology in my classroom. I was the first in my school district to create and maintain a classroom website where I placed learning materials including mini-lecture recordings that I created for students to watch if they missed class or wished to review lessons at their own pace. I felt like I was on the cutting edge of teaching and was frequently thanked and praised by students, parents, and administrators. However, two experiences helped me to realize the limitations of my educational technology use. First, while teaching summer school I made an appointment with the principal and proposed that we start offering my online lectures, worksheets, and exams as an online course for students who needed to recover previously failed credits. She declined my offer because in her words “these students need a teacher who cares about them and is there to motivate them through the course.” Second, I had the opportunity to meet with my superintendent. While I was expecting him to praise my course website he actually challenged me to do more, pointing out that there was not a meaningful change in how I designed and facilitated learning activities. Instead I was simply using technology to digitize what I was doing face-to-face. More specifically, I was using technology so that I could lecture more in class.

Those two experiences made me reimagine the purpose of educational technology. Rather than using technology to simply transmit information, I began to see it as a way to communicate, collaborate, connect, and create. I also began to see how technology allowed me to create learning opportunities for my students that would be difficult or impossible without technology. When I started my PhD program at Brigham Young University (BYU) I was also fortunate to work with people such as Drs. Charles R. Graham and Richard E. West who helped me to see the transformative potential of online and blended learning—a vision that has shaped my teaching and research efforts at George Mason University. This is also when I began researching how online learning communities are formed and the support structures that online students require to be successful. While online learning has grown dramatically, online course attrition rates were—and still are—higher than those in face-to-face courses and I believed—and still do—that online course outcomes would improve if online learning communities and student support improved.

As a graduate student, I attended a seminar where Dr. David Whetten expanded on his 1989 publication, “What Constitutes a Theoretical Contribution?” Whetten likened research to a scholarly conversation that requires participants to hear, acknowledge, and build upon others’ contributions. He added that these conversations were centered around theoretical frameworks and stressed the importance of conducting research that is guided by existing frameworks, but he also acknowledged that existing frameworks have “boundaries of generalizability” and some scholars must work to create their own frameworks when their line of inquiry extends beyond the boundaries of existing frameworks. When I conducted research examining online courses in higher education it was easy to identify well-established frameworks to guide my research. In contrast, when conducting research in K-12 online learning environments I struggled to find frameworks that could sufficiently guide my research. As a result, my co-authors and I used K-12 online learning research and frameworks created in online courses in higher education, and frameworks created in face-to-face K-12 learning environments to develop the Adolescent Community of Engagement (ACE) framework. Specifically, the ACE framework identifies and defines roles and responsibilities that parents, teachers, and student peers can fulfill to improve K-12 online students’ affective, behavioral, and cognitive engagement.

The ACE framework has helped guide nearly all of my subsequent research examining K-12 online learning. More specifically, my co-authors and I have conducted a series of case studies examining perceptions and experiences of various stakeholders (e.g., students, parents, teachers, facilitators) in various models of online learning such as a full-time cyber high school, a large independent study program, and a state-run supplemental online program where students were assigned an online teacher and an on-site facilitator who regularly worked with them in their brick-and-mortar school. While I did not conduct these case studies to “test” the framework, they have been helpful in refining the framework by identifying responsibilities that did not appear to be as important as originally hypothesized. At the same time, the case studies identified responsibilities that appeared to be important but were not originally identified in the ACE framework. Some additional case studies are ongoing. When they are finished, my co-authors and I will reexamine and update the framework in light of the case study findings over the last five years. Once the ACE framework has been revised, we will work to create and validate instruments that measure the constructs identified in the ACE framework. These instruments would allow researchers to identify specific types of supports that most impact students’ affective, behavioral, and cognitive engagement and hopefully provide insights into strategies that can make meaningful reductions in K-12 online course attrition rates.

Jered Borup is the professor-in-charge of George Mason University’s Blended and Online Learning in Schools Master’s and Certificate programs. A full list of his publications can be found at  As is the pattern here at Virtual School Meanderings, this will be the only entry posted today.

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!

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