Virtual School Meanderings

January 14, 2014

Blog Entry – 15 Months in Virtual Charter Hell: A Teacher’s Tale

So this came through my electronic desk last week from several sources.  The first was in my RSS reader, from an entry that Diane Ravitch (see Anthony Cody: Confessions of a Teacher in “Virtual Charter School Hell”) and David Safier (see “15 Months in Virtual Charter Hell”: an inside look at K12 Inc.) had posted.  I also received a couple of e-mails from colleagues mentioning it.

The blog entry is a VERY interesting read…

15 Months in Virtual Charter Hell: A Teacher’s Tale

Check it out!

May 20, 2013

Does This Apply To Cyber Charter Schools Too?

For-profits-large2Last week I saw an article entitled Marketing and For-Profit Schools: Conflict of Interest? come across my electronic desk (through Twitter I think).

According to some accounts, for-profit colleges spend as much money on marketing as they do on instruction—sometimes more. Proponents of restrictions generally hope that the money saved on recruitment and marketing could be reinvested in school infrastructure, curriculum, programs, and instructors.

I don’t know if the figures hold true for for-profit corporations that operate in the K-12 environment, but I do know that cyber charter companies spend significant amounts of money on advertizing (while most supplemental statewides and district-based programs spend almost no money on advertizing).

Given that the educational management organizations (EMOs) that operate charter schools, both brick-and-mortar and cyber charter schools, often rely upon aggressive advertizing to increase enrollment numbers (which increases funding – i.e., profits – through an increase in Full-time equivalents [FTEs]).  At the same time, traditional public schools spent nothing or almost nothing on advertizing.  Is this a conflict of interest?

December 14, 2012

Infographic: Non-Profits & Online Education

This came through my inbox yesterday or the day before…  I am curious as to what one would look like for the K-12 environment.  I do note that the graphic is generous to the for-profits…OnlineEducationNonProfitsFightBack

February 29, 2012

News Article – EMOs Eat Up School Funding

This article came through my inbox a few days ago…

EMOs Eat Up School Funding

I mention it here because I think that the article misses one of the bigger issues, and that is the issue of transparency!

I can look at the budget of a traditional public school or public school district and see how much it is paying out in external contracts.  While I can’t figure out how much of each of those individual contracts are for the actual services and/or products in question and how much are profit for the company, there is some form of oversight.

The problem is that when you turn the entire operation of the school over to one of these EMOs, you lose some of that transparency.  As a former board member for one of these cyber charter schools, I had access to the full 30+ page budget in the first year of operation for my cyber charter school.  I know that the chartering organization (i.e., Ferris State University) took 3% of the students’ FTE for administration.  I know that we set aside X number of dollars in a rainy day fund, in case the school experienced a set back at some point.  The rest of the budget went to various products and services provided by the EMO.  It was broken down into page after page of detail.  But there was no sense of how much money was actually spent on the student, and how much was actually going to the company.

The article overlooks this aspect, and I think it is an important one.  As I’ve said in the past, one of the biggest issues with EMOs are the fact that society – through its elected legislators – have abdicated its responsibility to provide public education and simply out-sourced it to private companies.

January 11, 2012

How Do For Profit Online Schools Fare? Examining The Responses

I referenced this in the Virtual Schooling In The News entry this past Saturday, but I wanted to highlight it again.

How are students at privately run virtual schools performing?
There were 43% more students learning online at virtual schools managed by private companies in 2011 than in 2010. However, a report being published today says such schools have not outperformed traditional public schools and charter schools on standardized tests. The National Education Policy Center found that 27% of privately managed virtual schools achieved Adequate Yearly Progress, compared with about 52% of traditional schools. The New York Times (tiered subscription model) (1/6)

Note that since the article is in their subscription model, I have copied and pasted it below as well.

I have to be honest and say that I find this all too amusing, given the neo-liberal and neo-conservative proponents of K-12 online learning are always talking about accountability and quality and student performance.  I suspect they’ll claim this study – like all of the other studies that don’t go in their favour – are bias and methodologically flawed; probably even calling The New York Times article itself a hit piece and generating some kind of top ten list featuring parents and students.  It all reminds me of a couple of blog entries that Brian @ CLRN posted a few weeks back: CA Charter School Association says, “Close CA Virtual Academy @ Kern” and Parent Group says, “We Love Bad Charter Schools” – so much for quality and accountability (see also Another View: Data can bedevilcharter schools)…

While I want to delve into the actual results, I’ll leave that for another day when I have some more time on my hands (and fewer academic writing obligations).  But I did want to take a quick look at some of the typical response that we see to this kind of piece.  As a reminder, the report basically says that, using AYP data

  • 48.2% of charter schools run by for-profit companies made AYP
  • 27.4% of cyber charter schools run by for-profit companies made AYP
  • 56.4% of charter schools run by non-profit organizations made AYP

The first types of response that we often see is the claim that cyber charter schools typically deal with a higher percentage of at-risk students, and that is why their performance is so far off.  For example:

“The study’s results may reflect the kinds of students flocking to online public schools—such as those who have fallen behind in high school—more than the quality of instruction, said Susan Patrick, president of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, a nonprofit advocacy and research group in Vienna, Virginia.  “The kids enrolling in online schools needed something other than the traditional system,” Patrick said in a phone interview.

From Educational Management Organizations: The Rest of the Story

I guess there are two things to consider here, the first is the actual claim and the second is the relevance.  In looking at the actual claim, I can tell you that at least one national cyber charter company that I have partnered on for a couple of grant proposals in the past reports that their cyber charter schools at-risk student population enrollment, including their special education enrollment, are at statewide averages in almost every state that they operate.  Further, as I noted in my testimony on Michigan Senate Bill 619:

Proponents of cyber charter schools will argue these schools often enroll a higher percentage of at-risk students. Each of these legislative audits spoke to that issue. While the Minnesota audit found that full-time online schools did enroll a smaller percentage of gifted and talented students, it also reported the percentages of special education students and students eligible for free or reduced lunch were basically the same. The Wisconsin audit actually revealed that from 2002 to 2008 there were 75 percent fewer students receiving special education services in their cyber charter schools. The 2006 and 2011 Colorado data indicated few differences in the proportion of students attending cyber charter schools based on all of the State’s definitions encompassing characteristics of at-risk students.

Aside from these questionable claims – at least questionable based on the existing data – the bigger question for me is the relevance of a statement about enrolling a higher percentage of at-risk students.  Basically, so what?  If the premise of the argument is that we need to close traditional public schools because they are failing the students, and then divert these students to charter schools and cyber charter schools as a solution, by extension doesn’t that mean that charter schooling and cyber charter schooling should address the achievement deficit?  I mean you don’t hear these same people arguing to keep traditional public schools open and opposing converting them into for profit charter schools because the student body has a high percentage of at-risk students.  I’m saying that the notion is a red herring designed to provide an excuse for these programs in the face of the same kinds of failures to address these students’ needs that they experienced in the public school.

Similarly, if you look at the second typical response that you see to these kinds of stories you’ll note the following kinds of comments:

Jeff Kwitowski from K¹² said, “We reiterated our commitment to performance and accountability but also agreed with Sec. Duncan that the AYP metric is flawed and unfairly labels schools as “failing.”

From Educational Management Organizations: The Rest of the Story

Jeff Kwitowski, spokesman for the company, based in Herndon, Va., said using the adequate yearly progress standard to judge virtual schools is unfair. “It’s not a reliable measure. The secretary of education has said that the AYP measure under (No Child Left Behind) is broken and unfairly labels schools as failing.”

From Virtual Charters Lag Behind Other Schools’ Performance, Report Says

Now I’m not here to argue in favour of AYP as a valid measure.  In fact, the authors that these people are all responding to state in the very first bullet point related to student performance that “AYP provides a crude indicator of the extent to which schools are meeting state standards.”  Again, I’m concerned with the relevance of such a statement.  If AYP is a bad measure, why is it an acceptable measure to use when determining that it is okay to closed a traditional public school or convert that traditional public school into a charter school run by a for-profit company?  Why is AYP an acceptable measure to use when arguing in favour of lessening restrictions on full-time cyber charter school in a state?  And if AYP is an acceptable measure to use when making these arguments, why isn’t it an acceptable measure to use when judging how these for-profit charter schools or these cyber charter schools are doing?  Quite dishonest if you ask me!

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