Virtual School Meanderings

September 20, 2013

New Jersey Public Education Is Good Business

This came through my RSS reader the other day (and a colleague also e-mailed me about it too).

K12 Gets Hefty Profit to Run Newark Virtual Charter School

The original article that Diane Ravitch is basing this entry on is Newark charter school contract with K12 Inc. shows influence of for-profit companies in public schools.  I have always said that public education is good business, and the last public sector that Corporate America has yet to pilfer (although the final portion of that statement is becoming less and less true everyday)!

August 16, 2013

Virtual Cronies – New Jersey Edition

This came across my radar screen in the past few days, the original is available at Virtual Cronies.

Virtual Cronies

Darcie Cimarusti, in a stellar bit of reporting, breaks down the cronyism behind the approval of two “blended learning” charter schools that rely heavily on online learning for their education model.  Despite the reports from Pennsylvania, Ohio and the rest of the nation about corruption, exorbitant prices, and poor results from cyber charters, New Jersey seems determined to plow ahead.

Why is that? Why don’t we put the brakes on these questionable schools, as NJ Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan suggests? Why not take the time to study the evidence before ramming these schools through at a cost of millions to taxpayers and local school districts?

Here’s a clue:

The three of the four virtual charters currently up for approval have two things in common: they are going to be managed by K12 Inc., and they will be based in Newark (the fourth, based in Monmouth County, also is reportedly aligned with K12; it appears to be replicating services already provided by an agency in Monmouth for a fraction of the proposed costs).

According to both the New York Times and the Nation, K12 Inc. works very hard to cultivate political connections across the country, spending nearly half-a-million dollars on direct contributions in state-level races.

What the articles fail to document, however, are the contributions made by members of K12’s board of directors. K12’s chairman until very recently was Andrew Tisch, of the famous New York Tisch family. Reports are that Tisch stepped down as chairman just a few weeks ago, but still appears to still serve on the board. He also appears to have been very well-compensated for his position, receiving both stock and options grants from the company.

Why does this matter?

Because Andrew Tisch and his family are Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s biggest financial supporters. According to NJ elections records, Tisch and his wife, Ann, gave just a hair less than the maximum allowable contribution to Booker’s last mayoral campaign. Andrews’s cousins, Laurie Sussman Tisch and Jonathan Tisch, both gave the maximum amount. Other members of the family are also heavy hitters in the Booker campaign.

Booker’s relentless push to expand charters in Newark has been very well-documented, both here and elsewhere. He and ACTING Education Commissioner Cerf have used money from both Eli Broad and Mark Zuckerberg to privatize Newark’s schools, enriching their friends and associates in the process. This has all been over the objections of local citizens, who have no say in the management of their schools, despite real concerns about growing segregation.

Well, it appears that Booker’s charter cheerleading has real benefits for the people who finance his campaigns. Thanks, in part, to Booker’s bully pulpit, Newark is poised to bring in substantial and growing revenues for K12 Inc.

And it doesn’t hurt Booker’s supporters that the President of the state’s Board of Education, Arcelio Aponte, works for Booker in his day job as the Director of Operations and Management in the city’s Economic Development department.

The cronyism surrounding the rapid expansion of charters – especially virtual charters – is frightening enough. Add to it the profit motive, the lack of local control, and the questionable value of these schools, and we’re looking at a virtual disaster in the making.

ADDING: More on Tisch and Booker:

That would be welcome news for Mr. Booker’s wealthy supporters, who also happen to be some of the richest investors in New York. Andrew Tisch, chairman of the executive committee of the Loews Corporation, held a fund-raiser for Mr. Booker at the Regency last year. Gayle King, best friend to the queen of daytime television, Oprah Winfrey, hosted an evening for him at the West Village workshop of Diane von Furstenberg. Former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley and Barbra Streisand have sung his praises. [emphasis mine]

Oh, my.

ALSO ADDING: Folks, I really have no control over the ads. I was just as stunned as anyone when K12 ads started appearing here. I honestly do not know if I can turn them off or how.

ADDING EVEN MORE: Darcie has another post up about cyber charters:

So, if you can’t make a statewide virtual charter work in Teaneck because the parents,residentssuperintendentschool boardpoliticians, and press will have a field day with the ridiculousness of a $4.7 million bottom line, where can you put one?

I know, NEWARK!

This, and this alone, explains how four cyber charters may be opening in Newark this Fall.  There is no local control and no local voice.  It has been snuffed out.

Yep. And the mayor is in debt to the guy who’s making money from this whole deal.

Read Darcie’s entire post keeping in mind Booker’s connections to K12. It’s outrageous, but typical.

– See more at:

April 6, 2010

Problem With Cyber Charter Schools – PA & NJ Edition

Last week I wrote the first in what will probably be an on-going topic – as it is a topic that I am particularly interesting (see Problem With Cyber Charter Schools – Part One).

Anyway, this was an interesting series that the LeHigh Valley Live folks posted a couple of weeks or so ago:

The series is actually based on more detailed articles that were published by the LeHigh Valley Express-Times:

I say interesting for a number of reasons, but one is due to the location.  Cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania (and Ohio for that matter) when they were first created did suffer from many of the problems described in these articles (e.g., lack of oversight, fraud in terms of funding provided for students that didn’t actually attend the cyber charter school, lack of participation in state testing regimes, etc.).  While I believe in both instances (i.e., Pennsylvania and Ohio) that things have gotten much better, I do still believe that within the traditional public education community this early “Wild West” mentality gained them a reputation that they still haven’t been able to shake (and that has followed cyber charter schools to other jurisdictions).

It is also interesting because the main focus of these articles is Pennsylvania.  You see a doctoral student of mine, Abigail Hawkins, and I did a study a couple of years ago looking at what policies K-12 online learning programs had with regards to trial periods (i.e., that period of time a student can try out an online course, drop it and not be counted as being officially enrolled) and how they calculated successful completions.  Note that this study will be published in the American Journal of Distance Education sometime this month. One of the results of that study was a finding that in Pennsylvania the state required that cyber charter schools not have a trial period – that their enrollment data was kept in the same manner as a brick-and-mortar public school (i.e., beginning on the first day of school).  This was the only jurisdiction where this was done.  What this means is that comparisons of completion rates, school performance and student performance can be accurately made between the cyber charter schools and the brick-and-mortar schools in Pennsylvania – and only Pennsylvania – because you are comparing apples to apples.

So let’s do some very basic comparisons.  The Standard of education article lists that there was 1 cyber charter school making AYP, 3 cyber charter schools that were making progress towards meeting AYP, and 7 cyber charter schools not meeting AYP.  When you compare this statewide (and you can get that data here), you get the following:

Type of school Made AYP Making Progress Towards AYP Did Not Meet AYP Total
Cyber Charter Schools 1 (9.1%) 3 (27.3%) 7 (63.7%) 11
Brick-And-Mortar Schools 2290 (73.8%) 149 (4.8%) 665 (21.4%) 3104
Total 2291 (73.5%) 152 (4.9%) 672 (21.6%) 3115

The numbers don’t look particularly good for the cyber charter school community.  I should note that it would be a much better comparison is you could compare the overall student data – which I’ve never done for Pennsylvania – although it would make a nice dissertation project because of the whole apples to apples thing.

Now the argument can – and likely will be made as soon as I post this – that cyber charter schools cater to a different kind of student.  I’ve speculated as much in a recent article in the Journal of Distance Learning:

However, in this instance the literature may not provide a complete picture of the virtual school landscape. For example, in her opening remarks to the 2007 annual Virtual School Symposium, Susan Patrick explained that the two courses with the highest enrolment of online students in the United States were Algebra I and Algebra II. These mathematics courses are usually taken in the first year of high school, and many of the online students enrolled in these courses are taking the course for the second or third time. Watson et al. (2008) indicated that the largest growth in K–12 online learning enrolment is in the full-time cyber schools, and both Watson et al. and Klein (2006) indicate that many cyber schools have a higher percentage of students classified as ‘at-risk’. Rapp, Eckes, and Plurker (2006) described at-risk students as those who might otherwise drop out of traditional schools. Concerns or issues that students have with their teachers and courses (such as organisation, lessons, assignments, and grading) have the potential to create roadblocks to success. While the report Charter Schools in Eight States: Effects on Achievement, Attainment, Integration, and Competition reports that “virtual [cyber] charter middle schools lag substantially behind classroom-based charter middle schools” (Zimmer, 2009, pp. 40–41), it also cautions against drawing conclusions because many of those included in the comparison “may be students who are especially likely to have experienced an event producing a decline in their expected future achievement” (p. 41). These events cause the kind of roadblocks described by Rapp and her colleagues. (Barbour, 2009, 17-18)

The problem is that it is speculation.  For the most part, the only information we have about cyber charter schools is what the for profit companies that manage them are willing to share – and like any business model you share what presents you in the best light and you only share what you have to because you’re in a competitive business.

It was just a week or two ago that I was chatting with a colleague in the K-12 online learning community who indicated that he refuses to even mention cyber charter schools when he does presentations about K-12 online learning because in his opinion there had not been able publicly available, independent research and/or evaluations conducted on any of these for profit companies.  I can’t disagree.  The only evaluations I’m aware of were the Bracey (2004) and Ohanian (2004) ones; and neither of those were favourable towards the cyber charter school in question.

Unfortunately until that void begins to get filled with credible, reliable, independent research, there will continue to be questions about the effectiveness of and funding for this form of schooling.


Barbour, M. K. (2009). Today’s student and virtual schooling: The reality, the challenges, the promise… Journal of Distance Learning, 13(1), 5-25.

Bracey, G. W. (2004). Knowledge universe and virtual schools: Educational breakthrough or digital raid on the public treasury? Tempe, AZ: Arizona State University. Retrieved from

Ohanian, S. (2004). The K12 virtual primary school history curriculum: A participant’s-eye view. Tempe, AZ: Education Policy Studies Laboratory, Arizona State University. Retrieved from

January 18, 2009

NJ Looking At Online Requirements For High School

This is yet another item posted in the iNACOL forums that I wanted to bring to a wider audience.  Note that this is a query, so if you’re able to answer any of the questions below, please respond in the comment area and I’ll try and pass the responses on to the individual who posted the original item in the iNACOL forum.

As you may have heard, tere is a recommendation going to the NJ state board to require all high school graduates to have taken an online course. The definition of an online course will probably be left to the district. Looking for some insight here…

Does that mean, for example, having all your students sign up for a FLVS course, take a moodle created in-house course, or somewhere in between. What courses might work? Any clues? Stumbling blocks to avoid?

How can we get districts to support a state board “recommendation”? How can we educate districts to support the recommendation? Can we provide samples of how districts in other states are successfully implementing similar requirements?

Thanks in advance!

I should note that this would mean that New Jersey joins the ranks of Michigan, Alabama, New Mexico and Florida as having some form of requirement for students and/or school districts in relation to online learning (and I believe I have that list of state correct).

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