Is a virtual education the same thing as an in-person education? Can profits and education co-exist without short-changing children? And how much will this cost us? North Carolina is going to find out.
In last summer’s General Assembly session, Sen. Jerry Tillman (R, Moore, Randolph) pushed through a bill requiring the establishment in North Carolina of 2 virtual charter schools, knowing that one likely applicant was K12 Inc. And now that the law is in place, there have been only 2 applicants, one of which is K12 Inc.
At the same point in time that other states are finding schools run by K12 Inc to be inadequate to the job of educating students, North Carolina is opening the door to bring those problems here.
Colorado Virtual Academy, a high school run by K12 Inc, had a 2010 graduation rate of 12%, much, much lower than the 72 % graduation rate of Colorado’s traditional public schools, not to mention the 80% graduation we currently have in NC’s public schools. K12 Inc’s Ohio Virtual Academy had a 30% graduation rate the same year. That level of performance can only be described as poor.
K12, Inc., which manages public charter schools in 32 states and Washington, D.C., has faced criticism over the last year for the quality of its schools. Critics argue that the company’s focus on profits has resulted in education offerings that fail to deliver the same quality as the traditional public schools. The company has fiercely defended its product, and maintained that it offers an alternative to families in areas with poor quality schools, or for children who prefer instruction at home because of illness, bullying or accelerated learners held back in their traditional classes.”
Last January, representatives from K12 Inc and Pearson made presentations to a study group working on behalf of the Department of Public Instruction.
High numbers of withdrawals, unchecked truancy and low graduation rates can thwart success at virtual high schools, two online school providers told a state study group developing recommendations for how the controversial schooling choice could operate in North Carolina.
Mary Gifford, the K12, Inc. executive, attributed her company’s low results in high school to enrollment spikes the company has seen with at-risk and impoverished students who lag behind their peers. Those students often don’t have the discipline or structure needed to succeed in a school where classrooms, teachers and peers are on computer screens. Nor can they fit four years worth of high school into the year or two they spend with K12.
“They don’t get caught up,” Gifford said about high school students at risk of dropping out. “They enroll incredibly behind and they remain behind.”
This, even though her own presentation included as part of the K12 Profile:
Operate two main full time online programs: traditional virtual academies and secondary schools better suited for at-risk students with a focus on college/career readiness, and blended/flex schools.
She also remarked, “High school is a nightmare....” And it appears virtual high schools are, too.
Many of these students are doing their on-line school work while at home, alone and unsupervised or unaided by an adult presence.
We are not really inviting K12 Inc into North Carolina; our legislator is requiring us to make a place for them here. A system whose past performance has shown super low graduation rates and whose own spokesman admits cannot meet the needs of many of the students who apply. Why are we purposefully setting our students up to fail?
We can partially account for the rapid expansion of virtual schools because of aggressive lobbying and campaign donations to legislators.
From 2004 to 2010, K12 gave about $500,000 in direct contributions to state politicians across the country, with three-quarters going to Republicans, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
“We understand the politics of education pretty well,” (Ron )Packard (K12 Inc founder ) told investors recently.”
“And it plans to grow. “We are now that much closer to our manifest destiny of making a K12 Inc. education available to every child,” Packard said in a call with Wall Street analysts this month.
The other large virtual school operator has been Connections Education, purchased by Pearson, the giant textbook publisher. One can imagine that Person-run virtual schools will require students to purchase Pearson-published textbooks, enriching the corporation even further.
States pay wildly different rates for the services offered by K12 Inc, which are basically the same across the board.
Broward County, Florida pays $3,728 per full-time student.
Greenfield, Mass, $5,000 per student
Washington, DC, $6,200 per student.
And Pennsylvania’s Agora Cyber Academy can get anywhere from $6,000 t0 $16,000 depending upon where a student lives and a complex funding mechanism.
Virginia is even worse. K12 Inc. set up their statewide school through Carroll County, and students who enrolled from anywhere in the state were considered Carroll County students. Because of poverty levels in rural Carroll County, it’s students receive higher, per pupil state funding than students in other counties. Essentially, the state gets ripped off for extra aid as the K12 Inc students from affluent counties are given the same amount of state money as those from poverty-stricken, poorly funded counties.
“Clearly, it’s not a logical or equitable system,” said state Sen. George L. Barker (D-Fairfax). “It’s a horrible deal for taxpayers.”
In one Education Oversight Committee meeting last year, Senator Tillman made know his displeasure that the committee responsible for approving charter applications had simply not approved enough of them. He suggested the committee start approving them quickly, and if they did not, then he would find a way to get it done. In fact, he said, if an applicant is to have a for-profit management company that is already doing business in another state, well, then, that was good enough for NC.
K12 Inc is an out-of-state, for profit company, doing business in other states. But seemingly, doing business poorly. Why is that good enough for North Carolina?