Virtual charter school decision due Friday

And the drain on public education funding worsens:

NCVA would offer online instruction to children across the state. As a public charter school, it would receive state and local funding for each student. The money would come at the expense of the students’ home school districts. The academy expects more than $18 million in public funding its first year, with growth in following years.

Aside from the fact this has the potential of adversely impacting the budgets of numerous school districts statewide, it looks like K-12 is just one more tentacle of ALEC:

ALEC wined and dined many of New Mexico's Republican legislators during the recent 30-day session, and ALEC authored the education bill, backed by Gov. Susana Martinez and education secretary-designate Skandera, to let K12 Inc. open "virtual" charter schools, where students take classes by computer from their homes.

Why is that a bad idea? For one, it violates a section in New Mexico law which says "a charter school shall be nonsectarian, nonreligious and non-home based public school."

For another, K12 is a multimillion-dollar corporation whose staff is only a little more than one-quarter teachers, while the other 72 percent is sales and marketing. That's an interesting choice as partner-in-education for a governor who so often squawks about using tax dollars to pay for classroom instruction, not administration.

K12 is being sued for shareholder fraud, and a New York Times expose on K12 published late last year called it "a company that tries to squeeze profits from public school dollars by raising enrollment, increasing teacher workload and lowering standards." K12 gets "an average of $5,500 to $6,000 per student from state and local governments," the Times reported. But that money comes upfront, and often students who start the programs don't finish.

"With retention a problem, some teachers said they were under pressure to pass students with marginal performance and attendance," the Times said.

The NC GOP's anti-public-education obsession is all-inclusive; anything that takes money away from the traditional system, regardless of its effectiveness or legal standing, is A-OK with these numbnuts.


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How does the virtual charter school guarantee that the student is the one doing the work?

Will K12 Inc. or any other provider of virtual charter schools agree to a one year contract, to be competitively bid every year? That is in effect what the Radical Republicans have done for our public school teachers.


The measure of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little. - FDR

K12, Inc.

I have some experience with the Virtual Academies run by K12, Inc. I'm not sure how I feel about the political implications here, but I can answer a few questions:

How does the virtual charter school guarantee that the student is the one doing the work?

In the Virtual Academy setup, students attend "Class Connect" sessions with their teachers on a regular basis. They make use of chat rooms, web cams, and microphones so that there is interaction between teachers and students, and among the students themselves. There is a curriculum set for every grade level, but the key is that students work at their own pace, generally, and they work on their own schedule. Many lessons are taught by the "Learning Coach" - usually a parent - who is responsible for turning in paperwork, etc., proving that the lessons were accomplished.

There are more controls than you think - and it's better than many homeschooling situtations, where there is no curriculum, and no trained educators involved at all.

Please don't misunderstand me - I am not an advocate for or against NCVA or K12 - I just knew the answer to that question. I am a strong believer in making public schools stronger. I also know that homeschooling is the right approach for some students. I'd like to see our public schools doing Virtual Academy under their own auspices rather than contracting out. But I don't know that we have the infrastructure to do that.

So who pays for all that?

Who buys the computers, provides the broadband internet access, webcams, etc.? How are the state-mandated end-of-grade standardized tests proctored? I suggest there are few controls, while the company operating the "virtual school" rakes in pretty much nothing but profit.

And the more important question: is the "virtual charter" school operator compensated at the same per pupil expenditure as traditional brick-and-mortar public schools?

I understand that in Michigan, the "annual enrollment" (and thereby the per pupil stipend from the state) is set on a certain date in September, when all schools (including the "virtual" schools) send in a count. After that, schools expend great effort to get students to leave.


The measure of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little. - FDR

Great Effort??

I don't think schools expend "great effort to get students to leave". In my experience (and I contracted with them for 4 years), great effort was made to keep students in school, to accommodate individual needs, and to work with families who needed special counseling, etc. I was often a part of that effort, so I know this first hand.

As to who pays for these things - I can't answer with certainty because I wasn't involved in that end of the Virtual Academies. In some instances, computers were provided as well as text books and some consumable materials. At the end of the school year, or the student's enrollment in the VA, the books and electronics were returned to K12, Inc.

I don't know at what rate virtual charter schools are compensated, and how that rate compares to brick and mortar schools. In my opinion, if virtual academies are compensated at the same rate as brick and mortar schools, they should meet the same educational standards - licensed teachers teaching each class, etc.

Let me make this really clear: I no longer contract with K12. I was not involved in the classroom activities. I was a message board moderator for the 9-12 grades. During the time that I was on that contract, I got to know a lot about homeschooling and the Virtual Academy set up.

I have mixed feelings because I believe that the path to our best future lies through our public schools. However, I think that some form of virtual schooling has a place within our public school system. (North Carolina has had a "virtual school" option for some time.) As for the specific company "K12, Inc.", I had a delightful time working with the students, teachers, and administration. I can't speak to the politics of it beyond that.

Privitization perfected, sturdents and taxpayers lose

K-12s drop out rates are very high, performance on tests low. They spend heavily on marketing to replenish dropouts.
Privatization 101 and hugely profitable. Just more taxpayer money public schools won't have.

Watch out the Voucher bill is roaring back, too.

K12, INC Financial Performance

Class Action Suit by shareholders against K12, Inc. filed in the US District Court Eastern District of Virginia. The lawsuit claims that K12 CEO Ronald Packard mis-characterized K12 student performance, based on investigative reporting by the New York Times in December 2011. From the NY Times report:

A look at a forthcoming study by researchers at Western Michigan University and the National Education Policy Center shows that only a third of K12’s schools achieved adequate yearly progress, the measurement mandated by federal No Child Left Behind legislation.

Some teachers at K12 schools said they felt pressured to pass students who did little work. Teachers have also questioned why some students who did no class work were allowed to remain on school rosters, potentially allowing the company to continue receiving public money for them. State auditors found that the K12-run Colorado Virtual Academy counted about 120 students for state reimbursement whose enrollment could not be verified or who did not meet Colorado residency requirements. Some had never logged in.

And further in the report:

The online companies can tailor their programs by reducing curriculum and teachers. During a presentation at the Virginia legislature this year, a representative of Connections explained that its services were available at three price points per student:

Option A: $7,500, a student-teacher ratio of 35-40 to 1, and an average teacher salary of $45,000.

Option B: $6,500, a student-teacher ratio of 50 to 1, with less experienced teachers paid $40,000.

Option C: $4,800 and a student-teacher ratio of 60 to 1, as well as a narrower curriculum.

Despite lower operating costs, the online companies collect nearly as much taxpayer money in some states as brick-and-mortar charter schools. In Pennsylvania, about 30,000 students are enrolled in online schools at an average cost of about $10,000 per student.

Here in NC, we spend roughly $8K/student on average, teachers average salary is lower, but our typical student-teacher ratio is much higher.

How exactly is this a bargain for taxpayers?


The measure of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little. - FDR