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Education in the Media, Philosophical Meanderings, Student Voices

An Virtual Schoolers Response to: Profits and Questions at Online Charter Schools

After reading the New York Times piece about virtual schools, specifically K12 and Connections- Pearson, some horrible truths and some equally horrible lies have been absorbed into my mind. The author of this piece tries to essentially put K12 and Connections- Pearson on the stage as these big for profit corporations that directly influence the independent charter schools that buy their services into making adverse, unethical, and illegal decisions. The author further goes on in her crusade against virtual charters in falsely misstating K12’s role as an EMO (Education Management Organization) like venture and then continues to hodgepodge instances of inequity and lax oversight, specifically at the corporation’s largest affiliated school, Agora Virtual Academy.

Truth of the matter is that while the author tried to hodgepodge instances that would warrant overall worry and justify questioning of K12’s and Connections-Pearson’s corporate morale she fails to differentiate K12’s  scope of ability from the schools. The author further fails to understand the collective importance of the virtual charter school, the schools sponsor (depending on the state this is a public college, education service center, school district, or the state department of education), and the state department of education relationship. In her article she is repeatedly citing K12 as the reason for individual schools instances of inadequate oversight, incompetence within leadership, noncompliance, and ethics violations without regard to how the schools have their authoritative  bodies set up or even if states have regulations pertaining to such practice of influencing beyond means. The author also fails to report and understand that K12 is just a supplier of services and that competence amongst the teachers and the board of education is detrimental to the schools success and that if such lack of competence and morale should occur that it’s not K12’s responsibility to correct that.

However, its prejudiced publications like this that distract the nation from fixing its educational system, its posts like this that clearly show that the nations adults who have the authority to correct the system are still preoccupied with measuring who’s better and who’s worse. It’s these same kinds of posts that led to the decline in respect for educators earlier this year and to the overall bashing of the unions .It’s that attitude that led to America becoming wrapped up in NCLB’s ideology and it’s that ideology that has us stuck at a point of continuous stagnation. If anything, it’s the realization of that failed and inadequate ideology that was being referenced in the article by the K12 official. The fact that this author and the people who are loathing over its prejudiced suggestions are in fact wasting their time is rather frightening and it goes to show that America isn’t serious about building its next education system and disabling its current one.

We, as America’s youth are dependent upon our nation’s adults to lead us to a better, more effective education system and sitting around bashing companies like Connections-Pearson and K12 or bashing 2nd generation public schools won’t lead us to an education revolution. However, it’s becoming more disturbingly apparent that a vast majority of our nation’s adults are too busy bickering like preschoolers to come to a serious discussion about how to bring America back to its position as a leader in P-16 education. This disturbing realization is being further hardened by the fact that nearly a few weeks away from 2012 we are still discussing in terms of competition and faults, in terms of union vs. non union or charter vs. non charter or even, elite private vs. traditional public.

If America is serious about building a new, more equitable and sustainable educational system than we must stop loathing over the irrelevant information that comes before us and we must start working as a collective unit with a tabula rasa approach. If we are truly serious than we must stop using this entire redundant, media fueled and egotistical backed language that isn’t resolving anything and that’s only further encouraging the continued state of stagnated progress and unstinted regression within our academic system. If we are truly serious than we must take these concerns to state governments and demand more stringent regulation and tougher enforcement instead of participating in game of blaming private industry while ignoring governments faults.

Until this happens, until Americas adults start paying attention like they claim to be to our faltering education system and the clear need for a better system than we won’t get here. It’s a shame, an embarrassment, that nearly 20 years after the sirens have been sounded America’s adults are still preoccupied and are still thinking in redundant fashions. It’s a shame that after 20 years we are still no more close to academic stability than we were beforehand because we can’t stop competing and thinking narrowly about progression and come together as a nation of tired, determined, and competent innovators who are willing to challenge the status quo. Until this happens, America’s adults who aren’t willing to provide a thought, a voice, a action that helps us move toward a system that’s fresh and stable need to keep their critiques to themselves because they serve no purpose and just reinforce our distraction and inaction.

My suggestions to adults who care enough to make themselves heard, rather biased or neutral: Stop wasting your times competing and denouncing and learn how to get along so we can come to a collective solution.



11 thoughts on “An Virtual Schoolers Response to: Profits and Questions at Online Charter Schools

  1. What bothered me about the piece is that the New York Times often praises traditionalist “reform” movements that are funded largely by Pearson and McGraw-Hill. The truth is that transnational corporations make huge profits from all sectors of education in all types of models (public, charter, K-12, colleges, trade schools, home-school publications) and in the process we shift toward a monolithic, ideological view of what learning should look like.

    Posted by John T. Spencer | December 14, 2011, 8:53 am
  2. Yep, all the big “providers” are feeding at the education trough

    Posted by Kirsten Olson | December 14, 2011, 11:01 am
  3. “However, it’s becoming more disturbingly apparent that a vast majority of our nation’s adults are too busy bickering like preschoolers to come to a serious discussion about how to bring America back to its position as a leader in P-16 education.”

    I think this is an insult to preschoolers.

    Thanks for posting from the frontline, Jabreel.


    Posted by NanceConfer | December 14, 2011, 1:01 pm
  4. I hear you here, Jabreel. Your perspective is always enlightened. I do still challenge you to call into question the motives behind the Corporate online charter movement. I agree strongly that we are all to blame for both the success and failure of the corp reformers. Yet, we still are up against a mentality of profit over people.

    While it is hard to blame a business from trying to make a profit, I can blame them for trying to game the system or cheat to gain that profit. They are not only gaming the system that is already set up, one that is corrupt, and broken, but they are paying millions and millions of dollars to make it harder for us to demand regulation, to promote transparency, to protect the rights of all children to have a equitable education.

    I will agree that we need to stop the bickering, and that not addressing the larger issues in education reform is very problematic. The reality for me, in the current climate, we are all a little confused on what to do. Charters are being co-opted, online schools are serving only some, leaving others to fail, public school continue to be de-funded to the point that basic successes are getting harder to provide.

    The answers are complex and I am glad that you are willing to stand up to either/or type stories like this.

    Public schoolers are scared, and it is not just those who support the status quo. Many Activists who have been trying to change the system for years are scared that all the progressive, transformative changes they have worked for are disappearing, and that they will be hard to bring back.

    For me, it is not good vs evil, but a lack of honest conversation. I hope we can continue to have this honest conversation here at the Coop, and challenge both sides to be more nuanced, to express their fears and struggles, and to listen more.

    Thank you for this post and putting yourself out there as a voice of a student that is honest about how Online schools affect your life.


    Posted by dloitz | December 14, 2011, 3:45 pm
  5. I’m with you, Jabreel, I get tired of hearing people demonize K12 or Khan Academy or any other tool that people find useful. I’m no fan of William Bennett, but it’s a great thing for many kids that they can get a full K12 program for free through a virtual charter. It accommodates kids who learn at different speeds, kids who need more physical activity, kids with disabilities, kids who want to get through their school work quickly and then pursue other interests, kids who are serious athletes or dancers or actors, and kids who would not otherwise have high-quality learning materials available in their communities.

    One of my daughters used a couple of K12 courses when she was middle-school age. The life science course was well-designed, fun, interesting, had beautiful images, great animations of viruses invading cells, etc. — you could really see the big corporate (and government) dollars that went into developing it, but the bottom line was that it was a good product and my daughter enjoyed it. On the other hand, the K12 ancient world history course that she tried was pretty ethnocentric, with a very long chapter about the historical Jesus and an inaccurate and a mildly disparaging description of Buddhist philosophy; you could really see the conservative bias of the company becoming an issue, and so we moved on to other materials. But one of the most important lessons for kids to learn is that there is bias in all instructional materials, and you have to learn to look for it and step back and think for yourself about it. (Make sure you look at something outside the K12 curriculum for U.S. History, Jabreel! I recommend Howard Zinn!)

    Clearly the big curriculum and textbook companies have an edge in both advertising and development — they have the budget to develop a product that is appealing and user-friendly, and the budget to market it effectively. But what gives them so much power and such huge profits is their captive audience of students who have no choice over their own learning materials – and this is just as much of an issue in a public school as in an online charter. As John and Kirsten point out, it’s not like the big textbook publishers don’t make their truckloads of cash when a school district adopts one of their textbooks and kids and teachers all have to use it whether they want to or not. The fact that any one of these textbooks can have political bias is another reason why lack of choice is so problematic.

    While corporations can try to market their wares to small independent schools and homeschoolers, there’s no captive audience there, and they’ll only succeed if people like their products. Where there’s local and individual freedom to choose, the big corporate curriculum suppliers have to compete with a whole world of independent books, magazines, journals, films, websites, blogs, twitter feeds, friends, neighbors, museums, local businesses, mentors, life. That’s the best way to keep learning from becoming monolithic.

    Posted by Carol Black | December 15, 2011, 4:09 am
  6. Blended learning that integrates communications and productions technology with inquiry-based learning? Yes, please.

    Blended learning that ties kids to desks and assessment-by-database? No, thanks.

    I would love to sit down with policy-makers and find some common ground. However, I don’t see any incentive for an education provider to sit down with me. Providers are protected from teachers and other stakeholders by the buffer of policy mandates requiring the purchase of services and materials. They’re protected from students and parents by compliant educators.

    I’m unsure of how to get folks to the table without some hue and cry, or that the hue and cry will work, but sitting and waiting is not for me.

    Which groups of stakeholders would you want to engage in frank conversation first, Jabreel?


    Posted by Chad Sansing | December 15, 2011, 12:12 pm
    • Chad, I love your thinking. When I first started becoming interested in education I actually started writing a charter school plan for the Thomas B Fordham Inst. I actually got to like page 60 I think but then I realized I was thinking out of pure misconception of how things actually worked in the edu-world and that while some of my ideas were realistic and attainable some were far off. But, yes, Blended education is probably the most effective way to go because it still caters to children who cant focus on a boring teacher at the front of the room talking and to parents who cant or simply wont be there for their child in a full virtual mode.

      But to answer your question, I would love to see each states Board of Education, Board of Regents, and biggest and most effective school districts come to the table and then demand that the US Dept. of Education, ACLU, SPLC, and the NACA join them. For some reason, I think a meeting of this magnitude where the clear objective is to construct a plan to “shut down and reboot” our system with children as the priority might get to move somewhere.

      Posted by Jabreel Chisley | December 15, 2011, 3:15 pm
  7. K12 Inc requires students score an 80 on an online assessment to move to the next lesson. How many of these assessments are multiple choice?

    Posted by joebower | December 19, 2011, 6:56 pm
  8. I’ve read this twice, and I am having a really hard time figuring out how this post can be considered a “rebuttal” to the NY Times piece.

    Jabreel, you write about the need for collaboration and change, which I agree needs to happen, but not K12 Inc’s way. K12 Inc and others like them are nothing more than a vehicle for the profiteering of public education.

    For more on my perspective, I would ask that you read:

    The politics of personalization:

    Two tales of personalization:


    Posted by joebower | December 19, 2011, 11:08 pm

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