Homeschooling curriculum seems like a benign topic. Children need to learn and it can certainly help parents to have an organized accessible curriculum. In recent years, however, the curriculum corporations have taken some interesting, and frightening, turns. Driven by a clever plan to slip government money into the hands of business men, the corporations have made their virtual academies irresistible. They present the curriculum, toss every bit of the Common Core at your child, and they appear to be free.
Yet, they are not without a price. Here are Seven Facts that you should know about corporate homeschools:
The curriculum companies are huge, publically traded companies. These companies “Sell” their curriculum to state and local governments, who run the virtual schools. K12 Inc. enrolls more public school students than any other private education management organization in the U.S., and is the biggest winner as full time virtual charter schools gain popular acceptance. It enrolled more than 65,000 students in various “schools.” Other companies include:
National Heritage Academy
- They are academic failures. The National Education Policy Center did a thorough review of 311 fulltime virtual schools enrolling an estimated 200,000 students. They found that, on the common metrics of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), state performance rankings, and graduation rates, fulltime virtual schools lag significantly behind traditional brick and mortar schools. In particular, they found that only 29.7% of students in 2011-2012 made adequate yearly progress. Seventy-nine percent of the students were ranked by the state’s standards as academically unacceptable . This is what the NY Times reported about Agora Cyber School, which is run by K12: “By almost every educational measure, the Agora Cyber Charter School is failing.” The story continues, “Nearly 60 percent of its students are behind grade level in math. Nearly 50 percent trail in reading. A third do not graduate on time. And hundreds of children, from kindergartners to seniors, withdraw within months after they enroll.”
- They are Wall Street successes. The Virtual Schools get the students allotment of tax money, even though they do not provide a playground, building, nurse, library or adequate teacher support. There is a lot of money at stake. K12, and other curriculum companies, charge each school for the curriculum. According to the K12 site, “Revenues for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2013 grew 19.7% to $848.2 million.”
The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) which, incidentally is supported by the Bush Family, has performed reliably on one front: it brings in cash. Neil, the other Bush brother, founded an educational software company called Ignite Learning. During the Bush Era, “No Child Left Behind” money was used to purchase products from Ignite Learning .When Barbara Bush donated money to the Clinton-Bush Katrina Relief fund, it was under the stipulation that the money be used to buy Ignite Learning products for relocated children. (Source: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/10/jeb-bush-digitial-learning-public-schools?page=2)
They use public funds to publicize themselves and lobby politicians: The cyber-schools and the managing corporations use the money that they collect for their own business purposes. They use it to give their CEOs a big fat paycheck or to advertise to attract more students. They even use it to lobby Congress people to create lax school regulations. A study in Wisconsin discovered that one school, iQ Academy Wisconsin, dropped $424,700 on ads to drum up more business during the 2007-08 school year. An analysis by the National Institute on Money in State Politics concluded that K12 and its employees had also contributed nearly $500,000 to state political candidates across the country from 2004 to 2010. Basically, they get money from the government, which they give back to the government and politicians, so that they can keep getting money from the government.
K-12 was founded by a convicted junk bonds criminal: The K-12 Corporation was founded by Mike Milken. If you don’t follow the Bogus Bond news, you might not have heard of him. He was indicted on 98 counts of racketeering and securities fraud in 1989 as a result of his insider trading and junk bond scamming (read this) and spent some time in a tennis-club sort of prison. He founded the company with William Bennett, another Bush crony. In K12’s defense, it has a new CEO; Ron Packard is a Wall Street Business man. He earned $5 million dollars in 2011 (according to Washington Post).
They talk about “Choice” and the “Free Market.” Alex Molnar, the director of publications at the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado-Boulder, says these policy prescriptions are part of a corporate-driven agenda to access public education funds. “These folks talk about a free market,” he says, “but they couldn’t exist without taxpayer dollars. There is a limited audience for this. You have to get policymakers to force people into it.” (Source: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/10/jeb-bush-digitial-learning-public-schools?page=2)
Teachers frequently have ridiculous course loads. Teachers are overseeing the education of more children than they can manage. Jessica Long, of the Agora Public School (a K12 School) reports that most teachers manage between 70 and 100 students (NYtimes on Agora Public School). A high school teacher frequently has as many as 250 students. It is not possible to have a meaningful relationship with a teacher who has this sort of course load.
The Bottom Line
According to Diane Ravitch, NYU’s noted educational scholar, the bottom line with the cyber schools is this:
(Cyber Schools) provide a really lousy education. The kids drop out like crazy; many of them have an attrition rate of 50 percent a year, so they have to constantly recruit to bring in fresh bodies. They have very low graduation rate, very bad test scores, very high attrition rates, and they’ll have one teacher monitoring 100 screens. So what is there to like? Why do the politicians keep doing this? It’s because the companies hire lobbyists, make campaign contributions, and they’re politically very wired. This is the great scandal.
What are home-schooling parents to do?
-Don’t enroll in an online public school. Even if you are not getting the tax money yourself, there is no need to take it from a child in a public school and hand it straight to a rich embezzler.
-Get together, on platforms like WizIQ. Share curriculum and lessons with other parents, who really do care about creating a more just and equitable world.
-Support a freelance educator. I run a tiny program with a few students. I am able to see them learn and grow, even though the program is online and I might never be in the same room as them. My program is SHINE (www.s-h-i-n-e.org) and there are other freelance teachers available in the market place at WizIQ.
The education of our children is in our hands. Considering the political climate, we are going to have to hold on to it tightly.
[Thoughts expressed in this post are entirely my own!]