School Choice? Bad Choice

Online public schools are the latest proof that “choice” hurts kids

The New York Times had an extensive article yesterday on the crappy-ass performance of for-profit online public schools. The companies that run these schools provide curricula (of sorts) to parents; kids receive assignments online from teachers who oversee as many as 270 students at a time. The biggest player in this particular for-profit, to-hell-with-the-kids scheme is K12 Inc., whose Agora Cyber Charter School will report income of $72 million this year, according to the Times. And who pays for these schools? Why, you do, dear taxpayer. What do you get for your dollars? In a conference in March “sponsored by the investment firm Morgan Stanley,” K12 president Ronald J. Packard told investors that Agora students are “doing as well or better than the average child in a brick-and-mortar school.”

Uh-oh! Data released shortly after that conference showed that only 42 percent of Agora students were performing at grade level or better in math, and only 52 percent in reading. Statewide, 74 percent of the brick-and-mortar kids hit the mark in math, and 72 percent in reading.

The Times goes on to detail the aggressive enrollment practices these schools use, the high turnover among their students, their falling test scores, their overloaded teachers, and shady grading and attendance practices. It’s more than worth a read. It even singles out our fair state for special mention, saying that under the mantra of “school choice,” these cyber-school for-profits have formed “a lobbying juggernaut” in Harrisburg:

“In Pennsylvania, where K12 Inc. collects about 10 percent of its revenues, the company has spent $681,000 on lobbying since 2007. The company also has friends in high places. Charles Zogby, the state’s budget secretary, had been senior vice president of education and policy for K12. In a statement, Mr. Zogby said he still owned a small number of K12 shares, but did not make decisions specifically affecting online schools.”

The National Institute on Money in State Politics has determined that K12 and its employees have contributed nearly $500,000 to state political candidates from 2004 to 2012. And guess what? The school companies even hire temporary workers to picket and protest legislators who dare to question their tactics and financing. As for Packard? He made $5 million in fiscal year 2011—nearly double what he made in 2010. No wonder he keeps insisting K12’s schools work!

But say what he might, study after study shows cyber schools produce disappointing results.Those studies include a Stanford University analysis of Pennsylvania’s online schools that found that “in every subgroup, with significant effects, cyber charter performance is lower.” That makes you seriously wonder why Governor Corbett is so set and determined on reforming Pennsylvania’s educational system so even more money can go to failing online cyber …oh, no, wait! I forgot! It’s all about the kids!