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"How Online Learning Companies Bought America's Schools"

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 

I just read this long and fascinating article from The Nation.  Mods, please move this if it doesn't fit here - our board seemed the most accurate fit, but really the discussion is beyond homeschool/virtual school and into the public school realm too. 


To be upfront, I have virtual-schooled our daughter via our state's program (k12).  I have been quite happy with most of the curriculum and my dd's progress (she is definitely ahead of her cousin, who is the same age/grade, in reading/math and more knowledgeable about history and science too, and her cousin is a smart kid - my dd's handwriting isn't as good as her cousin's, but that's probably a mom problem rather than virtual school problem).  I know virtual schools, especially via public programs, are sometimes controversial among homeschoolers but typically not for the reasons this article brings up. 

Soooo .... would be very interested in what peoples' thoughts are after reading this article.  Let's make sure we don't get into politics/ad hominem attacks, since this could easily skate into that arena, and rather focus on educational policy and implementation. 

post #2 of 7

I did not read it all-- I looked at the info about student performance.


What I am wondering is if they took into account the population of those who use virtual schools.  My sister's children attend one (new to them this yr) and apparently many go into it because they (not my sister's kids) had behavioral or learning issues in a traditional school setting.  So, they were already at-risk.  My sister' kids were doing well in a brick/mortar school, and are continuing to perform well online.


RE: who is ahead (your DD vs. cousin), I always have a hard time with this kind of thing.  I don't give schools much credit either way.  My 9 yo was unschooled the past 3 yrs and has such a wide range of knowledge . . .I know I can't take credit for it!  It's just her love of reading.  The only gift I gave her was that of time to read.

post #3 of 7

Wow. Serious food for thought.


I am right now investigating a virtual school option for my kids for next school year. I basically want to use the online academy to ensure the kids are meeting state requirements for the basics, so we can work through the curriculum and still have time left to explore and learn the subjects we want to pursue as a family. I know a lot of time in brick-and-mortar school goes into classroom management, whether public or private, and I have two kids who pose no challenge that way. They are already annoyed with how much time is wasted dealing with behavior and all kinds of other stuff.


My kids are enrolled in a private school this year. We're expats, so it's a huge international school, based on what is described as an "enriched" American curriculum. The only reason we can afford this school is because tuition is rolled into dh's compensation package. Two kids' tuition, plus transport and uniforms, equals my entire pre-tax salary at my former job when I was full time. What I don't like in our case is being stuck in our overseas location for a full 10 months of the year, because their school year is so long. There's a long winter break so families can fly home for the holidays, and we get major US holidays off, as well as local national holidays, so there is a lot of time off throughout the school year. The school already uses a lot of online resources for students, including their social studies curriculum, IT, spelling, and other resources. My kids, especially my 10yo, use a lot of online resources while doing homework--to understand math concepts, read up on science stuff, research topics, etc.


Using a virtual alternative would, first, cost a quarter what their current school costs, if we chose the private, paid route rather than the home-state based public charter. Rather than being in a classroom of 26 kids (and each grade has 5 classes!), they'd be at the table with me. We'd be able to do school both in our home state and here abroad, and we wouldn't have to return to the crazy Dubai heat in September, and stay through June. (100-110F every day is really awful.) My dh travels a lot for work, and virtual school would enable us to be a lot more flexible, focusing more on school while he's out in the field, and focusing more on being with him when he is home.


Could I homeschool? Probably. I'm confident I could teach my kids. But just thinking about choosing curriculum, planning lessons, finding materials, overwhelms me. My dh comes from a country where education isn't compulsory; most of his family is illiterate. To him, school is the most precious gift a parent can give a child. Online school would bridge that gap for him, providing tangible "credentials." He has also not seen a lot of homeschooled kids in his lifetime, and of the few we know, several have really suffered academically, aging out rather than finishing, with poor skills in the fundamentals of math and reading. He's afraid of homeschooling.


I don't like that virtual schools seem to have come on the scene as a tool to undermine and de-fund traditional public schools. I don't like that their hiring practices have worked to pit teachers against teachers. I don't like that we're still measuring kids using "grade level." Public schools have huge changes that need to be made to help educate American kids for a new economy and a new world, and it is scary that the money needed for these changes is being funneled away into giant for-profit corporations. That said, just thinking about what the new school model would need to look like for the public makes my head spin.


Still, I was conflicted to begin with, and now I feel even more conflicted about the decision.

post #4 of 7


Originally Posted by Mizelenius View Post

IWhat I am wondering is if they took into account the population of those who use virtual schools.  My sister's children attend one (new to them this yr) and apparently many go into it because they (not my sister's kids) had behavioral or learning issues in a traditional school setting.  So, they were already at-risk.


I have a child with sn who has been homeschooled, attended traditional public school, and currently attends a private alternative school. There are sn kids everywhere -- and the one's most likely to be using homeschooling or an on-line charter are the one's with the most involved parents. They are also the one's more likely to be either middle class or upper middle class.


You do raise an interesting question -- are we comparing apples to apples, but I see the equation as more complicated than you do.


Many people don't do as well with on-line courses. The energy and direction of working as part of a group is helpful to many people. I was in a meeting at a local junior college this week and this was one of the topics -- courses taught on-line have a lower success rate. More students drop, and the ones who complete the don't tend to have the same grasp of the topic.  I've taken a few on-line classes myself, and I personally find them tough just to stick with. (And I enjoy school and have always been a good student). 


There are real problems with on-line education. It does work for some kids and some families, but I suspect they are the exception rather than the rule. And I suspect that right now, we are seeing more of the people who are well suited involved in it because it is currently an off shot of homeschooling. As it becomes more popular, that may end up being less and less true. I suspect that more and more families who wouldn't dream of homeschooling and don't feel the least bit called to be their child's teach will end up using the on-line charters, and as that happens, I would expect the results to decline. (Because part of how successful any program works out is about parental involvement and attitudes)



none of this is not knock on-line education for any specific child/family. I know quite well that different things work for different kids for different reasons. If you feel that on-line is currently best for your child, I completely believe. I just don't think it's best for everyone.

post #5 of 7
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by 1jooj View Post


Still, I was conflicted to begin with, and now I feel even more conflicted about the decision.

Me, too.  We chose a virtual school for some of the reasons you describe, and I feel more confident about choosing my own curriculum, etc., now - yet this is working for us, and it is familiar.  Since you'd be overseas, you would be outside the "public virtual" paradigm, and be a private user - which gives you full control over things.  And yet!!  Knowing more about the founders and goals -- those are contrary to our beliefs, too. 

Next year is our make-or-break year, it's the year our state starts testing kids (3rd grade) - we'll see how it goes.  It is quite likely that we will pull dd1 out and switch to our own curriculum at that point.  One of the things that really intimidated me about full-on homeschooling, was teaching dd1 to read.  Since dd2 has taught *herself* to read - that is a moot point (and besides, I've done it once, it's not so scary now). 

post #6 of 7

Your point raises another that, for me, makes online school seem a good choice: my kids are past the bare-bones fundamental stage. They both read, write and have a basic grasp on math. We'd be building on a decent foundation. For which I have public schools to thank, though.


But I wonder, if these online schools are so phenomenally profitable, is there not some way the public system can grasp the paradigm instead of outsourcing the system, so that others who don't have the thousands to spend (and to be clear, if dh's company would not cover the cost, it would be out of reach for us, financially) could access the same educational possibilities without diverting so much of the public school funding away from public education? Why can the public charters provide all the materials, often including a computer and even an Internet subsidy, and still the education companies make enough money to be expanding at such a rate...and if it's something simple like overhead, why are states so freely handing it over to the companies? Does it go back to lobbyists?


I could see a real possibility for parents to co-op the learning coach role to the point of creating tiny, community-based "mini-schools" that could meet more kids' needs using online tools. It could really be something wonderful, and for a lot more kids and families, if it were harnessed properly. Sort of back to the one-room schoolhouse, but with a whole new set of learning tools, and not just for families that have a full-time at-home parent (or parents able to split duties).


I also wonder what the real "retail" value is of the materials, curricula and such. What is the student:teacher ratio? How are they able to be profitable when traditional schools are cutting everything from art class to librarians in order to make ends not-quite meet?

post #7 of 7
Thread Starter 

Well - I think the state/federal funds that would have gone to our local school district, have instead gone to the school we're officially enrolled with (our school won't do a memorandum of understanding to allow us to work through them).  That school district pays for the materials that are sent to us by k12 (so there is k12's profit), and pockets the rest.  They can count us as students, count my kid's scores on tests, but don't have to pay a teacher/benefits/electricity/bus route costs etc.  So while they don't get as much $$ as if I were enrolled full-on there, we are "found" money for them. 

This may be why the local district won't do an MOU.  If we homeschooled, or enrolled with them, either way they'd get the full share for us.  With the MOU, they'd only get a partial share (and take the risk that our test scores drop their overall score results).  They have maintenance costs (refurbishing boilers, mowing lawns, maintaining bus fleets, etc.) that the virtual schools don't have....

I doubt that k12's public charter teachers are paid as well as the public school teachers.  I'm positive that they don't receive the benefits/retirement that the public school teachers receive, and I would be surprised if they are unionized. 

The k12 curriculum - books are returned at the end of the year if they weren't workbooks.  Same of science materials etc. (beakers).... And they do as much online as possible.  So they save on printing costs, etc. by doing that.  I would say that some of their textbooks are probably less expensive than what public schools might have - paperback, etc.  And, they aren't maintaining a library either (they refer us to the local library for any supplemental/optional books recommended). 

I don't know if states give them additional funds ... they may?  In my state, a large attraction of the virtual schools is not riding the bus anymore.  Lots of kids ride the bus for 2+ hours here every day --- there are still ranch families here who have a "school house" in town where the mom and kids (plus cousins and neighbors or whatever sometimes) stay M-F during the school year.  For those families, virtual school is very attractive because they don't have to do 'full' homeschooling, but their kids won't have to spend so much time on the bus. 

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