Friday, July 26, 2013

Online schools rapidly expanding, spending tax dollars on marketing

Gov. Snyder has made radical expansion of online education for K-12 students a centerpiece of his education policy.  Among some there is a sense that online education is meant to fill a niche that conventional public skills aren't filling.  That isn't what it's being used for.

In our discussions with folks at PTO meetings and in the community, people understandably ask if there isn't a limited place for online education.  Certainly, there is.  Before any of the recent radical expansions of online education were enacted, the community of education professionals in Michigan had already taken care of this.  New budget's disinvestment in K-12 goes beyond vouchers, Okemos Parents for Schools, April 17, 2013. Nonetheless, the Legislature and Gov. Snyder moved forward with radical expansion of practically unregulated online education paid for with public funds.  K-12 Budget Fails to Invest, Includes "Vouchers for Vendors", Okemos Parents for Schools, May 30, 2013.  Now we are seeing rapid expansion of online education across the state.  The photo of this roadside advertisement for "Virtual Public School" was posted on Facebook in June, but we have seen more of these signs around the state recently.

The "Virtual Learning Center" pictured here is being operated out of a gas station complex.  Vestaburg schools is operating this school for select kids.  According to the May minutes of the Vestaburg Board of Education Meeting, the school will ". . . only accept kids that are referred to them from Vestaburg’s administration.  Students that have already dropped out . . . ."

A recent Facebook discussion pointed out that kids seemingly won't have to ever set foot in the gas station school, since it's a "Virtual Learning Center."  However, the fact that kids never go to school may not be a great argument that it's okay to locate schools in gas stations.  You can read the minutes of the May meeting here

Additionally, K12 Inc. is sending out slick glossy mailers.  These mailers don't seem to be targeted to some special niche, sense the parents who received this one are very happy with Okemos Public Schools.  The mailer says "... the state of Michigan is offering free, full-time online public schooling, available to families like yours through K12."  The mailer emphasizes "... this program is free, paid for with your tax dollars just like other public schools."  Of course, the mailer is also paid for with tax dollars.  The mailer includes a link to a quiz which helps you decide if online only schooling is right for your child.  The quiz asks:
1. Is your child happy in school?
2. Does your child have any special needs?
3. Could your child benefit from a more flexible, self-paced schedule?
4. Does your child have social issues, or are you concerned about issues like bullying?
5. Do you want to play a more active role in your child's education?
We took the quiz.  Unsurprisingly, if you say your child is unhappy in school and would like a more self-paced schedule, this tool concludes online only education is right for him.  But look at the results from these answers:
1. Is your child happy in school? Yes, my child is happy, academically and socially.
2. Does your child have any special needs? My child has a learning disability and/or struggles to keep up.
3. Could your child benefit from a more flexible, self-paced schedule? No, my child needs someone to provide structure.
4. Does your child have social issues, or are you concerned about issues like bullying? No, my child has no social or peer-related issues.
5. Do you want to play a more active role in your child's education? No, and I don’t have the time to commit.
Based on your responses, K12 is an excellent option for your and your child.
    • Children already doing well in traditional school settings love K12. Offering a true community, with online and offline learning and social activities, K12 goes far beyond brick-and-mortar schools.
    • Perfectly suited for children with learning challenges, K12 allows you to set the pace, going slower through lessons as needed.
    • Our curriculum is developed by a team of educators, leveraging the latest research. Even when you can’t facilitate the lessons, K12 has the structure to let your child progress.
So, a special needs child who is happy in school, and who needs structure but with parents unwilling to provide it is encouraged to sign up for online only school.

Never mind that K12 Inc. has been plagued with scandal.  A New York Times story about K12 Inc. showed:
  • "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."
  • "Current and former staff members of K12 Inc. schools say problems begin with intense recruitment efforts that fail to filter out students who are not suited for the program, which requires strong parental commitment and self-motivated students."
  • "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." New York Times, Profits and Questions at Online Charter Schools, December 12, 2011
We wrote much more about K12 Inc. previously.  Education Budgets Moving - Vouchers and Disinvestment, Okemos Parents for Schools, April 24, 2013.

This at the same time Chicago Public Schools are replacing art and gym teachers with virtual teachers.  Yes, online gym classes:
School officials say all online courses are taught by a state-certified “virtual teacher.” Art students email or scan their work to teachers. Gym students have a mentor who works with them as they complete a fitness log.  [Amid Job Cuts, CPS Looking At Moving Gym, Music, Art Classes Online, CBS Chicago, July 25, 2013]
Is this where Michigan is going?


  1. I believe one of the functions of a school is to learn and gain social skills... after all, if we hide our children away from the world and shelter them from others, they will never learn how to socializ. Without socialization, there will be no society. If we want to create a virtual society, one that removes people from talking to each other except through a screen, then I think our society will dissolve.

  2. Very informative article. Keep up the good work, Okemos Parents!

  3. As a homeschool mom, I can assure my kids have social skills well beyond their ages. This is the 1st year my 5 year old will be doing online school for 1st grade. She's only supposed to be entering Kindergarten. My 4 year old will be homeschooled just like I did my daughter and will follow her plan if all goes right. My child does not attend K12. Kids who are homeschooled have more time to go out and socialize and make plenty of friends. There's plenty for a homeschooler to do. We don't live in the 30's anymore. Look up the stats of homeschooled vs public stats and be informed before you make comments. It comes down to the parents. My step son attends public and if we don't work with him, his grades slip. He has been nominated as a Great Lakes Scholar 2 yrs in a row and is on National JR Honor Society. Online, classroom, kitchen table etc. Parents have to work w/ the kids esp with MI schools having 30+ kids in a class. I'll be sure never to recommend K12 though now that I know some of these things.

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