Who's teaching the kids? The corporate takeover

(The school districts are Clayton Ridge, covering Guttenberg and Garnavillo in Clayton County, and CAM, covering Cumberland, Anita, and Massena in Cass County. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

A recent DMR article highlighted the growing scam of for-profit corporations using tax dollars to provide substandard education via online learning.

Two companies are advertising on television in Iowa to have parents sign up their children for “free” online education (at public expense.) The companies, K12 Inc, and the Iowa Connections Academy, are exploiting a loophole in Iowa's open enrollment law. Two small school districts have signed agreements with the companies. Parents from anywhere in the state can open-enroll their children to one of those districts. The districts then will turn in their enrollment to the state and receive state money as if the students were enrolled full time in the district. Ninety-seven percent of the state money is then passed along to the companies. The students will receive 100% of their “education” online. 

It's bad education. In the 1970s, there was a movement to individualized, self-paced education. There were some large curriculum projects and studies to see how well it worked. It didn't. Educational research is often conflicted with different results or results that show no significant difference among treatments. In this case, it was very clear that individualized, self-paced instruction was inferior to traditional methods.
Subsequent attempts involving computers proved no better. The New York Times reported on one of the K12 Inc schools, Agora:

By almost every educational measure, the Agora Cyber Charter School is failing. 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.

Anyone who understands education knows that sitting kids in front of a computer all day is not going to work for most kids. And for some subjects needing hands-on experiences, like science, it makes no sense at all.
In Iowa, as in other states, this has become a political issue. Nine years ago, K12 inc. tried to make a similar arrangement with an Iowa school district to use state funding for an online learning program. At that time, the state had a Democratic governor, Tom Vilsack. His Education Department director doubted its legality, and sought an Attorney General's ruling. AG Tom Miller said it was illegal, and that was the end of it.
Now, with Governor Branstad, his new Ed Dept. Director, Jason Glass, says it's O.K., and he doesn't need an opinion from the AG. A Democratic state senator has requested an AG's opinion, so that will be forthcoming.
Who are these guys?
K12 Inc. was founded in April 2000 by William Bennett (Reagan's Secretary of Education), Michael Milken, and Ronald Packard. Packard is now the CEO. He holds an MBA and is a financial analyst who previously worked for Goldman Sachs in mergers and acquisitions. In 2011, Packard received $5 million in total compensation from the Herndon, VA-based K12 Inc.
Iowa Connections Academy sounds like a nice Iowa-based company. It is not. It is the name for one of a number of Connections Academy entities in states around the country that are part of Connections Education, Inc. Connections was founded by Chris Hoehn-Saric and Barbara Dreyer. Connections was sold a few months ago to the London-based multinational giant Pearson. Hoehn-Saric is now managing director of a Baltimore-based venture capital firm. He has an address in Miami Beach, and, according to Open Secrets, contributed $5 grand to Republican candidates in 2011 including the Freedom & Security PAC. The PAC, in turn, contributed to Republican candidates, including $1,000 to Steve King and $10,000 to Tom Latham.
This is not about education; it's all about the money.
(Cross posted from Daily Kos) 

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  • latest comments from Jason Glass

    quoted in Monday’s Des Moines Register:

    Two Iowa school districts will face heavy scrutiny next school year as they begin offering virtual academies to state students, said Jason Glass, Iowa Department of Education director. […]

    If there are indications next school year that the districts are operating outside of the law, they could potentially lose their accreditation and some state funding, Glass said.

    “I do have concerns,” Glass told The Des Moines Register last week. “And that’s exactly why we are monitoring them closely to make sure they are offering a quality education.”

    I’m curious to see what Tom Miller has to say.

    • Miller's opinion will be interesting

      He already ruled against this scheme in 2003. It seems unlikely that he will rule differently now. That’s probably why Glass did not request an AG’s opinion. This may be headed for court unless the legislature acts to stop the raid on tax dollars.

  • contract with CAM school district

    The Des Moines Register posted the whole pdf file here.

  • well,

    why did the CAM and Clayton Ridge school districts elect to go this route?

    • according to district officials

      It’s partly an effort to give parents more options at little to no cost.

      Clayton Ridge first considered virtual schooling in 2009 after a 10 percent across-the-board state funding cut, said Superintendent Allen Nelson. It forced the district to look at options for learning at a lower cost.

      “I don’t want to come across like we’re trying to replace anything,” said Nelson. “It’s a parental choice option. It’s another option for a very small percentage of students who might prefer this type of delivery system.”

      The districts each have an arrangement with their private partners for an Iowa Core-aligned curriculum and to hire state-licensed teachers.

      The intended target for these schools are students not currently served by the Iowa public education system. This spectrum includes students currently home-schooled, homebound because of medical problems and in isolated rural locations.

      According to CAM Superintendent Steve Pelzer, homeschoolers are a major target audience because “They’re interested in having a curriculum backed by Iowa-licensed teachers available to them on a daily basis.”

      The Iowa Connections Academy has held several recruiting/informational sessions in the Des Moines area and has organized similar meetings in the Quad Cities. The K12 Iowa Virtual Academy has also been recruiting in other parts of the state, including Waterloo.

  • Iowa Senate Government Oversight Committee

    has scheduled a hearing on this issue for this Thursday, February 23, according to committee chair Tom Courtney.