Thursday, June 21, 2012

Ready Or Not NJ, Here Come The Virtual Charters!

Looks like Pennsylvania has caught on:

Under the law that brought charter schools to Pennsylvania in 1997, charters and cyber charters receive funds from school districts based on the district's own per-student spending. Because there are 500 school districts, there are 500 different rates.
And cyber charters - which enroll students from across the state - receive the same amount as traditional charter schools that operate buildings. Cybers also receive wildly different per-pupil amounts.
For example, a cyber charter received an average of $16,915 for each Montgomery County student who enrolled in 2010-11 and $6,752 for one from Schuylkill County. (emphasis mine)
17K per student for a virtual education?? So let's think about this a bit.  
Cyber charters have very little overhead as there is no need for a "brick and mortar" facility to house the students and the student teacher ratio can be higher because students are working at home, either on their own or with a parent/guardian.
Teachers have had to take on more and more students, relaxing rigor and achievement along the way, according to interviews. While teachers do not have the burden of a full day of classes, they field questions from families, monitor students’ progress and review and grade schoolwork. Complaints about low pay and high class loads — with some high school teachers managing more than 250 students — have prompted a unionization battle at Agora, which has offices in Wayne, Pa. (emphasis mine)
So where is all that money going? 
K12 Inc., which will be operating four of the five cyber charters slated to open in New Jersey this fall, reported in their 2011 proxy statement that they experienced revenue growth from $384.5M to $522.4M, an increase of 35.9%.  And in 2011 CEO Ron Packard earned over $5M in salary, stock awards, and other compensation, and the companies four other named executives earned an additional $2.6M combined.  
So these guys have clearly proven they can make a lot of money on virtual charters.  But have they proven that students can excel in a virtual environment?
A Stanford University group, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes, tracked students in eight virtual schools in Pennsylvania, including Agora, comparing them with similar students in regular schools. The study found that “in every subgroup, with significant effects, cyber charter performance is lower.”
Devora Davis, the center’s research manager, said the group’s analysis of Pennsylvania online schools showed that students were slipping. “If they were paired with a traditional public schools student, the public school student kept their place in line, and the cyberstudent moved back five spots,” she said.
So why is this happening?  Why are for-profit companies allowed to make buckets of money off of kids who aren't learning?  A snippet from a K12 Inc. Earnings Conference call with wall street analysts may shed some light on why in 2011 K12 Inc.'s enrollment increased across the country by 45.7% from 67,878 to 98,890.

Amy Junker - Robert W. Baird & Co., Inc. — Analyst And then are — do Obama and Duncan, are they distinguishing at all between for-profit versus not-for-profit? Or do they seem not to care? 
Ron Packard - K12 Inc. — CEO
I have not seen that distinction by either one of those two individuals. And I think it should be noted that our hybrid school in Chicago was — you know, we worked very closely with now Secretary Duncan then Superintendent of Chicago Schools to open that school. So my experience with Secretary Duncan is that he wants solutions that work for children. And it doesn’t matter to him whether it comes — whether it’s provided by a private provider or by a not-for-profit or by district. (emphasis mine)

Arne strikes yet another blow against public education.  Has he not noticed that virtual charters are NOT working for children or does he just not care?  

Assemblyman Diegnan, one of the great defenders of public education in New Jersey, is trying to bring some sanity to this state and put the brakes on virtuals, at least until the legislature has a chance to review the issue thoroughly.  (crazy, I know!)  He introduced a bill last week that would put a 12 month moratorium on virtual charters, and establish The Virtual Charter School Task Force.  Here are the highlights of the bill: 
Following the bill's effective date, the Commissioner of Education will not be allowed to approve any application for the establishment of a virtual charter school for a period of 12 months while a task force is created to investigate and develop recommendations for the structure governing virtual charter school education in New Jersey.

The Virtual Charter School Task Force would consist of 9 members, three appointed by the Governor, three by the Senate President, and three by the Assembly Speaker.

The task force's recommendations must address: statutory and regulatory authority for the operation of virtual charter schools; part-time and full-time virtual charter schools; non-profit and for-profit virtual charter schools; parental involvement requirements; financial management systems; guidelines for Internet-based technology for classes; and guidelines for the performance of virtual charter schools.
Let's hope cooler heads prevail and this is brought before the full Assembly and Senate as well.  If not, you can bet years from now we will be in the same spot as Pennsylvania, with for-profit virtual charters draining millions of tax dollars with very little to show in student achievement.

UPDATE!  The full Assembly has approved the virtual moratorium bill!  

“There are far too many unanswered questions in terms of whether this teaching method is effective for both educational development and social growth,” Vainieri Huttle said in a statement.  

Let's hope we get some fast action in the Senate...

1 comment:

  1. That 9 member task force would be a complete wash because every single one of the people doing the appointing are all for these charters. Sweeney and Greenwald do the bidding of Norcross who is all for these.