Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Many Guises Of K12 Inc. In New Jersey

John Mooney over at NJ Spotlight wrote a great piece yesterday about Commissioner Cerf's stunning denial of K12 Inc.'s New Jersey Virtual Academy Charter School (NJVACS). In the "Related Links" he included NJVACS Board President Michael Pallante's response letter, which was not only pretty spicy, it was pretty revealing, too.
However, despite making ourselves available to you and your staff at every turn, attending every training, providing testimony at Board and legislative hearings, conducting demonstrations and hosting open houses, working closely with the AG and your staff to defend against litigation brought by groups questioning your authority as Commissioner, and sending invitation after invitation to you and to your staff to discuss any concerns you might have so that we might have an opportunity to address them, we now find ourselves in the position of having to tell 850 children, their families, and the teachers your staff insisted we hire as part of the compliance process that, once again, the school will be denied the opportunity to open and prove ourselves. (emphasis mine)
Man, did you catch all that? There is A LOT in that paragraph, but for right now let's take a closer look at the fact that NJVACS claims they provided testimony at Board and legislative hearings and conducted demonstrations.

Will The Real Parent Advocates Please Stand Up

A recent demonstration was indeed organized by NJVACS in conjunction with the New Jersey affiliate of 

Several New Jersey policymakers got a taste of online learning Monday, thanks to a demonstration at the Capitol in Trenton.  A prospective NJVACS (New Jersey Virtual Academy Charter School) student and his mother, along with a NJVACS prospective teacher, volunteered their time to show attendees how online learning works for the students it serves.
For all policymakers -  these virtual education demonstrations help legislators understand how a public virtual schools works - including the interactions between students and public school teachers, the state approved curriculum and how these schools operate just like any other public school. 
Here is a video montage of the demonstration, which shows the same parent and child that participated in the demonstration also testifying on behalf of NJVACS before the Joint Committee on the Public Schools.
So what's
NJ is an alliance of parents that supports and defends parents' rights to access the best public school options for their children. The Coalition supports the creation of public school options, including charter schools, online schools, magnet schools, open enrollment policies and other innovative education programs.
Sounds like a grassroots parent advocacy group, right?

Here's where it gets interesting. Check out the comment section of yesterday's Mooney article. There is a comment from someone named Norris Clark, claiming to be from 
Upon hearing the news of the denial, parent advocate Esthere Tolbert, who recently provided legislators with a demonstration of the virtual learning that benefited her son while in Washington State, said, "I read the denial letter from the Commissioner and I am really at a loss of words as to how I feel. I must say that our response was excellent. Please know that I am still in the running to try help move this forward. If we have to talk with the commissioner and/or the governor in person, Micah and I are there. Our participation includes testimonies to attorneys and all the way up the Supreme Court!”
Another mother writes, “I would just like to express my disappointment, with the decision to deny the application for the K12 Virtual Charter School in NJ. I have a special needs child that would have benefited greatly from the K12 Charter School. Signed, Very Disappointed!” 
Yet another mom of a boy diagnosed with ADHD states, “I really feel strongly that we are doing a disservice to children by not having alternatives to traditional classroom situations, and many of those children are very bright and will not reach their full potential.”   
This is written as if Clark is a parent himself, representing all the other supposedly bereft parents, left in a state of disbelief that the virtual education they so desperately wanted for their children will not materialize. Clark implores the Commissioner "to meet with the aggrieved families."

Norris Clark, Man of Mystery

So who is Norris Clark, and why is he speaking for these supposed parents and attempting to broker a meeting between them and the Commissioner?  Why aren't they speaking for themselves? Why isn't the comment section FILLED with comments from the "aggrieved families" Clark claims to represent? 

Because Clark isn't a parent looking to enroll his kids in NJVACS, he's the Executive Director of (Scroll to the bottom of the link.)

But that's not even the tip of the iceberg.  Clark also just happens to be the Managing Partner of Princeton Strategic Communications.

And Princeton Strategic Communications Group lists as one of it's clients. (Please note, the NJDOE is also listed as a client...) 

So let's try to get this straight. Norris Clark, as Managing Partner of Princeton Strategic Group, has himself, as the Executive Director of, as a client.

But if you think that's twisted, wait until you read this. Princeton Strategic Communications is part of a "Circle of Companies" that includes the "largest state lobbying firm in the country," Princeton Public Affairs Group.

And here's the big payoff.  Who's paying for the lobbying services of Princeton Public Affairs Group?

Why, that would be K12 Inc. 
The school noted that it had also hired experts to speak to the legality and effectiveness of the programs. K12 also signed on with the state’s top lobbying firm, Princeton Public Affairs Group. (emphasis mine)
So, the "parent advocacy" group that put together the testimony, demonstrations and open houses for NJVACS was hired by K12 Inc.

I'm sure K12 Inc. is distressed their scheme didn't work.  After all, Norris Clark should have been able to not only successfully manage "strategic communications" for them, both as the Managing Partner of Princeton Strategic Group and as the Executive Director of, but he REALLY should have been able to successfully manage the NJDOE.  

Ya know, because he used to work there...
Next week, an organization called Public School Options, headed by former state education department official Norris Clark, will follow up with a public presentation in the Statehouse. Families and educators will talk about virtual schooling and demonstrate how it works in real time. All 120 legislators have been invited to the session.
That's right, Norris was the former director of DOE’s Family and Community Relations Office.

Well, isn't that cozy.

So just to be clear, K12 Inc. hired Princeton Public Affairs Group, which is part of a "Circle of Companies" with Princeton Strategic Communications, whose managing partner also happens to be both an ex-NJDOE employee and the Executive Director of, a seemingly astroturf "parent advocacy" group that staged demonstrations and testified for legislators about K12 Inc.'s NJVACS to help secure approval from the state.

Maybe a visual will help.

Yeesh. You need a score card to keep up.

New Jersey Don't Play That

No wonder New Jersey legislators didn't buy the horse and pony show K12 Inc. put on for them. Even if they didn't KNOW that K12 Inc.'s lobbying efforts were taking on many guises, they must have FELT like they were being played. 

Perhaps even Commissioner Cerf felt like he was being played, and that's why he denied them a final charter. 

I hope this serves as a warning to other corporate ed reform snake oil salesmen sniffing around for a piece of the New Jersey public education pie.

TRUE public education advocates in this state are a formidable foe. 

Don't mess with Jersey.

Oh dear, even the K12 Inc. stock took a beating yesterday.


  1. We are parents who want an alternative education for our kids away from iPad/WiFi all day in NJ public school.

  2. Mother Crusader, Please do not belittle me, my son or the many other parents who form NJ Public School Options as "astroturf." Providing legislators with a demonstration of how well virtual learning works for my son, is something we "volunteered" to do, because we know how well it works,and we were proud to demonstrate it for them. We want this as a public school option for ourselves and others as an educational choice. Simple as that!

    We have used our own resources, time, money and energy to independently deliver testimonies and presentations to our legislators because we believe in the excellence of education. I want to be perfectly clear, at no time did we ever receive stipends or compensation from any source for our efforts! I would never accept payment for a cause that to me, comes naturally as mother who desires the best education for my child.

    As a mother who uses virtual learning on a daily basis to teach my son, I am glad such a dedicated professional as Norris Clark, can help us get things organized, post our concerns on a web page and Facebook as I prefer to spend my time educating my son! It's people like Norris that help us direct and communicate our concerns on educational options for our children. He works for us, and we are working for our kids. You just don't get it, this is not some made up movement, this is an exodus of families in favor of better options for our children.

    And just who are YOU crusading for?

    - Esthere Tolbert

  3. Ms. Tolbert,

    You absolutely should advocate for your child and other children who may want alternative instruction. But why would you push for virtual charters and particularly for the discredited for-profit company K12? Both have had terrible academic results in other States and have drained hundreds of millions from public schools in those states.

    Most recently, all 16 of Pennsylvania’s virtual charter schools failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress and two of them are involved in federal corruption investigations. And, despite this failure, Pennsylvania schools lost 366 million taxpayer dollars to the virtual charter monster. See here for more details:

    Why don't you advocate to get online content through the public school system, which can be done for a fraction of the cost and with all the funding going to educating students instead of $12,000 per child being diverted from public education and into K12's profits?

  4. More about the virtual chaster disaster from our neighbors in PA:

    "Our state has allowed unchecked cyber charter growth, and the consequences have been grave. Cyber charter school growth has further harmed funding-starved districts and incentivized unregulated district-run cyber programs. The Education Law Center of Pennsylvania is deeply troubled by the financial costs. But more devastating are the educational consequences of these programs. Students enrolled in Pennsylvania cyber charter schools are not receiving a quality education.

    Attorneys at ELC have heard from the families of many students attending cyber charter schools. Here's what those families have reported: Students spending countless hours behind computer screens without any required human interaction; students with disabilities who are not receiving any appropriate academic instruction; and students who have been pushed into computer-based programs as a result of behavioral incidents.

    There's conclusive quantitative evidence, as cited in the article, that Pennsylvania cyber charter school students are failing to meet academic standards and are academically trailing their counterparts in traditional brick-and-mortar schools. Now a new national study released this month shows the failure of these schools — throughout the country — to meet any kind of academic standards.

    "Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2013" released by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder revealed that in the 2010-2011 school year there was a 28 percentage point difference between full-time virtual schools and traditional brick-and-mortar district and charter schools meeting adequate yearly progress benchmarks on standardized tests: 23.6 percent compared with 52 percent, respectively.

    Additionally, the on-time graduation rate for the full-time virtual schools was less than half the national average: 37.6 percent versus 79.4 percent."


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