K12 Inc. drops essay readers in India

When students’ essays came back with comments in oddly phrased English, parents at K12-managed charter schools wondered. Now, under fire from a retired English teacher and blogger, K12 Inc. has stopped outsourcing essay review to India.

“David A. Safier, a retired English teacher in Tucson, Ariz., criticized the use of India-based reviewers on the Blog for Arizona,” reports Education Week.

Writing about the Arizona Virtual Academy, a state-funded public charter school that uses K12’s management and curriculum services, Mr. Safier said the essay-review program raised concerns about educational quality, the use of taxpayer money, and even student safety and privacy. He claims that the Arizona Virtual Academy’s parents may not have been fully informed or consulted about the program.

According to Jeffrey Kwitowski, a K12 spokesman, students handed in first drafts of essays to their teachers, who “reviewed the essays and decided whether to give students their own initial feedback or to use the (online) essay service.”

A teacher using the service would remove sensitive personal information, then using a separate server, would “send it to a reviewer who would provide initial feedback, which [the teacher] would receive and use at their discretion, or discard,” Mr. Kwitowski said.

. . . The essay-review program aimed to save teachers time so they could offer students other activities, such as online writing workshops, and reduce the delay between students’ submissions of essay drafts and their receipt of feedback, Mr. Kwitowski said.

The program did not save K12 money, Kwitowski said.

I don’t see the problem with using online tutors to give students feedback on their essay drafts, though it does seem odd to hire people who aren’t native speakers of English. Nor do I see a problem if an essay reviewer in India knows that some kid named “Jason” in Arizona wrote the essay. They’re not sending nude photos and a MySpace address, I assume.

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  1. Natives of India can be native speakers of English, thanks to British occupation. However, having taught several students whose parents came from India, I know that the way many Indian-Americans write English reflects how English is spoken in India (and in their American home). It’s easy to spot if you are at all familiar with how most American students write. Actually, those Indian students write longer, more complex sentences with higher-level vocabulary if they are echoing English usage in India.

  2. Sending students’ names to India is probably harmless.

    Signing a contract with the State of Arizona to the effect that all those coming into contact with student information and not doing so is a violation of the terms of the contract one executed.

    The story is not about outsourcing. It is about corporate deception. Parents and the Department of Education (which shelled out $ 20 Million to K12 Inc) have a right to know if the Indian tutors are being used or not.

  3. As an English teacher with a huge pile of essays on my desk right now awaiting my attention, I have HUGE problems with a scheme like this. How am I going to tailor my writing instruction to my students if I don’t actually grade their essays? How am I going to see if I need to reteach that lesson on writing a thesis if I don’t actually evaluate their thesis? How am I to know that they understood the novel they’re writing about? Teaching is a feedback loop — you can’t cut it in half and expect the teaching to work.

    Spend the $20 million on a few new English teachers and cut their student numbers a bit, and they’ll be able to get the essays back faster. Use some of the techniques that keep students writing but cut the paper load a bit, assign more short papers that isolate one or two skills and are quicker to grade — all these are effective instructional methods. NCTE recommends about 60 students, but I’ve never had that few. I don’t start reconsidering my assignments until I’m at about 110 students.