Online Schools Score Better on Wall Street Than in Classrooms, writes the New York Times, singling out K12, a for-profit that started by providing curriculum to homeschoolers and now runs charter schools (and works with school districts).
Despite lower operating costs, the online companies collect nearly as much taxpayer money in some states as brick-and-mortar charter schools. In Pennsylvania, about 30,000 students are enrolled in online schools at an average cost of about $10,000 per student. The state auditor general, Jack Wagner, said that is double or more what it costs the companies to educate those children online.
K12 recruiters “fail to filter out students who are not suited for the program, which requires strong parental commitment and self-motivated students, company staffers tell the Times.
If a charter screened out high-risk students, surely the Times would be indignant.
Only a third of K12’s schools achieve “adequate yearly progress,” according to a forthcoming study by researchers at Western Michigan University and the National Education Policy Center, the story adds.
Well, they do take high-risk students.
The story is part of “a series of hit pieces” targeting innovative private companies, charges Tom Vander Ark. Meanwhile, as the Times “maliciously savages sector leaders like K12 and Carnegie Learning, they are out marketing their own ‘state of the art learning management system’ called Epsilen,” he writes.
Vander Ark goes on to detail what’s wrong with the story.
Reporting on for-profit education often generates “more hysteria than analysis,”writes Rick Hess, who calls the Times story a “selectively sourced attack.”
Sure, there are valid and sensible concerns about the role of for-profits in schooling. But aggressively recruiting clients and cutting corners to make a buck is the flip side of the things that for-profits are uniquely positioned to do well–which is to squeeze cost structures, find new efficiencies, and rapidly scale.
We need performance pay for online learning companies, writes Mike Petrillii, who sees a biased story that “landed a punch” on the issue of perverse incentives.
Clearly K12, and its well-paid CEO, Ron Packard, face strong incentives to boost enrollment at their schools. Unfortunately, states haven’t figured out a way to create similar incentives around quality. And that needs to change.
Fordham’s Creating Sound Policy for Digital Learning includes Rick Hess on quality control, Paul Hill on funding and Bryan and Emily Hassel on teachers. An upcoming analysis will examine “what high-quality fulltime online learning really costs.”
Virtual schooling is new and there are plenty of bugs to be worked out, including how much funding is fair, how to measure quality, how many students an online teacher-coach can handle and so forth.