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Charter Schools, Education, GERM (Global Education Reform Movement), New Zealand, Online schools/Virtual schools, Partnership Schools, Privatisation of state schools, Teachers' Own Words, USA Schools

Virtual Classrooms, charter schools, profits and the education madness of global ‘reforms’

If you are still unclear why we are fighting against charter (partnership) schools, below is yet another good example of where the madness leads when public education is privatised: Virtual schools.

Sounds great, doesn’t it – all sci-fi and up-to-the-minute.  I am quite addicted to my computer and to technology, so you’d think I’d be all over this.  But I’m not.  I’m extremely unconvinced that the pros outweigh the cons.

But before I share with you what it’s like to work (and study?) in a virtual school, let’s just recap the non virtual foreign-owned charter hopefuls wooing New Zealand:

Mike Feinberg of theUS-based KIPP charter school chain was over like a shot in 2013, as soon as charter/partnership schools were mooted.  He met with Hekia Parata and co., and then embarked on a publicity tour of NZ to prime investors and the gullible, ready for their foray over here as soon as they can get away with it.

BS meterOf course Feinberg was very, very keen to “warn[ed] against giving contracts to businesses or groups which do not have a long, robust track record in education,” (in other words, only give contracts to companies like his), but was more than happy to support the use of “unqualified teachers in its proposed Partnership Schools.”

Because. let’s face it, cheaper staff = more profit.

It doesn’t save the tax payer a red cent, but it does move the money into the businessman’s bank account rather than a teachers.  Nice for the investor.

But do KIPP do a good job?

Well, KIPP are always keen to say they have a huge percentage of students that graduate and go to university.  What they don’t say is that the drop out rate is phenomenal, and when they say over 90% graduate, they mean of those that made it to the end of the year.

KIPP is well known to lose large numbers of students throughout the school year, sending the weaker ones back into the public system and keeping on only those that will reflect well on the KIPP brand.  The high attrition rates are discussed here  and here and indeed here – or do a Google search and read any of the thousands of reports you find.

(Note – if you find a report singing KIPP’s praises, be sure to check who funded the research and how the numbers were crunched.  There are often cunning tactics the researchers and statisticians use to make the ‘facts’ seem rosier.)

So tey keep the best and throw the weaker students back at the public schools, then boast that they do better than public schools!  Huh?!  Surely we are meant to help all students do well, no just the easy-to-teach ones?

Is your nose getting longer?For other illuminating snippets on how charters fudge the facts, you might want to take a peek at the handily compiled 10 Things Charter Schools Won’t Tell You … it’s quite enlightening.

But if, after all that, you need yet more convincing, read this and then tell me, do you still think charter schools are all about the kids?

15 Months in Virtual Charter Hell: A Teacher’s Tale

In late August, 2012, I took a job in a school that is part of the largest virtual charter school chain in the nation. While I had misgivings about the nature of the school, I thought perhaps if I were diligent, I could serve my students well.  In November 2013 I decided I could no longer continue as a teacher. This is my story.

Some Background on K12 Inc.

K12 Inc., the virtual-education company, was founded in 1999 by the one-time “junk bond king” Michael Milken and the hedge fund banker Ronald Packard. The company’s original board chairman was William J. Bennett, who had been the U.S. Secretary of Education under President Ronald Reagan. (Bennett resigned from his position with K12 Inc. in 2005 after sparking controversy by stating that the U.S. crime rate would go down if more African-American babies were aborted.)

money showerAs a private company founded by financiers, K12 Inc. is highly profit-driven. Though its stock price has apparently taken a hit recently, there is little doubt that K12 Inc. has been quite successful in bringing in revenue–even as regular public schools have faced dire financial straits. According to the Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch, Packard, who is the current CEO, earned $19 million in compensation from 2009-2013. In 2013 alone, as Chicago closed 50 of its public schools and Philadelphia closed 23 more, K12 Inc. brought in a whopping $730.8 million in taxpayer dollars from its managed public schools, and its top executives saw their compensation skyrocket by 96 percent.  

My Life as a Virtual Teacher

boy at computerI became a teacher because I am an advocate for youth and social justice. However, this purpose was hard to fulfill working in a K12 Inc. school. With the kind of technology, systems and process management needed to keep the enrollment machine running (and the machine is priority), there is never much time to actually teach. In my former school, each class met for 30 minutes in an interactive-blackboard setting one day each week. Fewer than 10 percent of students actually attended these “classes.” Other than that time and any one-on-one sessions a teacher and student might set up (which, in my experience, almost never happened), there is no room for direct instruction.

Given the extensive needs of the students, this set up does not serve them well. Most of my contact with students was by email, through which I answered questions about everything from login issues and technology glitches to clarifying of assignments, and even that communication was only accessed by a very small percentage of students.

In addition, because students continuously enroll, no one was on the same assignment at the same time. I taught high school English. In a given day in mid-November I would grade introductory assignments, diagnostic essays and end-of-semester projects, and everything in between, for each course (this month I had 30 separate courses). I found it to be impossible to meet the learning needs of my students in that situation.

For most of last year I was Lead Teacher at the school, which required me to attend national staff meetings each week. At first the marketing focus of the conversations turned my stomach, and then it made me furious. In my experience, the conversation was never about how our students were struggling, how we could support those who were trying to learn the English Language, how we could support those who were homeless or how we could support those with special needs.

It was never about how we could support our teachers.

test scoreIt seemed to me like the focus was often about enrollment, about data, about numbers of students who had not taken the proper number of tests, about ranking schools and ranking teachers.

And there was marketing: how to get more children enrolled, how to reach more families, how to be sure they were pre-registered for next year, how to get Facebook pages and other marketing information “pushed out” to students.”  Read the rest of the piece here – it is well worth reading it to the end.

So, does that sound like quality education to you?

Is that tax $$$ well spent?

I would say that the evidence is mounting by the day that charter (partnership) schools leave us much to worry about.

What do you think?

~ Dianne

About Save Our Schools NZ

"One needs to be slow to form convictions, but once formed they must be defended against the heaviest odds." Gandhi

Discussion

One thought on “Virtual Classrooms, charter schools, profits and the education madness of global ‘reforms’

  1. Reblogged this on Save Our Schools NZ and commented:

    In light of the Education Minister’s announcement today that there will now be virtual charter schools (online, unsupervised learning from home), it is worth reading this and seeing just how badly that can go…

    Like

    Posted by Save Our Schools NZ | August 23, 2016, 1:59 pm

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