Monday, February 13, 2012

Cyber-Schooling Comes to Iowa

The following post appeared as an op-ed piece in the Des Moines Register on Februray 12th:

The cyberschool movement is spreading across the country like a brush fire in a Santa Ana wind storm. Enrollments of kids whose entire school experience is on a laptop on the kitchen table have topped 250,000, and they are headed toward a half million in the next few years. Of the more than two dozen states that permit profit making companies like K12 Inc and Connections Learning—recently acquired by the U.K. publishing giant Pearson—to set up shop and collect hundreds of millions of dollars for running “schools,” there is little appetite to stop the spread or even to keep it in reasonable control. Abuses like those in Arizona—where essays were being graded in India—or in Colorado—where missing students were counted as enrolled so that state funds could be collected—seem to be ignored by legislators, some of whom may have been the recipients of the generous amounts of money spent by these giant corporations on lobbying.

And what about the kids? No one seems to have their interests at heart, at least, not as much as they look out for the interests of the stock holders of the companies. Students who abysmally fail an exam might be told to “go through the course again.” Students emailing a question to their “teacher”—often an uncertified “teacher’s assistant” responsible for perhaps hundreds of students—may get an answer a day or two later by return email. And how many students survive the boredom and isolation of school on a laptop? One suspects not many, but just try and find out what the true drop-out statistics are; you’ll never find out from the distant company.

No one denies that a little bit of math or grammar can be learned on a computer; real schools have been supplementing the efforts of flesh-and-blood teachers with networked computers for years. Yet hardly anyone truly thinks that 12 years of cyberschool can equal the benefits of a quality education in a brick-and-mortar school. Slick TV ads and corporate hucksters would have us believe that the cyberschool can teach even better than the best traditional elementary and secondary schools the Nation has to offer. Yeah, right. The day that Phillips Exeter Academy replaces its teachers with laptops is the day I might start to believe them.

Addenda, February 13, 2012:

  • Iowa, without a charter school presence, is being exploited by the cyber-vendors via the open enrollment law. With the exception of five districts, any child may enroll in any district in the state without question by March 1st of each year. A couple of superintendents in tiny towns have been bought off by K12 Inc. and Connections with promises of keeping 3% administration fees. The company sales forces are now scouring the state signing up cyber-students from among the ranks of homeschoolers and the disaffected.

Gene V Glass
University of Colorado Boulder
Arizona State University

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