Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Loss for Cyber-Schooling or Just a Regrouping?

On Monday, May 14, Arizona Republican Governor Jan Brewer vetoed SB 1259, the bill written by ALEC and K12 Inc. lobbyists that would have greatly expanded the give-away of Arizona taxpayer dollars to outside profit making corporations. In short, SB 1259 would have required every school district in the state of Arizona to provide a minimum of two online courses per year to any grade 7 – 12 pupil requesting such. The company supplying the cyber-courses would be reimbursed at 100% of a pro-rated per pupil expenditure. Full-time online students in Arizona currently number nearly 40,000, most of the money flowing through online charter schools to K12 Inc. SB 1259 would have opened up a market for the corporations many times larger than the full-time charter market.

What made SB 1259 fly through the Arizona Legislature and onto the Governor’s desk was an accountability provision promising to guarantee mastery of course content. Each online course would have to be accompanied by a final exam that was matched in difficulty to the state-developed AIMS test. Presumably, after sufficient psychometric magic had been performed, the new course-level final exam would “pass” no one who would not “pass” some associated AIMS exam. But this accountability provision was nothing but window dressing. A standardized test is a test that is administered under standardized conditions. Those taking it are allowed the same amount of time to finish and are treated equally in terms of accessories (i.e., one student may not be administered the exam without the aid of a smart phone while another is allowed to consult the internet for help in answering a question.). This obvious condition to impose on any test that deserves the name “accountability” could be met by sending all online students to a testing center to have their exam proctored. A private company could even set up testing centers all around the state and make itself a handsome profit (off of money that might otherwise have been sent to K12 Inc in Herndon, Virginia). Instead, modifications to SB 1259 before it reached the Governor’s desk stipulated that the final exam in the online course would have to be taken by the student in the presence of a “non-family member.” This feeble stab at instituting an accountability measure is simply laughable.

So why did Brewer veto SB 1259? The ostensible reason was that the Governor considered it inappropriate for the state "or an entity on behalf of the state [to approve] online courses or curriculum." This refers to a “master list” of courses that would have been created by the Arizona Department of Education for delivery to students through the online program. Courses currently offered by online providers (read “K12 Inc.”) would be “grandfathered” onto the master list.

What might be the real reasons that Brewer vetoed the bill?

The development costs for creating all those final exams and linking them to the state’s AIMS test could have proved too costly for either the state or the outside companies. It is unlikely that the accountability provisions in the final drafting of the bill originated with its sponsors; they probably were added by Democrats in committee. K12 Inc. might have wanted the Governor to kill the bill so that ALEC and their lobbyists could take another run at it in a future session.

Another reason for scuttling SB 1259 could involve the new State Superintendent of Public Instruction. A technophile politician by the name of John Huppenthal recently replaced a non-educator political opportunist who ran successfully for State Attorney General. Huppenthal, a former systems analyst for one of the state’s major utility companies, may have ambitions of his own for developing a state-owned cyber-schooling capability. K12 Inc. has attempted to kill off state-operated cyber-coursework in other states (Arkansas, Tennessee) to protect and expand its market. Brewer’s veto could signal a battle between states and corporations for control of the cyber-schooling market nationwide. If so, it will be a battle where students and taxpayers lose, no matter what the outcome.

Gene V Glass
University of Colorado Boulder
Arizona State University

1 comment:

  1. Hey Gene,

    Long time, no see. I do see that you are alive and well and still intellectually sharp. I did not follow this bill closely. I do want to minimize all state regulatory activities. I have been an active proponent of distance learning and my legislation started distance learning in Ariozna. I want to maximize the choices for our students and that includes all things distance learning.
    John Huppenthal