Friday, March 28, 2014

The Virtual Charles Barkley

How is it that sometimes the subtlest thing can reveal a great truth?

It's March Madness season and those ubiquitous basketball analysts panels are explaining every turnover and rebound. Charles Barkley – former Auburn University and Philadelphia/Phoenix NBA star -- is noted for candor and straightforward honesty.

Last week, Barkley was interviewing the coach of a Sweet Sixteen team -- who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty -- when Barkley joked that he had one year of NCAA eligibility remaining, because he left college early to join the NBA.

Coach: "Sure, I've got a scholarship for you. You can come play for me. And we'll give you all your classes online!"

So much for the "Scholar/Athlete" branding that the money-grubbing universities like to boast about.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Remarks at the Launch of "50 Myths & Lies ..."

On Saturday, March 22, 2014, the edXchange initiative at the Mary Lou Fulton College of Education at Arizona State University held a public meeting at which the authors of 50 Myths & Lies that Threaten America’s Public Schools presented a preview of their new contribution to the debate on education reform. Something close to 150 citizens with an intense interest in the fate of our nation’s public school system were in attendance. Each of the 21 co-authors of 50 Myths & Lies spoke briefly about their contribution to the volume. A stimulating audience participation session followed the presentations. What follows are my remarks at the meeting. I spoke first and attempted to provide a bit of context for the group’s attempt to dispel the 50 myths and lies.

One narrative prominent these days – the Crisis Narrative – holds that our nation is at risk because our children are dumber than Finland, because our teachers are tools of greedy unions, because incompetent “ed school” trained administrators are incapable of delivering first-rate education.
And – this narrative goes on – what public education needs is total reform: higher standards, more tests, brighter teachers uncorrupted by the wishy washy “education school” ideologies, and above all, choice and competition. This narrative serves a set of private interests that want to reform our schools.
About ten years ago, Rupert Murdoch – the billionaire owner of Fox News – called public education a “$600 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed.” He might have more honestly said, “Public education is a half trillion dollar plum waiting to be picked.” Here’s one of the pickers: K12 Inc is a profit-making corporation traded on the NYSE that supplies online virtual education to about 100,000 children nationwide – 5,000 of them here in Arizona. Its revenues exceed ¾ of a billion dollars annually and its CEO, a former banker, received total compensation last year of more than $1.5 million. All of their revenue comes from state-level charter school programs. To say that K12 Inc is operating a substandard education factory is to give them more credit than they deserve.

Now this Crisis Narrative of devastation and salvation by free enterprise has created its own mythology. “We need more tests to keep incompetent kids from being promoted.” “School uniforms will close the achievement gap.” “Teachers are all-important in a child’s development; that’s why we should fire the bad ones immediately based on their students’ test scores and without due process.”

The purveyors of the mythology have been created by corporations and ideological interests that stand to gain from the coming great reformation. Enter the Koch brothers, Eli Broad, the Kaufmanns, Bill Gates, and their richly endowed ilk. In 2011 alone, the Koch Brothers donated $24 million to support free-market and libertarian think tanks and academic centers.
The think tanks’ mission is to get us all to believe that public education has failed and private, profit-making corporations hold the solution to restoring America to glory. Corporations enter into cozy relationships with politicians. Legislatures pass laws that create markets for private companies. This is called “crony capitalism” but its benefactors call it “free enterprise.” It’s the predominant mode of doing business in America today.
The action arm of the private corporations is known as ALEC – the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is funded by right-wing foundations and private companies – the Walton family, the Koch brothers, K12 Inc. ALEC takes state legislators on fancy golf holidays to the Caribbean and hands them drafts of bills that they want introduced back home: charter school bills, assessment & testing bills, private prisons bills, bills about the sale of tobacco and alcohol. In 2012, 1,000 ALEC-written bills were introduced into state legislatures and 100 became law. Twenty-two current or former members of the AZ legislature are members of ALEC – all Republicans, including Governor Brewer. Jonathan Butcher of Phoenix’s own Goldwater Institute is co-chair of the ALEC Education Task Force – on which committee he is the only person with absolute veto power over any recommendation emanating from the committee. (Butcher was interviewed on last night’s [March 21] local news applauding the Arizona Supreme Court approval of vouchers, i.e., Empowerment Scholarships. If you think the long arm of the Koch brothers will never reach down into your life here in Phoenix, Arizona, then please think again. [On the evening of March 22, '14, a large group of Arizona Republican legislators was entertained at Donovan's steak hosted by ALEC and a group of lobbyists. Donovan's entrĂ©es easily top $50; not the kind of place that legislators hang out at when on their own dime.]

This is democracy in America today. Ever since the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Citizens United, corporations have free speech just like individual citizens and money is the same as speech. It’s just that some people speak so much louder than others.

The counter to the narrative of crisis and free enterprise is weak. You see it before you – a couple of old broken down academics who never asked for these fights, and a group of fresh, young PhDs who planned on a career in research only to discover that they have stepped into a political battleground.

Our counter narrative doesn’t yet have a name. Call it the Democracy Narrative or the Truth is Stronger than Fiction Narrative. Our narrative is rooted in fact and research. We celebrate the enormous accomplishments of American public education. The 50 Myths book is dedicated “To our nation’s teachers, often underpaid and underappreciated, expected to reach unattainable goals with inadequate tools, who still have managed to make our public schools the path to self-fulfillment for generations of Americans.”

Monday, March 17, 2014

When is a remedial course not really a remedial course?

On a recent visit to Massachusetts, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told a Boston Globe reporter that 40% of the state's high school graduates need remediation when they reach college. Now, Massachusetts is one of the highest scoring states in the U.S. and exceeds most nation's in international assessments. So we can infer that Duncan believes that the majority of high school grads in most U.S. states need remediation when they enter postsecondary education. Carol Burris did a bit of arithmetic and estimated that substantially fewer than 20% of the college students in Massachusetts take a remedial course in college. She rendered no judgment on whether these students actually needed a remedial course.

How could Duncan be so far off? Clearly, Duncan wishes to see a half-full glass as being three-quarters empty, or else there is no thirst for his remedies for a failing public school system. That he has never been a teacher at any level in the nation's education system might excuse his ludicrous misperception of what is actually happening out there in the schools.

Every educator knows that "remediation" is a constant complaint lodged by teachers at Level X against teachers at level X — 1. First grade teachers blame Kindergarten teachers for not preparing the children, and second grade teachers blame the first grade teachers in turn. "Primary teachers have intermediate teachers upon their backs to bite 'em; and intermediate teachers have secondary teachers, and so on ad infinitum.

These criticisms lodged against teachers at the lower level are largely baseless and self-serving. Consider the case of the University of Oregon back in the 1970s. A large percentage of incoming high school grads were being designated "in need of remedial math" based on their scores on a math entrance test. They were required to take Math 050 which would not count towards graduation. The Oregon Legislature got wind of what was happening and said, "We're not paying for professors at U of O to teach high school subjects." Presto changeo! Math 050 was immediately changed to Math 100 and the flow of money from the Legislature to the university proceeded unabated.

We all love to call each other "incompetent." Arne Duncan does a lot of such name calling. It just goes to show you that a lot of incompetence is going around.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
University of Colorado Boulder

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Myth 8. Want to find the best high schools in America? Ask Newsweek or U.S. News.

The print media regularly mine gold. Rank anything from best to worst and some market niche is going to spend money to get to the results. The most livable cities in the U.S.? Minot, North Dakota and Dalhart, Texas, rank #1 and #2. Never mind that the criteria are some crazy combination of “Car thefts per 1,000 people” and “Days per year without gale force winds.” The citizens of North Dakota and the Texas panhandle will fall over themselves to buy the magazine and the local newspapers will feature the good news.

Who doesn’t love to see who’s number one? It was only a matter of time until Newsweek and U.S. News ranked high schools. Of course, separating the wheat from the chaff proves not to be as simple when dealing with tens of thousands of high schools that differ in a multitude of ways.

Newsweek is particularly inept. It sent its survey to 5,000 schools; about half returned filled out forms. The nation has about 20,000 high schools. So maybe the ones who didn’t respond had something to hide and wouldn’t be in the highest echelon anyway, so no harm done . . . maybe. Newsweek asked for self-reports of six statistical indices: graduation rate (weighted 25% of the total score); college acceptance rate (25%); SAT/ACT average (10%); advanced placement/International Baccalaureate/Advanced International Certificate of Education (AP/IB/AICE) tests per student (25%); AP/IB/AICE (10%); and percent students enrolled in an AP/IB/AICE course (5%).

It’s obvious that the Newsweek variables will rank schools by wealth, ethnicity, and exclusivity – not by how well they teach and care for students’ needs.

Newsweek rankings serve well people who want to know where the “right kind” of people enroll their children. Newsweek-like rankings produced by state education departments are used by Realtors more than any other audience. Realtors are enjoined by law from discussing racial composition of neighborhoods with their clients, but school test scores do the job of directing home buyers to privileged neighborhoods.

U.S. News & World Report continues to make a fortune from annual publications of college, grad school, and public school rankings. U.S. News does a better job of finding the “best” high schools than Newsweek, that is, if being more statistically sophisticated is “better.”

Consider an example that should give any objective individual pause in interpreting the hoax associated with U.S. News high school rankings. BASIS Schools is an Arizona-based charter school company with 10 campuses in Arizona and plans to open more. It announces proudly on its website that its “campuses are ranked in the top ten in the nation by Newsweek, The Washington Post, and U.S. News & World Report.”. Top ten! But to all who know BASIS Schools firsthand, the reality is anything but “top ten.” Although a typical BASIS school starts off with hundreds of students in elementary grades, the number who survive the gauntlet of tests and requirements for promotion, and make it to middle school and high school, is hugely reduced. Special-needs students need not even attempt the required admissions essay. After the relentless shifting and winnowing of wheat from chaff, fewer than 2 dozen students were around at graduation day in one of Basis’s featured charter schools. Just about any large suburban high school in America could collect a few dozen graduates who aced their AP courses and topped their SATs. But measures like “percent graduates accepted to college” make schools like BASIS appear to be in the top ten. There is much less to these ratings than meets the eye.

U.S. News also rakes in the dough with its annual rankings of undergraduate and graduate schools in America. In the rankings of graduate programs in Education released just this past week, there were a couple of surprises. Foremost was the appearance at the top of the list – the #1 ranked graduate program in Education in the U.S. – of Johns Hopkins University. Now Johns Hopkins is a wonderful university. If I had an incurable disease – and as a matter of fact I just happen to – I would want to know someone there. But, Johns Hopkins never appeared in the U.S. News ranking of Education grad schools in the past 20 years until a few years ago. And, in fact, when my major professor, Julian C. Stanley, left Wisconsin in 1967 and went to Johns Hopkins, they had just abolished their Education Department. It only was resuscitated in 2007 as the Johns Hopkins School of Education. Now when I asked my colleagues if they knew anybody on the faculty at the Johns Hopkins School of Education – forgive me – they were as much in the dark as I am. In fact, the only thing apparently remarkable about the faculty of the School is the number of joint appointments with the medical school and other departments in the health professions. And this might be the reason behind Johns Hopkins’s sudden remarkable appearance at the top of the U.S. News best Education graduate schools list. It has long been known that medical schools and agriculture schools need only to open the tap and federal money for research and training flows in torrents – and the U. S. News rankings depend heavily on things like “Research dollars per faculty member.” Hopkins's ed school has another remarkable statistic: doctoral students per faculty member ratio is 0.3. If I read that correctly, that means that there are three faculty members for every doctoral student! Talk about personal attention, or are we talking about a graduate program with hardy any doctoral students? In short, pretty much just a Masters program.

The ascendancy of Johns Hopkins to preeminence in Education is remarkable in another respect. U.S. News also ranks graduate programs in 10 specialty areas: Curriculum, Ed Admin, Ed Policy, Ed Psych, Elementary Ed, Secondary Ed, Higher Ed, Special Ed, Counseling, and Vocational Ed. Johns Hopkins does not rank in the top 10 programs in any of these 10 specialties. What then is it #1 in? Well, the specialty rankings are not based on statistical indicators, which largely hide more than they reveal. The speciality rankings are based on reputation as seen by deans and associate deans around the nation. And on the street, professionals know that these reputation rankings tell the true story about a graduate program.

As much as we all love these rankings, they clearly need to be taken with a grain of salt, or an entire salt lick.

David Berliner and I have joined with 15 bright young PhDs to expose 50 of the myths & lies that are threatening our nation’s public schools. 50 Myths & Lies that Threaten America's Public Schools is published by Teachers College Press at Columbia University, a university with a truly great college of education.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
University of Colorado Boulder

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Myth #51 The Common Core will save America.

When David Berliner and I and our young Associates pulled together the 50 myths and lies that threaten America's public schools, we ignored the Common Core. We didn't forget about it. Who could? It was just that a sense of ennui overtook us and we could not bear to revisit the same dreadful collection of misguided ideas that has tormented educators for decades. After all, Arizona had just decided to scrap AIMS (the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards) because it and its standards had failed to truly make the state's children college and career ready. And AIMS was nothing but a confection of an earlier group of bureaucrats and politicians who decided in the early 1990s that the standards in place then had failed.
Older standards have newer standards
Upon their backs to bite 'em
But newer standards have newer still
And so on ad infinitum.
So you must forgive us if addressing the Common Core was simply too much to bear.
As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire.
Enough with the poetry!

Now Sherman Dorn did an excellent job of dispelling a host of myths about the Common Core a year ago on his blog. (Since Sherman was publishing his thoughts on March 17, 2013, he labeled the myths "blarney.") Here is some of the blarney about the Common Core that Sherman dispelled:

  • "The Common Core standards will dramatically improve instruction/the Common Core standards will bring new, more authentic forms of assessment."
  • "The Common Core will significantly equalize educational opportunities by setting common expectations of what students should learn."
  • "The Common Core will block curricular innovation by standardizing all curriculum."
  • "The Common Core is an attempt to cram corporate-friendly reform down everyone’s throats."
Sherman implied support for – or at least consent with – the Common Core when he wrote:
  • "The economic reasons one might make for a common curriculum are about general productivity, and most of that will be about internal markets, not exports."
  • "If corporations had somehow wanted to control schools indirectly through national standards, you would have thought that science would be a key target, and yet it has taken several years to get to the current draft state of the standards, and the draft standards do not look very corporate-y to me."
  • "...there is nothing automatic that ties a specific instructional method to a curriculum framework. Likewise, there is nothing automatic that ties a specific set of assessments to a curriculum framework. California and Kentucky experimented with performance-based assessment more than two decades ago with the blessing of 'it’s okay to teach to the test if the test is good enough' advocate Lauren Resnick, long before either the first wave of state curriculum standard writing or the Common Core."
He ended his critique of the Common Core mythology thus: "A set of common curricular standards are just that — a set of common nominal expectations that somewhat overlaps current practices. The vast majority of what is good or bad in a school cannot be related to them. I wish we’d stop hearing such blarney about the Common Core today and forever more." But I left Sherman's page with a sense that perhaps he was a bit too forgiving of an effort from which I see no good emanating. He viewed them then as largely benign. I can't agree. (Incidentally, if Sherman wishes to respond to this posting, perhaps on March 17, 2014, I will happily post his thoughts here.)

A number of things are so depressing about the Common Core. First, the degree to which my academic colleagues and teachers are complicit in creating the standards is troubling. With the promise of building a new future for American education and returning the U.S. to #1 in the world and closing the achievement gap, educators will flock to week-end committee meetings to write down the new standards in literacy and math and science that will guide our public schools into the future. (Arnie Duncan actually believes that the Common Core will close the achievement gap.) The rain men who make these promises are either too naive or too inexperienced or too smitten with their visions of omnipotence to understand that they themselves are merely tools of corporate and political interests.

Here is the first point on which Sherman and I see things somewhat differently. Sherman says that the Common Core doesn't look that "corporate-y to me." He's right, if by "corporate" one means big-C Corporate: Micro$oft, ConAgra, Ford Motors. The Common Core would not produce workers "job ready" even for Wal*Mart. But the Common Core is all about small-c corporate. There are small-c corporations that write the tests – oh, yes, you can't have standards without tests we are told – and then publish the textbooks aligned to the tests so that everyone can achieve the Common Core standards. In other words, behold Pearson, the British multi-national conglomerate currently gobbling up hundreds of millions of U.S. education dollars. Pearson had net earnings of more than $1.5 Billion in 2013. One small database sold to the North Carolina education department by Pearson – and one that North Carolina claims is defective – cost the state $8 Million. Pearson is not Micro$oft, but it is plenty big enough to buy itself politicians and lobbyists who can influence the future of America's schools.

Secondly, there was an air of insouciance in Sherman's quasi-defense of the Common Core: What's wrong with a bunch of educators getting together and dreaming about the schools of the future (and writing their dreams down for the rest of us to follow)? All the states have standards already, and there never is much local control anyway.

Well, there's a lot wrong with the Common Core. There will be no "authentic assessment" aligned with the Common Core standards; it costs too much. And reading and math will dominate because it is believed they can be assessed by paper-and-pencil and scored by computer. And test preparation in reading and math will drive out art and music and phys ed and even science and social studies. And no one dare teach a unit on wealth inequality or the destruction of the labor unions or the evils of fast food because it's not in the Common Core for obvious reasons.

And in the end, teachers will be further de-skilled and infantilized and told that curriculum is something you download from the government instead of something you create out of your own understanding of your students’ needs and passions and your sense of opportunity.

The Common Core is something you get when a President has so little knowledge of education that he chooses a Secretary of Education from among the guys in the pick-up basketball game at the Y.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
University of Colorado Boulder

Friday, March 7, 2014

Myth 7: Charter schools make all schools better.

Myth 7. School choice and competition work to improve all schools. Vouchers, tuition tax credits, and charter schools inject competition into the education system and “raise all boats.”

Do charter schools really make all schools better? Up until now, the only effect the charter school movement has had on traditional public schools has been on the latter's marketing budget. But as the charter school population – now at about 5% nationally – approaches "critical mass" – a phrase the charter owners love to throw around, as if some grand self-sustaining nuclear reaction will soon decimate the nation's school system – things could change. One change is taking place right now. And it's a change for the worse.

The Scottsdale (AZ) Uniified School District just announced that it will be creating an honors track for middle schools! Yes, middle schools! Can AP courses in Kindergarten be far behind? Apparently it's never to soon to let the little kids know that "You're smart, and he's not." The administration says flat out that the change is because of competition from charters. Scottsdale has a couple of charter schools that cream high performing kids off of the traditional public schools. One of them – Basis Scottsdale – is a part of the chain of Basis schools that have been anoited one of the "10 Best High Schools in America" by U. S. News. Never mind that Basis's high scores on SAT/ACT tests and high rates of elite university entrance are the result of winnowing 500 elementary grade children down to a couple dozen by graduation time through a gauntlet of gruesome testing that drives the less able back to traditional publics.

So what's wrong with segregating the brightest students off from the hoi polloi so that they may soar? Well, almost everything. Remove the high-performing kid from the presence of the low-performing kid and what happens to the environment of the low-performing kid? It is further reduced in opportunity. The interaction among all students that teaches both the fast and the slow that they have more in common than they realize is lost. The chance for a bright kid to lend a hand to a slower kid is lost.

The big news about the charter school movement is that it is contributing to the re-segregation of our public school system. (Iris Rothberg has recently reviewed the very convincing research in this regard.) Now the traditional public schools, feeling the sting of declining enrollments bought about by the charters, are contributing to the problem by creating tracks in middle school.

The old adage holds that "Enemies come to resemble each other," because they eventually have to use the same weapons to survive. In education, no good can come of this. My colleagues in education research have warned about these problems for several years. Read about it:

  • Burris, C. C., Wiley, E. W., Welner, K. G. & Murphy, J. (March 2008). Accountability, Rigor, and Detracking: Achievement Effects of Embracing a Challenging Curriculum as a Universal Good for All Students. Teachers College Record. 110(3), pp. 571-608.
  • Welner, K. G., & Oakes, J. (2000). Navigating the politics of detracking. Arlington Heights, IL: Skylight Publications.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
University of Colorado Boulder

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Myth 6. Home schooled children are better educated than those who attend regular public schools.

Myth 6. Home schooled children are better educated than those who attend regular public schools.

Sorry. No evidence to support this myth whatsoever.

Home schooling grew in popularity over the past 3 decades. Ten years ago, Michael Apple named it the fastest growing alternative to public education. At first glance, the superiority of home schooling appeared to be verified by Larry Rudner (1999) in a research study published in the journal Education Policy Analysis Archives – I know this study well because I was the editor of the journal at that time. His survey was a comprehensive report of the standardized test scores of home schooled students and compared them with the scores of more traditionally schooled peers. The home schoolers’ scores were often in the 70th and 80th percentiles, and 25% of the home schoolers tested one or more grades above grade level. This was great news for parents who want to create schools at home for their children, and for critics seeking more ammunition to attack professional teachers and the public schools. But Rudner's study does not support the myth that homeschooling is a superior form of education.

Right in the abstract of Rudner's article, the author warns: “This study does not demonstrate that home schooling is superior to public or private schools and the results must be interpreted with caution.” In fact, Rudner did not include the achievement test data to answer the question "How successful is homeschooling?" He used it to describe what kinds of children were being homeschooled.

Rudner went on and described homeschoolers in his survey in other ways. Parents who participated in the survey were only about half of the potential population, probably those most confident of their children’s scores. And those parents participating in the survey had more formal education than parents in the general population. Brian Ray, who has published research in support of home schooling since the 1980s, acknowledges that “home school parents apparently average two or three years more of formal education” than traditional public school parents.

Rudner pointed out that participating parents had a significantly higher median income than those of all U.S. families with children. Rudner also found that participating parents in his survey were most often home schooling in two-parent households, another finding confirmed by other researchers. It has long been known that the home schooling population shrinks dramatically after the elementary and middle school grades, when parents send their children back into the public school system to be educated by professionals. The vast majority of parents are ill-equipped to teach their children analytic geometry or to turn the kitchen into a chemistry lab. Rudner concluded that home schooled children "do quite well in [their] educational environment." But favored as they are by being raised in households with more educated, wealthier parents, they likely will do quite well any where.

And the most astounding fact of all that Rudner discovered: "A very large percentage of home school parents are certified to teach. Some 19.7% of the home school mothers are certified teachers; 7.1% of fathers. Almost one out of every four home school students (23.6%) has at least one parent who is a certified teacher"!

The use of Rudner's study by the homeschooling lobby is one of the great instances of disingenuous misuse of policy research in recent memory. No matter what the author intended, the homeschooling lobby has trumpeted Rudner's study from the rooftops as "proof" that homeschooling is the best. But today the homeschooling movement has a worried look on its face as it has become the target of the corporate cybercharters.

Rudner, Lawrence M. (1999). Scholastic achievement and demographic characteristics of home school students in 1998. Educational Policy Analysis Archives, 7(8), 1–33.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
University of Colorado Boulder

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Myth 5. Cyber schools are the wave of the future.*

Myth 5. Cyberschools are an efficient, cost-saving, and highly effective means of delivering education.

Sorry, not quite.

In the past decade, a small number of private companies have taken advantage of a market in cyberschooling that has presented itself from the convergence of home schooling, charter schools, and the Internet. By obtaining a charter in those states with permissive charter school legislation, often written by the American Legislative Exchange Council, and the vigorously recruiting home schooled students, companies like K12 Inc. and Connections Education (recently acquired by the U.K. publishing conglomerate Pearson) have able to enroll significant numbers of students in full-time schooling delivered entirely over the Internet.

These cyberschools, with names like Colorado Virtual Academy or Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, quickly began to earn significant profits. The authority under which they operate varies from state to state. In some places, profit-making companies can not be awarded charters. In such states, the corporations might open a nonprofit foundation in the state, receive a charter, and then purchase all services (courses, testing, record-keeping, human resources) from the distant parent corporation.

Spurred on by the search for profits and the need to keep stockholders happy, these companies have launched sophisticated advertising campaigns, even buying ad time during the Super Bowl. Ads promise a first-class education individualized for every child at no cost to the family. One of the largest cyberschooling companies spent half a million dollars on advertising and lobbying in 2010. Researchers at the National Education Policy Center estimated that in 2013 more than 300 full-time virtual public schools enrolled more than 200,000 students in the United States (Molnar, 2013).

The reality of the cyberschool is quite different from the television ads. The thought of a child as young as 6 attending “school” full time on a laptop on the family’s kitchen table sends chills up the spines of true educators. Physical education – so badly needed in these days of sedentary life for young people – music, art, lab sciences, and the like, all take a back seat to drill-and-kill basic skills instruction. In one cynical attempt to sidestep state laws that disallowed 100% online instruction, a cyberschool company mailed jump ropes to its enrolled students.

Graduation rates are abysmal, and achievement lags far behind that of their peers in brick-and-mortar schools. For the 2012–13 school year, Tennessee Virtual Academy – operated by K12 Inc. – scored lower than any of the other 1,300 elementary schools on the state standardized test. Efforts by authorities to close the school have run into strong political opposition, and the school looks to collect $5 million during the 2013–14 school year. The on-time graduation rate for students in cyberschools is about two-thirds the rate for traditional schools (Molnar, 2013).

Quality of instructional staff? Questionable. One applicant was asked 10 questions in her job interview; eight were about how she could recruit more students. In California, teachers in charter schools must be certified. Some cyberschools operating there have dodged this law by hiring one or two certified teachers and calling all their other employees "teacher aides." A large cyberschool enrolling more than 5,000 students was discovered "outsourcing" essay grading to India. Teacher turnover in cyberschools is extraordinarily high. Some former "teachers" estimate that they made about $10 an hour for the work they put in.

Cyberschooling at the K–12 level is big business. K12 Inc., one of the largest companies in cyberschooling and publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange, reported revenues of approximately three-quarters of a billion dollars in fiscal year 2012. The industry is projected to have revenues of approximately $25 billion by 2015. For this success, company executives are richly rewarded. Ronald J. Packard, CEO of K12 Inc. made $4,126,867 in total compensation in fiscal 2013: $670,836 in salary, a $702,000 bonus, $1,500,000 in stock options, $1,250,000 in stock. Packard was a banker before starting K12 Inc. Michael Milken (indicted for racketeering and securities fraud in 1989) was an early investor, and Bill Bennett was first chairman of the board. All great educators we can assume.

The charter school movement is worried that the cybercharters will besmirch the brand name of charter schooling and is trying to dissociate itself from the cyber movement.

* David Berliner and I have joined with 15 bright young PhDs to expose 50 of the myths & lies that are threatening our nation’s public schools. 50 Myths & Lies that Threaten America's Public Schools is published by Teachers College Press at Columbia University.

Glass, Gene V, & Welner, Kevin G. (2011) Online K–12 schooling in the U.S.: Uncertain private ventures in need of public regulation. Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center. Retrieved from

Miron, Gary, & Urschel , J. L. (2012). Understanding and improving full-time virtual schools: A study of student characteristics, school finance, and school performance in schools operated by K12 Inc. Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center. Retrieved from

Molnar, Alex et al. (2014) Virtual schools in the U.S. 2014: Politics, performance, policy, and research evidence. Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center. Retrieved from

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
University of Colorado Boulder

Saturday, March 1, 2014

50 Myths & Lies: Charter schools. Public or private?

David Berliner and I have joined with 15 bright young PhDs to expose 50 of the myths & lies that are threatening our nation’s public schools. 50 Myths & Lies that Threaten America's Public Schools is published by Teachers College Press at Columbia University.

Here's a sample:

Myth #4: Charter schools are private.

Charter schools are public schools. They are funded by taxes collected from the public. They may get a "pass" on certain regulations that govern other public schools – so as to unleash the massive forces of innovation and unbridled free-market energy – but they are subject to many of the same laws. For example, they may not turn away students who wish to enter them and they must accommodate students with disabilities.

Charter schools are public, but they don't act like it, and some work to project a private image. They can run ads that stress how demanding their curriculum is, so as to scare off students who might score low on tests. They will flat out tell parents of students who have disabilities that they can do nothing for them. They will require parents to pledge a certain number of volunteer hours during the year – thus driving off single-parent families – but then never ask for the hours once the family has been admitted. (See Welner (2013) below.) We have even encountered teachers in charter schools who thought that the school was private.

Some court decisions have recently reinforced the idea that charters are not really public. The Ninth Circuit Court ruled in 2010 that charter schools in Arizona were not like traditional public schools. This ruling could threaten the federally guaranteed rights of charter school students, which protect all public school students from unreasonable search and seizure, and unfair disciplinary policies, and ensure freedom of speech. The IRS has questioned whether charter school teachers can participate in state pension systems. Many charter school teachers are not allowed to form or participate in a union (McNeil & Cavanagh, 2012); when their right to unionize has been brought to court and upheld, charter school companies have argued that they should not be subject to the laws of the state that apply to public institutions because they – the charter schools – are private.

The charter school companies want it both ways. They are public when the money is handed out, but just ask for an accounting of how they are spending that money, and who is getting paid what salary in the school, and they quickly become private.

McNeil, M., & Cavanagh, S. (2012, February 2). Charter advocates claim rules in works would affect pensions [Web page]. Education Week blog. Retrieved from

Welner, K. G. (2013, April). The dirty dozen: How charter schools influence student enrollment. Retrieved from

*Thanks to Amy Marcetti Topper for help with Myth #4.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
University of Colorado Boulder