Lee Fang's new investigative article on for-profit online education companies and the political and "philanthropic" networks that are helping them suck up public education funding without demonstrating halfway decent results is an absolute must-read. Practically every paragraph of it contains some thread that, if you tugged on it ever so gently, would unspool into its own completely disgusting story of influence-peddling and politician-buying and profits being put before kids.
For-profit online education is gaining ground fast:
In addition to Florida, twelve states have expanded virtual school programs or online course requirements this year. This legislative juggernaut has coincided with a gold rush of investors clamoring to get a piece of the K-12 education market. It’s big business, and getting bigger: One study estimated that revenues from the K-12 online learning industry will grow by 43 percent between 2010 and 2015, with revenues reaching $24.4 billion.
That's not because it's benefiting kids:
A recent study of virtual schools in Pennsylvania conducted by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University revealed that students in online schools performed significantly worse than their traditional counterparts. Another study, from the University of Colorado in December 2010, found that only 30 percent of virtual schools run by for-profit organizations met the minimum progress standards outlined by No Child Left Behind, compared with 54.9 percent of brick-and-mortar schools. For White Hat Management, the politically connected Ohio for-profit operating both traditional and virtual charter schools, the success rate under NCLB was a mere 2 percent, while for schools run by K12 Inc., it was 25 percent. A major review by the Education Department found that policy reforms embracing online courses “lack scientific evidence” of their effectiveness.
(Fang does note that there are places where online education has potential, like to provide AP-level content to rural schools without qualified teachers.)
That's the core of the story: state legislatures and governors handing over big money to for-profit companies to cheat children of a decent education. And of course these companies are spending millions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions. They're all but buying politicians like Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna (not that he wasn't eager to be bought). They're cloaking their profit-seeking in the guise of philanthropy, with the same people lobbying for for-profit companies and sitting on the boards of education "reform" foundations and advocacy groups. In fact, even as Bill Gates gives money to online learning advocacy groups through his charitable foundation, Microsoft is looking to move into the online learning business as a new profit center.
It's disgusting, and if it isn't fought vigorously, it's the future of American "public" education.