California’s Charter School Mugging

Politicians punish a company for resisting unionizing its schools.


Tom Torlakson, the superintendent of public instruction, during a meeting of the State Board of Education, Thursday, July 14, 2016, in Sacramento, Calif.


Associated Press

July 17, 2016 6:54 p.m. ET


Our readers know about the coordinated assault on for-profit colleges. Now Democrats are ambushing a fast-growing online education startup that manages charter schools.

The public company K12 operates 70 virtual and blended (online and traditional) schools nationwide, including 14 charters in California. K12 typically contracts with school districts or nonprofit charter organizations to operate schools. Students receive instructional materials in the mail and can log in online at any time to do work. Teachers record lectures, answer questions and assign and grade coursework. Parents of children with special needs or behavioral problems often prefer K12’s flexible format, as do many teachers. The virtual schools also provide options in rural areas with few charter schools.

All of this is anathema to unions, and in 2014 the California Teachers Association (CTA) launched a campaign to unionize K12’s charters. The union claimed the schools saddled teachers with heavy workloads, skimped on instruction—e.g., computers sent to kids weren’t updated—and turned away hard-to-teach students.

The union also flogged low graduation rates and test scores, though many urban public schools do much worse. Many K12 students enroll midyear and are behind on credits when they begin. Students who spend three or more years at the schools score 14 points higher in reading and 19 points in math than those who spend less than one year. The K12 charters don’t cherry-pick or discriminate among applicants, and more than 60% of students are low income.

After K12 challenged the union petition, Attorney General Kamala Harris began a sweeping investigation—one of the first launched by her new Bureau of Child Justice. She alleged that the schools are scamming taxpayers by recording students who log on for one minute as present and misleading parents by advertising the benefits of online education.

But this looks trumped up. In California, teachers at virtual schools record attendance based on educational activities that students complete, not the time they spend online. Like traditional schools, the virtual academies are compensated based on student attendance. Independent auditors approved by the state Education Department haven’t turned up any fraudulent activity in 10 years.

Nonetheless, on June 23 Tom Torlakson, the state superintendent of public instruction, ordered another audit to ensure that K12 schools are “serving their students well.” Five days later the California Public Employment Relations Board certified the CTA and ordered the schools to collectively bargain with the union.

Less than two weeks later, Ms. Harris proclaimed a $168 million settlement with K12, including $160 million in “debt relief” for “nonprofit charities” the company allegedly coerced into “unfavorable contracts that put them in a deep financial hole.” Those “charities” are the same charter schools that she accused of defrauding taxpayers. And the balance sheets of the nonprofit charters and K12 don’t show any debt. K12 typically charges more nationwide than California charter schools receive in per pupil allocations. Each year K12 forgives the difference, which has amounted to $160 million.

To sum up: K12 stays in business, but because it resisted unionization it gets hit with a huge fine and must collectively bargain. If K12 doesn’t accede to the union’s demands, the state Board of Education could use the audit as a pretext to shut the schools down. Thuggish government marches on.

California Looks Into K12 Inc. The Result: a $168.5 Million Settlement (or $2.5 Million, Depending on Who’s Counting)


By David Safier

on Tue, Jul 12, 2016 at 9:00 AM

click to enlarge

  • Courtesy of PhotoSpin

Imagine a group of students walk through the school doors sometime during the day, spend a few minutes lounging around the office, then leave. The school marks them present and collects their per-student money from the state.

According to an investigation by California’s Attorney General, that was business as usual at K12 Inc.’s online school, California Virtual Academy—emphasis on the word “business,” because K12 Inc. is a publicly traded, for-profit corporation. Students would sign into school on their home computers, then leave a few minutes later, and they would be marked present. That’s not just a problem at the California school. According to a number of investigative articles about K12 Inc.’s online schools around the country, teachers are urged to hang onto students who are enrolled but don’t spend enough time online or do enough work to pass their classes. Once they’ve been around long enough to qualify for state funding, they can be cut loose.

Misreporting attendance was only one issue that led California to reach a $168.5 million settlement with the company. According to the Attorney General,

“K12 and its schools misled parents and the State of California by claiming taxpayer dollars for questionable student attendance, misstating student success and parent satisfaction and loading nonprofit charities with debt.”

The settlement is $2.5 million plus $6 million to cover legal costs to the state, and $160 million to wipe out debts CAVA owes to K12 Inc. 

Charter school supporters aren’t complaining about the ruling. The California Charter Schools Association joined the California Teachers Association in applauding the decision. K12 Inc. is a major reason why some pro-charter organizations recently published a paper demanding improvement of online charter schools.

K12 Inc. hates that $168.5 million figure. According to a corporate press release, it’s really only a $2.5 million settlement with no admission of liability or wrongdoing. As for that $160 million in debt relief to CAVA,

“There is no ‘debt relief’ to the CAVA schools. The balance budget credits essentially act as subsidies to protect the CAVA schools, its students and teachers against financial uncertainties. CAVA schools have not paid that money to K12 and K12 never expected to receive it given California’s funding environment.”

I’m not savvy enough about how K12 Inc. operates to know why it keeps those “subsidies” on the books if it doesn’t expect them to be paid, but I know that another national charter chain, Imagine Schools, also shows outrageously high debts individual schools owe the parent company. It may look good on the books to list it as money to be collected at a later date rather than writing it off, or it may be a way of making sure the schools are too financially indebted to declare their independence from the larger corporation and go their own way.

Problems with CAVA and K12 Inc. were exposed in an excellent series of investigative reports by San Jose’s Mercury News, but the publicly traded corporation has been the subject of continued scrutiny by journalists across the country for years without resulting in state investigations. One probable reason is, K12 Inc. has less political clout in heavily Democratic California than in other states like, say, Arizona, where Craig Barrett, ex-CEO of Intel and current president and chairman of BASIS Schools, Inc., sits on the K12 Inc. Board and is compensated $190,000 for a few hours work. Also, California Attorney General Kamila Harris is running for the U.S. Senate, so a high profile case like this can only help her campaign in a progressive state.

Tags: K12 Inc., California Virtual Academy, Kamila Harris, Craig Barrett, Image



Add a comment

I work for K12 as a contractor. I can say I have only seen full commitment and dedication to the real and true value online education offers. In my view K12 as a whole and the folks I worked with do their best to produce a product which enhances choice, success and moves education forward.

Posted by


on 07/12/2016 at 7:38 PM

Do you think K12 Inc. is one of those companies that would hire a social media company that hires individual contractors to monitor online postings and websites to make positive remarks repudiating anything negative posted about the company?

Posted by


on 07/13/2016 at 12:38 AM

No. That sounds like something the NEA or public school hacks would do. What made you ask?

Posted by

Larry McNeil

on 07/13/2016 at 5:33 AM


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Three years later, jury still out on Michigan’s cyber school expansion


on October 23, 2015 at 6:46 AM, updated

Online schooling allows children in Ironwood in the Upper Peninsula to take classes from a school based in Okemos. From left to right, fifth-grader Gabbi Maki, first-grader Brynn Maki and third-grader Keaton Maki are enrolled in Michigan Connections Academy. (Courtesy photo)The Center for Michigan | Bridge Magazine 

From his Lansing office, Gov. Rick Snyder read aloud a book about a goldfish and its fishbowl neighbors. As he finished each page, he turned the book around to face his computer screen and smiled.

In homes across the state, 90 children enrolled in the Michigan Virtual Charter Academy were watching him from their computer screens.Education advocates, meanwhile, were watching in their own way, waiting to see what happened next.

It was March 2013, and a law allowing for the expansion of cyber charter schools — schools in which students study full time at computers in their homes rather than in traditional classrooms — had just gone into effect.

“Our goal is student growth,” Snyder told media that day, “and we want to create whatever venue works best for them.”

Two-and-a-half years later, it’s still unclear how well the expansion has worked.

Online charter enrollment has more than quadrupled since the law went into effect, demonstrating the allure of cyber schools for some Michigan students. But if improving student achievement was Snyder’s goal, many online charters are failing families of students in grades 1 through 8.

A Bridge Magazine analysis of student test score data reveals most online charters in Michigan are under-performing in elementary and middle school compared with schools whose students come from similar economic backgrounds. Among four online charter schools offering elementary- and middle school-grade classes in Michigan, only one reached the state average for student test scores among economically similar schools.

RELATED: In one tech-heavy cyber school, a low-tech strategy spurs learning

High school is a different story: the four online charters that enroll high school students all exceeded state averages, with one scoring in the top 5 percent of all high schools.

The scores are based on Bridge’s 2014 Academic State Champs ranking system, which compares student test scores of schools with test scores at economically similar schools. Bridge determines economic similarity by comparing the percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

Enrollment in cyber schools exploded after the new law went into effect. Online charters grew from two (allowed as part of a pilot program) in 2012-13, to 10 last year, with total enrollment growing from 1,769 to 7,934, according to data kept by the state.

There’s potential for more growth; only 10 cyber charters were allowed to operate last year. Beginning this school year, the law allows up to 15 online charters. The law also allows a maximum of 2 percent of public K-12 students to be enrolled in cyber charters. That’s about 30,000 students.

Currently, about one in 250 Michigan students is enrolled full time at a cyber charter school, taking all of their classes online.

While cyber schools are attracting students, children in grades 1-8 aren’t doing as well academically as their peers in traditional brick-and-mortar buildings.

In Bridge’s 2014 Academic State Champs ranking, a score of 100 indicates a school’s students are performing at par with students in schools with a similar percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Only Michigan Connections Academy, based in Okemos, met that standard in elementary or middle school.

Icademy Global, based in Zeeland, had the lowest scores for both elementary and middle school. Its elementary school score of 82.35 for 2013-14 ranks it in the bottom 2 percent of all elementary schools in the state.

Enrollment and enrollment growth appear to bear no connection to test scores. For example, elementary students at the Michigan Great Lakes Virtual Academy, based in Manistee, had test scores that ranked the school in the bottom 20 percent of all elementary schools in the state in 2013-14. Yet enrollment ballooned from 474 that year, to 2,008 the next year.

Michigan Virtual Charter Academy, based in Grand Rapids, had the largest enrollment among Michigan’s cyber charters in 2014-15, with 2,804 students. Its elementary school student test scores ranked in the bottom 30th percentile.

Michigan Connections’ elementary students, by contrast, ranked in the 53rd percentile.

Cyber charter high school students perform better, with all four schools that enrolled high school students ranking in the top half of high schools in the state. Michigan Connections’ high school led the way with a ranking in the top 5 percent.

Yet, even at the high school level, there are reasons for concern. The ACT scores of juniors enrolled full time in cyber charters were significantly lower than the scores of juniors statewide. Fewer than 8 percent of cyber juniors earned scores that deemed them college and career ready in all subject areas, compared with about 18 percent statewide, in 2013-14.

While the academic data for Michigan cyber charters could be considered mixed, there’s less uncertainty nationally. The academic performance of students in full-time virtual schools across the U.S. is “utterly and unexplainably terrible,” said Gary Miron, an education professor at Western Michigan University and a national expert on cyber schools.

“And that’s for the schools we have data,” said Miron, one of the authors of an annual report on the performance of virtual schools published by the National Education Policy Center. “A high proportion don’t have data,” because they’re new or because they have too few students per grade to be counted in state-level data.

Nonetheless, Miron is an advocate of online learning, teaching an online course. But he said he is concerned about accountability in full-time virtual charter schools nationally, a field that is dominated by for-profit companies.

“Basically, they’re doing what you’re supposed to do as for-profit company: reducing cost and lobbying to increase prices for the products,” Miron said. “It’s an unregulated field.”

In Michigan, at least 94 percent of cyber charter students were enrolled last year in schools operated by one of the two largest national cyber school providers, K-12 Inc.

Cyber academies receive the same per-pupil foundation grant as brick-and-mortar public schools in Michigan, roughly $7,200, even though virtual schools do not have the building and maintenance costs of traditional schools.

“The money we don’t have to pay for a new boiler, we invest in curriculum,” said Bryan Klochack, principal for Michigan Connections Academy, and former principal at Marshall High School.

Online charters also spend more money on marketing than traditional schools to attract students. A 2012 USA Today report found that cyber school providers were purchasing ads on Nickelodeon and The Cartoon Network.

How much companies spend on marketing wouldn’t be an issue if the schools were performing well academically, said John Austin, president of the Michigan State Board of Education, who opposed the 2012 expansion of cyber schools.

Among students enrolled in full-time cyber schools in Michigan, 44 percent of classes ended in either a failure or a withdrawal without credit, according to an analysis by Michigan Virtual University, a private, nonprofit set up by the state in 1998 to offer online courses to Michigan students.

Austin draws a distinction between online courses that are a graduation requirement in Michigan high schools and full-time cyber charter schools. About 320,000 students in the state took some kind of online course last year, most as a supplement to their traditional classwork.

Expanding the cap on cyber charters before knowing how well the two operating cyber charters were performing was “a huge mistake.” Austin said. “For a lot of kids, online-only learning is not helping.”

Karen McPhee, senior education adviser to Snyder, did not return an email request for comment. Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, an organization that advocated for cyber school expansion in 2012, also did not return requests for comment.

Lessons for traditional schools

Andrei Nichols, interim head of school at Michigan Virtual Charter Academy, said critics are asking the wrong questions. Instead of focusing on how much money cyber charters spend on marketing, education leaders should ask why so many students want to leave their traditional school building.

“If a family is in a position where they can go to their local brick-and-mortar school and it meets their needs, by all means do it,” Nichols said. “But there are families … who traditional schools are failing who want another option.”

Online schools aren’t a good fit for a lot of families. The families whose children succeed in online schools are families who are involved in their student’s learning, Nichols said. Teachers at his cyber school spend a lot of time on the telephone with parents, discussing how the students are doing.

“The virtual world would not work without family involvement. Let’s be frank, you can’t leave an 11-year-old at the table and expect them to do their work,” he said. “The virtual world (sees) the challenges of the brick-and-mortar world: attendance and kids coming in below grade level. That’s why we need all the interventions we have.”

That, Nichols said, might be a lesson traditional schools could learn from cyber schools, where teachers and administrators must have a high level of contact with students and parents if the students are going to succeed.

“When parents are involved in the learning process, good things do happen.” Nichols said. “If you were to take that parental involvement in the virtual world and recreate it in brick-and-mortar schools, we could be put out of business.”

© Bridge Magazine, reprinted with permission. Bridge Magazine, a publication of The Center for Michigan, produces independent, nonprofit public affairs journalism and is a partner with MLive.

NC Closer To Opening Its First-Ever Virtual Charter Schools

Credit Wikimedia Commons

The state is closer to opening two virtual charter schools. A special committee on Wednesday cleared two applications of proposed charter schools that would be operated by for-profit companies.

North Carolina Virtual Academy would be managed by K12 Inc., which has had student performance problems in other states, while N.C. Connections Academy would be affiliated with Connections Education.



On Wednesday, the state committee took turns firing off questions to the two eager applicants.

There was the biggest and most obvious question:

What does a virtual charter school even look like?

Mary Gifford, a senior vice president for K12, said students would take most of their classwork online and on their own schedule. Younger grades would spend about half of their time with books and materials. In any case, all students are required to have a responsible adult around who can coach them.

“This is indeed a lifestyle choice, this is not for everyone,” she said.

Earlier this year, lawmakers mandated that the state approve two virtual charter school pilots to open next fall. During Wednesday’s interviews, education officials, like Paul Davis, remained cautious.

“Not too sound argumentative but elementary virtual school sounds almost like public-funded homeschooling,” he remarked.

Quality of education

And then there were bigger concerns about the quality of education they would provide.

Becky Taylor, a member of the state board of education, had a pointed question for K12.

“Can you tell me if you’ve been terminated by states?” she asked. “We hear rumors… And that’s concerning.”

Some virtual academics working with K12 have a history of low graduation rates and poor test scores. Tennessee’s online school will close next year if students don’t show dramatic gains. The company has also run into trouble in states like Florida, Colorado and New Mexico. But Gifford said no contracts have been terminated, some just haven’t been renewed.

Over the years, nonprofits affiliated with K12 have tried to open online charters in North Carolina, but have been rejected.

Different perspectives

After the interviews, Mark Jewell with the North Carolina Association of Educators argued that big for-profit companies like K12 waste taxpayer dollars.

“They’re looking at making money and I think the transparency issue is always going to be on the table there,” he said.

A few seats behind Jewell sat a group of parents with a very different perspective.

“I just thought it was a really good idea,” said Chandra Reed, who’s with the group “I Trust Parents.”

Reed has a son who is out of school now, but said she would strongly consider sending him to a virtual charter school if he were younger.

“Because he was very shy and school didn’t really benefit him,” she said.

Her son is the kind of demographic that virtual charter schools are after. They cater to kids who haven’t been thriving in traditional settings, whether it’s because of academic, mental or social reasons.

After the hour-long interviews, state committee members, like Becky Taylor, seemed torn. She said if the state commits, they have to do it right.

“And not just doing a willy-nilly, ‘Okay North Carolina is in the virtual business now,’” she said. “I think if we do that, we’re going to be in TVs and newspapers across the nation, and I don’t want to go there.”

A few of the members hesitated when they said yes, but all of them agreed to clear the applications for the two virtual charter schools. The State board of Education will make a final decision in February and students could be logging on next fall.

Cyber Schools Are Much Worse Than You Think | One Room Schoolhouse

Cyber Schools Are Much Worse Than You Think

When I first started working at a cyber school I thought they were the future of education, and I still do. But the problem is that they are only started by for-profit companies who try to run them like businesses. So the top priority becomes customer satisfaction instead of student learning. The results are hard to measure, but I fear that they are worse than anyone suspects.

The curriculum is touted as first class material, designed by experts. In truth our school purchases whatever it can get from third party vendors. There isn’t much stuff out there. Most cyber schools get their curriculum from K12, a company started by William Bennett, a former federal Secretary of Education. My school gets the majority of its high school material from a mail order company called Aventa.

When Aventa creates a course it is fairly bare bones. They choose a textbook from one of the major textbook companies, and cut it up into lessons. The lesson will contain a few paragraphs introducing the topic, they will have the students read a section of a chapter, they will ask the student to do a few problems from the book, and lastly, there will be some form of graded assessment, taken from textbook review problems. That is all.

I don’t know who Aventa employs to do this cutting and pasting but judging by the results I do not think they are subject matter specialists. Nor do I think they have training or experience in education. The introductory paragraphs read like they are written by someone who barely has a grasp of the material. Furthermore, the selection of questions that are included on the tests and quizzes is unusual. The textbook companies create test banks of hundreds and hundreds of questions because they want to be all things to all teachers. They will rewrite the same question ten, twenty times and include all versions in the bank because different teachers will prefer different versions. They don’t expect one teacher to create a test and use two versions of the same question. But, unfortunately, the Aventa people do. For example, on a quiz for one of my classes, say the chapter has five main and ten secondary topics, the first four problems ask the same exact question just worded a little differently. Also, the question comes from one of the secondary topics. The next four questions are, again, the same question reworded four different ways, and from another secondary topic. That is the entire quiz, eight mostly multiple choice questions from two ancillary topics. This is the only assessment from the most important chapter of the class.

So they aren’t subject matter experts, but there is also a reason to assume that they don’t have any education training. The textbooks have chapter review questions and they have chapter test questions. These are two different types of questions. Review questions tend to be open ended, they can have many different answers. They are meant to get the student thinking, to engage them. We call them formative questions. The test questions are used to measure a student’s learning. They are called summative questions. One of the first things we learn in education is the difference between formative and summative questions and when to use each. But for some reason the Aventa quizzes and tests are taken from the formative chapter review questions. And to top it off they seem to choose the most awkwardly, or erroneously, worded ones. Sometimes I show the questions to other teachers or friends and family and they have a hard time figuring out what the question is asking, but even if they do their answer almost never matches the “official” answer I am only supposed to give credit for.

There is one more major problem with the Aventa curriculum has that makes me think they have no experience teaching. Like I said before, the textbook companies like to throw everything and the kitchen sink into their books so they can please everyone. This is also true with the chapter topics, they include chapters on every possible topic of a subject so that the same book will cover all the standards of the state of California, plus all the standards of the state of Texas, plus all the standards of the state of Pennsylvania, and so on. That way they only have to publish one book. Teachers can then pick and choose the chapters they want so that they cover their particular state standards and still have time to go into detail in a few subjects. Not Aventa, they include every single chapter of every single book they use. This means that a chapter only gets about a week of time, just enough to give it the most cursory of inspections. So the students don’t really learn anything they just memorize some superficial facts, and it on to the next topic.

You could go into any high school in the country and select a teacher at random, have him or her pick a textbook and cut it up into lessons and you would have a better curriculum than what we purchase from Aventa. But my company needs a product that they can market. If the most important factor in education is the teacher then they have no product, every school has teachers. So they treat the Aventa curriculum as if it were the gold standard even though they know it is substandard. And they treat their teachers as if they were chimps banging on a keyboard.

Experts at the corporate office then cut-and-paste the curriculum into our learning management system(lms), the portal from which the students download their lessons. If there is any extra material that comes with the textbooks, such as animations or worksheets, they will embed a few into the lessons. The people at the top of the curriculum department are PhDs, without classroom experience, but the rest are just data entry clerks with no education training or experience. I have had several frustrating email conversations with them. By the time the curriculum gets to me it has been copied and recopied and has many, many typos, misstatements, and inaccuracies. There is no quality control. The teachers are told to review the lessons as we cover them, but we are given no time. We are to email the data clerks when we find errors. This creates a very adversarial relationship. The only time we contact them is to point out their mistakes and give them more work. In turn they are hostile and refuse to make our changes. Once a clerk refused to make a change I suggested because the typo was also in the textbook. The error was so obvious I found myself questioning if the clerk had even graduated high school.

It goes beyond just typos, the teachers are not allowed to change anything about the curriculum. When teachers log into the lms we are given the ability to grade assignments and email students and that is about it. What this means is that every one of our students across the nation gets the exact same curriculum, no matter what their strength or weaknesses, no matter their learning style, no matter their level. Our curriculum department tries to create three tracks out of the Aventa courses but all they do is cut out a couple chapters. So if the advanced class covers all twenty chapters of a textbook, the regular class will do eighteen chapters, and the remedial has sixteen.

Just as the Aventa curriculum is bare bones, so is the lms. A student doesn’t even have to look at a lesson, all they have to do is click on a button that says the lesson is complete and we have to take their word for it. However, the worst part of the lms is the tests and quizzes. The students can look at a test as many times as they want without taking it. Some of the students print out the test, search through the textbook or wikipedia for the answers, and then take the test at a later time. That is the best case scenario. A lot of the students cut and paste the questions into websites like Yahoo Answers and other users will give them the answer. Some cut and paste the entire test. And some students cut and paste the answers into their tests without even reading either of them. I know this because teachers will monitor Yahoo Answers and when a students posts a test they will post answers, answers that are obvious jokes. And some of my students will have these joke answers on their tests. When the corporate office learned of this all they did was warn the teachers not to post anything and that they might be guilty of copyright infringement.

When I first learned of Yahoo Answers it seemed as if about 20% of my students cheated on that first test. But then I started to keep track and I noticed that the 20% who cheated on the second test were not the same students who cheated on the first. Over the years some of the students have gotten better and better at cheating and it is hard to find the websites that they use but I know they are sharing answers somehow because I will get 40 students making the exact same three mistakes on a problem. Add to that the fact that some bricks and mortar teachers post the entire chapter review problems, with answers, on their websites, so that their students can review for a test at home. The textbook companies make it easy for them, they will supply a cd so all the teachers have to do is copy a file onto their web server. That is another reason why we should not be using the review questions for our tests. Some of my students have found these and I get test answers that exactly match the textbook answers, word for word. The really bright students will change a few words, and intentionally miss a few multiple choice questions, but I can still tell. Now when I grade I don’t even have to look things up, I know that this student is using Yahoo Answer, that that student paraphrased wikipedia, and the third is using some dark site which I haven’t found yet but I’ve seen his wrong answer a hundred times before, character for character, down to the bad punctuation. My estimation of how many are cheating has grown, from 40% to 60% to 80% to 100%. At 95% I told myself, “Ok, the majority of your students are cheating and there is nothing you can do about it, but you have this core group of students who are really smart and enthusiastic about learning, and don’t cheat because they don’t need to. And you know they are learning because you speak to them every week and they understand the material. Focus on those students.” But last year I caught several of these smartest students in the school cheating. It broke my heart. I know that they only did it because they were really busy with extracurricular activities, they feel like they know the material well enough anyway, and they consider the tests to be just busy work for them. But if they really knew the material as well as they thought they did they wouldn’t have needed to cheat. My school is hurting even the very best of its students.

The corporate office has a fleet of programmers working on the lms. It would be very easy for them to devise a way to make it impossible for the students to cheat. But they don’t want to, probably because they figure that those students will just drop out and we won’t get their tuition from the state government. It is ironic that some of our teacher training courses are hired out to a third party where it is impossible for us to cheat. We have to watch the videos all the way through and answer the questions correctly, right there on the spot or we don’t get credit for the course and have to take it over again.

I first learned of Yahoo Answers and sites like it from another teacher. The school administration and corporate office would rather just ignore the cheating. They turn it back onto the teachers and say that we should be doing phone calls with the students and we should be able to tell from the conversation if the student is cheating. From time to time I point out Yahoo Answers to a new teacher and they are completely surprised even though they usually have been working for us for more than a year.

Several years ago the teachers put pressure on the administration to create a procedure for reporting and keeping track of the incidents of cheating. What they came up with was so onerous that most teachers would only report the most egregious cases. If twenty of my students used the same answer from Yahoo Answers I didn’t think it would be fair to bust just one of them. So I would follow the procedure for all twenty, made the calls, sent the emails, filled out the forms, and logged everything. It would take more than a full day to do all twenty. And we were not given time to do this, so I would fall a day behind with my work and have to make it up on my own time. The principals were supposed to keep track of this list and if a student showed up three times, take “administrative action”. I doubt if any of the principals looked at the list once. I have never seen or heard evidence of any action being taken against anyone on the list. However, the teachers who did the reporting were given more and more work. We don’t use the system much any more. I doubt the new teachers even know that it exists.

There is another system in place that is supposed to verify if a student is doing the work. The teachers are to call each of their students twice a year and give them a pop quiz. This is the part of our jobs which takes the most time. A teacher will usually spend more than 50% of their day making phone calls. It is also the majority of our performance review. If we do not get two successful calls with each and every student we get a negative review. Some days we cannot make any calls because we are out doing other things, state testing, marketing, field trips. So on the days when we are available to make call we need to make a minimum of ten calls. Students can be away from home, sleeping, or just not answering. So in order to get ten successful calls we need to make about fifty calls. But we can’t just make the call, we have to fill out paperwork for every attempt, even if no one answers. Making ten unsuccessful calls can take an hour. Teachers also have to hold class and grade papers, they rarely have more than four hours per day to devote to calls. The reason I mention all of this is that when we do manage to get a student on the phone we rarely can spend more than five minutes with them. We need to ask them questions that they can answer immediately, without thinking about them.

If we give a student a failure for a phone quiz they go on a list, just like the cheating list. And just like the cheating there is no evidence that anything is ever done about it. The principals put pressure on us to not give any phone quiz failures. Just like with cheating is seems as if those teachers who consistently give students failures are given more and more work by the principals. Once a principal even told all of the teachers that we were not supposed to give any student a failure. If they couldn’t answer the questions we were to log it as a tutoring phone call. This leaves one to wonder, if we are not to fail anyone what is the purpose of the call?

I have been reading our school’s charter and annual reports that are available on the department of education’s website and I have come up with a theory. It is not hard to look at cyber schools and see the weak spot, we have no idea if the student enrolled with us is the actual person who is doing the work. I think the department of education would also be able to see this and they would not approve our charter. So the school’s founders put the phone quiz into the charter to ensure the approval. And our administration makes us do as many as we can possibly do, even if it interferes with actual education. But they don’t want us to actually give any failures because that would mean more work for them. And if we have too many, it might show the department of education that our school doesn’t work.

The facts that the teachers are given no time for the calls, nothing is done with the failures, and we are pressured not to fail anyone, motivate the teachers to give really, really easy quizzes. Quizzes that a fifth grader could answer. And if they still can’t answer we give them hints and prod them along.

The students have various ways to get around the phone quizzes. One or two of the students in my class can answer my questions straight up, and sometimes they laugh because the questions are so easy. More commonly, the students delay while they look up the question in their textbook or on wikipedia. Sometimes I can hear the pages flipping in the background. Sometimes they repeat the question as if they are talking to themselves but I can hear them talking to someone else. Some students will answer but they will answer questions that you didn’t ask, or they turn it around and ask a question of you. Like I say, the teachers are motivated to let them pass, so instead of telling them they can’t do any of the above we work with them to get the solutions.

Another tactic is to just not do any work until the end of the semester. This may seem counterintuitive, but if the student hasn’t done any work we can’t ask them any questions. When we call them on the phone all we can do is tell them to get started doing their work. So they wait. Some of them wait until the last week of the semester to turn in anything. If these students actually did the work assigned this would be impossible. All they can do is cut and paste their assessment answers from Yahoo and mark the lessons complete. During this last week the teachers are very busy grading. Most of the students are behind with their lessons, some only a couple weeks, some are fifteen weeks behind. And they all have to complete their lessons that last week. So the teachers spend every minute of the day grading as fast as we can for twelve hours or more. There is no time to make phone calls. And there is no time to check and see if they are cheating, or do anything about it.

However, the majority of students get around the phone quizzes by just not answering their phones. They know our numbers and they will program their phones to ignore our calls. I will call them twice, once with my listed number and then, if they don’t answer, with an unlisted number and they usually answer the second time. But that only works once. Sometimes they will just hang up on us and blame it on the phone.

As with the cheating and failure list we tell the principals when we haven’t been able to reach a student after trying five times. This time the principals will take action. They have an array of tools that are not made available to the teachers. They can even lock the student out of the lms. That gets the students attention really quickly. But as with the other lists, if we give them too many names they get grumpy with us and start to assign us more busy work. Rarely, they will kick a student out of school, but from the teachers’ perspective it almost seems arbitrary who gets kicked out and who doesn’t.

I find the phone calls to be very demoralizing. I can waste hours calling and calling and not getting anyone on the phone. Then when I do get a student it is very clear that they haven’t learned anything. A little while ago I was able to listen to a second grade teacher give a few of her students a phone quiz. I was shocked to hear that one of her questions was similar to one that I ask my students. And it sounded like her students were doing a better job than mine. I became a teacher because I wanted to do something good with my life, I wanted to leave this world a little better for having me in it. But I feel I am stuck in a job where I do more harm than good. Our students’ learning is less than zero. We are teaching them to procrastinate and cheat, and that they are entitled to a diploma without doing any of the work.

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Online Schools Spend Millions of Tax Dollars to Advertise

Charmie39 says:

November 29, 2012 at 11:16 am

And why are they allowed to do this???? Why are we paying taxes for this???? Where is the box I can check off as to exactly WHERE I want my tax dollars used. I would have more than likely not checked out the box that said “advertising” for other’s personel business venture. Nor would I have checked off the box for “overpaid educational consultant”. Especially when I know of administrators who retired early so they could be “rehired” as consultants, because they knew they could make up to twice as much. How does that help my child’s school or education????

I am beginning to NOT believe in our tax system. When “they” (meaning anyone who would abuse our tax dollars by not using it for the “good” of the people) do this, I will begin to take a stand against any tax increases of any kind no matter how “good” they appear to be. Why in Calif. are we paying a higher sales tax to “help” our schools when there is NO limit to LAUSD using millions of tax dollars to fight all things related to parents and teacher’s rights? (I reluctantly voted for this)

Insane to take money out of schools for these unjust abuses while misleading the public as to what is really going on with their tax dollars that should be being used in the classroom. It’s just wrong! I would hope at some point in time some decent, honest, educated, well read billionaire, would buy a newspaper or two and actually give TRUE and HONEST accounts as to what is really going on in this country of ours.

So far, both political parties have news agencies swinging it “their” way. I want it simply laid out for me so I can judge for myself. Every news agency news reporter on the air, be it TV or radio, is editorializing w/o benefit of a moderator or viewpoint representing another side. Many if not most do not seem to know what they are talking about. They just blurt out opinions without any evidence of research. How can we learn anything from these people when they don’t appear to know much and do no research. How could we possible learn where our taxes really go unless we research it ourselves???

We can’t.

Truly considering voting against any taxes, bonds or what have you, until I can see some clear answers as to exactly HOW and WHERE my taxes would be going and by what standard are those who are going to be spending this money, going to be held. And, I want to see an audit with proof as to how the money was spent. I want those who spent the money to show how it was used and what value it produced other than giving their happy self a job. I want REAL accountability. How about about letting a private auditor detail the “results” using survey’s not sent through site mail, but directly to homes and how about some in home interviews. Should be interesting. If the money is used for the school I sure don’t want surveys sent back to that school district.

How about a little “real” accountability for our tax dollars…


Is This Legal Graft? | Diane Ravitch’s blog

Is This Legal Graft?

Diane Ravitch's blog[1]

A site to discuss better education for all

Motoko Rich of the New York Times has written a good article[2] about the Georgia charter referendum.

We already knew that big donors from out of state funded the pro-charter vote. What I learned from this article was that charter corporations also funded the Yes vote.

She writes:

“The roster of contributors in Georgia includes several companies that manage charter schools, including K12 Inc., Charter Schools USA and National Heritage Academies. In all, committees supporting the ballot measure have collected 15 times as much as groups opposing the measure, according to public filings.”

The charter corporations listed here operate for profit.

Somehow this seems unethical. Isn’t it like a payoff or a sort of legal graft to buy support for a measure that benefits the corporation?

Yes, I understand that it happens all the time. I understand that tobacco companies and oil companies spend money to win public support and contracts. I’m not naive.

But I never imagined that for-profit charter corporations would give money to candidates and ballot questions to get contracts. If the referendum passes, they make money.

It just smells bad. It stinks.

It’s not about education. It’s about greed.

Here’s A Money Idea For Charter Schools | The Range: The Tucson Weekly’s Daily Dispatch | Tucson Weekly

Monday, February 3, 2014

Education Here’s A Money Idea For Charter Schools

Posted by David Safier on Mon, Feb 3, 2014 at 4:00 PM

It’s been said before in greater depth, complete with facts and figures, but the Weekly's Tom Danehy cuts right to the chase, as usual, in this week’s column.

Records show that charter schools spend public money like drunken sailors with almost no official oversight, with protection from having to make full financial disclosure almost gleefully provided by the Legislature, and virtually no public outcry from those who claim to give a crap about where taxpayer money is going. It's hypocrisy, plain and simple.

Charter schools say they’re not getting as much money as district schools, and they’ve gone to court to get what they think is their fair share. It would make it a whole lot easier to figure out if charters are getting what they should if we knew the specifics of where and how they spend their money the taxpayers’ money.

I’ve done my damndest to sort out the funding equity issue for charters and district schools. I’m pretty good with numbers. I’ve listened to the arguments. I’ve looked at the spread sheets. But I haven’t found anyone who has sorted this thing out to my satisfaction. The problem is, there are too many slippery variables: providing transportation for students or not; providing food services or not; providing adequate special ed and ELL programs or not. Then there’s the different types of bonding charters and districts have available to them. This isn’t just a problem of trying to compare apples and oranges. We’re trying to compare a couple of banquet-sized financial smorgasbords here.

For this old classroom teacher, the money issue boils to one question. How much is being spent to educate that average kid in the average classroom? That’s got be the starting point for any discussion of funding equity. If the money allocated to charters for educating that middle-of-the-pack kid is significantly more or less than what district schools get, we should look at making some adjustments. But if the amount is close to the same, then we can leave that discussion aside and shift to other questions about special needs education, outside-of-class services and the like, while districts and charters get together and lobby the legislature to bring our education funding out of the cellar for all public schools, district and charter.

Someone with enough determination and endurance can find reasonably specific figures about how school districts spend their money. That’s the way it should be. It’s our money, so we should have some idea of how it’s being spent. But charters? All you’ll find in their financial reports are large dollar amounts divided into vague, unhelpful categories. Like Danehy said, we don’t know where taxpayer money is going when it’s handed to charter schools, so there’s no good way to figure out how much money goes directly to the student in the classroom.

As hard as it is to ferret out financial data on independent nonprofit charters, it’s flat out impossible when the schools are run by for-profit Charter Management Organizations. An impenetrable, free-enterprise firewall hides how taxpayer money is being spent. Prime examples: BASIS charters are run by the for-profit BASIS.ed; More than a dozen Imagine Schools in Arizona are run by Imagine Schools Inc. based in Virginia; Arizona Virtual Academy is run by the publicly traded K12 Inc. (currently trading at $21.84 on the NY Stock Exchange, down from $37.85 in September). These for-profit companies suck up 70% or more of their schools’ funding, then spend it with no transparency or accountability.

Arizona charter school laws were created to give the schools as much latitude and as little oversight as possible. It was all about letting the invisible hand of the marketplace sort things out. That free market ideology has led to uncompetitive no bid contracts, not to mention incestuous financial and employment relationships that would make a cutthroat capitalist blush. If public charter schools want to argue they’re not getting as much money as they deserve, they should let We The People know how they’re spending our money. Then let’s talk.


Tags: Charter Schools, Charter Management Organizations, BASIS Schools, Imagine Schools, Arizona Virtual Academy, K12 Inc.

According to Education Week, the Center for Media and Democracy and Education has released a report on America’s highest paid government workers, and they are not whom you would think of.

In education, it is Ron Packard, who until recently was CEO of K12 Inc., which manages virtual charter schools. Packard, formerly of McKinsey, was paid handsomely. The company insists its schools are public schools,” as it sucks tuition dollars away from community public schools:

“The center says Packard earned more than $19 million in compensation between 2009 and 2013, and notes that that compensation rolled in as K12 achieved a lackluster academic showing in various states. As a company, the report says that K12 took in $848 million in 2013, with $731 million derived from its “managed public schools” operations.”

Packard announced in January that he was stepping down to head a new company but will remain on the K12 board.

And you wondered why we spend so much on education? Check out the burgeoning industry of for-profits and consultants and others who tell schools what to do and how to do it but never enter a classroom.

via Diane Ravitch’s blog

Well, of course, there re scores of education entrepreneurs, the men and women who dream up lever was to make profits from the field of public education. They have start-ups, they have real-estate investment trusts, they create companies to build data systems, they operate for-profit charter chains, on and on. Some get very rich. They certainly make more money than teachers, who spend their days with children.

Education Next, the journal of rightwing academics and journalists here profiles three entrepreneurs.

The three edu-entrepreneurs featured here are Larry Berger of Wireless Generation, whose company was purchased by Rupert Murdoch for $390 million;

Jonathan Harber, who created Schoolnet and sold it to Pearson for $230 million.

Ron Packard of K12, who founded the company with the Milken brothers, which went public in 2007, and now has revenues of $848 million.

It is astonishing when you think about it that non-educators profit so handsomely when teachers must work for years to reach an annual salary of $50,000.

Who adds social value?

It gives one pause, makes you think about our priorities. And think of who has the great fortunes: Murdoch, Pearson, the Milkens.

I withhold further comment.

via Diane Ravitch’s blog