Friday, July 5, 2013

Virtual school program K12, Inc. under scrutiny for its legislative ties and declining student outcomes

In Professor Black's recent post Is the Gig Up with Virtual Charter Schools?, he said that expected other districts to follow Chicago, Maine, and North Carolina in reevaluating public funding for virtual K-12 schools. A new report discussed in Monday's Washington Post adds to the list of districts that are discovering that virtual schools may not be as educationally or financially effective as advertised. The report, ALEC v. Kids: ALEC’s Assault on Public Education, details the ties between Virginia-based K12, Inc., America’s largest proprietary K-12 online school program, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group that develops model legislation supporting conservative policies. (ALEC’s Education Task Force includes advocacy groups and business interests that promote legislation for publicly-funded virtual schools and business tax credits to fund private school scholarships.) The report notes that K12 Inc., a member of ALEC’s Education Task Force, received more per-pupil public dollars than Virginia would have spent for the same students in a local school district. Approximately 85% of K12, Inc.’s revenue comes from public education dollars, according to N.C. Policy Watch.

K12, Inc. has come under increasing scrutiny after a 2011 New York Times' report that the company “squeeze[d] profits from public school dollars” through high student-teacher ratios, giving credit to students who did not pass classes or log in at all, and by lowering education standards, charges that K12, Inc. denied. This June, the Colorado Virtual Academy (COVA), which administers state funds for virtual public school education, decided to end its management relationship with K12, Inc. after 2014. COVA gives K12, Inc. about $22 million to provide online education to Colorado students. With K12, Inc. as an instruction provider, COVA’s student enrollment grew to 5,000. Recently, however, COVA became concerned about student outcomes, such as the state’s virtual high school graduation rate of 22% in 2012, compared with the statewide public high school graduation rate of 72%. Nationally, about 49.1% of students enrolled in K12, Inc.’s virtual programs graduate on time compared with about 79% of students in face-to-face instruction where K12, Inc. operates.


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