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Triangulation or Strangulation?

In the span of the last two weeks, three articles were published about the role of for-profit corporations in K-12 online learning. Individually and collectively, they are serious and comprehensive pieces of investigative journalism and they all reach similar conclusions and raise serious concerns about the role of these companies, especially K12, Inc., in the public education landscape.

I encourage you to read all three articles.

Virtual schools are multiplying, but some question their educational value (Washington Post, November 26, 2011)

K12 has hired lobbyists from Boise to Boston and backed political candidates who support school choice in general and virtual education in particular. From 2004 to 2010, K12 gave about $500,000 in direct contributions to state politicians across the country, with three-quarters going to Republicans, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

How Online Learning Companies Bought America’s Schools (The Nation, December 5, 2011)

Corbett, a Republican who rode the Tea Party election wave in 2010, supports a major voucher expansion that is working its way through the state legislature. The expansion would be a windfall for companies like K12 Inc., which currently operates one Pennsylvania school under the limited charter law on the books. According to disclosures reported in Business Week, Pennsylvania’s Agora Cyber Charter School—K12 Inc.’s online school, which allows students to take all their courses at home using a computer—generated $31.6 million for K12 Inc. in the past academic year.

Profits and Questions at Online Charter Schools (The New York Times, December 12, 2011)

The New York Times has spent several months examining this idea, focusing on K12 Inc. A look at the company’s operations, based on interviews and a review of school finances and performance records, raises serious questions about whether K12 schools — and full-time online schools in general — benefit children or taxpayers, particularly as state education budgets are being slashed.

I’m not opposed to online learning in K-12 education. In fact, I’d say I’m rather bullish on the possibilities and affordances of online learning, especially for children with limited opportunities or access to meaningful learning environments. But, with some forms of educational research, we view triangulation as an evidentiary hallmark. So, while I was critical of the policy brief issued by the National Educational Policy Center, I can’t read those three articles and not conclude that we are in desperate need of oversight and regulation here. Dr. Justin Bathon’s legal brief and model legislation is a great starting point.