K12 Inc. online schools: 12% graduation rates and 0% accountability. Awesome!!!

Toldyaso! I SO told you so.

Guess what?  Online “academies” for K-12 students?  Not such an awesome idea!  Grace Hood has an alarming report on KUNC radio on the money paid to the for-profit company K12 Inc. to administer “COVA,” the Colorado Virtual Academy (click here to read or listen to it):

At a time when public schools are seeing deep cuts in funding, there’s a growing market for companies running online elementary, middle and high schools. The largest for-profit company overseeing these programs in Colorado is Virginia-based company K12 Inc. While public schools are struggling to survive, K12 Inc.—with the support of state tax dollars—is reporting double digit profits. Meantime, it’s not measuring up to state academic standards.

To be fair, the kinds of students who end up seeking an education online are not those who are having success in traditional schools.  But instead of spending the money on human teachers to teach classes in bricks-and-mortar schools, let’s instead send $22 million a year to Virginia for an “online academy:”

Student enrollment at COVA has grown to about 5,000 thanks in part to marketing by K12. But despite the allure of flexibility and education from home, COVA is finding a relatively high number of students are dropping out. Last year the school reported a 12 percent graduation rate. That’s compared to a 72 percent average for all public high schools statewide.

Let’s try a thought experiment that I saw on Corrente recently in a post by Lambert (sorry–can’t find the exact post):  substitute the words But despite with Because of.  So:  Because of the allure of flexibility and education from home, COVA is finding a relatively high number of students are dropping out.  This I’m sure is obvious to any teacher or professor in the known universe.  Students who do not have the drive, skills, reading ability, or whatever to succeed in traditional mass education classes will not be well served by COVA or any online school.  I’m not saying that those students were all well-served by their schools–far from it, I’m sure.  I’m saying that the answer is clearly not a magical online fairy godteacher.  (What would most of you have done with all of that “flexibility” of “education from home?”  And now the kids these days have the world-wide timewasting pR0n-shilling internets at their disposal, when all we had was Space Invaders, Philip Roth novels, and clove cigarettes! And by the way:  88% is not a relatively high percentage of dropouts–that’s a shockingly high percentage compared to pretty much any dropout rate you can imagine.)  The story continues:

“I’m not going to lie to you about that. We’ve had some downward trends,” says Katherine Knox, director of school improvement for Colorado Virtual Academy. “But we’ve also had individual and small group successes.”

Overall, the state rated COVA academically as a “turnaround” school—the lowest of four academic rankings after it mis-administered statewide assessment tests last year. But after an appeal, COVA is one ranking better, listed as “priority improvement.” However, academically COVA is not alone. More than half of the state’s online multi-district schools are getting poor marks.

So with the state spending $5900 per pupil what are students, parents and taxpayers getting? Is anyone holding online management organizations accountable?

Short answer:  no.  And yet, we have faith that “throwing money at” computers and technology at a for-profit company in Virginia will solve problems that mere human teachers can’t.  In fact, we are rather busy beating up on teachers and underfunding their pensions and health care plans while we in Colorado are sending $22 million dollars a year to Virginia for a graduation rate of twelve percent.  This scandal is a bonus twofer: it’s the old online scama-lama-ding-dong plus the handover of public money for the privatization of public services.

Sing it with me so that they can hear you in Virginia, friends: AWESOME!!!  (And thanks to Grace Hood and KUNC for the excellent report.)

20 thoughts on “K12 Inc. online schools: 12% graduation rates and 0% accountability. Awesome!!!

  1. I hit a triple off of V____ Kl___a (the third best pitcher in our league, the other two were on our team) in Little League, and have been telling people about it ever since. But for some cruel and unfair reason, the scholarship offers stayed off-shore, I didn’t get drafted by any MLB teams, I couldn’t even be a walk-on in our college I-M program! So much for individual and small-group successes and the advanced metrics movement. I’d guess that the COVA decision is judged “too goofy to fail” up at the state educrazzy department, and thus its “commercial promotion” to the watch-and-worry list. Ironically, of course, “priority improvement” means throw more money at this dot.com donkey, while poor Miss Appletree can’t even get an early delivery of state surplus buffalo chips to heat her sod schoolhouse this winter.


  2. The graduation rates don’t bother me so much as I suspect that students would move in and out of such a system rather than be in it to matriculation.

    But the lack of oversight, the pouring of money down a dotcom black hole or any private enterprise? That’s enough to send anyone into a rage, except those clueless types who bleat that private enterprise automatically (and automagically) trumps those boring teachers working in the brick-and-mortar world.

    Taxpayers ought to pay heed and kick some ass!


  3. automagically trumps those boring teachers working in the brick-and-mortar world

    And, as I think Historiann has also pointed out, they’re mostly boring female teachers, whereas the dot.coms are exciting male geeks.


  4. Last year I served on a committee to evaluate online providers of high school courses in California (I know, I *do* know how to have a good time.) We spent a lot of time looking at the instructional models to ensure that there was interaction with real instructors, and we turned down institutions where the student faculty ratio was too high. It seemed to me that the ones that worked best were blended models, where students met in a school building, even if they were doing online courses as well, and the teacher was in the local system.


  5. Susan–that makes perfect sense to me. But expecting unmotivated 15-year olds who may be suffering from various family problems, depression, drug problems, behavior or drug problems, etc. to be accountable to a completely online thingy is just baked. As we have discussed here before: online doesn’t work as well for college students, who are volunteers rather than state-mandated conscripts, and who are frequently going into debt to pay for their educations (esp. if they’re at a for-profit online uni.)

    Love that term “automagically.” I didn’t perceive it correctly in Janice’s comment on my first read-through until quixote quoted her again.


  6. We have a blended course in the Upper School as a pilot and it works really well. It’s just for seniors and is an elective, so the motivation is high and it’s a good transition towards college work (more independence, less in-class time). It’s our Constructing Race and Gender class and it’s always filled and the grades aren’t exactly easy. Nice mix of projects, graded discussions, and a variety of writing (blog posts, formal papers, outlines, etc.).


  7. Susan–thanks for the link above. It’s really appalling, and yet completely unsurprising. It’s difficult for me to articulate precisely how offensive it is to me that these for-profit scamsters call what they do “education.”

    I was talking to Fratguy the other day about taxes and stuff, and I asked him (jokingly) why he didn’t become a hedge fund manager. He said, “I don’t have to look at myself every day in the mirror to shave(he has a full beard), but I have to at least glance at myself to comb my hair.” I guess we just don’t have that predator/scamster gene.


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  9. Parents seek alternatives for their children’s education when their leaning needs are not being met, and for a vast variety of other reasons. A large number of students are having great successes in the online model here in Colorado and across the nation. We are very fortunate to have access to these innovative online schools where our children are thriving. The kinds of students who seek an online education are those who are looking for a quality education with outstanding course content and an individualized learning plan. Students who are academically advanced and students with special needs, medical challenges, and children who have suffered from bullying or other negative social experiences in schools are the kinds of students who seek an online education. Please click on this link to read the statement form the COVA Board.


  10. I think it’s a stretch to conclude that a 12% graduation rate is a “great success,” but I’m pleased if the option is working for some select students who have good technology and parental support. I’m pretty sure that a 12% graduation rate in a bricks-and-mortar school would be cause for shutting it down, and the occasion of a great deal of breast-beating and wailing about how teachers somehow screwed it up.

    So, I’m all for options–I just think that accountability should be a standard applied equally. How nice that COVA thinks that they should get special consideration for working with students “on both ends of the spectrum.” So do bricks-and-mortar public schools–and where is the consideration or respect for the teachers who show up every day to work there? Where is the allowance in the punitive, every-child-must-be-above-average Lake Woebegon standard that will be applied to the F2F school?


  11. My children are currently enrolled in COVA in 4th grade and Kindergarten. This is our 4th year with COVA, and I am very impressed with the curriculum. There are many reasons that I chose COVA over a brick and mortar school, but I do have a teaching background and felt that I would be quite capable of teaching my two children at home. For all of their claims that you work with certified teachers, COVA teachers are not really involved in our day to day activities and seem to just be there to administer the state required tests and to make sure that we are logging attendance every day. I agree that students who do not have involved parents who will be dedicated to making sure that they complete their lessons will not be well served by an online school. It is very challenging and when the children are feeling obstinate, it is difficult to keep them on task. I have found this experience to be quite rewarding however, and for those of us with the determination and self discipline to complete schooling every day, this is a great alternative to subjecting our children to the many social ills that we find are currently occurring in brick and mortar schools.


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  13. I am a COVA parent of a 9th grader. I can tell you my 9th grader does about 3x the work of a regular public high school kid, and I know plenty of regular public high school kids. He currently has straight A’s, but it is at the cost of our family life and his self-esteem. He has done nothing since school started August except for classwork. I spend my days off of work AT HOME because he cannot leave to go do family outings because he has too much work to do. We are dropping out at the semester, maybe sooner. He also does not feel he is really learning much that will be useful for college, but is just having to over-study to prepare for ambiguous and deliberately tricky test questions. I can give my son a better education that he will enjoy more and will have a passion about continuing learning after high school. COVA and K12 curriculum is designed to suck the joy of learning right out of a kid.


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  15. My issue is that they never allow the students to do the same kind of math problem more then one day in a row. This causes a student to not get a good foundation on any part of the math. After benchmark exams seeing the whole 9th grade average for that test was 35% I totally understand why. They are trying to teach too much instead of slowing down and giving a better foundation in main areas. IF students must pass the ECA testing then they will not because they didn’t learn anything instead of learning part of it well. You can’t work a problem if you don’t know how to work the beginning part of it because you only spent on day and one test on it.. no foundation in education anymore


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  17. My children home school & they are advanced in their learning. It is most definitely more work than a brick & mortar school, but our alternatives for education these days are just not okay…..daycare in school because half the girls are getting pregnant, the drugs, std’s, swearing, let alone the school shootings! The graduation rate is high in brick & mortar school because they’re coloring maps & having assemblies all week, and calling that an education! Each family is accountable for their personal decision on education, and reasons for doing so., and I’m sure the parents of all those shooting victims wouldn’t have hesitated to put their children into home school had they known what was coming-no matter what statistics you threw at them! Hey here’s some “homework” for ya…..look up statistics for bullying/suicide, unwanted pregnancies, drugs, std’s in the school system…still think it is the winning way to go? Don’t blame parents for being sick of how corrupt our world has become!!


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