Monday, June 3, 2013

Looting phase in education reform part... [damn, lost count again]

I apologize to long-time readers who have had to listen to this rant for years now but if you:

1. Spend billions of taxpayer money on privatization projects

2. with little scrutiny and easily gamed metrics

3. and view the whole process through a simplistic hero/villain narrative conducive to charlatans and con artists

... what in the hell do you expect to happen?

Laura Macomber writing for Bill Moyers and company:
On to education: Among ALEC’s 2013 legislative priorities is a call for “improving education” — a goal that, conveniently, can also improve corporate bottom lines. In 2011, Tennessee passed an ALEC-inspired bill allowing taxpayer money to be spent on for-profit education. K12 Inc., an online education company, pounced immediately — and landed a multi-million dollar deal to provide online education to Tennessee students. K12 is one of ALEC’s corporate members and a member of its education task force. The company helped to craft the ALEC model bill that inspired Tennessee’s for-profit education law. And the legislators responsible for introducing the bill? That’s right: they’re ALEC members too.

Fast forward to February 2013, when Nashville’s News Channel 5 conducted an investigation into K12’s Tennessee Virtual Academy and found what appears to be evidence of grade-fixing. An internal school e-mail reads: “After looking at so many failing grades, we need to make some changes… [Each] teacher needs to take out the October and September progress; delete it so that all is showing is November.” If, as the email suggests, student progress reports for September and October included “so many failing grades,” then simply excluding them might mislead parents — and K12 investors — into thinking that the school is succeeding — even if it’s not. Is this the kind of “educational improvement” ALEC was striving for when it published its 2013 priorities?
I came across this as part of a good piece by Charles Pierce arguing that the political press needs to focus on events outside of DC.

If you have the stomach for more on the topic, both the New York Times and Nashville's CBS affiliate have done good reporting on the story. Here's a taste of the NYT story:
Some teachers at K12 schools said they felt pressured to pass students who did little work. Teachers have also questioned why some students who did no class work were allowed to remain on school rosters, potentially allowing the company to continue receiving public money for them. State auditors found that the K12-run Colorado Virtual Academy counted about 120 students for state reimbursement whose enrollment could not be verified or who did not meet Colorado residency requirements. Some had never logged in.
p.s. I've got a thread on charter schools in the pipeline prompted by this generally well-balanced article by Ray Fisman. That makes this a good time to emphasis something about these looting stories. These incidents represent an existential threat to the reform movement. If you believe in choice, competition and accountability, then your biggest obstacle isn't unions or reform skeptics; it's the people who cheat and game the reforms. As long as we have widespread issues like test answers being changed, results being suppressed, and extensive student-dumping, then none of our data will be trustworthy enough for data-driven strategies.

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