Michigan legislators are about to make a terrible mistake – but we have the power to stop them.
The Michigan legislature is taking up Senate Bill 619, which would lift restrictions on so-called “cyber schools” – for-profit online charter schools run by unaccountable corporations. If passed, the bill would allow more “cyber schools” to take over education from Michigan’s already cash-strapped public schools.
S.B. 619 removes the requirement that students in cyber schools previously enrolled in public school and does not require them to offer all grades between kindergarten and 12th grade. Although the law requires cyber schools to demonstrate experience delivering a quality education program, the legislation does not define what this actually means, leaving it open to interpretation.
The problem? Analyses of similar programs in other states have found deeply worrisome results in terms of effectiveness for students.
- A study of a Pennsylvania program by Stanford University revealed that students in online schools performed significantly worse than their traditional counterparts.
- A 2010 University of Colorado study found that only 30 percent of virtual schools run by for-profit organizations met the minimum progress standards outlined by No Child Left Behind, compared with 54.9 percent of physical schools.
- According to The Nation: “A major review by the Education Department found that policy reforms embracing online courses “lack scientific evidence” of their effectiveness.”
Not to mention the fact that online learning doesn’t provide the social and community benefits to students of a real-life public school.
Here’s the catch: even though the quality of the education provided by “cyber schools” is questionable, they are very good at making money. The nation’s largest provider of online charter schools, ALEC-member K12, Inc., made $522 million in profit in 2011, or $336 per student.
Through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), corporations like K12, Inc. have pushed an agenda of privatizing education. ALEC has even produced a model “Virtual Public Schools Act” for legislators to introduce in the various states. (K12, Inc. is sponsor and member corporation of ALEC. Lisa Gillis of K12 is on ALEC’s Education Task Force’s Special Needs Subcommittee, and K12 was an Exhibitor at ALEC’s annual conference meeting last year.)
If passed in the various states, this would be an enormous windfall to these corporations at the expense of our public schools. In Michigan alone, the AFT estimates that $7.2 billion would be diverted from Michigan public schools, to the benefit of companies like K12, Inc.
Over the past few weeks, our organizers in Michigan have been going door-to-door informing folks about the cyber schools issue. “The first time many people are hearing about this issue is from a Working America organizer,” said Working America Michigan State Director Fran Brennan, “and when they hear about it, they are flabbergasted.”
Fran said that when Working America organizers explain the issue at the doors, the reaction is frequently disbelief, anger, and even disgust. “As the vast majority our members have expressed, the greatest gift we can give our children is a good quality, well-rounded education, and Cyber-Schools are not the solution, but rather, the solution is increasing funding to all our community schools.”
The Senate already passed the measure, and we’re expecting that SB 619 will soon be coming to a full vote in the Michigan House. We’re reaching out to our members door-to-door, as well as by email, Facebook, and Twitter. Sign our petition and share it across all your networks – we’re not going to let legislators put corporations ahead of our kids.