If This Happened At a Public School, People Would Be Freaking Out

About a year ago, Working America members along with Michigan parents, teachers, and students fought to keep a “cyber schools” bill from passing through the legislature. The bill called for a portion of public education funding – about $7.2 billion of Michigan taxpayer dollars – to be diverted to online-only, unaccountable for-profit school programs. Those schools would be run by a Virginia-based for-profit education company called K12 Inc. Not coincidentally, K12 Inc. had lobbyists on the scene in Lansing to sway legislators to their side.

We fought SB 619 to a draw, but Gov. Rick Snyder cut deals with lawmakers and squeezed it through the Republican-controlled Michigan House by a one-vote margin.

Since that time, Michigan education results have not improved, but K12 Inc. has still made out like bandits on the backs of Michigan taxpayers. K12 Inc. is a member of ALEC, the insidious right-wing organization that produces corporate-backed bills for legislators to pass in states. With programs around the country, they made $522 million in profits in 2011 alone – that’s $336 per student.

That’s right. Michigan isn’t the only place where K12 Inc. lobbied for “cyber schools” legislation. Two years ago, they pulled the same stunt in Tennessee, diverting millions from the public education budget to open up Tennessee Virtual Academy. Despite funding from taxpayers, K12 Inc. runs the show.

Turns out, Tennessee Virtual Academy is one of the worst schools in the state. And they were just caught trying to cover it up.

NewsChannel 5 uncovered an internal TVA email written last December:

The email — labeled “important — was written in December by the Tennessee Virtual Academy’s vice principal to middle school teachers.

“After … looking at so many failing grades, we need to make some changes before the holidays,” the email begins.

Among the changes: Each teacher “needs to take out the October and September progress [reports]; delete it so that all that is showing is November progress.”…The email adds, “This cannot be late!”

The email also suggested that if students got one bad grade and one good grade, the teachers should drop the bad grade instead of averaging them:

In traditional classrooms, if students score a 60 on one test and a 90 on a second test, they’re stuck with a 75 average. But the email suggests that teachers erase the bad grades, leaving students with just the good grades.

The email continues, “If you have given an assignment and most of your students failed that assignment, then you need to take that grade out.”

If a public school principal had sent such an email and it had been uncovered, Tennessee taxpayers would be enraged – and through lawmakers and administrators, they would be able to get to the bottom of the situation and get accountability. But even though it’s still taxpayer money on the line, K12 Inc. is not accountable to anyone but their shareholders.

And it’s not like there’s only one case of K12 Inc. cheating the system. At the Seminole Virtual Instruction program, a K12 Inc. school in Florida, a September 2012 investigation revealed that the school was using uncertified teachers. Their aim was not better education, it was cutting corners: uncertified, less-qualified teachers can be paid less.

In fact, overall, a study from the National Education Policy showed that only 28 percent of K12 Inc. schools met Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standards, and that only half of parents intended to keep their children in a K12 Inc. schools. “Part of K12’s problem seems to be that it skimps on special education spending and employs few instructors, despite having lower overhead than brick-and-mortar schools,” said the NEPC Director Kevin Welner.

This is one of the many “cyber schools” and other education privatization schemes are a very, very bad idea. Public educators are accountable to students, parents, and taxpayers – but corporations like K12 Inc. only care about the bottom line. They can fix grades to their hearts content with no consequences – the only ones who really face consequences are the students who are receiving a low-quality education at one of the worst schools in the state.

Michigan, this is your possible future. And we’ll take this opportunity to remind you that most of the legislators who voted for the “cyber schools” bill – as well as the governor who signed it into law – will be asking again for your vote in 2014.