Cyber schools

U.S. Department of Education Checks-up on Michigan Public Schools

images[2]The Detroit Public Schools are being paid a visit today by Tony Miller, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education. Department spokesperson Daren Briscoe told The Detroit News that the purpose of the visit is:

“…to assess the status of reform efforts to improve outcomes for Detroit’s public school students and to determine how ED can best provide continued support and technical assistance across a broad range of reform and management areas. He will meet with the leadership of the Detroit Public schools, the Education Achievement Authority, and the Michigan Department of Education.”

How nice…almost sounds like they’re coming for tea.

The Michigan powers-that-be must sense that their lawbreaking days are coming to an end.

And their crimes are many:

Detroit schools have been operating under Emergency Management since 2009, and under that authority have been decimated through cruel cut-back management schemes borrowed from the corporate world. Emergency Manager Roy Roberts, a former GM executive, further destroyed the district through his Education Achievement Authority plan in which he transferred the dead weight of the 15 lowest performing schools in DPS to a new state operated district. Last years’s legislation that paved the way for the wild proliferation of charter and cyber schools has further turned DPS into an educational ghost town.

Last August, on the same day Public Act 4, the Emergency Manager law, was suspended as the Michigan Supreme Court ordered the certification of the petitions putting the law to a referendum vote in November, state Attorney General Bill Schuette filed a lawsuit to suspend seven elected DPS board members on a technicality. This week Wayne County Circuit Court threw-out the case as so much hogwash. DPS school board legal counsel chararacterized the harassment as “a bogus lawsuit by the AG from the beginning. It just showed contempt for Detroit”.

Speculation swirls whether the various complaints of civil rights violations committed under DPS Emergency Management will be discussed at today’s “helpful” meeting. Included among them are the closure of so very many schools that are primarily serving minority communities, the transfer of those 15 low performing schools to the EAA, and the suspension of 180 high school students who staged a walk-out in protest of the poor quality of education in DPS.

This federal scutiny comes at a pivotal moment for the EAA. Certain lawmakers have been pushing hard for legislation that would codify the state-wide district into law so they may expand from 15 schools to 60 within five years — and obtain critical grant monies to keep afloat.

Federal government agencies rarely stick their noses in state operations, and when they do, the effort is typically flaccid at best. For two years the coalition that put together the petition drive to repeal the Emergency Manager law has been soliciting the assistance of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, asking him to investigate violations of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. The petitioners have been met with…crickets.

Let’s hope today’s meeting is a productive one.

Amy Kerr Hardin from Democracy Tree
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Michigan Students — Prepare to be Assimilated

DSCF01825-300x266[1]As the Education Achievement Authority awaits its much anticipated legislative knighthood — codifying the institution through protection found in Michigan Compiled Law, they still want more money.

Currently comprised of 15 former Detroit Public Schools, the EAA is already in receipt of an additional $5.8M from the state, atop the $7,190 per pupil foundation grant that followed the 8,824 students. The new, soon to be, statewide district only captured about $6M in Title I funds, leaving the bulk of the $24.7M behind in a one-year deal with DPS. Next year, they’ll take the mother-lode.

They now clamour for another $2M, in the form of an advance on state aid money, to purchase computer equipment for online learning. Which on the surface sounds fine enough — technology is an important part of our lives. Last year, as the Snyder Administration stood poised to roll-out plans for broad expansions of both charter and cyber school programs, my friend Brit Satchwell, President of the Ann Arbor Education Association, explained to me that some online learning was a good thing, but only as a supplement to real classroom instruction.

The EAA plans to grow by leaps and bounds, as revealed in their recent grant application, they are projected to become the largest school district in the state — with a budget to show for it. A cash cow for eager corporate vampires with their well-honed privatization sales pitches and the full approval of Snyder under his “best practices” for schools — urging (insert air-quotes) districts to privatize wherever they can as a condition of receiving state funding.

Rolfe Timmerman, Superintendent of Saugatuck Public Schools, believes that Snyder has cooked the books in evaluating school performance by manipulating college readiness through creative interpretation of ACT scores. Timmerman says “Gov. Snyder and our Legislature have a vision to reinvent public education in Michigan through expansion of the Education Achievement Authority, eliminating the cap on for-profit charter and cyber schools, and the really frightening education finance rewrite project.”

The EAA is ostensibly meant to aid academically under-achieving schools through various innovations — among them, cyber learning. The sales pitch is the flexibility of learning at one’s own pace, the reality is something else entirely.

Too much online learning leads to an increased academic slump, with full-time cyber learning being an educational train wreck.

Dr. Michael Barbour, a recognized cyber school expert testified last year before the Michigan House Education Committee on the topic. He was very clear in expressing his concerns about the deleterious effects of excessive cyber schooling. Barbour said “On average, there is a decrease in the percentage of students achieving proficiency the longer they are enrolled in full-time online learning.”  Cyber schools often make the claim that they enroll more students that lag academically as their excuse for lower scores, but it is apparent that online learning exacerbates the existing problem. Additionally cyber schools do not have the tools to address, one-on-one, individual learning deficiencies.

Barbour cites an extensive and disturbing survey of 10,500 students in Colorado where they found that cyber schools are so bad that they have three times as many drop-outs as they do actual graduates. The study focused on the top cyber schools. Only 27% of cyber students met Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).

Cyber Schools are a virtual, pardon the pun, invitation for corruption. In Pennsylvania and Ohio, where lawmakers opened the door for cyber school expansion, both states experienced a flurry of court cases involving cyber school fraud. The schools where falsifying enrollment reports to receive funding for non-existent students– education tax dollars which went directly into the pockets of the same greedy millionaires that fund cyber school lobbyists and their political action committee, Digital Learning Now, headed by former governor Jeb Bush.

Enter the dragon…

Michael Milken, junk bond dealer, ex-con — you know the guy.  He’s interested in educating our precious children. Or, perhaps it’s more accurate to say he is interested in profiting off the tax dollars we pay to educate our precious children.

Milken is a primary investor in K12 Inc. an online school, and a very profitable one at that. It is the leading cyber scheme in a growing market of for-profit “schools” preying on state legislatures through heavy lobbying to open up their coffers for corporate pillaging in the name of school choice.

K12 currently has 81,000 students in 27 states, including at least one school in Michigan, with more to come in the works, as his company advertises their wares to unsuspecting families.  K12’s net profits in 2011 alone topped $21.5 million, while it’s CEO, Ron Packard, bagged a cool $5 million in 2010. That’s money going into the pockets of the rich at the expense of our children. Money that formerly went towards actual face-to-face education with real teachers earning on average 1% of Packard’s salary.

It’s not difficult to imagine why these profiteers think this is a real sweet gig.  National estimates of net profit in cyber schools range from $2,000 to $3,000 per child each year. Couple that with the fact that accountability in these corporate-owned schools is nearly non-existent, both in performance evaluation and in the disclosure of operating costs and profit margins.  In fact, we know very little about their budgets, but we do know a thing or two about their legally required student achievement measurements.

Cyber schools would just love to get a foot in the door of the EAA, capitalizing on their “innovation” business model.

Amy Kerr Hardin from Democracy Tree

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A New Tragedy of the Commons — Tea Party Attack on America’s Civic Dignity

                       DIAGNOSIS:  MASS HYSTERIA AT THE TEA PARTY

There was a story earlier this year about 18 high school cheerleaders who, one by one, developed mysterious tics, spasms and vocalizations which were eventually diagnosed as conversion disorder, a condition causing Tourette-like symptoms, but with no underlying neurologic cause.   The more it was publicized (and it was), the worse the outbreak became. It was not until the media started reporting it as mass psychogenic illness (mass hysteria) that the girls started to magically get well. Oddly, their families were still desperately seeking a more sinister cause, and seemed genuinely disappointed that it was in fact a self-induced condition.

A similar, but much larger outbreak of hysteria is taking place across the nation, infecting millions of Americans. They have developed an irrational phobia about the commons — that which is the public realm — publicly held tangible assets, resources, services, and shared culture in general — all have become the source of utter terror to many susceptible minds. It’s much more than just old-timey rugged American individualism run-amok here, this is true clinical hysteria on the grandest and most awful scale. It is a mass delusion — a mental wasting disease spreading its necrotic stench from shore to shore.

Many are familiar with the 1969 seminal work The Tragedy of the Commons, by Garrett Hardin — a breakthrough insight that laid the groundwork of the accepted premise behind the modern environmental movement. Hardin eloquently defined the nature of the problem as the over use and abuse of limited common resources. — land, water, air…

Now we see the new tragedy of the commons moving beyond the lakes, forests and skies — invading all of the shared human experience. It is an attack on the very notion of community — an all-out assault on the great American tradition of civic life. More →