Home > Uncategorized > Walton’s Acknowledge Failure of On-Line For-Profit Charters… But STILL Believe in the Business Model

Walton’s Acknowledge Failure of On-Line For-Profit Charters… But STILL Believe in the Business Model

February 11, 2016

The Walton Foundation, major investors in for-profit charter schools, recently commissioned three reports on cyber-charters each of which concluded that on-line learning was a failure. As reported by Alternate blogger Steve Rosenfield and cross-posted on Naked Capitalism the findings were summarized in a recent op-ed article in Education Week:

“If virtual charters were grouped together and ranked as a single school district, it would be the ninth largest in the country and among the worst performing,” co-wrote Walton’s Marc Sternberg and Marc Holley, respectively the foundation’s director of educational giving and its evaluation unit director, in a recent Education Weekcommentary. “Online education must be reimagined. Ignoring the problem—or worse, replicating failures—serves nobody.

As Rosenfield notes, “re-imagining” is not the same as “eliminating” and Walton the Walton Foundation operatives call for regulation of on-line charters falls short of calling for regulating for-profit charters, a distinction that is not accidental.

One could spend hours speculating why this might be, but the most clear-cut answers relate to money: as in, too many important people are making money from what can only be described as one of the biggest education scams pushed upon taxpayers in recent years by Wall Street and Silicon Valley.

I see a place for technology in schools. As one who sat through hours of movies in high school history and science classes in the 1960s an one who sat in huge lecture halls in college and graduate school I can see the promise of flipped instruction once all homes and dormitories have broadband. As one who taught middle school mathematics to urban students in the early 1970s I can see the potential for having on-line supplementary learning in class rooms in order to match the curriculum to the wildly diverse skill levels of students and to differentiate the lessons to match students learning styles. I can even see a place for asynchronous on-line instruction for students who have the capability to work independently… just as many people in the private sector participate in webinars when the time is right for them. But I am not at all surprised the wholesale use of on-line instruction is a dismal failure for, as Rosenfield notes, most teenagers are incapable of applying themselves and many have parents who will not oversee the learning at home:

Go back to the teenagers you know. If you put them in front of computers, told them to read a bunch of stuff and absorb it, gave them assignments with future deadlines, and mostly left them alone to do all of this, how soon do you think it would be before they were texting friends, watching videos and doing everything teens do instead of doing their homework?

…(these) findings are saying cyber charter schools mostly abandon kids, have far-off teachers, have trouble keeping students focused, and end up relying on parents—all of which it suggests might be “reason for concern.”

Despite these obvious drawbacks, on-line learning is especially appealing to those who seek profits because the overhead is incredibly low and the profit margins incredibly high… and some of those profits can be channelled into campaign contributions that help State legislators make up their minds. Moreover, since the costs to operate charters ARE low, they can operate at discounted rates which means that legislators can limit spending on schools and point to the efficient charters as examples of public education’s profligacy. It’s a vicious circle that feeds the shareholders and “starves the east” of public funding.

So don’t be surprised if ALEC starts introducing legislation to lightly regulate on-line charters and for-profit charters start taking steps to limiting enrollees so that they can boost their pass rates… and the vicious circle will continue rolling…


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