October 13, 2021

Caroline O’Donovan: How A Virtual Classroom Company Made Millions On Software That Left Many Students Feeling Abandoned

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Buzzfeed reporter Caroline O’Donovan just published a blistering report on Edgenuity, the 800-pound gorilla of on-line education business. She opens by talking to Angie Richardson, a dissatisfied parent.

“They set these kids up to fail,” Richardson said. “She can’t talk to a teacher, she can’t talk to anyone. There is no teacher with Edgenuity.”

The coronavirus pandemic turned the American education system upside down last year, shuttering classrooms, leaving students isolated and adrift, and sending school officials scrambling for virtual solutions. But it was a boon for the many private companies that helped schools move their operations online.

Among the winners was the company that Sharon and other students said left them hanging: Edgenuity. During the first year of the pandemic, the Arizona-based software company added more than 500 public school districts to its client list and inked contracts totaling at least $145 million. Thanks to prepandemic acquisitions and rising demand during the crisis, Edgenuity nearly doubled what it pulled in from the public sector the year before, according to public data made available via GovSpend, a company that aggregates government spending data.

Some parents were satisfied with the education their children received through Edgenuity, and some districts appreciated the safe alternative to in-person learning amid the uncertainty of the pandemic.

But at scores of schools around the country, the solution Edgenuity provided at a time when districts were desperate for an online option came at a high cost to students’ education, according to a BuzzFeed News investigation based on a review of hundreds of pages of court and school district documents and interviews with more than 50 people. The investigation found that Edgenuity entered into contracts with school districts that lacked the resources — or the will — to make sure teachers were overseeing the virtual learning as the program intended. As it has risen to prominence over the last decade, the company also at times employed lobbyists who pushed limits: In Alabama, where Edgenuity contracts have boomed in recent years, one politician who also worked for the company as a consultant was convicted of ethics violations tied to his work with Edgenuity, while another was granted immunity to testify against others.

Again and again, it was kids, often those in underprivileged communities, who paid the price.

“It was a disaster,” said Mercedes Schneider, a teacher in a Louisiana district that contracted with Edgenuity for virtual school last year.

Read the full piece here.

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