Report: Profit Motive Pervades Online Charter Schools and Blended Programs
By Dian Schaffhauser | 03/20/18
A new report from the Network for Public Education offered little good news about virtual and blended education in K–12. “Online Learning: What Every Parent Should Know,” is less of a guide for parents than an indictment of the profit motive behind online learning. The non-profit advocates for traditional public schools with smaller class sizes and other education policies that “have been proven to work.”
According to the report, many online and blended-learning schools operate as charters run by for-profit companies, such as K12 Inc. and Connections Academy, owned by Pearson. Combined, the two companies delivered education to 52 percent of all full-time virtual school students in the 2015-2016 school year. Where states run their own online schools, these are often in partnership with either for-profit or non-profit curriculum and course providers. The largest and oldest online school, Florida Virtual, contracts with Connections Academy for use of its online courses.
As NPE noted, these forms of instruction are “potentially profitable” because the schools receive the same funding per student that a standard district public or charter school would get, “while having far fewer costs for teachers, services, transportation or facilities.”
One way the schools keep expenses down is by rethinking the number of teachers needed, NPE asserted. Citing a “confidential” 2010 memo by K12, the report stated that high school student-to-teacher ratios were from 225-to-1 to 275-to-1; the memo cited a ratio of 60-to-1 to 72-to-1 for K–8. Analysis by Mathematica revealed that online schools “on average provided students with less live teacher contact time per week than students in conventional schools had in a day.” To make up the difference, education and oversight is actually being provided by parents.
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