Another Emperor, This One Is Naked Too

The report, “Understanding and Improving Virtual Schools,” was released by the National Education Policy Center, a nonprofit research organization based in Boulder, Colo., and a frequent sparring partner for K12 Inc. My colleague Ian Quillen has the details on the results from the most recent report focusing on K12 Inc., which shows students in schools managed by the company perform worse and drop out more frequently than students in brick-and-mortar schools.

In a lengthy response to the report posted on its website, K12 Inc. claimed NEPC used selective data that didn’t present the whole academic picture for virtual schools, including the tendency for students to enroll already behind grade level and ignores academic growth.

K12 Inc. Stock Down After Scathing Report,” Jason Tomassini

I love online education– I feel the need to say it– but I also think that it’s drowning in hyperbole. In recent years, too, it has tended to drive a discussion about education that I think is almost entirely irrelevant. Online education, this rhetoric suggests, is a disruptive technology sure to destroy higher-education-as-we-know-it and replace with a system that is better in every way. Online education is both the problem and the solution.

This new system will be cheaper, more efficient, more democratic; you name it, this new system will be it. (I am not really using hyperbole myself, at least not much. See “Clayton Christensen: in 15 years half of all universities will be bankrupt.“) I think most of this sort of talk has less to do with real-life economics and education and more to do with the very loose rhetoric that’s now become the norm. It’s dramatic and it ignores education’s real problems.

The real problem in U.S. higher education is that it has become a part-time employment system. The problem isn’t the public schools, it’s poverty and gun violence and the lack of a national health care system and 30 years of right-wing propaganda that has made the very idea of pubic funding suspect. It’s an irrational market ideology that attributes a kind of magic to private property and greed. Online education might help but it’s no panacea.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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