Michigan Students — Prepare to be Assimilated

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 academicaly 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 “innovative” business model.

Amy Kerr Hardin  This article also appears in Voters Legislative Transparency Project and Whats Up Doc

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