Michigan Public Education: A Virtual Disaster

DSCF3115The sales pitch: Their website features four fresh-faced ethnically diverse smiling children looking eager — just like all kids who pose for a stock photo. The banner across the top of the picture asks “Is your child happy in school?” Below, it reads “Imagine your child brighter, happier, and more confident.”

The website prominently proclaims a “97% satisfaction rating* from parents” and offers additional access to details about the “school”, but only through supplying contact information of a name, email, phone and mailing address of the inquirer. There’s no “about us” page, no mission statement…nothing. It seems that at the website…the options are limited.

Notice that asterisk after the “97% satisfaction rating”? As with all asterisks, it is small, much like the information it references at the bottom of the page, printed in a font size so itsy it should just scream buyer beware! It says:

*Source: K-8 and High School Parent Satisfaction surveys for K12 virtual academies, spring 2012. 

The name of the corporation is K12, an enormous nationwide cyber school, and yes, they surveyed themselves and found (surprise) they were just great!

Michael Milken, remember him?  Junk bond dealer, ex-con — you know the guy… he’s the genius behind the K12 cyber school scheme. True to his reputation, he’s found it to be a very profitable little investment. His is the leading cyber 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.

From an article in Bloomberg Businessweek we find the true motive behind this capital venture into public education:

Michael Moe, an investment banker who helped take K12 public, says… “Michael Milken believes that the greatest success in education will be tied to the marketplace.” Or, as Ron Packard, the former Goldman Sachs banker and McKinsey consultant who co-founded K12, puts it: “Mike believes that education is a phenomenal investment opportunity.”

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 photo (1)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 for cyber schools range from $2,000 to $3,000 per child each. Accountability in these corporate-owned schools is nearly non-existent — in both performance evaluation and in the disclosure of operating costs and profit margins.  Although, we know very little about their budgets, we do know that it is abundantly clear that since the GOP-led Michigan legislature paved the way for selling our children’s futures, virtual “schools” are aggressively recruiting among the state’s most vulnerable families.

The fine print most parents don’t read is that they are expected to be a “learning coach” during the process. While most parents are deeply involved in their children’s educational success, virtual schools require parents to replace real living-breathing professional teachers. The K12 site itself makes the demands clear:

In our K-8 Virtual Schools, the parent (or other responsible adult), working in conjunction with the teacher, serves as a “learning coach” to your child, helping facilitate progress through the daily lessons and working to modify the pace and schedule according to your child’s needs.

  • Parents of children in grades K-6 can expect to spend 3-5 hours per day supporting their child’s education.
  • In grades 7-8, learning coach time typically decreases to about 2 hours per day as your child becomes more independent.

K12 is not atypical. Great Lakes Cyber Academy’s newly appointed principal, Heather Ballien, made it clear in her press release that many parental hours spent “coaching” are a required part of the program, saying this:

Great Lakes Cyber Academy creates a supportive environment for high school students who want an individualized approach to education by also requiring a Learning Coach, typically a parent or other responsible adult, to help monitor progress, oversee daily schedules and keep up motivation.

August has become the big sales season for schools in Michigan. Under the new competitive business model created by Snyder and this legislature, we see schools needing to spend large sums trying to recruit and maintain students. Flint Schools, are poised to spend thousands in advertising dollars attempting to stave off the potential loss of an estimated 1800 or more students over the next few years, which would result in a $13.5 million loss in state funding for the district. 

Flint, among other school districts, are forced to fight with their neighbors (and corporations) over kids — as if Michigan’s children are mere dollar signs.

Amy Kerr Hardin



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4 Responses to Michigan Public Education: A Virtual Disaster

  1. cheryl hadden says:

    I started to enroll my kids in the K12 school, I had only filled out the beginning of the app, my phone number. Before I could go back to complete it, a rep called ME!
    She was so helpful, wanted to do so much to get all the kids enrolled and ease me thru the whole process. I got as far as needed to complete forms she sent me by email.
    You know that nagging little voice in the back of your head? Well it got real loud this time and I couldn’t go any further.
    She called me back several times, was eager to help, insistent on getting thing done, like her job depended on it.
    One time somebody picked up the extention when she called and they were in the middle of arguing with another family member, the rep thought they were arguing with her, she got all indignant, wanted to end everything right then! It didn’t matter to me because I was trying to tell her I changed my mind anyway!
    I cleared up the hassle, told her I wasn’t ready to enroll just now. She called back a couple of times more, it only served to make me wonder WHY was she so determined to work with me?
    Now I know, glad I didn’t finishe the enrollment!

    • admin says:

      Thanks Cheryl for the input. It is too bad our educational system has come to this. Sounds like the rep was trying to sell you a used car, not an education for your most cherished resource — a child.

  2. Elizabeth Yura says:

    K12 is an ALEC and Koch backed entity. The big push for school vouchers and privatization. My Daughter in law was looking into it. I did the research for her and together as a family we chose not to enroll my grand children into this awful program. Would rather risk the public school environment in out rural community than have the children taught bad science, limited math and language skills. Felt like this was a school to prison scam and didn’t pass the smell test. ALEC and the Koch Bros. practically own our Repubs and our nation. Look to Wisconsin when you want to see examples of their influence and corporate corruption.

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