Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Cyber Charter Whoppers on TV

I was pretty surprised to turn on my TV this morning and see a commercial for a company called K12. This company sells education via computer. The commercial showed loving parents, and suggested that if you really loved your kids you'd sign up right away. There's no charge because K12 is a public school. That's true in the sense that you won't be paying out of pocket. But we're most certainly subsidizing the company via our tax dollars.

In less than a minute I pulled up what Diane Ravitch had to say about K12. It appears even DFER guru Whitney Tilson finds it subpar. That's saying a lot. Whitney Tilson runs a hedge fund and is bullish on anti-worker companies like McDonald's and Walmart. It's tough to imagine the depths to which a company must sink to incur his disapproval.

My kid is not a scholar, but she's very social. Had I placed her in front of a computer rather than with a peer group, she'd probably hate me. One of the most shortsighted things about corporate reform is the notion that standardized test scores tell the story of how well kids do in school. We're always reading about college readiness, and how students need so many points on a Regents exam to demonstrate it. Of course that's arbitrary and ridiculous.

I know very few people who get through life by taking standardized tests, more precisely zero. But getting along with people is key to pretty much any profession. I'm not personally persuaded sitting kids in front of computers is any substitute for interaction with peers and teachers. Ravitch's most recent book, Reign of Error, is full of tales of cyber-charters that fail to help our kids.

Sadly, few people who see this commercial will bother to look up anything about this company. It's kind of remarkable that we're publicly funding a virtual school that has the cash to promote itself on television. I guess when you don't need to pay for brick and mortar, and when you hire very few teachers with who knows what qualifications you can use your money elsewhere.

But I'd rather see my kid facing a real teacher every day. For me, much as I love computers, I don't see them as role models. And the neediest of our children are those most in need of role models, real people who can show them they have a chance of success. As we eliminate teacher jobs, we also eliminate opportunities for our children.

More importantly, children are in the process of learning. They need supervision, even if they fight us tooth and nail. They need guidance, and no matter how good we may be as parents, they need more and more varied role models.

Cyber charters are a bad idea, and everything I read about them (aside from their advertising) indicates they're cash cows for entrepreneurs. Schools ought to be about helping our children, not making people rich. It's particularly egregious when those getting rich appear to care about nothing beyond their own enrichment.

I wouldn't pay them to babysit my kid if they came to my house. No way in hell would I trust their computer programs to provide my kid education.

It's borderline criminal that people watching these commercials can't know what they're buying.
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