K12, Inc was founded by William Bennett, the Republican writer and talk-show host, with an infusion of cash from the former junk-bond king Mike Milken. Bennett resigned from K12 In 2005 after making controversial remarks about blacks and abortion that he said were taken out of context.
K12’s spread across the U.S. is due in large part to its lobbying prowess and its political connections. Enabling legislation, written by the American Legislation Exchange Council (ALEC), has been introduced in nearly every state. “ALEC, … coordinates a fifty-state strategy for right-wing policy. Special task forces composed of corporate lobbyists and state lawmakers write “template” legislation …Since 2005, ALEC has offered a template law called ‘The Virtual Public Schools Act’. How Online Learning Companies Bought America’s Schools, The Nation, December 5, 2011
In fact, K-12 was a major sponsor of the ALEC Chicago conference in August 2013.
Although its teachers generally work from their homes, communicating with their students by e-mail or phone, essays of students attending an online academy run by K12 in Arizona were at one point outsourced to India for correction. Virtually Educated, Gail Collins, New York Times, December 2, 2011
As a for profit corporation, K12’s first allegiance is to its shareholders. “…a portrait emerges of a company that tries to squeeze profits from public school dollars by raising enrollment, increasing teacher workload and lowering standards. [P]roblems begin with intense recruitment efforts that fail to filter out students who are not suited for the program, which requires strong parental commitment and self-motivated students. Online schools typically are characterized by high rates of withdrawal.”
“The constant cycle of enrollment and withdrawal, called the churn rate, appears to be a problem at many schools. Records [at K12, Inc. Agora Cyber Charter School in Pennsylvania] reveal that 2,688 students withdrew during the 2009-10 school year.” Profits and Questions at Online Schools, The New York Times, December 12, 2011
Worse than the churn rate, K12’s cyber schools have an alarmingly high student-to-teacher ratio. “An elementary teacher at one of these schools, Jessica Long, challenged school figures showing its student-to-teacher ratio is 49 to 1. ‘I know on the elementary level we have anywhere from 70 to 100,’ Ms. Long said. ‘I don’t know anyone who has 50 students.’”
“At Agora, 2011 enrollment reached 8,836 while, the total number of staff members — 408 — was lower than last year.” Profits and Questions at Online Schools, The New York Times, December 12, 2011
All of this has hurt the quality of education. The 2011 Nation article reported:
“A recent study of virtual schools in Pennsylvania conducted by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University revealed that students in online schools performed significantly worse than their traditional counterparts. Another study, from the University of Colorado in December 2010, found that only 30 percent of virtual schools run by for-profit organizations met the minimum progress standards outlined by No Child Left Behind, compared with 54.9 percent of brick-and-mortar schools. …[T]he success rate under NCLB … for schools run by K12 Inc., … was 25 percent. A major review by the Education Department found that policy reforms embracing online courses ‘lack scientific evidence’ of their effectiveness.” How Online Learning Companies Bought America’s Schools, The Nation, December 5, 2011
In Michigan, K12, Inc. operates the Michigan Virtual Charter Academy. It has not had major success meeting the Average Yearly Progress standard: “Of the 39 virtual schools that K12 operates that received an AYP rating in 2010, 13 met the standards.” Virtual Schools lag other public schools’ performance, The Detroit Free Press, January 18, 2012
In fact, the U. S. military has limited the number of cyber school graduates it inducts: “Students graduating from the growing ranks of online high schools are running into a hurdle if their goal is to join the military. The Pentagon doesn’t want many recruits with non-traditional diplomas. Those who’ve opted out of the traditional educational system just don’t stick with military service, [Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez] said. That includes students from what ahe called ‘any computer-based, virtual-learning program.’” Cyber-school students: DoD snubs our service, The Navy Times, May 9, 2011