Colin Woodard, a newspaper reporter in Maine, did a great series on the school reform industry (cyber charter division). Looks like the reporter may win a Certificate of Excellence or a trophy or something, but sadly nothing like the huge cash rewards school reform industry insiders are raking in on cyber charters. He’s obviously playing for the wrong team. He may have attended our Failed and Failing Public Schools Full of Failures, which would explain his lack of ambition:
Stephen Bowen was excited and relieved. Maine’s education commissioner had just returned to his Augusta office last October after a three-day trip to San Francisco where he attended a summit of conservative education reformers convened by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, which had paid for the trip.
He’d heard presentations on the merits of full-time virtual public schools – ones without classrooms, playgrounds or in-person teachers – and watched as Bush unveiled the “first ever” report card praising the states that had given online schools the widest leeway.
But what had Bowen especially enthusiastic was his meeting with Bush’s top education aide, Patricia Levesque, who runs the foundation but is paid through her private firm, which lobbies Florida officials on behalf of online education companies.
Bowen was preparing an aggressive reform drive on initiatives intended to dramatically expand and deregulate online education in Maine, but he felt overwhelmed.
So was a partnership formed between Maine’s top education official and a foundation entangled with the very companies that stand to make millions of dollars from the policies it advocates.
In the months that followed, according to more than 1,000 pages of emails obtained by a public records request, the commissioner would rely on the foundation to provide him with key portions of his education agenda. These included draft laws, the content of the administration’s digital education strategy and the text of Gov. Paul LePage’s Feb. 1 executive order on digital education.
A Maine Sunday Telegram investigation found large portions of Maine’s digital education agenda are being guided behind the scenes by out-of-state companies that stand to capitalize on the changes, especially the nation’s two largest online education providers.
K12 Inc. of Herndon, Va., and Connections Education, the Baltimore-based subsidiary of education publishing giant Pearson, are both seeking to expand online offerings and to open full-time virtual charter schools in Maine, with taxpayers paying the tuition for the students who use the services.
At stake is the future of thousands of Maine schoolchildren who would enroll in the full-time virtual schools and, if the companies had their way, the future of tens of thousands more who would be legally required to take online courses at their public high schools in order to receive their diplomas.
The foundation’s Digital Learning Now! initiative receives funding from Pearson, K12, textbook publishing giants Houghton Mifflin-Harcourt and McGraw-Hill, and tech companies such as Apple, Intel and Microsoft, and digital curriculum developers Apex Learning and IQ Innovations iQity.
“One of the striking things about these reforms is the extent to which they remove control of the schools from democratic governance and turn them over to corporate decision-making and appointed bodies. Education policy is now being made to some degree by people who have a financial stake in what they are making policy about.”
School reform industry initiatives are always presented as “transformative” and “innovative” but what comes clear when one follows the industry for a couple of years is the relentless sameness of the agenda from state to state and year to year. This is a problem for reform industry marketing efforts, because they seek to portray privatization as grass roots and bottom-up or at the very least state-specific, but it is none of those things. You have your Course Choice in Louisiana and your Value Vouchers in Michigan, sure, but the only difference is the brand names. Ohio has the same cyber charter scam Jeb Bush tried to impose in Maine, and the Ohio scam has been running continuously for a decade. Voters in Idaho had the good sense to repeal the Jeb Bush Maine-Florida-Ohio-(Your State HERE) plan by referendum after it was imposed. That was in 2012. Did reform industry hacks get chased out of Idaho and go directly to Maine?
The reform industry leader who implemented the Chicago Mayor’s mass public school closing order yesterday is not a local or state leader but a national one. She parachuted into Chicago to close their public schools after school closing stints in Cleveland and Detroit. The parents, students and teachers in Chicago who fought so hard and so bravely to keep their local schools were first ignored and when they made so much noise they could no longer be ignored they were blatantly lied to, but they don’t have to wait to see what’s in store for them. They can look to Cleveland or Detroit where identical reforms were imposed to see where this is headed. By my count, Cleveland has now endured “transformational” “innovative” reform industry experiments for the last 13 years, and after all that the public schools there are fighting just to survive. We all know the rules, don’t we? Markets can’t fail they can only be failed, and the solution to failed market-based reforms is more market-based reforms.