His “sense” is this is very much like subprime lending

Since this scam has been going on for a long, long time, I don’t think he would be my first-choice investment adviser:

Hedge fund titan and education reform activist Whitney Tilson turned his Value Investing Congress speech Tuesday into an all-out attack against technology-based education company K12, calling it “a catastrophe for education” in spite of solid financials.
But even more damning for K12, which runs online schools at various levels, was Tilson’s decision to publicly short the company’s stock—a move that can be risky for high profile investors, attracting regulators and legal action from disgruntled CEOs. If K12’s stock indeed plummets in the coming months, Tilson and other short sellers stand to make a lot of money.
Tilson outlined his exhaustive research on K12’s academic practices, including poorly paid instructors with 300-1 student-teacher ratios, the targeting of at-risk children whose parents won’t complain to administrators about poor performance, and online classes for which students merely have to switch on their phones and login to be counted as active.
But Tilson also noted K12’s financials, which up to this point have been strong: the company has experienced revenue growth of 32% annually for the past decade. What’s more, the company estimates a $15 billion market for K12 students, and average revenue per student has risen over the last four quarters.

Well, a degenerate gambler and a finance-industry felon created K12, which was a bit of a red flag for this “investor” but apparently not for the hedge fund managers who make up “Democrats for Education Reform.”

It’s strange to watch this slowly spread upward to the highest levels of reform industry leadership, because here in Ohio where ed reform is a huge business we’ve had a failing cybercharter industry sector for many years. I first became aware of this particular ed reform portfolio investment several years ago, when some of the most vulnerable kids we encountered in the court system stopped attending local public high schools and decided to leverage the free market power of “choice” by signing up for cyberschool.

That many of them are completely unsupervised at home for a variety of reasons and chose this option to avoid intrusive questions from the “educrats” at our government school on their GPA, progress toward graduation, mental health issues and chaotic and often tragic home lives didn’t seem to concern national ed reform industry leaders like Jeb Bush and John Kasich but we wondered at the time if cutting them loose like that was a very bad idea. It had come to our attention that many of them do poorly in school not because their teachers belong to a union but because their home lives are an absolute horror show. It reached the point a couple of years ago where even the most conservative juvenile judge I’m in front of took to bellowing at us that these kids should all be “IN SCHOOL!” Incredibly, ed reform industry lobbyists in Ohio just expanded cybercharters. Again.

As anyone who has watched Milton Friedman’s crackpot theories go from roundtable to reality already knows, it is really, really difficult to regulate a publicly-funded private entity once deregulation and then industry capture of politicians takes hold. We know it in Ohio, and they’re finding it out in Pennsylvania, where a cybercharter profiteer inexplicably escaped state oversight and regulation for years, until he was finally indicted by the feds last month.

I hope this reform industry leader’s shorting strategy works, because K12 just captured another student sector, in New Jersey, despite the fact that the giant ed corp has failed so miserably everywhere else. Whether the following is related to that decision I do not know:

Christie’s acting education commissioner, Christopher Cerf, has experience in public-private school partnerships. He previously led Edison Schools, a for-profit company that became the largest private-sector manager of public schools. From 1999 to 2001, Christie was a registered lobbyist at a law firm that lobbied New Jersey government on behalf of Edison Schools, according to filings with the state Election Law Enforcement Commission. While the firm was representing the multinational education company, Chris Cerf was its general counsel. The firm, Dughi, Hewit and Palatucci, also represented Mosaica Education, a for-profit charter school operator, and the University of Phoenix, a for-profit online university.

Since we already know that for-profit colleges are a predatory rip-off and nearly impossible to regulate due to industry capture of politicians on both sides of the aisle, can anyone tell me why we decided to expand this bad idea? Are we really this fucking reckless and stupid, that we’d privatize our K thru 12 public education system? Tell me there’s a responsible adult somewhere in the state or federal government who has a handle on this, because I’m not seeing anyone step up here in The Heartland and Arne Duncan seems to me to have abandoned traditional public schools completely.

102 replies
  1. 1
    c u n d gulag says:

    This is the 21st Century American version of the early 17th Century “Dutch Tulip Mania.”


  2. 2
    sparrow says:

    Sigh. I don’t know what to say. I think part of the problem is that a huge part of the population doesn’t have kids, so this is a side/background issue for them. (Or rather, it appears to be, but is in fact vitally important for all of us). Take me. I’m 30, no kids. Until I read your posts, Kay, I had a vague idea that charter schools were attempts to take over “bad” public schools with mixed success. I don’t even think I realized that there were both public and private charter schools, or indeed that there was any “privatization” efforts at all. I knew that the “goodness” of public schools is largely driven by income/involvement of parents, and I was planning on putting my future kids in a “good” school and keep voting for dems.

    Now that my eyes are opened I’d like to do more, but all I’m doing right now is just getting the word out to my friends that this is bad bad news. Don’t know what else to do. :(

  3. 3
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @c u n d gulag:

    And pretty much a rerun of the dotcom bubble of the late 20th century, which I was comparing with the Dutch tulip craze in 1996.

  4. 4

    Are we really this fucking reckless and stupid, that we’d privatize our K thru 12 public education system?

    Yes. Why, there’s money to be made. And then for all of the unemployable uneducated kids that get churned out by our soulless cash grab of an education corporation, we can cut off government aid and job training assistance, and then once they turn to crime, we can ship them off to the private prisons.

    Everyone gets paid.

    That’s all anybody really gives a fuck about these days.

  5. 5
    Kay says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    Milken and Bennett. They never, ever go away. Is Bennett dead? He might be dead. It doesn’t matter!

  6. 6
    Zifnab25 says:

    But it will save so much money! They promised, and parents should be allowed to choose! Free markets!

  7. 7
    Kay says:


    They promised

    They didn’t promise that, they promised “great schools”. Turns out, “choice” is the alternative argument when “great schools” failed.

    You can’t win. Who can deny these teens are choosing? No one, libtard. Suck on that.

  8. 8
    MomSense says:



  9. 9
    Mary G says:

    People with money, Republicans especially, have essentially opted out of public elementary school. Either they go private, homeschool, or move into the few neighborhoods that have a good public charter or magnet schoool and pull strings so their kid gets in. So they just don’t care anymore – it’s not their kids. Out of sight, out of mind. And not just Republicans, either.

  10. 10

    Edison Schools

    I’ll never get over what an appropriate name this is. Thomas Alva Edison stole virtually every single item he’s credited with “inventing” from someone else, making cosmetic changes at best, and then beating them to the patent office. Those who dared protest “the Wizard of Menlo Park’s” 21st century business practices (in this we can say he was a true pioneer) got beaten into the poorhouse after spending their life’s savings in court.

  11. 11
    Tommy says:

    This all just makes no sense to me. I come from a family that for generations had a fair amount of resources. We could have gone to any schools we wanted. Know what, we like public schools and I can assure your my MA, my brothers MA, and my dad’s PhD, well we are very happy with the education we received.

    I do think @sparrow makes a point about a larger percentage of us not having kids and not paying attention. I pay attention cause I come from a family of teachers, but I am 44 and no kids. If my family members were not teachers I doubt I’d be paying much attention.

  12. 12
    gelfling545 says:

    Tilson outlined his exhaustive research on K12’s academic practices, including poorly paid instructors with 300-1 student-teacher ratios

    I don’t understand the problem. Wasn’t that the plan?

  13. 13
    sherparick says:

    @sparrow: You forgot two words “Greed” and “Power.” For a long time public schools with locally accountable school boards were the most democratic institutions we had. The privatization movement goal is the direct the hundreds of billion of dollars spend on education K-12 into corporation accounts and also make the employees of the schools, particularly teachers, into a kind of low paid serf. The ostensible customers, the children and their pareants, are just sheep to be sheared and dispensable after being used as body count to bring in more lucre.

  14. 14
    Anoniminous says:

    This is what happens when an effective majority of voters don’t give a shit about the Public Good because FEEDUMBS!

    I blame Obummer.

  15. 15
    Tommy says:

    There is a story I tell about public schools. I live in rural, southern IL. In 2008 we voted 57% for McCain. Not a super liberal area. But in the same election we voted 62% to increase our property taxes to build a new $60M highschool. Just voted again to raise our taxes to build a $28M primary school.

    There was a campaign to support this, but the folks didn’t run around saying “do it for the kids.” Nope we were told it was good for our economy. See we have the best schools in this part of the state if not the state as a whole. Seems folks that want to buy a home or start a business often have children, and they CHOOSE to move here. We can’t build houses fast enough.

    When those houses go up there are signs on the highway. Saying things like pool, gym, walking paths, houses starting at ….

    You know what the first sign always is, you get my school district.

    IMHO good schools still matter to parents and it is possible to get a community to support them.

    My mini-rant ended …..

  16. 16
    Mino says:

    Arnie Duncan. Arnie Duncan. He may become as famous as James Watt of Interior.

    Maybe this hedge fund guy can blow up the bubble before it needs a trillion dollars from taxpayers.

  17. 17
    Kay says:


    Aggressive accounting to capitalize its software and curriculum development costs. Says shift is to a growth at any cost mentality. Says their pass rates are getting worst, because they are taking more at-risk kids.

    You won’t hear that on Morning Joe.

  18. 18
    Trollhattan says:

    Grifters gotta grift. I missed this when it occurred in April.

    A foundation associated with the Wal-Mart family fortune has expanded its support for the education advocacy group run by former District of Columbia schools chancellor Michelle Rhee. The Walton Family Foundation announced Tuesday an $8-million grant over two years to StudentsFirst, which is headquartered in Sacramento but has operations in 18 states.

    The foundation describes itself as “the largest private investor in education reform initiatives.” Its grants have surpassed $1 billion in support of a parental choice philosophy that includes grants to charter schools and advocacy for vouchers that subsidize private school tuition for low-income families.


  19. 19
    nancy darling says:

    Kay, Is this Christopher Cerf Bennett Cerf’s son?

  20. 20
    Violet says:

    @nancy darling: Does not appear so.

  21. 21
    Tommy says:

    @Kay: The New York Times Magazine had a story last weekend that outlined how the county in NC that includes the “Research Triangle” bought all 18,000+ public school teachers tablets, from of all places a NewsCorp company. Loaded up with all their software and they were told in training sessions they had to use them for everything. As you might guess not all the teachers were so happy about it.

    As one teacher told the reporter, I don’t want to be looking at my tablet, I want to look my students in the eyes.

    Now I am a HUGE tech geek/nerd, but long ago I realized that technology, or more technology is not always a solution to this or that problem. Heck I have tried like every note taking program known to man, but alas I find a mechanical pencil and legal pad still works the best, so that is what I use.

  22. 22
    Kay says:


    First, I know a ridiculous amount about this because I have an obsessive personality.

    The tablets are from Joel Klein’s company, Amplify? That’s the Murdoch connection?

    Klein was Bloomberg’s education privatization czar before he left and cashed in, although I have no earthly idea why, because this is his resume:

    In 1975, Klein joined the legal team of the Washington, D.C. non-profit Mental Health Law Project. The MHLP was an independent non-profit organization that brought class-action suits to establish rights for mentally and developmentally disabled clients. In that capacity, Klein developed a specialty in health care and constitutional matters.[3] After working there for a year, he went into private practice, working for five years before founding his own law firm with several partners. In the 1990s Klein served in the White House Counsel’s office under President Bill Clinton before being appointed to the United States Department of Justice. There he served as United States Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Antitrust Division. In this capacity, he was the lead prosecutor in the antitrust case United States v. Microsoft. Prior to his appointment to Chancellor in 2002[4] by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Klein was Counsel to Bertelsmann, an international media group.

    The guiding principle of education reform seems to be don’t hire anyone who knows anything about kids, or teaching, or schools. It’s the most fucked up thing I’ve ever seen. It’s crazy.

  23. 23
    MattR says:

    Do you have any more info about Tilson? My very quick internet searches lead me to believe he is not “on our side” on this, but rather is trying to cut down the competition so the charter school groups he is assocaited with can flourish.

    @Tommy: OTOH, I do think it makes sense to look into giving tablets to the students and loading them with all the texts that they need each year. It seems like that would end up being a more cost effective way of doing things in the long term, it would allow schools to update their texts more easily and students wouldn’t have to lug around a bunch of books. My biggest concern would be if children can actually learn as effectively using a tablet as a book.

  24. 24
    Belafon says:

    OT: For mistermix, a quote from the Pope’s homily: Money corrupts us!:

    Money sickens our minds, poisons our thoughts, even poisons our faith, leading us down the path of jealousy, quarrels, suspicion and conflict. It drives to idle words and pointless discussions. It also corrupts the mind of some people that see religion as a source of profit. ‘I am Catholic, I go to Mass, everyone thinks well of me… But underneath I have my businesses. I worship money’. And here we have the word we usually find in newspapers: ‘Men of corrupted minds’. Money corrupts us! There’s no way out.”

    “We can never serve God and money at the same time. It is not possible: either one or the other. This is not Communism. It is the true Gospel! They are the Lord’s words. While money begins by offering a sense of well being. Then you feel important and vanity comes. We read in the Psalm. This vanity is useless, but still you think you are important. And after vanity comes pride. Those are the three steps: wealth, vanity and pride.”

    “But, Father, I read the Ten Commandments and they say nothing about the evils of money. Against which Commandment do you sin when you do something for money? Against the first one! You worship a false idol. And this is the reason: because money becomes an idol and you worship it. And that’s why Jesus tells us that you cannot serve money and the living God: either one or the other. The early Fathers of the Church, in the 3rd Century, around the year 200 or 300, put it in a very blunt way, calling money ‘the dung of the devil’. An so it is. Because turns us into idolatrous, fills our thoughts with pride and leads us away from our faith.”

  25. 25
    Tommy says:

    @MattR: Look I love technology and I wish basic programming was a standard class. I also thought I would never buy a book on a tablet, but alas I love the reading experience. Being able to look up the meaning of a word or have it read a word or name to me I am not sure how to pronounce is wonderful.

    But on the other hand books kind of work and I am not sure if I want the budget of a school going to buying a ton of tablets from some tech company.I like to joke books are a pretty good invention, they have worked without many changes for a thousand plus years.

  26. 26
    Ruckus says:

    And like sub prime mortgage lending I see that most if not all of the participants would never have to use the product they push. And they get richer by pushing both on everyone else. Follow the money. Always follow the money. It’s never about the claims, it is always about the money. And of course how one can both steal more of it and laugh about it all the way to their private bank somewhere.

  27. 27
    rikyrah says:

    you are on it, Kay. thanks for bringing it to us. expose these charlatans.

  28. 28
    Tommy says:

    @Kay: Amplify is a NewsCorp company. Check out this link.


    I tired to blockquote and embed the link, but alas I tried three times to post a response to you and the comment didn’t appear. I swear I am not making stuff up, I try pretty hard to be factual :).

  29. 29
    burnspbesq says:

    The kid took Algebra 2 in the summer in a K12 online course. He got the qual he needed for his transcript, but I doubt that he learned much. Whether that’s on K12, or on the kid, is open for debate.

  30. 30
    jl says:

    ” Tilson outlined his exhaustive research on K12’s academic practices, including poorly paid instructors with 300-1 student-teacher ratios ”

    I have no idea who this Tilson guy is. But if anybody with CW cred can emphasize the problems with how online and computer aided education has been turned into a scam, that is good.

    The developments have been infuriating. Computer aided educational tools have great benefits. Student preparation and work outside the classroom is necessary to increase efficiency in learning, but it has always been hard to get that part done, especially when parents don’t really want to get involved, or don’t have clue how to motivate their kids to study and learn.

    But trying to do too much with computers doesn’t work. Too many people need human interaction, a teacher willing to look into their eyes, and put some effort into exploring what is going on inside their heads. Then you add scam artists, and “poorly paid instructors with 300-1 student-teacher ratios” and you have a mess.

    Its turned into a scam.

    Part of it is a pervasive contempt for education and any learning that does not have an instant payoff in $$$$, and also contempt for labor in the U.S. One of the comments I heard from foreign grad students was the puzzlement over the contempt for teachers in this country, I heard that from pretty much everyone who came from anywhere, from Scandinavia to Kenya to Asia.

    It has been infuriating for me, who has devoted a ton of my own time to develop little spreadsheet and similar tools to show how elementary and intermediate stats works for class demos and student home study, only to be accused to being some Luddite when administrators and corporate shills push some thoughtless and useless package put together on the cheap, but that comes with a mysteriously high price tag.

  31. 31
    geg6 says:

    Again, kay, I implore you to take a look at PA Cyber, the National Network of Digital Schools (NNDS) and Avanti Management Group.

    These are just two of the many recent stories now coming out of the federal investigation into “cyberschool pioneer” Nick Trombetta:



    This guy was one of the first to get into the whole long con that is the charter school movement, especially the cyber charter movement. It’s a long and disgusting story, starting with a poor local school district that lost it’s high school, had no other local schools willing to take the kids left in the lurch (students were too near, if you know what I mean), and was finally forced to bus their students across the state line into the East Liverpool, OH high school. This guy was the school superintendant at the time and stepped in with his cyber school idea, at the time a seeming hero to the community. And a star was born!

    It’s a pretty fascinating story and hits a lot of themes we cover here, especially you. An old, proud steeltown gone to seed, a complete lack of accountability to the students and taxpayers, discrimination against minorities and the poor, grifting among the so-called school reformers–you name it. And we’re going to get a federal trial. It’s really rocking this area and, I imagine, the national online education community, many of whom considered him a founding father of the industry.

  32. 32
    burnspbesq says:


    Pretty much. I grew up in one of those leafy, affluent bedroom towns where most people’s dads got on the train every morning and went into NYC to run the universe. Those folks understood the value of quality schools, and every April they dutifully went to the polls to approve the school budget and the ferocious property taxes needed to fund it.

    The problem is that not every community is Ridgewood, NJ, and there’s no obvious reason why kids in Newark shouldn’t have the same opportunities we had. Which turns education funding into a state matter, and attenuates the connection that people feel toward their local schools.

    No easy solutions.

  33. 33

    @burnspbesq: Online courses don’t work too well either for math or science. These subjects are hard enough when taught traditionally.

  34. 34
    Tommy says:

    @burnspbesq: Oh I hear you. And just to be clear I don’t live in a “leafy, affluent bedroom town.” Now I realize I am preaching to the choir here, but for me education is one of the most important things in the world. I guess folks smarter than myself need to figure it out, how we give EVERYBODY a quality education, but I just wish we would figure it out sooner rather than later. But it is complex I get that.

  35. 35
    Citizen Alan says:

    On the bright side, look at the possibilities for corporate synergy! Once an entire generation has grown up without meaningful education and millions of young adults are unemployable as a result, they’ll inevitably turn to crime and can be shipped off to fill beds in a for-profit prison! IAt this point, I seriously wonder whether any for-profit schools and for-profit prisons are actually owned by the same conglomerates.

  36. 36
    Tommy says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: I will disagree a little. I do web sites for a living. You might think you learn how to code and then you are done. Nope, it is a never ending learning experience. Now I am the dude that buys and actually reads a manual. You know, read the fucking manual.

    But alas YouTube is my best friend. If I need help with something somebody has posted a video about said topic.

    Now I am not saying online is the only way to go, but done correctly it can be very effective. I just think it should be something added to face-to-face teaching. They should work together IMHO.

  37. 37
    dr. luba says:

    @CONGRATULATIONS!: Do you have a source for that (Edison)? I am not questioning or challenging you, just interested.

  38. 38
    Mnemosyne says:


    But in the same election we voted 62% to increase our property taxes to build a new $60M highschool.

    Here’s a fun fact about the state of California that will explain why our schools are the mess that they are: in California, getting 62% of the vote would mean that the vote failed and taxes would not be raised. Any tax increase requires a 2/3rds majority vote per the state constitution, so you need at least 66% of the vote to raise any tax, including for schools.

    That’s why our public schools and universities are circling the drain right now.

  39. 39

    @Tommy: I agree with you, online teaching resources are a good secondary tool, but they cannot replace a real live teacher. Plus how do you teach lab online, an integral part of teaching physics or chemistry.

  40. 40
    raven says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: It depends on how they are designed and how they are taught. . .just like F2F.

  41. 41
    MattR says:

    @Tommy: I don’t support using technolgy for technology’s sake. But it seems that spending the money upfront on tablets could end up saving a ton of money on the back end if it makes it cheaper to upgrade to newer additions of texts. It is not a slam dunk as there are obvious issues regarding wear and tear of the tablets as well as students losing them, but it at least seems worth looking into.

    FWIW, I say that as someone who probably would have hated learning off a tablet. To be fair, I have never really tried one, but I am a big fan of the printed page. I work in IT and still prefer to print out code rather than reading it off a screen.

  42. 42
    raven says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: By working with teams of faculty in a discipline and figuring it out.

  43. 43
    Tommy says:

    @Mnemosyne: I didn’t know that, that is FUBAR. I guess I learn something new everyday.

  44. 44

    OT: Friday reading: My adventure on the Mohawk Trail continues.

  45. 45
    Kay says:


    I read the indictment and I was going to write about it but at some point is just becomes reciting the facts in these cases. I am curious why no one seems to know why the state grand jury proceeding “fizzled out”. I get that the guy was creating jobs in an economically depressed county, but come on. A criminal enterprise is not “jobs”.

    The Toledo Blade did a real smear job on Sherrod Brown on it. Brown got some ridiculously small donation (n the scheme of things), 1,000 or something, from the charter school scammer. They ran this huge photo and waaaay down at the bottom they ran the amount. I imagine he’s returned the donation.

  46. 46
    Chris says:


    Y’all really need to change that constitution… :(

  47. 47

    @raven: To take physics lab you have to be in the lab, things can go wrong, there are equipment breakdowns etc. The instructor needs to check that you have connected your circuit correctly before you can start etc.

    * Speaking as a veteran, who has both taken and taught many physics lab courses.

  48. 48
    Trollhattan says:


    Line 3: it’s Howard Jarvis’ rotting corpse to insist you STFU, hippie!

    Folks who think we’re this grand blue reservoir of awesome on the better of the two coasts don’t understand the sway big bidnez has on the state. The Cal Chamber gets nearly all the bills on their “job killer” list shot down, yearly. Even with the vaunted supermajority.

  49. 49
    Kay says:


    I don’t support using technolgy for technology’s sake. But it seems that spending the money upfront on tablets could end up saving a ton of money on the back end

    I wouldn’t have any problem with it if I had some faith that they aren’t using it get rid of human beings. The “blended learning” class I linked has a 60 to 1 kid-adult ratio. Kids need more human contact than that, especially kids who struggle.

    The fact is the biggest cost in schools is not textbooks but teachers. I think the temptation will be too strong to do this on the cheap. I also think there should be one place kids go where they aren’t consumers. They are marketed to constantly. Enough. They can have a zone where that doesn’t happen. They’ll be seen as consumers soon enough.

  50. 50
    Davis X. Machina says:


    Sigh. I don’t know what to say. I think part of the problem is that a huge part of the population doesn’t have kids, so this is a side/background issue for them.

    A community doesn’t necessarily need good schools. It needs some schools.

    The fact is the biggest cost in schools is not textbooks but teachers. I think the temptation will be too strong to do this on the cheap.

    It helps to have something to point to and say “those are our schools” and nobody laughs, but that’s not an actual requirement.

    Public schools are public. If they’re less-than-fully-assed, it’s because the public has decided it can live with less-than-fully-assed, as part of some other trade-off…

    Plus how do you teach lab online, an integral part of teaching physics or chemistry.

    You don’t. You take the cost savings as an acceptable trade-off.

    Everything that is, can be bought and sold.
    Anything that cannot be bought and sold, is not.
    Anything that can be bought and sold, must be bought and sold.

    This is the whole of the Law and the Prophets. The rest is commentary.

    Blessed be the Market, the righteous judge.
    Baruch atah ha Shuk, dayan ha emet.

  51. 51
    Tommy says:

    @MattR: I am a tech geek. I spend all my time in front of a computer, what I do for a living. I told myself I’d never get a tablet or a smart phone. I had my desktop and a gaming quality laptop, why would I want only “kind of a computer?”

    I broke down and got each months ago, and I have to admit I am using them in ways I never thought I would. I got maybe 1,000 books in my house, never thought I’d read one on a tablet, but alas I know do. Never thought I’d play a game on them, I mean I have a PS3, N64, PS2, and Sega Dreamcast set-up in my house. I never really touch them much anymore.

    I see the benefit you noted, but I think you have to do more then just put a book on it. Make it interactive. Add video. Heck a game that might teach a concept.

  52. 52
    scav says:

    @MattR: “if it makes it cheaper to upgrade to newer additions of texts”. Hell of an if. Are we in that brave new world of cheap ebooks or did something happen along the way? How many of those text updates are meaningful, beyond serving to gut the value of used texts, much the way pharma companies attempt to manage the use of generics?

  53. 53

    @scav: You can get international editions really cheap. True story, Mr Schroedinger’s kitteh is teaching a quantum mechanics class. US edition of the book > $100
    International edition: is $15 with shipping. Same exact book, international edition has paper of poorer quality and is a paperback. That is the only difference.

  54. 54
    geg6 says:


    The state inquiry fizzled because he paid everyone involved off. This guy has been a crook for the last 20 years, anyone here can tell you about it. But he spread the money around, he was a power nationally in the “school reform” movement and he had (or has still) all the politicians in his pocket. I was thrilled when I heard that the feds raided his and his sister’s office, his accountant’s office, NSDS and Avanti. And now the rats are turning on him. It’s going to be delicious.

  55. 55
    Tommy says:

    @Kay: I hate to say this, but as a kid I had some speech issues. I went to a public school and there was no speech therapist on staff. A teacher took it upon herself to learn, on her own time, as much as she could about my issues to help. Then asked my parents to keep me in during recess and after school.

    She “fixed” me.

    I later tracked her down, more than two decades later, and sent her a video of me speaking to groups of thousands of people and thanking her.

    No computer could have done what she did for me.

    I’ve said in this comment thread multiple times how much I like technology, but you just can’t get away from the importance of you know, humans!

  56. 56
    raven says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: Well you are obviously the only one in the world who has any experience with any of this.

    *speaking as someone with a decade of online course development including foreign language, geology and literature (in public higher ed). The stem and language courses were the one’s with the most faculty resistance and some of our biggest skeptics have been successfully teaching them for years. Online courses are not for everyone but, again, properly designed and taught courses provide an opportunity for people who might not otherwise be able to attend.

  57. 57
    scav says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: eeen-teresting, no?

  58. 58
    Amir Khalid says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:
    I’ve seen those cheap international-edition textbooks marked by the publisher as not to be sold in certain territories, often the US and/or Britain, where they sell the full-price editions.

  59. 59
    Citizen Alan says:


    I also think there should be one place kids go where they aren’t consumers.

    Kids are not the consumers of for-profit education. They are an exploitable resource.

  60. 60
    raven says:

    @Tommy: And I worked with and English prof on one of my teams who had a student with similar issues that did not participate at all in a f2f class. The following term the student was in her online course and, using the communication tools in the course management system and the help of the prof, that student blossomed. There is no one-size-fits-all.

  61. 61
    Kay says:

    @Davis X. Machina:

    Jeb Bush says it. He says online learning is cheaper. It’s not, in Ohio or Pennsylvania, but it should be. So say they weren’t ripping us off and it were cheaper. It would be cheaper because some adult in the home is volunteering as the teacher, and if the adult isn’t doing that, the ratio is 300 to 1.

    We can have that discussion, but we can’t have it if people keep insisting that it’s about something other than money.

    Duncan says it’s about textbooks. Please. It’s insulting. What’s he going to talk about next? Skyrocketing pencil costs? He wants “blended learning” for some reason, and it isn’t “better textbooks”.

  62. 62

    @raven: I am no expert apart from my own experience, I just have my doubts. How does one conduct a lab course online, what are the logistics. You do the experiments at home? Do the students buy oscilloscopes and other measuring equipment? Or do they just do some simulations and call it a day?

  63. 63

    @Amir Khalid: Well, you can buy them from Amazon FWIW.

  64. 64
    Davis X. Machina says:


    He wants “blended learning” for some reason, and it isn’t “better textbooks”.

    : When they say ‘it’s not about the money’, it’s about the money. For a 5 mill reduction in the property tax rates, my neighbors would push me under a bus.

    Nothing personal. It’s just money,

  65. 65
    Kay says:

    @Citizen Alan:

    I’m cranky about that. I don’t even want them posing with the corporate donor. Just give them the money, if it’s INDEED “charity”. You don’t get their picture.

    Thanks for the sneakers. Now beat it :)

  66. 66
    Davis X. Machina says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: Which is cheaper? I mean, most people aren’t taking the course, so what’s the quality of it to them? No skin off their nose. Someone else’s problem.

    In a country with no notion of ‘us’, until the Olympics, and then just for three weeks, we’re screwed.

  67. 67
    Trollhattan says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:

    Here’s my plan: we get an RV, turn it into a high school chem lab, drive into the desert and hold class out there, undisturbed. What could possibly go wrong?

  68. 68
    Kay says:

    @Davis X. Machina:

    Not everyone hates you. I met with the Young Republican moms last Friday for our bond issue campaign. They’re going to canvass. I was going to make a joke about how they shouldn’t worry because I have ACORN, but they were too earnest for that.

    They love public schools. It was like a bipartisan love-fest in here :)

  69. 69
    raven says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: In physics and chemistry our teams put designed labs that students put together at home. In geology it was a mix of “rock kits” purchased from a science education firm and field exercises. In language they made use of an online lab that is widely respected in the field. In some courses students film experiments or oral presentations. Again, it is not cheap to develop and maintain quality courses and I would be foolish to say every subject can be taught online but I can say that well developed courses provide opportunity for folks who might not otherwise participate. The program I was involved with has a high percentage of women who participate because their life situation wont allow them to go to a campus on a regular basis. It take creativity to develop such a program and doing it with profit in mind, in my opinion, is misguided but I’ll tell you this. Online education is here to stay and I think we are better off doing every thing we can to make them high quality and with the student the primary focus.

  70. 70
    Davis X. Machina says:

    @Kay: I’ve met those sorts of Republicans — they figure they can recoup the levy when they sell their houses. It’s not support for education — it’s more like having the taxpayers build you a pool.

  71. 71
    Tommy says:

    @raven: Agreed one size doesn’t fit all. Everybody is different and education is a complex subject. But something you wrote, and I don’t think remotely you were saying this, but I fear others with a profit motive will. Children that have learning problems or with low test scores (don’t get me started on testing 24/7) will be told to get out of school and just learn via a computer screen.

    I would think that would be about the worse thing in the world.

    Interaction is important. There was a debate in my school district years ago about how to handle homeschooled children. Should they be able to use the school for a function. Play baseball on the team. The decision, I think rightly, was yes, yes, yes. That they need interaction with other children. Heck a coach.

    Look I had speech issues. I was something of a troubled child. But teachers worked with me and I like to think I did amazing things with their help. I want that for other people.

  72. 72

    @raven: Is this college level or for high school? Even freshman physics lab needs stuff like oscilloscopes which are not cheap or not something you can put together at home.

  73. 73
    raven says:

    @Tommy: Oh I agree and I my experience is with higher ed NOT K-12. I know in our program there is a high level of student support and hopefully that will help in those instances. The situation you describe reminds me of what we called “push-outs” in the GED world. Keep the students enrolled until the day in term that the system gets payed for their attendance and then encourage (boot them out) to go out and get a GED. We called it the false hope of the military and cosmetology school.

  74. 74
    Kay says:

    @Davis X. Machina:

    No, that’s another group. Those are the men on The Committee.

    These women are young, and they don’t really have any “money” to speak of. Where they live the houses are about 70 to 90k. They were doing that thing “activists” always do (I don’t know if they’re aware that everyone does this) where they say how they ended up joining this thing. “I never cared about politics until…”

    They really do have a connection to the schools. It’s a big part of their lives. It was really sort of heartening to hear. We ran walk lists with only Democrats in precincts I know to be young, sporadic voter, Obama-voter heavy, so they’re going to meet a lot of Democrats. I think the key is turnout. I hope so.

  75. 75

    @Trollhattan: Can we put the GOP Congress critters in that RV?

  76. 76
    raven says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: College, and again, this is not universal. Our language team determined that the foundation course needed to be f2f and the requirements are so. What I am suggesting is that in many areas folks who teach in them cannot imagine any way other than the way they have always done it. You very well may be right in you doubt about s specific course. It reminds me of some issues with ADA. When we developed courses we always tried our best to comply but when you have a “visual” science like geology, how do you design to convey the full force of the visual material with alternative text. After much teeth grinding we had to say it was not a course that a visually impaired person could take.

  77. 77
    raven says:

    Here’s a program that may be of interest:

    Quality Matters (QM) is a leader in quality assurance for online education and has received national recognition for its peer-based approach to continuous improvement in online education and student learning. The program features:

    Faculty-centered, continuous improvement models for assuring the quality of online courses through peer review
    Professional development workshops and certification courses for instructors and online learning professionals
    Rubrics for applying quality standards to course design

  78. 78
    jl says:

    @raven: I agree with most of what you say. The problem is, in my experience, when new $ resources are required, or existing $ resources are going to go through different channels (less money for TAs, more for computer aids), the teachers are not in the loop. Money people, corporate reps, and administrators, all these people named ‘Dean’ get involved (edit: and let the teachers, instructors, profs, know that they are not in charge of anything about it).

    ” Faculty-centered, continuous improvement models for assuring the quality of online courses through peer review. ”

    The aborted initial attempts at branded online curricula for UC and CSU systems, the brass wanted to push out a product that had zero peer review, no continuous quality improvement or review. Just roll out an online system, slap the brand on it, get customers, collect the money. Thankfully, the outcry shot that scheme down.

    Edit and thanks for link to QM site.

  79. 79

    I can just imagine someone messing around with sodium at home, what could possibly go wrong?

  80. 80
    gene108 says:


    Sigh. I don’t know what to say. I think part of the problem is that a huge part of the population doesn’t have kids, so this is a side/background issue for them.

    95% of Americans attend or have been educated in public schools.

    Most public schools do a good job, so when reformers chime in with their changes, it is always for “those people”.

    That’s why they have been getting away with it for so long, but you can’t be a growth industry for grifters and confine your ecoomic base to “those people”.

    So now they are trampling into the space of the rest other 80% to 90% of public schools, which parents, students and others feel was doing a perfectly damn fine job of educating everyone and now you see push back.

    I’ve never heard anything positive about education in this country, in my entire life and I’m 39. But if you stop to ask anybody, who actually made some attempt to actually graduate from high school, I doubt anyone will say they received the sort of crappy education politicians keep saying our public schools have been delivering for generations.

    The problem with education is always with “those people” and “those schools”, because of the large income inequality in the U.S. and history of segregation, we have some small pockets, where students do not receive the same quality education most Americans get, but the grift cannot grow by confining themselves to those spaces.

  81. 81
    gene108 says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:

    Sigh. I don’t know what to say. I think part of the problem is that a huge part of the population doesn’t have kids, so this is a side/background issue for them.

    Throw some bleach on it and you get table salt…problem solved…duh….

  82. 82
    jl says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: And I also agree with you that some things, not just learning that involves physical manipulation, but learning to apply knowledge in new situations, requires face to face.

    There is an odd inconsistency in many peoples’ attitudes towards towards education in the U.S. It is supposed to be practical and foster innovative git ‘er done skills. You can’t do that, either in the lab or in, say, management, unless you put people up against some well designed reality therapy. You need to design situations where the unexpected happens, you know the students are likely to fail at some step, where there are more than one way to do things, where there may be several right answers. And you need to engage them (the dreaded ‘learning should be fun’ angle, which always raises suspicion in the U.S.).

    But there is such suspicion of anything that cannot he standardized and easily measured, that emphasis on testable rote learning is an obsession.

    I love online and computer aided tools that engage students and help them learn the basics and get them to thinking, and that gives them confidence in problem solving skills. That process allows much more rapid progress in the classroom, and for me, in the group computer lab. But at some point in the educational process, I think some face to face, not just teacher to student, but student to student is required. Here online education is a great tool, since it allows needed flexibility for students who don’t have the resources to do much face to face a peer contact learning.

    But I am very suspicious of totally online curricula for intermediate and advanced classes.

  83. 83

    @gene108: Pure sodium is highly reactive and can catch fire at room temperature. You have to take special precautions when handling it.

  84. 84
    jl says:

    And I will add that statistics is a prime example of a topic where students can learn to solve all sorts of complicated formulas perfectly, but have no clue what they are doing or how to apply to an open ended real world situation. And they have no clue how misuse of statistics in real world situations is not like bogus statistics in some academic journal. If they use the statistics they cook up as a guide to their own practice, they will likely face the consequences, and very unpleasant ‘unexpected results’ may occur and they will have to face the consequences.

  85. 85
    raven says:

    @jl: I think I was very luck to be where I was when I was.

  86. 86
    Kay says:


    So now they are trampling into the space of the rest other 80% to 90% of public schools, which parents, students and others feel was doing a perfectly damn fine job of educating everyone and now you see push back.

    I think this is dead-on politically. I can say without hesitation that if they tried to remove the elected school board there would be actual civil unrest. The schools are THAT public. We have 500 people turn out to a building levy meeting, and probably 3/4s of them don’t have kids in school.

  87. 87
    gene108 says:


    The problem is that not every community is Ridgewood, NJ, and there’s no obvious reason why kids in Newark shouldn’t have the same opportunities we had. Which turns education funding into a state matter, and attenuates the connection that people feel toward their local schools.

    County wide school districts.

    Local enough for people to still care, but large enough to have a fighting shot at smoothing out the inequalities caused by not having the money to move to Ridgewood or Montclair or Moorestown (in South Jersey).

    New Jersey is a resource allocation mess because every town wants its own school district and municipal services, when other states have them on a county wide level.

    With county wide school districts you literally broaden the tax base and generate economies of scale, with regards to resources that can be pooled.

    You also set up the ability to have magnet schools in Camden and other areas that’d attract kids from other parts of the county, so the local quality of schools in Camden can start to improve or in some way correct the drastic imbalance you have in many counties in New Jersey between the best off towns (and thus school districts) and the worst.

  88. 88
    gene108 says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:

    I know.

    I was joking, because somewhere some luddite is probably saying mix some Na with some Cl and presto-chango you get table salt, so who needs the pointed head nimrods in labcoats to tell us what to do.

  89. 89
    Kay says:


    This is the polling that goes to your point.

    They don’t hate public schools, although they’ve been told for the last twenty years that public schools suck. If a politician had poll numbers that resilient they’d be jumping for joy. They also “trust” teachers, which is pretty amazing, since teachers are lazy union thugs who are also very old and set in their ways and shouty and demanding females, per the NYTimes :)

    So why this huge disconnect?

  90. 90
    gene108 says:


    At some level, I think it is even simpler.

    Nobody is going to believe it, if you told them they are stupid and by impugning public education, writ large, the reform movement is basically saying just that: 95% of Americans are stupid.

    You can’t expect to do that and not get people pissed off, because at some point they will run out of “them” to call stupid and will have to call “you” stupid in turn.

  91. 91
    Kay says:


    But read this, gene. Union City NJ. Big success with traditional public schools, no gimmicks, no quick fixes, no “radical reform”.

    It took years and it’s local, local, local.

    So why don’t we ever use this model? I keep being told we’re “innovating” but it’s all the same ideas. This isn’t a broad debate. They set narrow limits on “reforms” and they’re all coming out of the same think tanks and orgs. Why isn’t Union City crawling with enthusiastic reformers? It’s ignored. I think it’s ignored because it doesn’t fit the template.

  92. 92
    gene108 says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:

    Text book publishing is probably in worse shape than the ordinary publishing business. I finished a grad degree a year ago and the options to buy books outside of the university bookstore are so significant now that paying the bookstore list price for a text book is just absurd.

    Also, too I wouldn’t be surprised if foreign versions of U.S. textbooks have violated all sorts of copyright and royalty laws in producing the same material, which is one way to reduce the cost just down to printing and mark-up.

  93. 93
    Kay says:


    What makes Union City remarkable is, paradoxically, the absence of pizazz. It hasn’t followed the herd by closing “underperforming” schools or giving the boot to hordes of teachers. No Teach for America recruits toil in its classrooms, and there are no charter schools.

    What if we had spent billions of dollars trying this approach? We’d still be a decade out, but we’d have built something that lasts.

  94. 94
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Citizen Alan:

    They are, in a very real sense, just like a TV audience. They are not the customers. The advertisers who sell shit to them are the customers.

  95. 95
    mclaren says:

    Since we already know that for-profit colleges are a predatory rip-off and nearly impossible to regulate due to industry capture of politicians on both sides of the aisle, can anyone tell me why we decided to expand this bad idea?

    Because in 21st century America, bad ideas are prized as solid gold, failure leads to ever-greater wealth and praise, and the highest awards are reserved only for the people who have demonstrated themselves to be brain-damaged and delusional.

    Welcome to Shithole America, where the Leaden Rule reigns supreme. The Leaden Rule says that those with the least competence and the most ignorance and dementia are precisely those who reap the greatest rewards, the widest praise, the most vociferous public accolades.

    Future generations will gape with amazement and disbelief at the abysm of lunacy and incompetence into which Shithole America has eagerly plunged itself, celebrating all the while with manic delight. Shithole America in 2013 is like a diner in a five-star restaurant who gets served a heaping plate of raw sewage and devours it ravenously while exclaiming in a swoon of ecstasy about the wonderful taste and the delicious aroma of the food, then clamors for seconds.

  96. 96
    Davis X. Machina says:

    Jeb Bush says it. He says online learning is cheaper. It’s not, in Ohio or Pennsylvania, but it should be. So say they weren’t ripping us off and it were cheaper. It would be cheaper because some adult in the home is volunteering as the teacher, and if the adult isn’t doing that, the ratio is 300 to 1.

    80%-90% of a school district’s budget is salaries, benefits and other personnel costs.

    You can’t save money — or skim it — until you start getting rid of teachers. And money talks while bullshit walks. Jeb Bush and Co, know this. There’s no payday, for stockholders or politicians, unless you get head-counts down.

    300 to one is twice what’s not that rare — and untenable — now. If you can better than halve your personnel costs, quality will suffer. But any resulting reduction in quality less than half in your product is acceptable — nay, desirable.

    Shipping something less-than-half-as-bad that costs less than half as much to make, makes you a CEO god.

  97. 97
    jl says:

    @Davis X. Machina: Problem is that the company can make a fortune on volume. The student can’t. The feasible, and efficient, volume of purchase for a course of study that lasts a year or more and will serve as a foundation for a career, either blue collar, technical or relatively fancy pants, is exactly one for any student. So they get a crummy education. The education company bears no risk for a less productive economy produced by workers with a crummy educations. But the workers, and the economy as a whole do bear the risk and they do pay.

    But in a money talks and BS walks, C.R.E.A.M world, who cares? Winners win and losers and lose, and if the country is falling apart outside the little personal domains that some BS artists can build with their little piles of automated-education cash, what do they care?

    In the U.S., it’s getting so only old party line commies stuck in ’20th century’ thinking like Franklin, Jefferson, and Madison cared, but they are being swept into the dustbin of history as we speak. And thank goodness for that.

  98. 98
    JoyfulA says:

    @geg6: And Tom Corbett was state attorney general.

  99. 99
    JoyfulA says:

    @gene108: Textbook companies themselves produce US and various cheaper foreign editions that are essentially the same and in English. SCOTUS recently ruled against a textbook company that they could not prevent a Thai (?) student in the US from receiving many Thai copies and reselling them for profit.

  100. 100
    Dennis says:

    @mclaren: It does feel like we are witnessing the slow-motion decline and fall of the empire, hollowed out from within by greed, ignorance, jealousy, and spite.

    The people with the money can always find some members of the underclass to attack other members of the underclass who have it slightly better than the first group.

    In the comments section of every article about corruption in charter education you can find people attacking the awful teacher unions, despite just having read a litany of the most awful crimes against children and taxpayers committed by the greed-heads that run for-profit schools.

  101. 101
    LIsa Mayhew says:


    As a teacher myself, thank you for taking the time to track her down. Hearing feedback from former students is immensely gratifying and is a reward in itself, you have no idea!

  102. 102
    joan grim says:

    @sherparick: Exactly. Throw in the regulatory capture by Duncan’s DoEd and we have a dismantling of our education system and 50 years of inclusive education for kids with disabilities that will take a generation to fix.

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