“15 Months in Virtual Charter Hell”: an inside look at K12 Inc.

by David Safier

This is simply chilling. A teacher who spent a year teaching in one of K12 Inc.'s online charter school tells all in an Edweek blog post, 15 Months in Virtual Charter Hell: A Teacher's Tale. Since Education Week is subscription only, I don't know if non-subscribers can read it (Will someone tell me in the comments please?), so I'll give you a taste of the bitter gall in the story.

Darcy Bedortha is a teacher who decided to give online education a try at one of the K12 Inc. schools (she doesn't say which one). "I became a teacher because I am an advocate for youth and social justice," she writes, but she soon found that wasn't her role. It was to manage and unmanageable number of online students, keep them from leaving and recruit new students.

Darcy taught high school English. One day a week, she had "blackboard sessions" with her classes. About 10% of the students logged on. Students enrolled and dropped out regularly, meaning they were working on a whole assortment of projects and assignments she had to oversee — 30 separate courses at one point.

My first month of teaching exhausted me, and there was never a moment in 15 months to catch my breath (many of us taught summer school, with no extra compensation, per employment agreement). Teachers are responsible for setting up courses, due dates, course pathways, etc. in connection to an extensive and ever-changing digital curriculum which is fraught with technical glitches and system-level errors. Teachers are also required to be available to students during the day, late into the evening and on weekends. In addition, they must contribute to "special projects".

At one point, when a colleague took an unexpected leave, Darcy had a 476 student classload. A normal classload was 300 students or more.

“Vouchers on steroids” for all!

by David Safier

Republicans love widows and orphans funds. What better way to pass conservative legislation than to have it serve the least fortunate? "How dare you oppose services for those poor, neglected [fill in the blank]!" Then, once the legislation is passed and the elephant's trunk has slipped under the tent flap, the rest of the pachyderm's body inches inside the tent, expanding the legislation to serve the people they really care about. Hint: it's not the widows and orphans they really care about.

Our Republican lege passed the Goldwater Institute-created Education Empowerment Accounts (also called Education Savings Accounts) in 2011. If you want a play-by-play accounting of the bill, you can read my 2011 post about it. The basic idea is, the state sets up voucher-like accounts for children which their parents can spend for a variety of educational purposes — private school, tutoring, educational materials and so on. What they don't spend one year rolls over to the next. Anything left unspent when the child graduates can be used for college tuition. It's the first of its kind in the country and possibly the most dangerous form of school voucher legislation I've seen.

Originally the bill was limited to students with learning disabilities and foster children. Then it was expanded to include children attending schools with state grades of D or F. In this next legislative session, Rep. Debbie Lesko, holding hands with G.I.'s ed guy, Jonathan Butcher, will push a bill to make the vouchers available to every child in Arizona. (FYI: Butcher is also co-chair of ALEC's Education Task Force.)

I’m finding a new home on The Range

by David Safier Soon, probably next week, I'll be moving from Blog for Arizona to Tucson Weekly's blog, The Range. I love this blog, but I was given the opportunity to be part of the Weekly and I took it. The paper's editor, Dan Gibson, and I sat down and talked. He says he wants … Read more