Monday, August 18, 2014

Whither Michelle Rhee? Whither K12 Inc.?

Posted By on Mon, Aug 18, 2014 at 12:30 PM

Two insider baseball news bytes from the world of "education reform" for people who like to pay close attention to this kind of thing.

First, Michelle Rhee is leaving Students First, a pro-school-privatization organization she founded. Rhee is a curious figure in the education world, someone lots of people have fallen in love with until they learned more about her. She lied about her success in her few years of teaching, which helped her land the job as Washington, D.C., schools chancellor. She made the cover of a few magazines due to her no nonsense, tough-as-nails approach to improving schools. Under her aggressive leadership, under-performing teachers and administrators were fired and those whose test scores went up were rewarded. Some D.C. schools saw too-good-to-be-true spikes in their test scores which turned out to be, well, too good to be true. There was clear evidence of cheating by some staff members, but Rhee chose not to conduct a thorough investigation. Instead, she left the D.C. schools and founded Students First, which never measured up to her hype. In a wonderful piece of understatement, a former Students First staffer said, "I'm not claiming that she's egomaniacal, but . . ." Rhee will chair the board of a charter school chain run by her husband, ex-NBA star and current Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson.

Second, K12 Inc., the for-profit, publicly traded online public school corporation which has virtual schools across the country (ours is Arizona Virtual Academy), took its second stock hit in less than a year. From a high of 37.1 in September, 2013, it plunged to 17.60 in October. It's been edging upward slowly since then, making it to 25.98 in July, but Thursday it took another plunge, to 19.42, and pretty much stayed there Friday. Investors are worried, with reason, that the corporation's growth model isn't working. Its schools have been criticized for their low student test scores. Its "churn rate" — the number of students who leave every year — is in the 30 percent range, so it resorts to high-pressure, deceptive recruitment practices to replace departing students and increase overall enrollment.

The "education reform" movement won't be hurt by these two bits of bad news. Despite clear evidence that charters and private schools are no more successful than school districts in educating children (wouldn't it be nice if these folks who want to hold schools accountable were held accountable for their deceptive use of hyperbole and statistics?), the "reformers" continue to use their money and influence to declare that "government schools" are the problem and charter schools and vouchers are the answer.

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