Monday, December 21, 2015

K12 Inc. Continues Its Downward Bounce

Posted By on Mon, Dec 21, 2015 at 5:00 PM

I've been following the fortunes of K12 Inc., the for-profit, publicly traded, online school corporation, since 2008 when I broke the story that it had been outsourcing student essays to an essay-grading company in India without informing the parents. (K12 Inc. said it stopped the practice soon after the story broke). The corporation is the poster child for everything wrong with the for-profit education model where profits, rather than education, drive the enterprise. For awhile, K12 Inc. was flying high despite its reputation for low student achievement and high student turnover. That all changed in the middle of 2013 after the stock peaked at 36. As you can see from the chart at the top of the post, it's taken a bumpy downhill ride since them. Current stock price is in the nine dollar range.

Local angle: K12 Inc. operates Arizona Virtual Academy (AZVA) which has about 4,600 students statewide.

You never know, the stock prices could reverse themselves and head upwards again—which, after all, is the primary purpose of any publicly traded corporation—but I doubt it. K12 Inc. is facing a whole lot of obstacles, all of which help tamp down investor confidence.

A recent study concludes that online charter schools in general, K12 Inc. included, are doing a lousy job of educating their students. Three research institutions participated in the study, including CREDO out of Stanford University, which tends to be pro-privatization and whose last comparison of charter and district schools had charters coming out a little ahead. (In its previous study, district schools came out a little ahead.) The academic growth of online school students is so low that, according to CREDO, it's as if students missed half a year's learning in reading and a whole year's learning in math compared to district schools. This shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Online schools like those run by K12 Inc. amount to home schooling with benefits. If you have motivated students whose parents keep them on task, they'll learn from the parent-assisted curriculum. But because of the need to keep student numbers growing in the face of one-third of the students leaving every year, K12 Inc. actively recruits students who are unsuited for education that comes to them through a computer in their homes. Yet those students are encouraged to stay enrolled because, like other charter schools (and district schools as well), online charters get money from the state on a per student basis. Lose students, lose money.

Currently, K12 Inc. is being investigated over possible securities laws violations. It's been alleged that there is a “substantial disconnect between compensation and performance results.” This isn't the first time stockholders have complained about the company. Previously, stockholders sued because they said K12 Inc. inflated its schools' academic results. During the most recent shareholder meeting, investors voted down the corporation's plan for executive pay. The previous year, the CEO received $5.33 million and the CFO received $3.6 million.

Some teachers are none too happy with their online schools, most vocally at California Virtual Academies (CAVA), where teachers have been complaining for years about the school. In The Public Interest wrote an in depth study of CAVA detailing problems with student performance levels and poor teaching environment as well as the use of revenue for advertising, executive pay and profit.

Finally, some schools have left or are considering leaving the K12 Inc. fold as their contracts with the corporation expire. The latest is Massachusetts Virtual Academy (MAVA) whose contract is up in June, 2016. It's considering two other online curriculum providers.

Put this all together, and you have a corporation in serious trouble. 

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