Wednesday, February 22, 2012

E.D. of Michigan Association of School Boards weighs in on cyber schools

COMMENTARY — Cyber schools: Show me the data
Kathy Hayes
Posted:  02/20/2012 6:38 AM
Michigan’s education policy is being driven by the mantra of parental choice. On the surface, policy that gives parents alternatives for their children’s education is laudable. However, if those alternative choices have no demonstrable evidence of providing a better education, or in fact, are substandard to traditional public education, isn’t it incumbent upon our legislature to protect our students? Just as consumers are protected from substandard products through strict regulation and research, we should also expect this same level of protection for one of our most important rights-public education.

Senate Bill 619 allows for unlimited expansion of cyber schools. Current law restricts cyber schools to two contracts with limited enrollment. The legislature wisely determined that since cyber schools are a fairly new concept in education, it’s important they be regulated to determine their effectiveness. Unfortunately, despite the fact that the performance of these schools is below average, the legislature is very  close to allowing the proliferation of cyber schools. Cyber schools have been in existence in Colorado, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Florida, Virginia and others. The reports and literature on the performance — and profit – of these schools should concern us all.

Most cyber schools are operated by for-profit companies that discovered there’s great financial gain in public education. Their schools are financed by the same public tax dollars that brick-and-mortar public schools receive. One would expect the cost of doing business for a cyber school would be less expensive since they don’t have the expenses of building and maintaining facilities, transportation or restrictions on class size. And still, they receive the same, or more, per pupil dollars and compete for the same funds in our already financially strapped system.

The evidence is clear that educational management organizations are making a substantial profit. K12 Inc., one of the largest providers of virtual schools, had revenue of $522 million according to securities filings. Its net income after a series of acquisitions was $12.8 million and its CEO, Ronald J. Packard, earned $2.6 million in total compensation.

The fact that companies have figured out a way into public education as a way of making a profit wouldn’t disturb me if evidence showed they outperform traditional public schools. Instead, we see the national expansion of virtual schools with more than 200,000 students enrolled despite the absence of data on their effectiveness.

Public schools in Michigan have already embraced online learning as a way of delivering advanced placement, remedial and credit recovery classes; and as a second opportunity for dropouts, pregnant teens and expelled students. And, still adhering to strict guidelines and accountability measures. This blended learning option needs to be expanded and supported.

We’re asking the Legislature to study the performance and value of cyber schools. We can all learn a great deal from what has occurred in other states. I encourage legislators and the public to read “Online K-12 Schooling in the U.S.: Uncertain Private Ventures in Need of Public Regulation,” “How Online Learning Companies Bought America’s Schools and Profits” and “Questions at Online Charter Schools.” At the very least, the information in these articles should cause legislators to proceed with caution before passing legislation that could harm students for years to come. If we can’t count on them to protect our children, who can we count on?        

—Kathy Hayes is executive director of the Michigan Association of School Boards.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Michigan PTA Advocacy Update


February 20, 2012
Gov. Snyder’s Budget Proposal 2012
Governor Snyder released his proposed state budget for fiscal year 2013, which begins on October 1, 2012.  Over the next few months, the state legislature will make decisions on a final budget.  Michigan PTA urges our members to discuss with their state legislators expenditures that affect children.
The Governor maintained the previous years’ per-pupil foundation allowance, of a minimum of $6,846; this is down over $400 per pupil since fiscal year 2010.  Continuing these deep cuts to K-12 schools has a negative impact on the classroom. Michigan PTA strongly believes these cuts must be restored. 
Governor Snyder is proposing $190 million for incentives to school districts who meet certain criteria:
  • Improved student performance in reading and math in 3rd through 8th grades, and four-year improvements in all tested subjects in high school.  ($100 maximum per pupil.)
  • Meeting 5 of these 6 best-practices ($75 maximum per pupil):
    • Publishing a dashboard of outcomes
    • Serving as a policyholder for health benefits
    • Participation in schools of choice
    • Monitoring student growth in each subject area at least twice a year
    • Offering dual enrollment, Advanced Placement courses, offering post-secondary learning opportunities
    • Offering online or blended learning
Governor Snyder asks to maintain funding for early childhood education, funding for at-risk students, and funding programs to improve academic achievement and reduce drop-out rates.  However, there is a decrease in funding to lower class sizes in high-poverty schools.  Michigan PTA supports equitable funding for all school districts. 
The governor’s budget proposes expanding funding in Medicaid and MIChild to include treatment of autism spectrum disorders for children under age 6, and expanding the Healthy Kids Dental program. The budget maintains funding for child and adolescent health centers, and hearing and vision screenings. Michigan PTA applauds Governor Snyder for this commitment to the health of Michigan ’s children.    
There are additional areas of concern which will negatively impact education funding:
  • An increase in mandatory contributions to the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System will increase costs to local school districts. 
  • Michigan PTA supports all day kindergarten.  However, Governor Snyder’s budget does not provide additional funding for implementation.  School districts will incur increased costs switching from ½ day to full day kindergarten.  We urge the Governor and the Legislature to provide additional funding to support this great initiative.
ACTION REQUIRED:  Over the next two months, contact your state senator and state representative to share your concerns.  Governor Snyder’s proposed incentives are important, but K-12 schools need to have funding restored. You have surely noticed the impact the cuts to education have had in your child’s school; relate your experiences with your legislators.  It is imperative that our legislators know we expect them to ensure that every child in Michigan has the opportunity for a quality education.  Their futures, and ours, depend on it!

Michigan Parent Teacher Association 
1390 Eisenhower Place, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48108
Phone: 734-975-9500 - Fax: 734-677-2407
Web site:

Friday, February 17, 2012

Friends of Kent County Schools' Grassroots Meeting Feb. 23

Grassroots Meeting

Our next meeting is scheduled for Thursday, February 23, 2012 at 7:00 p.m. at the Kent ISD Educational Service Center in the Coldwater Room.

House Education Committee Meeting Feb. 22

House School Aid of the Standing Committee on Appropriations, Rep. Bill Rogers, Chair
Date:  02/21/2012
Time:  10:30 AM
Place:  426 State Capitol Building
Agenda: Performance Based Funding and Best Practices Funding – Discussion and Public Testimony

The Nation's Case Review of Michigan's Education System

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Another interesting article on cyber schools

MEAP Score Fallout

A Voice of Reason on Testing

The Brookings Institute reports that test scores can be skewed to meet policy objectives of those quoting the statistics.  An article speaking about the national test which compares students across state lines and what the differences really mean is interesting.  Lucy

Legislative Alert from Friends of Kent County Schools

Legislative Alert: Cyber school expansion vote expected this week
Last week the House Education Committee voted on a bill that will remove all limits on the number of online cyber charter schools in Michigan.  Senate Bill 619 has already passed the Senate and your representative could vote on it this week.  

Unlimited cyber schools are the wrong choice for our state. There is simply not enough evidence of student achievement to support uncapping the number of these schools allowed to operate. In addition, cyber schools will receive full funding per student despite significantly lower overhead costs than traditional public schools.  Is this fair? But there is still time to stop this bill. 

If you haven't done so already Click here to tell your Representative to put the brakes on this dangerous idea.  
 Watch Superintendent Dr. Shibler on WZZM 13: School money boost not enough
Our upcoming Friends of Kent County Schools Grassroots meeting is scheduled for next Thursday, February 23, 2012 at 7:00 p.m.
 at the Kent ISD Educational Service Center in the Coldwater Room.

Spread the word and bring a friend to our next meeting.  We look forward to growing our grassroots network this year.  If you have any questions or concerns please contact us at

Phil Powers of Center for Michigan on Education

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Interesting article about the person selected to help Michigan's failing schools

You might notice that the person selected to help Michigan's failing schools was fired from her position as Superintendent of Seattle's public schools "after an audit revealed that $1.8 million in contracts with questionable or no public benefit passed through the district's regional small-business contracting program."


The conversation will be held on Tuesday, February 28th from 5:30-700 p.m. at the Eberhard Center, located at the downtown campus of Grand Valley State University.   The event is free, but space is limited to the first 60 participants to RSVP.  Center for Michigan is a nonprofit, nonpartisan "think and do" tank located in Ann Arbor.  This conversation will be one of more than 250 structured dialogues taking place in 2012 all across the state.  For more information, visit

Monday, February 13, 2012

Education Town Hall Meeting March 7 7pm

EGRPS PTA Education Town Hall Meeting
Wednesday, March 7, 2012 at 7pm
Little Auditorium in the EGR High School, 2111 Lake Drive SE, EGR, MI 49506

We will host our legislators and have them give us an update on the many changes to public education that have happened this last term.  We will ask questions and make statements of our concerns.  Contact the committee if you want to influence of the statements.  We are looking for parents who want to tell the legislators how the cuts have affected their children and their families.  We want the legislators to hear what we parents have to say about these changes.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

K-12 in for another cut

Although Gov. Snyder insisted that K-12 funding would not be cut again this year, this analysis of the Governor's proposed budget shows that, in fact, K-12 will be subject to more cuts in 2012-13.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

2012 Budget information

Michigan Compared to Other States

Send a Note to Your Representative about Cyber Schools

Please consider sending a note to Ms. Lyons or your own Representative about the fiscal irresponsibility of forking over tax payer School Aid Fund to cyber schools.  

Here is how you can find your Representative: 

Hello Representative Lyons--

I have strong reservations about my tax dollars going to fund cyber schools.  If parents want to fund their students' online schooling, I support that.  Don't take money from the School Aid Fund for it.


Important Michigan Parents for Schools Legislative Alert

The House Education Committee just approved a bill that would remove all restrictions on entirely online charter schools, so-called "cyber schools." Please join Michigan Parents for Schools in asking the full House to put the brakes on this legislation.
Online "cyber" schools were first allowed two years ago as part of Michigan's application for Federal Race to the Top funding. While we didn't win the money, we were left with the hastily written changes to our education policy. Under current law, however, only two online schools were authorized, each with a limit on the number of students they could enroll. After two years of operation, the Michigan Department of Education would issue a report on how well the schools worked. We are now halfway through the second year.
Senate Bill 619 would short-circuit that process, and free "cyber schools" from all restrictions right away. To us, this smacks less of an effort to improve education than an effort to open up lucrative business opportunities for the private firms which run these schools.
As parents, we have to wonder how many students would really do well in an all-online school. How do you do online kindergarten, for example? Yet these firms claim they can. But can they provide the opportunities for socialization, for collaborative work, for extra-curricular activities that a physical school would provide?
But our biggest concern is about the practical aspects of online schools. Students work mostly with a "learning coach" at home, who is usually a parent or other relative. Yet the cyber school company gets the full per-pupil payment just for providing online lessons and some equipment. These schools say that they will limit student-teacher ratios, but how will anyone know? Finally, with their profit on the line, how can we be sure that these private firms will put their students' interests ahead of their shareholders?
The experience of other states with these kinds of schools (and some of the same companies) is not positive. Not only was student achievement disappointing, but there were recurring problems with padded enrollment numbers and balooning (but hidden) student to teacher ratios. [Links to some news articles are printed below.]
Sure, online learning is here to stay, and it can help some students if we use it wisely. But virtual schools, operated by for-profit companies with little chance for outside oversight because they are completely online, ought to be approached very cautiously. It's too easy for students to be on the losing end of the bargain.
Take action today!
Click here to read our letter to committee members on our worries about incentives for online school operators.

Some recent press articles on virtual schools around the US:
Success of Florida Virtual School is difficult to measure
By Rebecca Catalanello and Marlene Sokol
Tampa Bay Times - Sunday, January 8, 2012
Students of Online Schools Are Lagging
By Jenny Anderson
New York Times, January 6, 2012
Far fewer of them are proving proficient on standardized tests compared with their peers in other privately managed charter schools and in traditional public schools.

Lackluster results of charters

This article reveals the reality of the charter schools -- that profit  often trumps achievement

One shining beacon (just one)

It's always good to see both sides of the charter school issue, but even in praising one outstanding charter, this article points out that it is the only charter school to outperform the traditional public  schools.  Is one out of every 300 a good enough ratio to justify expanding the number of charter schools?  And do parents really understand that the charters aren't generally outperforming their replacements?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Check out Michigan Parents for Schools Assessment of School Funding as we Prepare for Thursday's Budget Announcement

This is a very good assessment of what is going on in school funding.  The feeble expectation that higher education funding will return to the general fund is not looking good.  The new tax structure, as you will read below, does not provide any business tax for the School Aid Fund like the old Michigan Business Tax did.

Friday, February 3, 2012

EGRPS PTA Legislative Committee Education Town Hall Meeting

Education Town Hall Meeting 7pm, Wednesday, March 7, 2012 at the EGR High School

We urgently need to ask our legislators about the numerous legislative changes they have made to public education in Michigan this legislative session.  Please come and listen to their rationale for these changes.  Let's let them know what we think is going right in public education right here in East Grand Rapids!

Class Action Lawsuit against K12 cyber school

This is a link to an article on a class action lawsuit being launched against K12 the main cyber school in Michigan and nationally.  Lucy

Linking with other MI Blogs

Here is an interesting post from a Grosse Pointe Michigan school board trustee on a suspension of a charter school child in Flint, MI due to his long hair.  Interestingly, his parents supported his long hair that he was growing for Locks of Love.  Isn't this a betrayal of parent choice?  Lucy

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Cyber School Legislation to be Sent to House Soon

It is unclear how this bill expanding cyber schools will affect school districts, but it is obvious that the Chair of the House Education Committee is hostile to traditional public school districts and their staff.  He was rude in his comments about expert testimony.  Read the article for yourself.

Here is a second article: