Is there a “Plot against Public Education”?

Author Bob Herbert of this article makes strong claims. He is a good story-teller and digs up some interesting points about schooling in the US. In the second page he talks about cyber charter schools, and details its history:

“Stephanie Simon, writing for Reuters in the summer of 2012, captured the excitement of investors eager to pounce: “The investors gathered in a tony private club in Manhattan were eager to hear about the next big thing, and education consultant Rob Lytle was happy to oblige. Think about the upcoming rollout of new national academic standards for public schools, he urged the crowd. If they’re as rigorous as advertised, a huge number of schools will suddenly look really bad, their students testing way behind in reading and math. They’ll want help, quick. And private, for-profit vendors selling lesson plans, educational software and student assessments will be right there to provide it.”

With billions to be reaped from the schools by proponents of online classes and entirely online charter schools—virtual schools—teachers would find that they, too, were expendable.

The foothold established by for-profit virtual schools was extremely disturbing. Their most fervent advocates spoke in the most glowing terms about getting rid of buildings, classroom teachers, playgrounds—everything most people associate with going to school. “Kids have been shackled to their brick-and-mortar school down the block for too long,” said Ronald Packard, a former Goldman Sachs banker who was the CEO of K12 Incorporated, the nation’s largest operator of online public schools, likes to say.

Packard was an operator, not an educator. When he founded K12 in 2000, one of his two primary financial backers was Michael Milken, the disgraced junk-bond king of the 1970s and 1980s. The other was Larry Ellison, the billionaire co-founder of Oracle and the fourth-richest person in America. The first chairman and chief proselytizer of K12 was William Bennett, who had served as education secretary under Ronald Reagan and drug czar under George H. W. Bush. There was something odd about Bennett’s trumpeting the wonders of cyberschools. In his book The Educated Child, published just a year earlier, he had sounded less than enthralled about the potential of online schooling. “When you hear the next pitch about cyber-enriching your child’s education,” he wrote, “keep one thing in mind: so far, there is no good evidence that most uses of computers significantly improve learning.”

He was, nevertheless, the energetic public face of K12 until 2005, when he had to resign because of a controversy that erupted over a comment he’d made on his radio program. (In response to a caller, Bennett had offered what he described as a thought experiment, saying, “If you wanted to reduce crime … you could abort every black baby in the country, and your crime rate would go down.” He added, “That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down.”)

Virtual schools remained under the radar for several years before eventually becoming too big to ignore. There were close to a quarter of a million full-time students attending online charter schools in the United States in 2014, and that number was growing. The schools were heavily advertised, and the companies running them spent tens of millions of dollars on political lobbying. Very few taxpayers were aware that some of the money they thought was paying for schools of the brick-and-mortar variety was actually being used for advertising and politics and to fatten the portfolios of virtual school proselytizers and promoters.”

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