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Invisible Schools, Invisible Success

Invisible Schools, Invisible Success

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Invisible Schools, Invisible Success

How ALEC Promotes Virtual School Profits Over State Standards & Student Success
“Performance at cyber charter schools was substantially lower than the performance at brick and mortar charters with 100% of cyber charters performing significantly worse than their traditional public school counterparts in both reading and math.”
– “Charter School Performance in Pennsylvania” Stanford University, April 2011

“A portrait emerges of a company that tries to squeeze profits from public school dollars by raising enrollment, increasing teacher workload and lowering standards.”
– “Profits and Questions at Online Charter Schools” New York Times, 12/12/11

May 2012

INTRODUCTION
In Texas, virtual schools are operated through the Texas Virtual School Network, which is run by the Texas Education Agency. As the Texas Tribune explains1: Through the Texas Virtual School Network, two dozen school districts, community colleges and universities offer online courses in which students across the state can enroll. To develop the curriculum, the districts can subcontract with private companies, universities or even other districts. Starting in third grade, Texas students can also go to virtual school full time [at] what [are] now three campuses operated out of both traditional and charter school districts. The Texas Education Agency has the ultimate authority to approve the courses for both the online schools and the virtual school network, though the network’s operations take place in a service center in Houston. Virtual schools are popular because they are profitable. Estimates show that “revenues from the K-12 online learning industry will grow by 43 percent between 2010 and 2015, with revenues reaching $24.4 billion.” More than 200,000 K-12 students are enrolled in full-time virtual schools across the country; when expanded to all students enrolled in at least one course, the number explodes to 2,000,000.2 The more children enrolled in virtual schools, the greater the profit for the companies – especially now that retiring Republican Senator Florence Shapiro has passed a The Public Education law that requires the same amount of taxpayer dollars go Committee Chairs in to virtual school students as students attending traditional both the House and the schools.3 This for-profit scheme was supported by the Public Education Committee Chairs in both the House and Senate – Senator the Senate – Senator Florence Shapiro and State Florence Shapiro and Representative Rob Eissler – each of who sit on ALEC’s Representative Rob Education Task Force.

Eissler – sit on ALEC’s
With the support of the American Legislative Education Task Force. Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) – which serves as a home away from home for ALEC here in Texas – for-profit education companies are attacking Texas public schools, promoting virtual schools, and putting profits ahead of the education needs of Texas children.
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“Online Classes Booming, But With Red Flags.” Texas Tribune, 10/14/11. http://bit.ly/JBEnh1 “Why is Public Education Being Outsourced to Online Charter Schools?” AlterNet. 1/8/02. http://bit.ly/JeS7Q4 3 st nd Senate Bill 1. 1 Called Special Session of the 82 Texas Legislature. http://bit.ly/JJHTaL

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In December 2004, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) approved the “Virtual Public Schools Act.”4 That model bill sparked a rush by private companies to embrace virtual schools and virtual learning across the country. Today, there are more than 230 nationwide accredited private virtual schools in the country.5 In 2007, the virtual school wave prompted the unanimous passage of Senate Bill 1788 in Texas, creating the Virtual School Network. The network was originally created to facilitate online learning in Texas classrooms and support virtual schools across the state. The state of Texas sends taxpayer dollars to these schools, to keep them open and operated, even though the full-time virtual schools are run by forprofit companies. Almost five years after it was established, the Virtual School Network – along with virtual schools across the country – remains unproven and unaccountable to Texas taxpayers.

Almost five years after it was established, the Virtual School Network – along with virtual schools across the country – remains unproven and unaccountable to Texas taxpayers.

Here in Texas, the Texas Virtual Academy failed to meet state standards for two years. Yet rather than being shut down or forced to change its methods, the virtual school was allowed to continue operating without question due to a loophole in state law that allowed the Texas Virtual Academy to simply be reinstituted into a different charter school system, without having to undergo any changes.6 Virtual schools are underperforming in similar ways occur across the country. A recent study by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that 100% of virtual schools in Pennsylvania performed significantly worse than traditional public schools in reading and math.7 Over half the students at Ohio Virtual Academy dropped out by the end of the 2010-2011 school year.8 Why are virtual schools and virtual learning programs so often trumpeted as the savior to education? Invisible Schools, Invisible Success is a report that attempts to collect and explain the moving pieces of the virtual school movement in Texas, and how ALEC and TPPF are promoting failed learning techniques at the expense of Texas students and taxpayers. The report examines who is promoting virtual schools through ALEC, how those corporations are tied to Texas, the evolution of virtual schools in Texas, and why virtual schools don’t work.
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“Virtual Public Schools Act.” ALEC EXPOSED, a site by the Center for Media and Democracy. http://bit.ly/JwI6gc “List of Virtual Schools.” Wikipedia. Accessed 5/14/12. http://bit.ly/Kapxux 6 “Virtual Schools, Virtually Unregulated.” Texas Observer, 10/10/11. http://bit.ly/L1ozSb 7 “Charter School Performance in Pennsylvania.” Center for Research on Education Outcomes, April 2011. http://bit.ly/IUhB1m 8 “K12 Manifesting Its Corporate Destiny.” Seeking Alpha, 2/27/12. http://bit.ly/J4UOVb

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ALEC & Virtual Schools
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a corporate bill factory for model laws. The organization arranges for corporate lobbyists and conservative legislators to hold joint secret meetings to craft cookie-cutter bills that increase the profits of private companies at the public’s expense. Started in 1973, ALEC was formed when a group of activists and corporate allies decided to focus efforts to advance the corporate agenda on state legislatures across the country. Almost forty years later, ALEC is made of more than 300 corporate and 2,000 legislative members who work behind closed doors to approve “model” legislation designed to increase corporate profits at public expense. These corporate-approved bills are then introduced in states like Texas, where lobbyists of many of those same corporations also write checks donating to the political campaigns of lawmakers who advance their agenda in the Texas Legislature. In the last year, over 800 of these model bills have been discovered. (For more on ALEC, see our inaugural report, “ALEC Exposed in Texas.”9) ALEC is closely tied to the virtual school movement, having pushed its “Virtual Public Schools Act” on behalf of corporate members of its board since 2005.10 The law was adopted by ALEC through the work of its Education Task Force, comprised of corporate lobbyists and conservative These virtual school legislators. According to the Center for Media and companies have deeply Democracy’s website, ALEC Exposed, two of the three cochairs on ALEC’s Education Task Force work directly for “embedded themselves virtual school companies11:   Mickey Revenaugh, Co-founder and Senior Vice President of State Relations for Connections Academy, a virtual school company; and Lisa Gillis, Director of Government Affairs and School Development for Insight Schools, part of K12 Inc.

These two corporations – Connections Academy and K12 Inc. – are the two largest players in the virtual school movement, and each is part of a larger network of virtual school companies pushing online education in the states, including Texas. Known as the International Association for Online Learning (iNACOL), these virtual school companies have deeply “embedded themselves in the conservative infrastructure” to the point that it becomes difficult to determine where the corporation stops and the lawmakers begin.12
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in the conservative infrastructure” to the point that it becomes difficult to determine where the corporation stops and the lawmakers begin.

“Progress Texas Releases ALEC Exposed in Texas.” Progress Texas, 1/17/12. http://bit.ly/J4Up5h “Virtual Public Schools Act.” ALEC EXPOSED, a site by the Center for Media and Democracy. http://bit.ly/JwI6gc 11 “ALEC Exposed: Education Task Force.” ALEC Exposed, via Source Watch, a site by the Center for Media and Democracy. http://bit.ly/L4aHgl 12 “How Online Learning Companies Bought America’s Schools.” The Nation, 11/16/11. http://bit.ly/JSUhSp
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The Nation, as part of its series exposing ALEC, details how the President of iNACOL, Susan Patrick, regularly “traverses right-wing think tanks spreading the gospel of virtual schools,” having spoken at conferences and events hosted by Atlas Economic Research Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, the State Policy Network, and the American Legislative Exchange Council at various times over recent years. Nationally, virtual schools have taken greatest root in Florida, where former Governor Jeb Bush has rigorously promoted their virtues. ALEC has worked hand-in-hand in launching this movement, as detailed in The Nation’s excellent article, “How Online Learning Companies Bought America’s Schools”13 – In August, at ALEC’s annual conference in New Orleans, the education task force officially adopted Bush’s ten elements agenda. Mickey Revenaugh, the virtual school executive overseeing the committee, presided over the vote endorsing the measure… The nonprofit behind this digital push, Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, is funded by online learning companies: K12 Inc., Pearson (which recently bought Connections Education), Apex Learning (a for-profit online education company launched by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen), Microsoft and McGraw-Hill Education among others. The advisory board for Bush’s ten digital elements agenda reads like a Who’s Who of education-technology executives, reformers, bureaucrats and lobbyists… Once all the dots are connected, parents of Texas school children – who want nothing more than local control that ensures a quality education for their sons and daughters – see their tax dollars siphoned off to failing virtual schools that were created because: 1. ALEC’s education task force is chaired by two individuals who work for virtual school companies, including K12 Inc. and Connections Academy 2. ALEC features speakers like Bush, who runs a nonprofit that is part of ALEC’s education task force and is funded by other virtual school companies on ALEC’s education task force, including K12 Inc. and Connections Academy 3. ALEC corporate members, like K12 Inc. and Connections Academy, donate thousands of dollars to candidates to get virtual school laws passed in their state.

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Case Study: K12 Inc. & Texas
K12 Inc. is touted as the “biggest player in the online-school business” with its headquarters in Herndon, Virginia.14 As previously mentioned, one of its employees is a CoChair of ALEC’s education task force. The organization was featured in a lengthy piece by the New York Times titled, “Profits and Questions at Online Charter Schools.” They summarized their findings with the following: The business taps into a formidable coalition of private groups and officials promoting nontraditional forms of public education. The growth of for-profit online schools, one of the more overtly commercial segments of the school choice movement, is rooted in the theory that corporate efficiencies combined with the Internet can revolutionize public education, offering high quality at reduced cost. The New York Times has spent several months examining this idea, focusing on K12 Inc. A look at the company’s operations, based on interviews and a review of school finances and performance records, raises serious questions about whether K12 schools — and full-time online schools in general — benefit children or taxpayers, particularly as state education budgets are being slashed. Instead, a portrait emerges of a company that tries to squeeze profits from public school dollars by raising enrollment, increasing teacher workload and lowering standards. In addition to its questionable methods, K12 Inc. has come under closer examination for its pay-to-play style politics. According to research compiled by the National Institute on Money in State Politics15: K12 Inc. contributed $824,802 to state campaigns across the country from 2004 through 2011. Employees of K12 Inc. contributed an additional $16,948 in the same time period. The company gave $169,000 to state candidates and committees in Florida in that time, the most it gave anywhere. Florida now mandates that high school students enroll in one online course, at a minimum.

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“Profits and Questions at Online Charter Schools.” New York Times, 12/12/11. http://nyti.ms/KHD9lc “Statehouse to Schoolhouse, Cyberschool Companies Are Making the Grade.” National Institute on Money and Politics, 2/29/12. http://bit.ly/L1LKMk

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Not coincidentally, K12 Inc.’s pay-to-play methods have played the most in Florida, home of former Governor Jeb Bush, one of the foremost champions of the virtual school movement in the country. Florida is also cited by the Texas Public Policy Foundation as the “model for Texas’ state based digital learning.”16 Here in Texas, K12 Inc. runs one of Texas’ only full-time virtual schools. The school, Texas Virtual Academy, is run as a private organization, yet still receives taxpayer dollars for its operations. As the Texas Observer reported17:

Texas Virtual Academy is a failing school. Twice in recent years the school received unacceptable ratings and could have already closed down.

Texas Virtual Academy is more private than public. Its curriculum is handled by the company K12 Inc. Even the teachers are employees of K12 Inc. Students take online courses offered and taught by employees of for-profit companies. Yet David Fuller, the head of Texas Virtual Academy and a K12 employee, refers to his school as “public.” “The wonderful thing is that because we are a public school, we’re going to receive the same make up as any other public, bricks-and-mortar school,” he says. In fact, the only thing public about Texas Virtual Academy is its funding. Texas Virtual Academy is a failing school. Twice in recent years the school received unacceptable ratings and could have already closed down. However, because of its virtual nature, the school was able to simply reorganize under a different charter school without making any changes to its learning procedures: The virtual academy failed to meet state standards two years in a row and faced getting shut down. Southwest Schools severed the contract and no longer offered the online program. Yet that was hardly a problem for K12, which simply got a contract with a different charter school. This year, K12 operates Texas Virtual Academy through a contract with Houston charter Responsive Education Solutions. Texas Virtual Academy's relationship with these charter schools is all on paper. So even though it switched host charter school, Texas Virtual Academy is virtually unchanged. The school is still going by the same name and operated by the same company, but its record is wiped clean.18

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“Virtual Education and the Future of Texas Education.” Texas Public Policy Foundation, March 2012. http://bit.ly/JgmkhL 17 “Education Inc.” Texas Observer, 9/6/11. http://bit.ly/JCE2dP 18 “Virtual Schools, Virtually Unregulated.” Texas Observer, 10/10/11. http://bit.ly/L1ozSb

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K12 Inc.’s Texas Virtual Academy wasn’t the only virtual school to struggle. The Texas Connections Academy at Houston was also rated unacceptable. Just as K12 Inc. runs the Texas Virtual Academy, Connections Academy runs the Texas Connections Academy at Houston. As previously mentioned the other co-chair of ALEC’s education task force – Mickey Revenaugh – also works Despite the lack of for Connections Academy. The total lack of accountability of virtual schools in Texas highlights a serious problem of Texas’ virtual school process. In 2007, Texas passed Senate Bill 1788 creating the Virtual School Network unanimously.19 One of the co-authors of the bill was State Representative Scott Hochberg, considered by most to be the smartest state legislator on public education matters in Texas. However, the law was designed to create a small scale model of how a virtual school system would work, develop best practices, and then grow slowly. That never happened, however, as Rep. Hochberg told the Texas Independent20: “To my knowledge, there’s been no work on what is appropriate. Numbers have just been picked out of the air,” he said. “It’s not really being done with any rigor…You hear from the rural schools that they need broader course offerings and that virtual may help, but nobody’s really picked up the ball in the part of Texas west of [Interstate] 35 and figured out a systematic way to offer the courses that are missing.” Despite the lack of accountability and planning, enrollment in Texas’ virtual school network has increased dramatically in recent years. In the two-year period from 2009 to 2011, enrollment through the Texas Virtual School Network increased from 254 students to 8,136, a 3,203% enrollment increase.21 Instead of pursuing careful consideration of how taxpayer dollars are spent for these virtual schools, legislators continue marching forward with virtual school laws. State Senator Florence Shapiro – who chairs the Public Education Committee in the Senate and sits on ALEC’s Education Task Force22 – recently passed a law granting students at virtual schools the same amount of taxpayer funding as students at regular schools. This change in school funding was part of a package of bills in 2011 law that cut $5.4 billion from Texas public schools.23
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accountability…Texas Virtual School Network increased from 254 students to 8,136, a 3,203% enrollment increase.

SB 1788, 80 Regular Session of the Texas Legislature. http://bit.ly/KnWgm4 “Hochberg: Online education business growing fast, without quality control from state.” The American Independent, 11/1/11. http://ainn.ly/JrgOuD 21 Id. 22 “ALEC Exposed: Education Task Force.” ALEC Exposed. http://bit.ly/L4aHgl 23 st nd Senate Bill 1. 1 Called Special Session of the 82 Texas Legislature. http://bit.ly/JJHTaL

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The virtual school language was slipped into Senate Bill 1 by Senator Shapiro at the last minute. It allows virtual schools to pull state tax dollars from the Foundation School Program funding, without any limits: Sec. 30A.153. FOUNDATION SCHOOL PROGRAM FUNDING. (a) A school district or open enrollment charter school in which a student is enrolled is entitled to funding under Chapter 42 for the student's enrollment in an electronic course offered through the state virtual school network in the same manner that the district or school is entitled to funding for the student’s enrollment in courses provide in a traditional classroom setting, provided that the student successfully completes the electronic course.24 Prior to this change in law, school districts were limited in the amount of money they could receive for virtual schools, since it costs less to educate a virtual student than it does to educate a student that attends a traditional bricks and mortar school. Now, however, private companies that run virtual schools have a built-in financial incentive to pass all the students – since they only get paid if the student completes the coursework. Private companies that run Virtual schools can receive the same financial incentive to pass all amount of money per student as traditional public schools, while being held to lower the students – since they only standards. Yet, the law – as passed by Senator get paid if the student Shapiro – does not specify where the courses are completes the coursework. taken, or what percentage of coursework should be online. Current law provides no guidance on how students are monitored for completing course work. Some “accountability” measures for student attendance include nothing more than recording when a student logs into his or her computer account. Additionally, surveys have shown that online education practitioners recommend half or less of a student’s curriculum be taught online at the collegiate level, with even less coursework recommended for online use at the K-12 level. Finally, Senator Shapiro’s law decreased the educational quality of virtual schools by requiring that only 80% of state-approved curriculum needs to be aligned with state standards. At a time when public schools are under intense scrutiny for accountability and when conservative legislators are reducing state dollars that go to public schools, why have virtual schools gotten such a free pass? In addition to the cover provided by Senator Shapiro, virtual schools have allies in two powerful groups: ALEC and TPPF.
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virtual schools have a built-in

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ALEC, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, and Virtual Schools
The Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) is a 501(c)(3). TPPF is part of ALEC’s state policy network, and crafts policy papers that are closely followed by legislators, making them a home away from home for ALEC and its corporate members looking to influence public policy in Texas. In the past, TPPF staff TPPF is a home away has submitted policy papers to be reproduced in the Inside from home for ALEC ALEC publications, they have spoken at ALEC functions and and its corporate events, and senior TPPF staff also sits on ALEC’s task forces. Through its policy work and fundraising efforts, ALEC and TPPF members looking to are closely linked and regularly work hand-in-hand to promote influence public the profits of global corporations over creating better lives for policy in Texas. Texans. TPPF, which employs numerous former staffers of Governor Rick Perry, regularly promotes model legislation approved and promoted by ALEC.25 One of the biggest focuses of TPPF’s education work has been the promotion of virtual schools and virtual learning. A March 2012 policy paper titled, “Virtual Education and the Future of Texas Education” argues that Texas should “identify steps that Texas should take to expand digital learning through comparisons to states further along in their digital development.”26 TPPF completely ignores the failing history of Texas virtual schools at both the Texas Virtual Academy and the Texas Connections Academy at Houston, choosing instead to paint a rose-colored picture of the promise of virtual schools. TPPF Promotes Content of Organizations on ALEC’s Education Task Forces Three organizations TPPF relies on for research and support of its policy paper – the Innosight Institute, iNACOL, and the Alliance for Excellent Education – are members of ALEC’s task force, creating a clear-cut channel for information to flow straight from ALEC to Texas. 1. The TPPF virtual school paper describes six models of virtual education, as presented by the Innosight Institute. The Innosight Institute is part of ALEC’s Education Task Force, as is Michael Horn, the organization’s co-founder and Executive Director. According to ALEC Exposed, Horn “presented on ‘Disrupting Class’ at the Education Task Force Meeting at the 2011 ALEC Annual Meeting.”27

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“TPPF calls criticisms made by Progress Texas report ‘hyperbole’.” The American Independent, 1/24/12. http://ainn.ly/JPi7kV 26 “Virtual Education and the Future of Texas Education.” Texas Public Policy Foundation, http://bit.ly/JgmkhL 27 “ALEC Exposed: Education Task Force.” ALEC Exposed. http://bit.ly/L4aHgl

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2. The TPPF virtual school paper cites a study conducted by iNACOL – the International Association for K-12 Online Learning – alleging that virtual schools can remedy a state’s dropout problems. iNACOL, as discussed earlier in the report, is an umbrella trade association that helps virtual school companies connect with conservative organizations. Both K12 Inc. and the Connections Academy are part of iNACOL.28 3. The TPPF virtual school paper cites the Alliance for Excellent Education in a section about teachers and virtual schools. The Alliance is represented twice on ALEC’s Education Task Force. Bob Wise, Chairman of the Alliance for Excellent Education, is on the task force and presented at the Education Task Force Meeting at ALEC’s annual meeting in 2011. Rita Pin Ahrens, Policy Advisor for the Alliance for Excellent Education, is also on the task force and also presented at the same meeting.29 By relying almost exclusively on information and research sponsored by organizations that sit on ALEC’s Education Task Force, the Texas Public Policy Foundation ensures that the talking points and presentations made at ALEC’s secret meetings are delivered straight into the hands of Texas lawmakers – repackaged, and without any mention of their origins or disclosure of the corporate interest financing, drafting, and packaging of this anti-taxpayer legislation. TPPF Ignores the Fact that For-Profit Companies Overcharge for Online Education One of the central tenets of the TPPF paper on virtual schools is that online learning can help the state of Texas save money. This ALEC-manufactured talking point ignores the fact that many private companies that run virtual schools overcharge for their product – and, in fact, will even use taxpayer dollars to lobby legislators to expand virtual schools30: Despite lower operating costs, the online companies collect nearly as much taxpayer money in some states as brick-andmortar charter schools. In Pennsylvania, about 30,000 students are enrolled in online schools at an average cost of about $10,000 per student. The state auditor general, Jack Wagner, said that is double or more what it costs the companies to educate those children online. “It’s extremely unfair for the taxpayer to be paying for additional expenses, such as advertising,” Mr. Wagner said. Much of the public money also goes toward lobbying state officials, an activity that Ronald J. Packard, chief executive of K12, has called a “core competency” of the company.
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“How Online Learning Companies Bought America’s Schools.” The Nation, 11/16/11. http://bit.ly/JSUhSp “ALEC Exposed: Education Task Force.” ALEC Exposed. http://bit.ly/L4aHgl 30 “Profits and Questions at Online Charter Schools.” New York Times, 12/12/11. http://nyti.ms/KHD9lc

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While private companies that run virtual schools contend they are cheaper per student, the data above shows that some virtual schools may charge twice as much per student as it actually costs. K12 Inc. manages to maximize its income by establishing “schools in poor districts, which receive larger subsidies in some states” than other schools.31 TPPF Ignores Failures of Virtual Schools: Dropouts, Outcomes, and Teachers Finally, the Texas Public Policy Foundation lists benefits of virtual schools that are actually, based on studies, severe problems of virtual schools. The fiction promoted by TPPF does not stand up to scrutiny in three key areas: dropouts, outcomes, and teachers. 1. Dropouts TPPF argues that “online learning provides an option beyond attending traditional brickand-mortar schools for degree completion.” Their paper cites Susan Combs and the Texas Comptroller’s office making a similar argument, as well as a study conducted by one of ALEC’s Education Task Force members, iNACOL. However, some virtual schools have actually shown a higher dropout rate than traditional public schools. An examination of four separate K12 Inc. virtual academies found that they suffered from a dropout rate of 23.8%, 35.5%, 36.1%, and 51.1%, respectively.32 In the Ohio Valley Academy, over half of all students who enrolled in the 2010-2011 school year failed to complete their work. As one analysis put it, “these cyber schools might as well have a turnstile as their logo for the volume of withdrawals they experience.”33 2. Outcomes Outcome-based education is one of the central components of conservative organizations like the Texas Public Policy Foundation.34 Yet, as detailed in The Nation35: A recent study of virtual schools in Pennsylvania conducted by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University revealed that students in online schools performed significantly worse than their traditional counterparts. Another study, from the University of Colorado in December 2010, found that only 30 percent of virtual schools run by for-profit organizations met the minimum progress standards outlined by No Child Left Behind, compared with 54.9 percent of brick-and-mortar schools.

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Id. “K12 Manifesting Its Corporate Destiny.” Seeking Alpha, 2/27/12. http://bit.ly/J4UOVb 33 Id. 34 “UT Prez, A&M Prof Tussle With TPPF.” Texas Tribune, 4/29/11. http://bit.ly/J6DYFW 35 “How Online Learning Companies Bought America’s Schools.” The Nation, 11/16/11. http://bit.ly/JSUhSp

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In fact, the Stanford study found that, "performance at cyber charter schools was substantially lower than the performance at brick and mortar charter schools, with 100% of cyber charters performing significantly worse than their traditional public school counterparts in both reading and math.”36 TPPF, however, failed to note the failure of these private schools, choosing instead to tout the Florida model discussed previously as the model for Texas’ virtual learning future. 3. Teachers Finally, TPPF argues that “virtual education expansion provides more opportunities for students in a state to learn from a quality teacher.” What TPPF doesn’t mention, however, is how much less time virtual school teachers have or their students. Schools run by K12 Inc. implausibly argue their student-to-teacher ratio is 49:1.37 As AlterNet has written, “a virtual teacher is expected to manage more than 250 students, leading to a far higher stack of papers to grade, students to monitor, and parents to coach.”38

The Future of Virtual Schools in Texas
The virtual school experiment has failed in Texas, unable to meet even the lowest of statewide standards and incapable of maintaining any accountability for Texas taxpayers. Yet, so long as organizations like the Texas Public Policy Foundation continue to trumpet the manufactured talking points of ALEC-related corporations, the concept of implementing virtual schools and virtual learning will remain a choice the Texas Legislature will have to face. When the Texas Legislature reconvenes in 2013 and begins making school finance and public education decisions, it should remember that the virtual school movement in Texas – rooted in ALEC and carried out by TPPF – is a movement whose number one interest is shareholders, not students. Lawmakers in rural school districts have been promised for years that virtual schools will help solve the problems of their under-funded local schools. In reality, virtual schools are a smokescreen for siphoning public tax dollars to companies that sit on the board of ALEC. State standards and accountability measures are thrown out the window for these schools, cheating both taxpayers and students out of quality, accountable education. The virtual school movement requires far greater scrutiny and skepticism going forward. Lawmakers should be very wary of the promises made by proponents of online learning, and focus only on proven methods of education that can make Texas public schools great again.

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“Charter School Performance in Pennsylvania.” Center for Research on Education Outcomes, April 2011. http://bit.ly/IUhB1m 37 “Profits and Questions at Online Charter Schools.” New York Times, 12/12/11. http://nyti.ms/KHD9lc 38 “Why is Public Education Being Outsourced to Online Charter Schools?” AlterNet. 1/8/02. http://bit.ly/JeS7Q4

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About This Report
The compilation of this report was done by Phillip Martin, Progress Texas’ Political Director. The report relies extensively on the excellent research from the Center for Media and Democracy, as well as research done by the National Institute on Money and Politics and People for the American Way. Further research was completed with the assistance of the Texas American Federation of Teachers.

What You Can Do
This report marks the first phase of a multi-year campaign Progress Texas intends to launch concerning ALEC’s corporate agenda, campaign contributions, and “model” legislation. We intend to shine a light on ALEC’s work in Texas, and clearly demonstrate how their actions and those of state allies like the Texas Public Policy Foundation do little more than protect corporations’ bottom lines at taxpayer expense. To learn the latest on how you can help us in our efforts and fight back against ALEC, visit our website at http://progresstexas.org/content/alec-exposed-texas.

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