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A recent article highlighted the growing scam of for-profit corporations using tax dollars to provide substandard education via online learning.

Two companies are advertising on television in Iowa to have parents sign up their children for "free" online education (at public expense.) The companies, K12 Inc, and the Iowa Connections Academy, are exploiting a loophole in Iowa's open enrollment law. Two small school districts have signed agreements with the companies. Parents from anywhere in the state can open-enroll their children to one of those districts. The districts then will turn in their enrollment to the state and receive state money as if the students were enrolled full time in the district. Ninety-seven percent of the state money is then passed along to the companies. The students will receive 100% of their "education" online.

So, what's wrong with this? Follow below.

It's bad education. In the 1970s, there was a movement to individualized, self-paced education. There were some large curriculum projects and studies to see how well it worked. It didn't. Educational research is often conflicted with different results or results that show no significant difference among treatments. In this case, it was very clear that individualized, self-paced instruction was inferior to traditional methods.

Subsequent attempts involving computers proved no better. The New York Times reported on one of the K12 Inc schools, Agora:

By almost every educational measure, the Agora Cyber Charter School is failing. Nearly 60 percent of its students are behind grade level in math. Nearly 50 percent trail in reading. A third do not graduate on time. And hundreds of children, from kindergartners to seniors, withdraw within months after they enroll.
Anyone who understands education knows that sitting kids in front of a computer all day is not going to work for most kids. And for some subjects needing hands-on experiences, like science, it makes no sense at all.

In Iowa, as in other states, this has become a political issue. Nine years ago, K12 inc. tried to make a similar arrangement with an Iowa school district to use state funding for an online learning program. At that time, the state had a Democratic governor, Tom Vilsack. His Education Department director doubted its legality, and sought an Attorney General's ruling. AG Tom Miller said it was illegal, and that was the end of it.

Now, with Governor Branstad (R), his new Ed Dept. Director says it's O.K., and he doesn't need an opinion from the AG. A Democratic state senator has requested an AG's opinion, so that will be forthcoming.

Who are these guys?

K12 Inc. was founded in April 2000 by William Bennett (Reagan's Secretary of Education), Michael Milken, and Ronald Packard. Packard is now the CEO. He holds an MBA and is a financial analyst who previously worked for Goldman Sachs in mergers and acquisitions. In 2011, Packard received $5 million in total compensation from the Herndon, VA-based K12 Inc.

Iowa Connections Academy sounds like a nice Iowa-based company. It is not. It is the name for one of a number of Connections Academy entities in states around the country that are part of Connections Education, Inc. Connections was founded by Chris Hoehn-Saric and Barbara Dreyer. Connections was sold a few months ago to the London-based multinational giant Pearson. Hoehn-Saric is now managing director of a Baltimore-based venture capital firm. He has an address in Miami Beach, and, according to Open Secrets, contributed $5 grand to Republican candidates in 2011 including the Freedom & Security PAC. The PAC, in turn contributed Republican candidates, including $1,000 to Steve King and $10,000 to Tom Latham.

This is not about education; it's all about the money.

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