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Nancy Bailey's Education Website: How States Are Privatizing Public Schools to Tech Companies During the Delta Variant Uptick

It’s unconscionable that states and local school districts across the country have eliminated the remote learning option where children connect with their classroom teachers online. Instead, they’re opening virtual schools, outsourcing to for-profit companies, using the pandemic to privatize public schooling.

Parents fearful of the Delta variant and in-person schooling, hearing dire warnings about sick children filling pediatric ICUs while observing parents fighting mask mandates at school board meetings, want a remote option with their child’s teacher. The Delta variant has made in-person schooling even more complicated than last year.

If parents don’t get a remote option with the school district, they’ll look for another way to keep their children safe.

The number of parents choosing to homeschool has increased. Along with homeschool, school districts are steering parents to virtual academies, many run by for-profit tech companies.

Newsweek reported that 38 states are setting up permanent virtual schools. That’s right. Permanent.

Who will run them? Many of these companies have bad track records.

Yet American Association of School Administrators Executive Director Dan Domenech says it’s the future. Some of these states might be denying it now, but soon they will have to get in line because they will see other states doing it and they will see the advantages of it. 

Telling Americans, they have to get in line for for-profit virtual schools seems bold and anti-democratic, especially when parents and students want nothing more than to get rid of the pandemic and get their schools back!

Here are a few examples of this privatization ploy.

Arizona

On August 18, 2021, the State of Arizona threatens its public schools with a loss of funding if they return to remote learning with their children’s teachers. This seems harsh.

A few days later, parents read Online schools provide Arizona parents another option amid COVID-19 spike by Jason Barry on AZFamily.com.

They highlight the Arizona Virtual Academy powered by Stride K12, which is K12 Inc. 

K12 is now Stride Inc.

The state’s name, followed by “Virtual Academy,” is usually K12.

See: K12 Inc. Reports Full Year Fiscal 2020 with Revenues of $1.04 Billion.

These are tax dollars flowing to an online school where many reports pop up if one types “K12 Fail” on Google. No wonder there’s a name change.

Massachusetts

From The Boston Globe,  August 31, 2021. ‘We’re being set up for failure’: Massachusetts’ hard line against remote learning this year has left some families feeling hopeless. By Bianca Vázquez Toness.

According to the report, If parents reject sending their students to in-person classrooms, they’re forced to turn to TEC Connections Academy Commonwealth Virtual School and Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School, which advertises real-time classes from anywhere to anywhere.

Minnesota

From the Star Tribune’s As Minnesota schools’ online options grow, so do complications by Erin Golden, August 15, 2021.

Adding to the complexity is the growing but tough-to-track presence of for-profit online learning companies, which multiplied during the pandemic and have swarmed schools in Minnesota and across the country as they attempt to build new virtual academies from scratch.

The online learning companies offer software, lessons, and sometimes even teachers. 

That’s right. Sometimes even teachers. 

In some states, online learning companies have become major lobbying powers at state legislatures, spending millions to push for policies that support and expand virtual schools. That’s not the situation yet in Minnesota, but at least two big names in the industry, Pearson and Stride Inc., have registered lobbyists in St. Paul.

Tennessee

Tennessee has seen a bad run of the Delta variant in children, so parents are nervous about in-person school.

In April 2021 the State Board passed a permanent rule limiting remote instruction for the 2021-2022 school year. It gives the Governor and former Teach for America corps member and current Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn power to determine if schools will get to do remote learning.

As a result, families desiring that their students continue to receive a significant portion of their instruction remotely must enroll their students in a virtual school.

Meanwhile, Tennessee approved 29 new online schools!

Check them out to see which for-profit companies get the business. For example, in Hamilton County, they say:

. . . for parents of school-aged children in Hamilton County, there are now more options for parents who aren’t comfortable with the spiking cases in our schools.

This is different from HCS at home which was an option last year. That program tied a student to their home-zoned school but allowed them to learn at home. The Tennessee State Board of Education restricted programs like that this school year.

Parents can choose to enroll their child in an all-virtual school for a new quarter. That school uses Edgenuity.

Here’s the Edgenuity website. 

National Education Policy Center (NEPC) Study

Most balanced reports about for-profit online schools cite the NEPC’s 2019 study, which along with six of their other studies about online learning, looks at the poor performance of online schooling.

See what your state is doing and whether they’re capitalizing on the pandemic to privatize public schools by outsourcing to online for-profit companies.

Every state should be offering students remote instruction by real teachers from their local schools. They should be reaching out to qualified teachers to carry on this task with support and necessary resources.

Sooner or later, the pandemic will end; but for now, let’s hope Americans realize what they stand to lose when it comes to their public schools and a professional teaching workforce.

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Nancy Bailey

Nancy Bailey was a teacher in the area of special education for many years, and has a PhD in educational leadership from Florida State University. She has authore...