Education, Michigan Republicans, Teachers — November 22, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Michigan GOP takes first steps toward eliminating teachers from the classroom


Republican sponsored legislation, Senate Bill 619 recently passed the Senate. This bill represents what could be the first steps toward eliminating large numbers of teachers from Michigan classrooms.

A proposal in Lansing would remove most restrictions on the ability of students to attend school over the Internet, in their pajamas, without setting foot inside a classroom.

The proposal would remove caps on enrollment in and the number of “cyberschools,” or those in which students learn online through a teacher in another location.

Students either spend a portion or the entire school day learning in front of a computer — an option some lawmakers say expands opportunities for students who learn differently than others.

Senate Bill 619 follows legislation stemming from the federal Race to the Top competition that created two pilot cyberschools in Michigan. The program was to be reviewed after two years, but the Senate bill — passed in the Senate in late October — could be signed into law before that happens.

The two pilot studies have not yet been completed but that hasn’t stopped Republicans from moving forward with the plan anyway. And why not? It’s a simple way to save costs by making brick and mortar schools (and many teachers) unnecessary.

Educators are understandably upset.

That’s a particular danger because there is no evidence cyberschools match the classroom experience, Livingston County educators said.

Several Hartland High School students have participated in cyberschool three or more hours per day in the past two years.

“They generally, by and large, were not successful with it. They just did not have enough structure and discipline in order to take care of it,” said Janet Sifferman, Hartland Consolidated Schools superintendent.

“I think it’s just because of the lack of structure for them,” Sifferman added. […]

Students who don’t attend real classrooms are deprived of social growth and supervision of progress, Sifferman said. Those critical of cyberschools maintain there is no way to verify if a parent or sibling is doing online work, rather than the student.

“How closely are those kids monitored? How much of a personal interaction and relationship do they make with those teachers?” she asked.

An answer to that question may come, in part, from a study released this week by Grand Rapids Public Schools.

A year-old program aimed at exposing students to a more rigorous curriculum and helping them learn at their own pace is getting mixed reviews from students and teachers, according to a report issued Monday to the Grand Rapids Public Schools board.

District officials were told staff members and a consultant reported half the students enrolled in the district’s “blended learning” classes combining online classes with more traditional methods received failing grades as of last December, when measures were first taken.

Experiences in other states don’t bode well for Michigan.

“I’m really scared” by the cyber­school proposal, said Kevin Hollen­beck, a former Portage Public Schools Board of Education member and a se­nior economist who studies education issues at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. “There’s been some real scandals where cyber­schools get tons of money and provide almost no services.

“Cyberschooling is definitely an idea that needs to be thought through,” he said.

Last year, Pennsylvania’s auditor general called for a moratorium on the creation of new cyberschools. Among the reasons: concerns about the schools’ “excess profits.”

“We can’t afford to be wasting pre­cious financial resources on schools whose costs have absolutely no basis whatsoever on what is actually needed to educate our children,” Pennsylva­nia Auditor General Jack Wagner said in an October 2010 news release.

The bill allocates cyberschools the same per-pupil funding as their traditional counterparts, a recipe for massive profit-taking. An investigative report by The Nation magazine shows that there are a small number of providers of cyberteaching that stand to make a LOT of money from this.

Lobbyists like [Patricia Levesque, a top adviser to former Governor Jeb Bush,] have made 2011 the year of virtual education reform, at last achieving sweeping legislative success by combining the financial firepower of their corporate clients with the seeming legitimacy of privatization-minded school-reform think tanks and foundations. Thanks to this synergistic pairing, policies designed to boost the bottom lines of education-technology companies are cast as mere attempts to improve education through technological enhancements, prompting little public debate or opposition. In addition to Florida, twelve states have expanded virtual school programs or online course requirements this year. This legislative juggernaut has coincided with a gold rush of investors clamoring to get a piece of the K-12 education market. It’s big business, and getting bigger: One study estimated that revenues from the K-12 online learning industry will grow by 43 percent between 2010 and 2015, with revenues reaching $24.4 billion.

Michigan Education Association is obviously against this plan, as well.

This is no evidence proving cyberschools produce better results than brick-and-mortar schools, said Doug Pratt, Michigan Education Association spokesman.

Pratt said the Senate bill only will benefit cyberschool operators, which he said are for-profit companies.

“It’s not putting kids first. It’s not putting the focus on making sure the resources are there. It’s about being cheaper and siphoning money away from neighborhood schools, and that’s just wrong,” he said.

More outsourcing of our kids’ education and fewer public employees (teachers, custodians, etc.) It’s a Republican dream world right here in Michigan.