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school_booksIn case you missed it, there is an excellent article on the main Policy Watch site today that highlights the unfortunate problems with the new history curriculum financed by the arch-conservative Koch family. The Bill of Rights Institute, funded by the Koch family and whose Board includes Koch employees, received a contract to help develop materials for North Carolina public school teachers to use in a course, required for all students, about America’s founding principles.

As Ian Millhiser, Senior Constitutional Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and author of the article, notes this could have been a great opportunity for North Carolina students to learn about important areas of American history that are often ignored by high schools. However, rather than present a balanced view, the materials push a clear Koch-sponsored agenda.

They present a selective view of history, exaggerate conflicts that have largely been resolved, emphasize subjects congenial to a conservative worldview and ignore entirely major threads of constitutional law and history. The students who learn from these materials are likely to emerge more skeptical of federal power and more sympathetic to a libertarian view of property rights. They are likely, in other words, to emerge more like Charles and David Koch.

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News

Two for-profit companies vying to tap into public education funding streams and enroll thousands of North Carolina children into virtual charter schools will be in front of a state education committee tomorrow.

K12 logoA special committee designated by the State Board of Education to review virtual charter school applications will meet from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday on the seventh floor of the state Education Building, 301 N. Wilmington Street in Raleigh. Audio of the meeting, which is open to the public, will also be steamed here.

The full State Board of Education, responding to the state legislature’s creation of a pilot program for virtual charter schools, will meet in  January to decide if the online schools can enroll students – and receive public funding – for the 2015-16 school year.

Virtual charter schools teach students from kindergarten through high school through classes delivered through children’s home computers. Parents or guardians often serve as “learning coaches” to assist with lessons while teachers remotely monitor students’ attendance and performance.

North Carolina’s legislature opened the door for two virtual charter schools to open next August when it tucked a provision in this summer’s budget bill that created a four-year pilot program for two online-based charter schools to open by August 2015.

The country’s virtual education market happens to be dominated by two companies, K12, Inc. (NYSE:LRN) and Connections Academy, a subsidiary of Pearson, an educational publishing company also traded on Wall Street (NYSE: PSO). Both companies employed lobbyists in North Carolina last year.

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Commentary

K12, Inc.It may be 10 days before Christmas, but there are still a lot of worrisome/controversial policy decisions taking shape in the halls of state government this week. As noted in this morning’s Weekly Briefing, a state legislative committee will meet this Friday to recommend rolling back some important consumer protections in the mortgage lending industry.

Now, comes word that a special committee appointed by the State Board of Education will be meeting tomorrow to interview two private, for-profit companies seeking to run virtual charter schools in North Carolina — at least one of which (K12, Inc.) has been shown on numerous occasions to be a predatory failure. As Bloomberg Business Week reported last month:

“K12 Inc. (LRN) was heralded as the next revolution in schooling. Billionaire Michael Milken backed it, and former Florida governor Jeb Bush praised it. Now the online education pioneer is failing to live up to its promise.

Plagued by subpar test scores, the largest operator of online public schools in the U.S. has lost management contracts or been threatened with school shutdowns in five states this year. The National Collegiate Athletic Association ruled in April that students can no longer count credits from 24 K12 high schools toward athletic scholarships.”

Of course, K12, Inc. isn’t an unknown to the State Board of Ed. To its credit, the Board has been holding the troubled company and its whole scam at bay for years. Unfortunately, K12, Inc. lobbyists prevailed upon the privatizers at the General Assembly to slip a provision into the state budget bill this past summer which directs the Board to approve two virtual charters as part of a “pilot” program. Now, low and behold, there are only two applicants for those slots.

Whether this means that the State Board will roll over and approve K-12, Inc. or show some backbone and tell the company and its buddies in the legislature to stuff it remains to be seen. Let’s hope for the latter eventuality.

Lest you have any doubts about the appropriateness of such a response, Read More

Commentary

NC Policy Watch contributor Betsey Russell recently forwarded a story from the Akron Beacon Journal that raises further doubts about for-profit charter schools. It turns out that the Beacon-Journal has been conducting a months-long study of charters in Ohio and discovered that for-profit charters were consistently among the worst performers. As the article notes:

“Ohio’s charter schools have a national reputation for hiring for-profit companies that produce poor academic results.

Only three of 26 states had lower performing charter schools, according to a Stanford University study of states with schools in operation long enough to compare results.

After a year in a charter school, Ohio students typically lag behind district school students by weeks in reading and months in math, the study finds.

In most states, it’s the opposite.

A factor in the difference appears to be the motivation to make money.

Tennessee, New York and Rhode Island, which the study reckons have the highest-performing charter school sectors, are among the six states that ban for-profit companies.”

The story goes on: Read More

Commentary

Today’s editorial in the Wilmington Star News speaks the truth about the controversy manufactured by some on the Right about the AP history course taught in our high schools. Here’s the excellent conclusion:

“Students learn from the time they are in grade school that America is special, that it is a force for good in the world, that its people cherish the “inalienable rights” with which their creator endowed them. But history is not an exercise in black and white. It involves many shades of gray, and complex, often conflicted human beings. The struggles that our nation went through over its 238 years are an important part of that story, and the story of how the nation grappled with and addressed those problems collectively represent the pluck and “American exceptionalism” the state law emphasizes.

AP History is not taught in a vacuum. Most students who take the course should be familiar with the basics; some concepts are covered or reinforced in other courses, such as civics and world history. Most advanced-placement teachers are among the best in their school; their students are among the best and brightest. At this level students should be considering a variety of perspectives on a single event and shaping their own conclusions based on the facts and opinions presented.

If the state board believes the course doesn’t spend enough time on the founding principles, it could mandate American History I as a prerequisite, although that would require eating into other electives that also enrich students’ education and could be redundant. But neither the board nor the General Assembly should seek to dilute a college-level course that is designed to promote critical thinking, a skill important not only in job seeking but in being an informed United States citizen and well-rounded adult.

Before meddling with a well-respected history course, perhaps legislators should go back to school and sit in on a few AP History lessons. It could be a good refresher.

Amen. Read the entire editorial by clicking here.