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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Privatisation

Private companies using cartoon television networks to market online schools directly to children – it sounds far-fetched but it is happening in the United States right now.

PPTA was privileged to have US academic Gary Miron as our guest last week. He talked to parents, teachers and communities around the country about online schools in his country – the good, the bad and the ugly.

Professor Miron is himself a teacher and has decades of experience in education, including opening a school. He has done extensive research in the education field, including on charter schools, school choice policies and virtual schools.

He is an entirely credible voice and which is one of the main reasons we invited him to New Zealand.

We’ve hosted experts before and one of the risks is that they may be seen, by the ministry at least, as too much “in our camp” to be heeded. Gary Miron did not have that problem. He is for online and virtual learning – passionately so: but he has the evidence for what works and what doesn’t.

And what doesn’t is full time virtual schools owned and run by the private sector. His evidence shows, once money is involved, students’ achievement and well-being move quickly from the centre of decision-making.

The results have been “devastatingly poor” with thousands of students dropping out of the courses before completion. “How can we make them serve the children before the serve themselves?” he asks.

Gary talked about virtual schools, also called online schools or cyber-schools. Here in New Zealand our Minister of Education has called them Cools (Communities of online learning) (We suspect the acronym came before the name. The shame!).

In New Zealand we already have what’s called blended learning – where schools use a combination of face to face and online teaching and learning. It works well. There are so many options when it comes to the use of new computer and communication technologies.

“There’s a lot going on in your state schools already. It’s exciting,” Gary says.

Full time online schools have all curriculum delivered via the internet. In the US there are more than 500 virtual schools, which have around 300,000 students enrolled. Over 40 percent of virtual schools are owned and run by large for-profit education management organisations, accounting for around 75 percent of students.

The numbers have a lot to do with a massive advertising budget, marketing the schools directly to children.

“They put a lot of resources into advertising on children’s television channels such as Nickelodeon, Gary says. “It’s not the parents that are seeing this advertising; it’s the children watching television.”

And these companies certainly have the money to advertise, advertise and advertise some more (The K-12 Chief Executive is paid $17million a year). When student turnover reaches unheard-of proportions companies like K-12 don’t reflect on their practice, they simply advertise for more students.

Gary says the model is not working in the US because of the for-profit interest in the more corporate model being used. The focus is on getting numbers through rather than focusing on whether online learning is the right method for a particular student.

The model is based around having an educated adult in the household to assist the student, alongside the online teacher. Sadly, it is the most vulnerable students who are being targeted by these companies, and they are the least likely to have this support at home. Families with both parents working would also struggle.

Gary recounted a story of a grandmother contacting him in tears after desperately trying to get assistance from K-12, one of the US’s largest online education providers. She was trying to support her granddaughter but it wasn’t working. “They, just don’t understand,” she said. “I’m illiterate.”

Accountability measures are profit related rather than student related, which leads to an incredibly high attrition rate, Gary says.

Gary is calling for a moratorium on new online schools or adding students to current schools in the US. He believes they should put the brakes on it and develop a new model with input from educators, researchers and families.

He recommends oversight mechanisms to help ensure student interests are served before corporate interests and regulations around completion, recruitment and class sizes. He also recommends pilot-testing the new model before lifting the moratorium.

His advice for New Zealand? Take your time.

“Study and better understand current practices in state schools and your Virtual Learning Networks. Find out how best to support them,” he said.

He believes teachers and state schools should be incentivised to continue expanding their online services, through technical assistance and time and advocates a national support agency to provide support.

He believes new providers, especially private, for-profit ones, should be restricted – although they may have a role in developing and delivering individual courses.

His main take home message is to avoid rushing into reforms.

"Instead envision the future and plan and work systematically to improve and expand online and blended learning options for students.”

“The most important thing is not to rush.”




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For most countries the value of education as a social enabler and public good is patently obvious.  So much so that within the Global Community the right to education is not only enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but has also been included within the United Nations Strategic Development Goals (SDGs), which require nations to work towards free public education, sufficient qualified and trained teachers and equity of access for all.

For these reasons it should be unsurprising that investment in public education across the world has occupied a significant proportion of government spending. So it should.

Unfortunately, this investment has come under increasing attack due to the expanding influence and control of Neo Liberalism on global economics (and by extension the nation states that adopt its mantras). While the assault has not been as quick or as direct as in other sectors, forays into educational ‘markets’ have well and truly been launched.

Infiltration and privatisation of state education across the globe, however it is dressed up, has a single goal: access to the money. Edubusinesses have made inroads into state budgets everywhere you turn, through a range of what the CEO of Pearson Education calls ‘entry points’- whether it is through Teacher Training, PLD or Charter Schools. Once established, these corporate interests quickly spread their tentacles into curriculum, legislation and ultimately the full privatisation of public education. And they are voracious.

Of course, the profit motive has obvious implications for the quality and sustainability of education in those countries which have enabled access for corporate players. Edubusinesses are driven by profit: the largest cost in providing education is teachers, the solution is to enable untrained (low cost) teachers. The next highest cost is typically the physical infrastructure, that is school buildings. The solution is to deliver ‘education’ online.

Ironically, instead of pushing back against such reforms, many nation states have assimilated- parroting words such as ‘choice’ and ‘competition’ to encourage and promote access to their domestic education markets. But once established, there is often no ‘choice’ at all, as- like some extraterrestrial parasite-  they expand and occupy larger and larger sections of their host’s resources.

The underfunding of public education is one hallmark of countries that provide access to corporate players. While some governments initially see a reduction in government spending as a positive, such a view is always incredibly short sighted because the long range costs are disastrous for kids, communities and countries. Not only does reduction in funding have catastrophic implications for the public system but typically the transfer of public money to private interest is accompanied by other sweetheart deals such as tax refunds, decreased regulatory oversight and other ‘flexible’ benefits.

Jurisdictions such as the U.S.A have seen state education institutions become so underfunded that the quality of education is a national shame. Sadly, the privately run Charter Schools have performed little better than the public schools (while returning ballooning profits to their corporate motherships). Online educational provision has also failed spectacularly (students who learn online are described as sometimes being years behind students in mainstream classes). Furthermore, because these schools have the ‘flexibility’ to set their own curricula and operational processes they frequently prohibit access to the most needy and turf out children with complex needs with absolute abandon – leaving the underfunded state schools to try and pick up the pieces- and take the blame.

Across the African continent a string of schools titled APEC (a subsidiary of Pearson Education) provide ‘education’ within a tightly controlled curriculum (on the taxpayers’ dollar) that provides all the education these students need to prepare them for …minimum wage positions in call centres owned by APEC themselves. Not only this, but Pearson Education sponsored charters in other African and South East Asian countries are lobbying for governments to abrogate their obligations under the United Nations SDG on education by allowing ‘low cost’ rather than ‘free’ education in their schools so that they can collect money from both the state and the consumers. (According to Education International the ‘low cost’ rate in Kenya is 40% of the average daily income of poor Kenyan families- for just one child).

If any of this sounds familiar it's because it's here already. Charters, COOLs and changes to legislation to enable untrained teachers to be in front of our children are writ large on our current Minister’s approach to ‘re-imaging’ education in New Zealand.

Sadly, it appears that Hekia Parata has drunk the koolaid: The proposal to cap school operating budgets and devolve responsibility for staffing to Boards and Principals is a Neo Liberal strategy for anchoring and reducing costs (following the model of private and charter schools who pay their managers more and staff less or increase their class sizes to reduce staffing costs). She has even said in the media that her COOLs proposal is an opportunity to “open up access to New Zealand's education market”.

Correspondingly, Under Secretary for Education David Seymour’s proposal that all schools should be able to become Charter Schools and ardent support for fully online schools run by corporate players is not his own harebrained idea- it is BORG consciousness which predisposes him to salivate at the prospect of further aliens feeding at the trough.

They are not alone. First contact can be traced back to Tertiary Education Minister, Steven Joyce, who has deliberately underfunded the tertiary sector so that they are incentivised to seek out private investment and foreign students. (The sad reality for foreign students who pay a premium to access tertiary education in New Zealand is that many are funded by families in home countries that can barely afford the expense, meaning they and their families are reduced to living below the poverty line while they study: “it’s life Jim, but not as we know it”). The marketisation of our universities, with the concomitant focus on profit has put in place financial barriers that prohibit access to many in our own country and increasingly gauge those who prioritise higher education. Of course, even this is not enough for the ravenous Edubusinesses that run these institutions: they are already bulk funded (resulting in support staff often being paid the minimum wage) and are being forced into performance pay (which in Neo Liberal dogma ‘improves productivity’, but in reality only increases inequality by putting in place barriers to increased income for most staff or driving more and more work for less pay). And they won’t be slowed: Minister Joyce has been removing staff representation from governing boards since 2009 - and replacing them with ‘business people’.

This is not a conspiracy theory- the invaders are here already and have been welcomed by our government: and they are coming after our kids.


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