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Virtual charter schools ‘should be banned eveywhere’

From Whitney Tilson, 6/5/2013

It’s a healthy thing that there’s spirited debate within the school reform movement – a good example is the polar opposite views my friend Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform and I had about NJ Commissioner Cerf’s decision to deny the applications of two virtual charter schools in NJ. Jeanne lamented that Cerf was “pull[ing] the plug on two previously approved schools whose online learning delivery modality has been celebrated by thought leaders the nation over” (see full article, below), while I celebrated Cerf’s decision (it’s so rare that I side with the unions on anything!).

This is one of the few times in which my day job (as a hedge fund manager) overlaps with my passion for ed reform, as the largest operator of virtual charter schools is a for-profit, public company called K-12, which was one of the applicants in NJ (full disclosure: I’ve put my money where my mouth is and am short K-12’s stock). I’ve done extensive research on K-12 and the virtual (online) charter schools that they operate in many states and have come to the firm conclusion that they should be banned everywhere – not because they’re for-profit (I have no problem with that), but because I think their schools are delivering a HORRIBLE education to most of their students. Whether this is because they’re cutting corners to maximize profits, or just don’t have the right model, or whether the entire concept of virtual schools for K-12 students is inherently flawed (especially for the most troubled students who tend to end up at virtual schools – they’re the ones who MOST need lots of direct contact with high-quality teachers!) I don’t know, though I tend to suspect the latter is the bulk of the problem. This is NOT to knock ed tech/blended learning overall – I think there’s a bright future overall in this area, but am skeptical that 100% online schools can work for K-12 students. I am much more open to the idea that virtual/online learning might work well for college students and adults (for example, my dad got his MBA entirely online from Colorado State while living in Ethiopia).

For more on K-12, see:

· Virtual schools are multiplying, but some question their educational value (Washington Post):
· Profits and Questions at Online Charter Schools (NY Times):
· Report Shows Students Attending K12 Inc. Cyber Schools Fall Behind (National Education Policy Center):
· K12, Inc. online schools: a view from the inside (The Examiner, Denver):
· LRN: The Skirmish in Seminole County and The Desperate Race (The Financial Investigator):
· Online Educator K12 Being Investigated By Florida Department of Education (The Ledger, FL):
· In K12 Courses, 275 Students to a Single Teacher (Florida Center for Investigative Reporting): and
· Chattanooga senator slaps virtual school company for “results at bottom of the bottom” (PolitiFact):
· Online students lag state averages (Ed News Colorado):
· Increased IRS Scrutiny of Charter Schools Operated by For-Profit Management Companies:
· Colorado Virtual Academy Answers Tough Questions on Operations, Academic Performance (KUNC):


Newark Parents Call for ‘Reform Moratorium’

Read more…

Newark State Takeover Hearing, June 4

Update on 18 YEARS of State control in Newark Public Schools 

The next step in the legal effort to challenge State control of the Newark public schools is scheduled to take place Tuesday, June 4 at Veterans Courthouse, 50 West Market Street, 11th Floor, Newark at 9:30am.*

An appellate Court is scheduled to hear legal arguments from attorneys representing Commissioner of Education Chris Cerf, who has blocked efforts to return local control to the district, and attorneys representing the Newark Advisory Board and community members seeking to restore local governance. Education Law Center represents the Coalition for Effective Newark Public Schools in the litigation, and attorney Gregory Stewart represents the Advisory Board.

The Advisory Board and community members contend the Commissioner violated the State “takeover” law by failing to withdraw from governance and several other areas after the district received high marks on a required three-year State monitoring review in July 2011.

Commissioner Cerf refused to restore local control and ordered a new monitoring review which resulted in lower scores. The Commissioner also sought to have the legal challenge to the takeover dismissed.

However, the Appellate Court denied the State’s motion and ordered the State to address the substance of the claims raised in the challenge and provide legal justification for Commissioner Cerf’s decision not to restore partial local authority in response to the 2011 scores.

The hearing will be in the next step in the long effort to end the State takeover which began in 1995.

(* Note the start time for the hearing is subject to change by the Court.)

Take the Pearson Test: See if you qualify for millions in tax breaks too!


 1. NJ is giving over $60 million in tax subsidies to the British-based test publishing giant Pearson, even though the company:

A. is sending over 500 jobs out of NJ to NYC

B. made profits of $1.4 billion last year

C. took advantage of a Hurricane Sandy tax break to reduce its 2012 tax bill by over $130 million.

D. all of the above


2. Pearson has a contract to create new “common core” tests for NJ schoolchildren that will:

A. dramatically increase the amount of testing in NJ schools

B. be much harder than current tests and cause scores to fall sharply

C. be misused to rate teachers, close schools, and keep kids from graduating high school

D. all of the above


3. Starting next January, Pearson is taking over the GED exam that many people depend on to get an alternative HS diploma. Under Pearson, the GED will:

A. be much more expensive to take

B. be much harder to pass

C. only be available on computers

D. all of the above


4. Pearson has profitable new deals in NJ which:

A. will increase sales of Pearson products in the state-run Newark school district

B. will send millions in Rutgers tuition payments to Pearson for expanded online courses

C. seek to replace public schools with cyberscam “virtual schools” through its Connections Academy

D. all of the above


5. Pearson has:

A. financial and management ties to the rightwing corporate think tank, ALEC

B. given free, luxury trips to public officials in several states that have Pearson contracts

C. used corporate logos and promotional material in its tests

D. all of the above


6. Pearson’s long history of testing errors include:

A. Scoring errors that kept thousands of students from promotion, graduation, or special programs

B. computer failures that prevented students from completing its tests

C. millions in fines and cancelled contracts for failure to deliver services as promised

D. all of the above


7. The new tests Pearson is creating for NJ students beginning in 2015:

A. must be given on computers many schools don’t have

B. will keep the questions and answers secret from public review or scrutiny

C. will carry high stakes for NJ students, teachers & schools

D. all of the above


Sources. (D is the correct answer to all questions.)

Question #1

A. Sweetener’s Help NYC Land 628 jobs, Crain’s New York Business, September 11, 2011, Pearson and the Negotiations Behind its Hoboken Deal, New York Observer, 2/12/12

B & C. Pearson Rakes in the Profit, Alan Singer, Huffington Post, 3/19/13


Question #2

A-C Why Common Core tests won’t be what Arne Duncan promised, The Answer Sheet Blog, Washington Post, 4/2/13, Scores Drop on Ky.’s Common Core-Aligned Tests, Education Week, 11/2/12, Do Parents Really Want More Than 200 Separate State-Mandated Assessments for Their Children?, Huffington Post, 9/27/12


Question #3

A-C GED revamp sparks anxiety, Crain’s New York Business, 8/12/12, GED to undergo major changes, The Daily Progress, 12/25/12


Question #4

A. Pearson Launches New Curriculum Material Purchasing System with Newark Public Schools, Pearson press release 5/26/10

B. Rutgers signs deal with Pearson eCollege to increase online degree programs,, 1/18/13

C. Apollo exits Connections Education via $400M sale to Pearson, The Deal Pipeline, 9/15/11, Profits and Questions at Online Charter Schools, NY Times, 12/12/11

Question #5

A. Pearson, ALEC, and the Brave New (Corporate) World, United Opt Out

B. Free Trips Raise Issues for Officials in Education, NY Times, 10/9/11

C. Products in kid exams, NY Post, 4/18/13, Eighth grader: What bothered me most about new Common Core test, The Answer Sheet, Washington Post, May 8, 2013


Question #6

A-C. A brief history of Pearson’s problems with testing, The Answer Sheet, Washington Post,


Question #7

A. Online Testing Is Coming to New Jersey Schools — Ready or Not, NJ Spotlight,  New Jersey Gets Glimpse of the State Tests of Tomorrow, NJ Spotlight

B. Why the public should see questions on new standardized tests, The Answer Sheet 4/26/13

C. The Coming Year in Education — Bigger Questions, Higher Stakes, NJ Spotlight, 1/2/13



May 23 Pearson Protest


Pearson, Inc: Bad tax subsidies for bad education policies.

End NJ Tax Subsidies for High Stakes Testing Giant Pearson, Inc.

Thursday, May 23rd, 12:00PM

Hoboken Ferry, 1 Hudson Place , Hoboken NJ

• End corporate welfare and fund our public schools!

• Protest tax subsidy ‘payoffs for layoffs’ to test publishing giant Pearson!

Governor Christie offered Pearson Education, Inc. an $80 million tax break to move offices from Bergen County to Hoboken, even though Pearson is making a killing off its high stakes testing contracts with states like New Jersey and New York. And what did Pearson do? They turned around and moved over 600 jobs to New York, which is giving them millions more in additional tax breaks. The British-based multinational also took advantage of a Hurricane Sandy tax deferral to significantly lower its 2012 United States tax bill.

Pearson is one of the private companies that has profited most from the test-based corporate education reform movement. They don’t need tax breaks to move offices, especially when those tax breaks are paid for with continued cuts to public schools.

On May 23rd, join us at the Hoboken Ferry as we protest the high-stakes testing giant’s bad behavior and the policies that bankroll it.

Speakers will include:

Bill Holland, coordinator of the Better Choices for New Jersey campaign

Leonie Haimson, Ex. Dir., Class Size Matters & NYC Public School Parents blog

Stan Karp, Education Law Center

A brief history of Pearson’s problems with testing

Pearson Rakes in the Profit

For more info:  Call NJ Working Families Alliance 973-273-3363 or email

Philadelphia event on high stakes testing, May 15

Pencils Down_RS flyer

Christie Administration’s Camden Plans

[Flyer distributed by Christie Administration on Camden takeover plans]

Keeping Our Promise To The Children Of Camden

Governor Christie Is Leading With Decisive, Bipartisan Action To Bring Accountability To Persistently Failing Public Schools And Ensure Every Child Receives The High-Quality Education They Deserve

Acting on Governor Christie’s firmly held belief that every New Jersey child has a right to a high-quality education, the Christie Administration is taking decisive action in Camden to fix a broken system and ensure that no child is left in a failing school. With the bipartisan support of leadership in the City of Camden and education advocates across New Jersey, the Christie Administration has filed the necessary paperwork to take the lead in bringing accountability to the management of the Camden School District.

Once approved, the Christie Administration, through a new state-appointed superintendent and leadership team, in coordination with local and community leaders, will be taking direct oversight in implementing the necessary reforms of the school district to start delivering better results for Camden students and their families.


While there are many talented and dedicated education professionals in Camden, Governor Christie firmly believes the best interests of students must be the state’s highest priority. Despite increased public funding and support, student achievement in Camden is the lowest in the state, and in many cases, getting worse over time.

  • Nearly 90 percent of Camden’s schools, 23 out of 26, are in the bottom 5 percent performance-wise in all of New Jersey, including the three lowest performing schools in the state.
  • Camden’s four-year graduation rate was only 49% in 2012 – 37 points below the New Jersey average – and decreased from 57% in 2011.
  • Camden’s standardized testing scores in math and English drastically underperform the state average:
  • New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge (NJ ASK): Less than 20 percent of Camden students are proficient in language arts literacy – 46.9 percent lower than the state average; only 30% of students are proficient in math – 44.9 percentage points lower than the state average.
  • High School Statewide Assessments (HSPA): Only 28 percent of Camden students are proficient in math –

51.3 percent lower than state average; only 61.7 percent of Camden students are proficient in language arts literacy – approximately 30 points below the state average.

  • As bad as the situation seems, the reality could be even worse. Insufficient teacher evaluations make it impossible to truly assess the situation, and self-evaluations by the district have proven to be drastically out-of-touch with the facts on the ground.

The problem is not a lack of funding, as Camden is receiving over $279.5 million in this year’s budget, an increase of $3.6 million from last year.

  • During the 2011-12 school year, Camden spent $23,709 per student, compared to the statewide average of $18,045.
  • Additionally, the teacher/student ratio during those years was 9.3 to 1, which was the lowest statewide of the largest 106 school districts in the state.

The system is broken, and a top-to-bottom evaluation completed by the Department in August 2012 found that the problems are incapable of fixing themselves. It’s clear that additional state involvement is necessary to truly address these problems and get these schools back on the right track.


Governor Christie does not take this decision lightly, and as such his administration through the Department of Education has developed a concise and comprehensive outline of the next steps in this process to guide the days, months and years ahead.

Immediate Action:

Applying lessons from past state interventions, Governor Christie and the Administration, working in coordination with local and community leaders, are today taking specific, immediate actions to ensure a smooth transition:

  • The Department of Education has dispatched several staff members including fiscal monitors and transition guides for key areas to work with the Camden School district central office.
  • The transitional leadership team will immediately launch a 90-day review of district practices in the areas of academics, talent, school performance and operations.

The state will also engage local leaders to build awareness and support. These efforts will include organizing tours of high- performing district and charter schools in low-income areas as examples of the possibilities for change in Camden.

Reorganization And Reform:

The Christie Administration will be prepared to move aggressively once the state’s intervention plan has been approved to improve overall performance of the School District and the academic experience for Camden students from Day 1, which will include:

  • Leadership. Following an extensive, nationwide search over the next several months, Governor Christie will appoint a new School Superintendent who will take office on Day 1 of formal state intervention. The Governor will also appoint three additional members to the advisory school board.
  • Curriculum. The district lacks approved and aligned curricula in all 9 subject areas.  The state will take immediate action to ensure that all teachers have approved curricula aligned to state standards and supported with comprehensive professional development for all teachers.
  • Talent. Today, a significant number of teaching vacancies exist in Camden, many of which are filled with a rotation of substitute teachers.  The state will conduct a needs assessment over the next several months and launch a search process to make sure that every child has a great teacher in front of the classroom shortly after intervention takes place.
  • Resources. Immediately upon state intervention, the state will ensure that every child has the books, instructional materials, and technology necessary for a high-quality education, many of which are currently not reaching the classroom.

Providing Students With More Options While Building A Stronger School District:

In the months following the formal state intervention, the district leadership team will work school by school to ensure that every child in Camden has the choice of a high-quality educational option, and will focus extensive resources to build capacity in Camden’s central office to ensure the district can continue this success long after state intervention ends.

  • The new District leadership team will implement individual school improvement plans to target turnaround strategies to the needs of individual schools and students.
  • A three-year strategic plan will be developed to maximize the district budget through a public review of expenditures and space utilization.
  • The District will seek to increase the choices available to students while holding all schools accountable for results, building on the Christie Administration’s track record of closing 8 underperforming charter schools in the past three years.

The ultimate goal of this process is to improve outcomes for Camden students by providing families with greater opportunities to an array of quality educational options. Governor Christie firmly believes that New Jersey has a moral obligation to provide every child with access to a high-quality education, and that the state simply cannot continue to sit on the sidelines as this fundamental promise goes unfulfilled for so many children in Camden.