Thursday, December 06, 2007

Ozaukee school children saved from virtual education.

Hi folks,

Education as commerce? From the Journal-Sentinel:
By Amy Hetzner

Court rules against virtual school

A virtual school based in the Northern Ozaukee School District plans to appeal a court ruling that it violates several state laws and ask for a stay of an order that would prevent it from receiving payments for non-district students enrolled at the school.

The ruling against Wisconsin Virtual Academy "threatens every online school program in Wisconsin," WiVA Principal Kurt Bergland said. "There's thousands of kids and teachers and families in all those schools that are now involved with this, whether they realize it or not."

The decision by the District 2 Court of Appeals in Waukesha, which was released today, overturns a previous decision by an Ozaukee County judge.

"As the law presently stands, the charter school, open-enrollment and teacher certification statutes are clear and unambiguous, and the District is not in compliance with any of them," Judge Richard Brown wrote on behalf of the three-judge panel that decided the case.

The ruling is a victory for the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state's largest teachers union, which argued that because the school essentially operated out of students' homes throughout the state and used parents as primary educators it violates statutes regarding teacher licensure, charter schools and open enrollment.

Yep, this ruling is a threat -- a threat to 'educational professionals' trying to pry tax dollars from the pockets of parents in Ozaukee County. Mainly, this ruling threatens to guarantee those kids a decent education.

Virtual education is expensive and, as its industrial processes intrude into the classroom, [did we miss seeing Pink Floyd's Brick in the Wall?] makes huge profits possible for those who run it as a business, specifically K12 Inc, the hatchling of -- I'm embarrassed to say -- a member of my own discipline, former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett.

[Bill, "Virtues?" You must've stopped reading the Nicomachean Ethics after Book 2. You really needed to read all the way to the end.]

We were more than adequately warned about this kind of snake oil in Cliff Stoll's 1996 book Silicon Snake Oil. Kindergarteners need finger paint and sand boxes, not flat panel displays. Kids need to learn the moral lessons of kick-the-can, not Halo III. The fact that an appeals court was able to rule so easy tells us something.

But here's my real conundrum: what does it say about a country where the teacher's union has to sue to protect educational standards?

For those of you who don't want to read Aristotle have a look at Josef Pieper's Leisure: the basis of culture.

Virtual education is an easy way to educate fewer students, less well, while using 100's of millions of dollars in infrastructure.



Rich said...


While you and I agree that virtual schools are not what they are cracked up to be, don't you think this takes away the parent's perogative to choose the best education for their child? My guess is that many of these students would be home-schooled anyways and they have lost a tool to help them learn.

Say what you want, but I doubt WEAC's real reason for this suit was what they said in the papers. The teachers are concerned, and rightly so, about losing their jobs if a proliferation of virtual schools happens. Just like us software engineers that are concerned about losing our jobs to overseas, online development companies.

Anonymous said...

Your post gives the impression that this is only an issue for Ozaukee County students & their parents? I thought this virtual school was open to anyone in the state, and via Open Enrollment, the state funding follows the student "virtually" to Northern Ozaukee school district. For example, if someone from Waukesha school district enrolls, the state aid goes from Waukesha School District to Northern Ozaukee School District.

Mpeterson said...

Hey Rich,

I don't think that pulling this programme off the web takes anything away from a parent's prerogative to choose the best education for their kids. The court simply pulled a defective product off the shelf.

Our education system needs to be accountable for quality. This particular virtual school, if three appellate judges are right, simply failed to meet clear requirements.

Virtual education is darned convenient (and profitable to those who run it), but I guess I'd add that convenience in education, like convenience in fast food, isn't always a good thing. The fact that McDonald's makes a lot of money doesn't mean the food is good for you.

WEAC's motivations might actually be about the looking out for educational quality in the state. A proliferation of virtual schools might not affect WEAC all that much, since DPI and, apparently, the courts, will still have to vet the quality of instruction.

And there's a "but."

You can't use economic self-interest to interpret the actions of teachers. Most of them would make more money working in the private sector -- with better benefits and with a shorter work week -- and, incidentally, *they know this*.

That's the reason teachers get so uppity when addressed in terms of [what they think of as] *mere* economic self-interest.

Teaching isn't a job, it's a vocation. Their choice to teach had little to do with their salaries so, when people accuse them of looking after their economic self-interest, it makes them indignant.

Anyway, that's my take on it.


Rich said...

--WEAC's motivations might actually be about the looking out for educational quality in the state.

I don't believe that is entirely true. If that were the case, they would be going after home schools where there is no regulation and they would work to improve the sad state of affairs in MPS where there is hardly any accountability at all.

When it comes to defective, I personally know a few kids that were excelling in that school and that environment. These kids were not as successful in a large, brick and mortar school. Granted, that is a small sample but isn't it a victory when even 1 child is helped? (I think I read that somewhere regarding public education).

As for benefits, when I look at the numbers provided by DPI, their fringe benefits greatly outweigh my fringes and their salaries are not that far from mine either, So, I am not sure they would get better benefits in the private sector and I believe they know that too!

That being said, I agree with you on the vocation piece. It seems most teachers I know, including my wife - a former LD teacher, have something built into them. I know I would not have the patience to handle the job.

I am guessing that this will run its cycle and end up in the Supreme Court of Wisconsin. Then I beleive this wil get really ugly.

Mpeterson said...

Hey Rich,

Interesting. I've been under the impression that home school programmes do have to pass a set of standards and, in any case, the kids who are home schooled do eventually have to pass some sort of GED requirement. My experience with home schooled kids in the university reaches across the board. Most have actually been great students... but then, those are the ones who survive. And get in. I've never seen the statistics on how many homeschooled kids succeed at university compared to publicly educated kids. It'd be interesting to find out.

In this case, however, the appellate court's decision was based on whether the "school" met the requirements of the law, not whether some, or even all, of the students were doing well. There are always students who excel, regardless of the competence of those who teach them.

I'm sorry your benefits aren't that good. I'll bet they'd be better if you were unionized. Or if we lived in France. ;^) Grin.

Your wife was an LD teacher? Whew. The reason I ended up at the university was that I was afraid to teach in the K-12's. Those people are in combat and deserve combat pay.

It will be interesting to see how this plays itself out.