The state is talking about “blended” instruction to resume public schools in the fall — normal classrooms to some degree, some new emphasis on online instruction.
Here are words of warning about that idea from blogger Cathy Frye, a former journalist who also spent time employed by the Arkansas Public School Resource Center, a Walton-funded nonprofit that also enjoys state support. It has been a stalwart advocate of charter schools and alternatives to conventional public school systems with high accountablity standards.
She writes of the announcement that the Public School Resource Center, the state and Lincoln Learning Solutions will partner on an “online learning plan” for Arkansas schools in 2020-21.
Free to the school districts! Some money is going from somebody to somebody, but I don’t have those details at the moment.
Schools can enroll in Lincoln Learning online courses, be provided training on use of the materials and have access to Lincoln’s digital library. What’s not to like?
Well, you can see the broader template, for one thing. If this is successful enough, who needs real public schools anymore, with buses, cafeterias, gyms, stadiums, band rooms, special ed teachers and all that other expensive stuff? Education Czar Johnny Key established himself years ago while a senator as a leader of funneling public money to profit-making providers of online education when he pulled a trick in legislative committee to dramatically expand the number of people a private outfit could enroll in its online courses at a rate now approaching $7,000 per head, with none of the usual school overhead. “Virtual” charter schooling hasn’t shown much by way of academic excellence since.
This reads a lot like many more camel noses in the tent of public education. I have no doubt the state will still maintain rigid control of the Little Rock School District even as it throws thousands of other students to the unaccountable digital winds. Be sure any failure of the “blended” system will be put at the feet of those in the real Arkansas school districts, not the digital curriculum provider.
Frye has more concerns than the outsourcing of education to profiteers unburdened by the higher costs of real public schools.
Lincoln has a track record, specifically in Pennsylvania, where it has undergone an audit by the state that found it had received $110 million over five years from the state. She cites a news article that said curriculum services were delayed and raised questions about how much of the money was spent on students and how much was spent on salaries and administrative costs. Good questions to ask here, too.
Frye argues that the pandemic crisis is being used to achieve in huge leaps in what the billionaire “school reformers” have been working to achieve incrementally for years: Deconstruction of the conventional model of locally centered, full-service public schools.
Frye urges parents, school boards and school workers to get informed before accepting Johnny Key’s tout of this program.
For my part, the move to online instruction is troubling for reasons beyond profiteering by private contractors. We live in a state with low web connectivity, poor people who can’t afford computers and a state government with a demonstrated inability to perfect computer delivery systems.
What could go wrong?
UPDATE: Here’s more from Cathy Frye on Lincoln Learning difficulties in Pennsylvania, including layoffs. Maybe new work in Arkansas will ease things.