The New York Times ran a long story attacking K12, Inc. and online learning today. It is part of a series of hit pieces targeting private companies supporting innovations in learning that salaciously lift worst-case examples and present them as representative. Maybe this is what tabloids do, but we used to expect more of the Times.
They know better. Just before NBC’s Education Nation, the New York Times hosted a preemptive conference on the future of education with enough learning innovators and edupreneurs there in attendance to create a pretty clear picture of the future of personal digital learning. Their own editors and reporters have ignored the forward-leaning context created by their own convening.
The sensational barrage is against K12, the online learning provider, but it really isn’t about the company. It’s the shift from print to digital, the shift from place to service, and the emergence of the private sector as an important partner in the delivery of public education. The rise of online and blended learning is the most interesting and important story of 2011 — one that deserves investigative reporting. But instead the Times skipped the context and attacked a small segment — full time online learning — and attributed public policy problems to a private provider.
What makes this all the more ironic is that while the Times maliciously savages sector leaders like K12 and Carnegie Learning, they are out marketing their own “state of the art learning management system” called Epsilen. And they recently launched a blended learning blog. Isn’t that rich?
That brings us to Stephanie Saul who, after writing a xenophobic attack on a charter school network in July, set her sites on K12. In addition to bombastic language throughout, here are five specific problems with her ‘analysis’:
1. She portrayed parent support for choice as a shame. I’ve spent time with parent advocates from every state and visited dozens of them in their state capitals. Parent leader Rose Fernandez rightly claims that, “Parents are becoming a force to be reckoned with in public education.” But despite a twenty year struggle, most students and parents in the 99% have no educational options. K12 has done more to advance parent voice and student choice than any organization in American. Many student-serving organizations have benefited from their leadership.
2. She portrayed state policy problems as issues with K12. The fact that Colorado funds schools on beginning of the year counts is a policy problem not a vendor problem (see Take Another Look at Colorado Online Results for more). It’s fair to say that state policy makers are sorting out how to fund online and blended learning. Digital Learning Now provides sound guidance on funding digital learning.
3. I’m sorry that some teachers have not enjoyed their employment with K12, but most do. For a more balanced view, check out my interview with three K12 teachers. It concludes, “Joyce, Nancy, and Lindsay work harder than ever, but they love the flexibility, the collaboration, and the difference they make for their students.”
4. Learning online is a relatively new option. First generation options have worked better for some kids than others. It’s useful to disaggregate achievement and completion data between full time students (which is quite good) and part time students and those that sample a course and decide it’s not for them.
5. The quotes and sources are obviously biased and some are just not credible. One actually compares online learning to the mortgage meltdown–seriously? (For more, see my response to a report seeking to block online learning.)
In a sector where quality at scale is the overriding challenge, K12 has built the capacity to serve a half a million students—and more as demand grows. They invested in a content-rich curriculum. And while virtual charters got all the attention in Stephanie’s story, K12’s big push these days is building school and district partnerships.
Add a little misguided tag-team piling on from last Saturday opinion writer Gail Collins and you have a potent national attack agenda. At least Gail’s tirades are labeled opinion.
Investigative journalism is a vital part of a healthy democracy. I wish we saw more of it from the New York Times. But maybe their online learning platform, Epsilen, will pan out. Wouldn’t it be ironic if, like the Washington Post, the New York Times became primarily an online education business?
Disclosures: I am an advocate for innovations in learning with a passionate interest in expanding access to quality options for students in this country and worldwide. I am a director of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL). K12, Inc. is an iNACOL and Getting Smart Advocacy Partner. I support the work of Digital Learning Now and believe it is the most comprehensive and bipartisan guidance available for state policy makers.