Saturday, June 11, 2016

PA: New Face for Old Pearson Scam

If you are in Pennsylvania, you may have been seeing advertising for Commonwealth Charter Academy. CCA avoids calling itself a cyber-anything, but it is in fact one more cyber charter littering the Pennsylvania landscape. As with many schools pushing the tech solution to education issues, it leans heavily on "personalized learning" and markets itself as a family approach. That seems to be aimed at the idea of cyber-school as a source of family togetherness and not the time-honored practice of having parents complete their children's cyber-homework.

CCA may not be a familiar name because it is a new name. It previously marketed itself as Commonwealth Connections Academy. And while its press release about the name change says that the charter is "a fully independent public cyber charter school governed by a Pennsylvania-based board of directors," that's not quite right. Connections Academy is the cyber school chain owned by Pearson.

The superintendent CEO of CCA is Dr. Maurice Flurie. Flurie has a nice solid PA background, holding degrees from Duquesne, Lock Haven, Shippensburg and-- well, okay-- his original Bachelor's Degree was from the Tennessee Technological University, and it was in Health/Physical Education. He was an Asst to the Superintendent in Lower Dauphin before moving over to Connections. And he is still (since 2000) an adjunct professor at Wilkes University, a PA university that does big business in on-line classes. The "Dr." comes from his Ed. D in Educational Leadership.

Flurie has been among the cyber-school voices whining about Governor Tom Wolf's proposals to end the PA cyber-gravy train (our cybers are paid based on the cost-per-pupil of the sending district and not on what the actual cyber-cost; our cybers have zero oversight and answer to nobody). He has written in support of Wolf's proposed office of Charter and Cyber Schools, an attractive idea for charters because it still keeps them separate from the rules, regulations, and oversight of all other Pennsylvania schools.

All of this might factor into what Flurie calls "the evolution of the public cyber charter school over the past 13 years." Of course, that evolution also includes the 2015 CREDO study showing that cybers are an absolute educational disaster, and moves since then for the rest of the charter industry to distance itself from their embarrassingly incompetent siblings.



But Connections is/was not just any old cyber charter chain. In 2011, the investor group that previously owned the chain sold it to Pearson. Yes, that Pearson. And here's another fun fact. Back in those heady days of cyber-charter profit growth, Mickey Revenaugh, a lobbyist for Connections Academy, was the corporate chair of ALEC’s Education Task Force.

It's understandable that cyber charters would attract big players, particularly in states like PA. It's easier than painting money. You accept Chris as a student. If Chris's sending district works out to $10K per student, you get $10K (you can bump that up if you give Chris a diagnostic test showing that Chris has some sort of mild mild special need). That $10K is yours, and every cent that you don't spend on educating Chris goes in your pocket. And since cyber charters are "free" to the students and their parents, there are no market pressures to lower your fee. Give Chris a "free" $400 computer and the attention of a $40K teacher who's carrying a 200-student workload, and you are now making a ton of money. And the state of PA is not going to ask to see your books. Ka-ching.

So when you see the Commonwealth Charter Academy ads, just remember-- it's your old friends at Pearson (Always Earning), operating out of Baltimore and hoping to make some money while working on some cyber-lab rats for their personalized learning systems.

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