Friday, May 26, 2017

Slate Series Unmasks Cyber School

Slate, for whatever reason, teamed up this week with Columbia Journalism School's Teacher Project, to take a look at on line education. Much of their work is focused on on line courses as a means of credit recovery-- the quick-and-easy method of letting students replace credits for courses they failed. But the series tells us a great deal about what on line "education" is really like-- and it is not pretty. This is just how bad cyber schooling is.

As always, I will include the preface that A) cyber school doesn't have to be as awful as it is and B) it is a real boon to certain students.

The series ran through eight articles, and you should not miss any of them, but here are links and blurbs for each article in the series so you can make your choices (and so that they don't disappear entirely once Slate moves on to other things). Read these:

The New Diploma Mills

Zoe Kirsch digs deep for this opening article. While focusing on how Florida has used on line courses to boost graduation rates "many school districts, including several of the nation's largest, have seen graduation rates soar"), Kirsch also looks at the policies boosted cyber-schooling and just how bad it looks on the ground to actual cyber students. This piece gives a good overview-- with well-sourced specifics-- for the problem issues of virtual schooling, like cheating and content that is far less than rigorous.

Fast. Isolating. Superficial.

After she failed English her junior year at Riverbend High School in Spotsylvania, Virginia, 17-year-old Amelia Kreck had to retake the class. It took her two days.

The title of Stephen Smiley's article comes from the answer to the question, "What are on line courses like for students?" Short reading excerpts, simple questions, work without any depth-- these themes turn up throughout the interviews with many on line course students. That and missing the interaction of a classroom, not just for social purposes, but because it helps with the learning.

I Am an Online Credit Recovery Dropout

Smiley also tried some on line courses as a student-- and found them so boring and superficial that he didn't complete them. "Boring and lonely" was his characterization. A look at how just how bad these courses are to work through.

Take These Students, Please

Francesca Berardi takes us to Chicago to look at how cyber-credit-recovery can morph into full-time cyber school for students who are far behind and at risk of not graduating and ruining a schools graduation rate numbers. It's a sad picture:

Daniel has had a lonely high school experience for the past two years. He spends four hours a day at Bridgescape, usually four days a week, and he seldom interacts with peers and teachers. When he struggles with an online test, his “best friend” is Google—something he is not discouraged to use—while teachers are a last resort. His main companions are his smartphone (for listening to music) and his Galaxy smartwatch (which helps him kill the time and stay in touch with his friends). “I can spend an entire day at school and not talk with anyone,” Daniel told me. Sometimes, he returns to visit his old teachers and classmates solely because he misses the warmth and bustle of a traditional high school.

Bottom of the Class

Berardi and Kirsch take a look at which cyber-schoolers are really awful. Odysseyware, Study Island, and A Beka Academy emerge as the bottom of the heap. Read why.

Online Education Doesn't Have To Be Isolating

Sarah Carr takes us to Bronx Arena for a look at some methods for making cyber school less isolating and awful. You'll have to decide on your own whether or not you're convinced.

Why Bad Online Courses Are Still Taught in School

Kirsch and Smiley take a look at the politics behind cybers. Florida, for instance, rates cybers, but does not do anything with the ratings. In many places, even though a cyber is rated a failure by the state, local districts can and do continue to use their services.

Why are the laws so toothless? Lobbyists and money. Cybers like K12 have dropped a bundle, and it turns out that ALEC is instrumental in making sure that the Right Connections are made to keep the laws favorable to the cyber school industry.

Just Take It Again

How easy are on line tests to game? Skipping over flat out cheating (like giving someone your login to take the test for you), the answer is "Pretty easy."

Meet Jeremy Noonan, who discovered that students doing cyber credit recovery through Edgenuity were getting roughly 37 out of 50 questions repeated on retakes of a major test. It's no surprise-- developing a larger question bank costs money. But particularly if a school district is enjoying the numbers boost that easily gameable tests provide, it's one more sign that actual education isn't really happening.

The entire series of articles is worth your attention. Read them in whatever order you like, but read them. This is the reality of cyber school.     


  1. Why did they write 8 pieces focusing on online credit recovery while completely overlooking blended learning and students who are taking cyber courses not as recovery but at neighborhood schools for regular credit? My sense is they are creating a framework to pitch "quality" blended learning of the type promoted in the Bronx Arena school piece. It is part of NYC's iZONE blended learning, school redesign initiative. I didn't realize that Slate was initially funded with support from Microsoft.

  2. A Beka has been on my radar for a while, as it is a certifiably looney-tunes curriculum --- which a charter school can use because a charter school is unregulated, or at least it can until someone files a Constitutional lawsuit objecting to its use. Thiswack-a-zoidal, hard-core Christian parochial school curriculum is now being employed by charter schools nation-wide:

    I'll quote liberally from the "A Beka" website. Based on these shorter excerpts alone, one can get the gist of what the "A Beka" curriculum is all about:

    --- a unique approach to civics: "We present government as ordained by God for the maintenance of law and order, not as a cure-all for humanity's problems"

    --- A Beka's insistence of primacy of "The Bible" as "the foundation of all learning" ,

    --- "A Beka Books' science texts teach that modern science is the product of Western man's return to the Scriptures after the Protestant Reformation"

    --- staunchly creationist, A Beka "present(s) God as the Great Designer and Lawgiver, without Whom the evident design and laws of nature would be inexplicable,,, "

    --- "The A Beka Book science and health program presents the universe as the direct creation of God and refutes the man-made idea of evolution."

    --- its certifiably wacko view of human history that it teaches, and pins some kind of blame on "H.G. Wells" of all people.

    --- its bizarre caricature and rejection of what is taught in public schools as "the Marxist/Hegelian conflict theory of history" that is moving towards a Satanic "one-world government."




    From the "A Beka" Website at the link above:


    "Bible --- The foundation for all learning

    "The A Beka Book Bible program presents the Bible in the narrative style in which it is written. Stories of the Old and New Testaments in the lower grades lead up to the profound truths of the Gospels, Epistles, and other portions of Scripture for older students. The curriculum is designed to be specifically and systematically taught so that students in the Bible program will become thoroughly acquainted with the basic portions of Scriptures.


    "The investigation of variety, order, and reasonableness revealed in creation.

    "While secular science textbooks present modern science as the opposite of faith, the A Beka Book science texts teach that modern science is the product of Western man's return to the Scriptures after the Protestant Reformation, leading to his desire to understand and subdue the earth, which he saw as the orderly, law-abiding creation of the God of the Bible.

    "The A Beka Book science and health program presents the universe as the direct creation of God and refutes the man-made idea of evolution.

    "Further, the books present God as the Great Designer and Lawgiver, without Whom the evident design and laws of nature would be inexplicable. They give a solid foundation in all areas of science — a foundation firmly anchored to Scriptural truth.

    "Teachability is assured through accurate, interesting writing, carefully planned demonstrations that can be performed with a minimum of equipment, chapter terms and questions, full-color illustrations, consideration of the interests and comprehension skills of students at each grade level, and detailed curriculum/lesson plans."


    "A realistic view of time, government, geography, and economics based on eternal truths.

    "Ever since H. G. Wells published his Outline of History in 1920, the theme of world history texts has been man's supposed progress from savagery toward socialism, from tribal religions toward one-world government.

    "American history is usually presented as a series of conflicts—rich vs. poor, black vs. white, North vs. South, labor vs. management, male vs. female, etc.

    "A Beka Book history texts reject the Marxist/Hegelian conflict theory of history in favor of a truthful portrayal of peoples, lands, religions, ideals, heroes, triumphs, and setbacks. The result is positive, uplifting history texts that give students a historical perspective and instill within them an intelligent pride for their own country and a desire to help it back to its traditional values.

    "We present government as ordained by God for the maintenance of law and order, not as a cure-all for humanity's problems.

    "We present free-enterprise economics without apology and point out the dangers of Communism, socialism, and liberalism to the well-being of people across the globe. In short, A Beka Book offers a traditional, conservative approach to the study of what man has done with the time he has been given.


    "History (of A Beka)

    "Over four decades ago, Dr. Arlin Horton and his wife, Beka, started A Beka Bookwith the goal of providing high-quality traditional educational materials that would give students at their Christian school in Pensacola, Florida, a solid foundation for excellence in academics and success in life.

    "At Pensacola Christian Academy—one of the largest Christian schools in America—teachers and parents have seen for several decades the excellent results of learning with A Beka.


    "You want methods and materials that work. That’s what you’ll find with A Beka Book—comprehensive, quality curriculum and materials written from a Christian perspective.

    "Now more than ever, each child needs a strong foundation in both academics and character; we’re here to help homeschooling families and Christian schools of all sizes give their students the knowledge and skills they need."



    Finally, THE DAILY KOS did an expose on A Beka, which is being used in a Los Angeles Charter school:

    Wait, here's some more gems from "A Beka":

    THE DAILY KOS:(excerpts)

    3. "God used the Trail of Tears to bring many Indians to Christ."— America: Land That I Love, Teacher ed., A Beka Book, 1994

    Yeah, a loving God arranged this genocide for the benefit of those on the death march and human greed for land and gold in the Black Hills had nothing to do with it. (The link provides a timeline of events from the period. I leave it to all of you to decide if the former or latter is what happened.)

    and this
    8. SCOTUS enslaved fetuses: "Ignoring 3,500 years of Judeo-Christian civilization, religion, morality, and law, the Burger Court held that an unborn child was not a living person but rather the "property" of the mother (much like slaves were considered property in the 1857 case of Dred Scott v. Sandford)."—American Government in Christian Perspective, 2nd ed., A Beka Book, 1997

    Interesting twist here. Slavery wasn't bad for black people (see #5,) but it is a bad thing for fetuses.

    And, be afraid, be very afraid ...
    and this
    9. The Red Scare isn't over yet: "It is no wonder that Satan hates the family and has hurled his venom against it in the form of Communism."— American Government in Christian Perspective, 2nd ed., A Beka Book, 1997
    and this
    13. "Global environmentalists have said and written enough to leave no doubt that their goal is to destroy the prosperous economies of the world's richest nations." —Economics: Work and Prosperity in Christian
    Perspective, 2nd ed., A Beka Book, 1999
    and this
    14. Globalization is a precursor to THE RAPTURE: "But instead of this world unification ushering in an age of prosperity and peace, as mostglobalists believe it will, it will be a time of unimaginable human suffering as recorded in God's Word. The Anti-christ will tightly-regulate who may buy and sell."—Economics: Work and Prosperity in Christian Perspective, 2nd ed., A Beka Book, 1999

    Wait a minute, though. If 9, 13, and 14 are correct, why aren't they pushing for these things to occur if it would lead to THE RAPTURE? Why aren't they donating to socialist President Obama like they are supporting sending Jews to Israel?

    With this load of crap, they'd better stay far away from teaching any kind of critical thinking skills.

  6. The articles were too positive! They don't mention "Answer Check" combined with pre-test. This is how CR is really done Almost EVERYWHERE.

    Most students barely care. The strategy of just clicking all As, then "Answer Check," click Bs, then "Answer Check," click Cs is rarely employed by students. Hilariously sick.

  7. The second thing was at noon on Day 2, Shelley decided there was just enough time to do a podcast involving Suzanna (the mom), Janice Moase, and myself. And so we did it. The podcast is available with this link. It is called "The Infrastructure of Inclusion". Listening to a few Podcasts over the summer is a great way to spend some time!