Thursday, April 2, 2020

FL: Path Opens To Killing Public Schools

If there was a state most likely to grab the coronaviral opportunity to gut its public school system, it would have to be Florida, where some of those ducks appear to be lining up.

Florida Virtual School (FLVS) has had its share of rough times. Started by the state in the 90s, spun into a private business (a "publicly-funded non-profit," so a charter school), and then mired in a mess of incompetence and corruption, the entire shooting match had its board replaced by the state, which installed a bunch of politically connected board members, and a half-assed audit was ordered up. Now the Board of Trustees is the Sate Board of Education, headed by evolution-denier Andy Tuck. That was just last year, but apparently everyone is feeling much more confident about FLVS now because, as trumpeted by reformster cheerleading site redefinED, FLVS is "preparing to blast off."

By "blast off" they mean "get a huge infusion of money." FLVS has already been handed some great help from the state legislature, which mandates that all Florida students must take at least one on-line course in order to graduate. That's a great deal for FLVS, which is paid by taxpayers based on the volume of business they do-- and they do just happen to have a model that allows students to enroll fulltime, part time, or whatever. Now they have bigger plans.

FLVS is looking to pump about $4.3 million into "technology upgrades" for the system to give itself a big student capacity boost, from 200K-ish to around 2.7 million. That would be roughly all the K-12 students in Florida. FLVS chief Louis Algaze offers this:

I applaud Governor Ron DeSantis for ensuring students have the ability to continue their education as we work together to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. I am proud of the work our team is doing to provide school districts, charter schools and private schools with solutions and resources to keep Florida students on track with their education as we all navigate these unprecedented times together.

And there's this:

“The most important thing we can do to help children through COVID-19 is to keep them safe, healthy, and give them the best possible education we can during these times,” Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said. “As the state turns to online learning, it is imperative that we work together to provide resources that support our families, teachers and school leaders.”

I have many questions, but the biggest one is this-- what the hell kind of education program only requires a technology upgrade to give itself a 1,300% capacity increase? That's like suggesting that we can triple the capacity of a school by buying more desks. FLVS says its current teaching staff each serves about 162 students. Perhaps the plan is that the districts that sign up will have their own staff "teach" these courses that they did not design, assuming they can just familiarize themselves with the content, the software, etc, in the next couple of weeks.

Florida's politicians and profiteers never tire of looking for ways to gut the public school system and privatize education. Governor DeSantis was slow to shut down the state until spring breakers had finished rolling in and out (and not for churches-- they can still gather all they want), but the state looks less hesitant about taking advantage of the pandemic to take another whack at busting public schools. Heaven only knows what's coming next.

Annnnnnd as soon as this post went up, folks let me know that Alaska has also jumped on board and that FLVS is being touted as an exemplar in several states. Damn.


  1. Is there a correlation between states getting on board with Florida Virtual School and not embracing social distancing?

  2. I taught in FL for 10 years. The dirty secret about FLVS that no one wants to admit is that the kids cheat. I had students paying other students to take their courses (and obviously students making bank taking other students' courses) ALL THE TIME. Using it for credit recovery was a joke - so much easier than sitting in a class, taking tests, and having to work to earn that passing grade (especially if you can pay someone else to take the class for you). And teachers are expected to be available to students almost 24/7, and spend most of their time calling kids who are falling behind to get them back on track. That's not teaching (the pre-prepared module does all that) but multiply the phone calls and availability by 160+ students, and it's a sure way to break the teacher.

  3. I started teaching online Environmental Science classes to 80+ students about 5 years ago. Cheating is part of remote/distance/virtual/online learning. No doubt about it. We just don't know how much, because it's not measured. Online courses are a great money-earner. More students fail or drop out, so have to pay more tuition.

    About FLVS: My daughter took four FLVS classes. The first was a middle school summer photography for fun. She took Algebra II to transition from private MS to public HS (with tutoring from her MS math teacher). She took HOPE (Health and PE) online to fulfill a HS PE requirement, and the required HS Economics class. She learned enough from Algebra to pass the state test. Photography was pretty fun, but the others were less worthwhile. FLVS is not supported any better than other public schools. Teachers aren't compensated better, nor do they have smaller class sizes. Teachers check in with parents to let them know how their kids are doing, but the conversation is always about attendance and test scores. I don't believe the teachers know who their students are. It's not a bad gig for teachers who need to work from home. They cover each others' classes when they need to be away during the school year. It's flexible, but in no way superior.

    Spending more on technology isn't going to fix the fundamental problem with FLVS and all other FL public schools: teachers need smaller class sizes, less emphasis on standardized tests, less state micromanagement in curriculum, and higher pay to attract and retain the most capable candidates.