Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Florida's Troubled Cyber School Launches Alaskan Spinoff

So Alaska's teachers were just getting themselves set up to handle distance learning, when their governor pulled the rug out from under them. He'd had a chat with everybody's favorite failed Presidential candidate and education-busting former governor Jab Bush, who suggested that Alaska would be an excellent fit for Florida's Virtual School.

No, really. I wish I were making this up. But I'm not--in a stunning display of one-size-fits-allness, Alaska is now a client of Florida's cyber school.

Dunleavy should know better-- the man's pre-politics career was in teaching. But Dunleavy has been the target of a recall campaign having taken an axe to, well, nearly everything. That included whacking the heck out of education-- 21% off the K-12 budget and a whopping 41% chopped out of the University of Alaska system. Education just needed to get more efficient, he explained.

Not the Everglades.
And what could be more efficient than a cyber-school business that has been through one mess after another (not that Florida's public ed-hating legislature cares-- they're seeing if they can't use the current crisis to get FLVS to take over the whole business).

The above links, it should be noted, only get you to the problems with FLVS that are publicly discussed. Talk to Floridian teachers (off the record) and you hear all your worst fears about cyber-school confirmed. Tests taken by heaven-only-knows-who, including voices that can be heard in the background when doing a "live" hookup. Technical issues.

One would think that, since FLVS has been in business since 1997, a prospective customer might ask around, check with folks, ask your Alaskan teachers to contact Florida teachers about how the whole thing works. Instead, Dunleavy just sprung the whole business, complete with a half-million dollar contract, on Alaskans. Teachers were not consulted.

The contract promises a "turnkey global school online" which includes "highly qualified teachers." FLVS doesn't give a refund if the enrollment is low, nor charge more if it's high. And they will train up to 50 Alaskan teachers to cyber-teach. Well, they'll provide some live webinars and some consultations. But some of them sounds super, like the one where teachers "will benefit from this session on how to provide grading feedback that is meaningful and strengthens the learner-teacher bond," or the one where "teachers learn techniques and tools to encourage even the hardest to reach students."

And just so we're clear on what's going on here, training may start as late as June 1, and "teacher professional development will be ongoing until February 2021."  It appears that Alaska is not looking at a coronavirus stopgap, but a whole spin-off business. Yay, disaster capitalism. Ka-ching.

What Florida knows about the unique challenges of Alaskan education is not clear. And just for the record, again, let it be noted that cyber-schools have largely failed, in fact failed so hard that even brick and mortar charter advocates have called for major reforms. And scandal-plagued FLVS is taking this on in the midst of trying to massively increase its own capacity in Florida from 200,000 to 2,700,000.

The alarms should be whooping loudly in Alaska. Remember, boys and girls, do not take your education advice from Florida or Jeb Bush.

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