by David Safier
You may have seen ads for K12 Inc. virtual schools on TV. You might have even seen some online ads here on The Range. It's nearing the end of the school year, and the for-profit virtual schools corporation is drumming up business for next year.
How much K12 Inc. actually spends on advertising is an open question. In a 2012 article, USA Today estimated the corporation spent $21.5 million on ads during the first eight months of that year. Those are publicly funded ads, by the way, since the charter schools get their money from tax dollars. The $21.5 million figure is only an estimate, because K12 Inc. wouldn't reveal the actual number to USA Today. I'm not sure if that counts the money K12 Inc. spends on its online call centers. I'm sure it doesn't count the amount of time teachers spend selling the school to parents of students who are already enrolled, encouraging them to keep their children in another year. Teachers are encouraged to do a whole lot of selling.
The big ad push is understandable since the online schools have a 30 percent student churn rate every year, or more. That's right, one out of every three students leave each year. They have to be replaced. And since this is a for-profit corporation, it has to do more than replace students. It has to grow or die.
K12 Inc. has been fighting lots of very, very bad publicity over the past few years. Its students are notoriously low performing. Its schools fail to make Adequate Yearly Progress on a regular basis. Our K12 Inc. school, Arizona Virtual Academy, was on academic probation a few years ago, though it managed to pull a "C" last year, so it's dragged itself out of the doghouse. But with fewer than half of its students passing the math and writing portions of AIMS (about 75 percent of its students passed reading), it still doesn't have much in the way of bragging rights.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) decided it will stop accepting coursework from 24 K12 Inc. schools at Division I or Division II colleges or universities starting in the 2014-15 school year.
Corporation shareholders have sued, accusing K12 Inc. of misleading its investors by putting out inaccurate, overly positive statements.
CEO Ron Packard makes about $5 million a year, a sum he earns by, well, by being CEO.
Next time you see one of those "What a great school!" ads from K12 Inc., ads you pay for out of your tax dollars, remember, Caveat emptor.