K12® ... PANACEA OR PLAGUE?
By Lynn Stuter
June 9, 2003
In Homeschools, Private Schools and Systems Education, reference was made to Dr William Bennett's K12® Virtual Academy. Is K12® what it is cracked up to be?
On the homepage of the K12® website, the first full sentence states, "K12 is an education company dedicated to building a comprehensive, standards-based curriculum and learning program."
"Standards-based" is synonymous with outcome-based or education based on outcomes. This means, in the words of the guru of outcome-based education, Dr William Spady, you start at the end and decide what you want the student to look like as a result of his/her educational experience the end product or outcomes; then you work backward from the end product, aligning the curriculum, instruction and teaching methodologies to the outcomes wanted to insure that the student looks like the outcomes as a result of the "process" or the educational experience. What the student looks like is synonymous with "what the child should know and be able to do" neither of which can be defined as "traditionally academic."
This is given further credence on the Educational Approach web page at K12®,
"The K12® curriculum is designed to help you meet or exceed national and state standards."
Those national and state standards are outcome-based, they are process oriented; they are not academic as most parents would define the word.
Both the K12® Virtual Academy and Homeschool curriculums boast a link to the Core Knowledge Foundation:
"The content recommended in the Core Knowledge Sequence is one major foundation of the K12® curriculum. K12 is also built upon analysis and comparison of state standards; curricular recommendations of prominent professional organizations (such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Council for History Education); and extensive research into the cognitive psychology behind effective learning, ..."
Three things stand out in the above quote and directly affect any assumption that might be made that K12 is knowledge based: 1) The comparison to state standards. State standards in every state are process oriented. This means that knowledge is only incorporated as it is used and applied in addressing a unit theme or thematic unit focusing on a social or life-related issue. 2) The curricular recommendations of the prominent professional organizations listed above were made as a direct result of the federal Goals 2000 law and are, therefore, also process oriented. 3) The use of the term "effective learning" would appear to be synonymous with the term "effective schooling" (more on this later) and all the outcome-based standards related thereto. Bennett is a known proponent of effective schooling practices.
Both the K12® Virtual Academy and the K12® Home School curriculums are accompanied by "assessments." An assessment is an opinion of the quality of the child's work as compared to a rubric scale which is looking at how well the child demonstrates the wanted process. The scale is benchmarked to the grade level indicated.
An assessment is not an objective measure; it is a subjective measure open to the likes and dislikes, mood and temperament of the one doing the assessing (the assessor). Assessments are the tool used to determine if the curriculum, instruction and teaching methodologies are moving the students to look like the outcomes established as the end product or goals of the educational experience. What is the end product of the educational experience? According to High Skills, High Wages put out by the Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board, Washington State, in 1994, the end product is that students are proficient in "teamwork, critical thinking, making decisions, communication, adapting to change and understanding whole systems" (Page 65). These, of course, are a direct outreach of the work of the Secretaries Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills or, as better known, the SCANS competencies. Some might find it of interest that Elizabeth Dole, Bob Dole's wife, was President Bush Sr's Secretary of Labor when the SCANS commission was established and the SCANS compentencies and reports were written and published.
If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck, you can pretty well figure it's a duck. K12® fits the bill (no pun intended) of outcome-based education (aka, systems education).
But this is not all. Dr William Bennett, author of the Book of Virtues acknowledged, in a New York Times article in 1985, that the most difficult time in his career was "the death of my friend, boss, and mentor, Charles Frankel." Frankel served on the editorial board of The Humanist with such notables as B. F. Skinner and Betty Friedan, both of whom are signers of the Humanist Manifesto II, 1973. This might explain why the virtuous Dr Bennett has no reservations about his $18 million gambling habit.
Further, Dr Bennett, founder of K12®, is no stranger to education reform. Bennett was the Secretary of Education during the Reagan Administration. In 1985, while Secretary of Education, Bennett was quoted, in a USA Today article, as supporting both a national curriculum and national testing.
In 1991, his "outcome-based" design team, The Modern Red Schoolhouse, was chosen by the New American Schools Development Corporation (NASDC) as one of the original design teams to "Reinvent American education by designing new schools for a new century." (NASDC, 1991) Sitting on the board of Bennett's design team was Dr Chester Finn. In the overview document submitted by Bennett to NASDC as part of his design team proposal, Bennett states that as Secretary of Education "he became widely known as an outspoken proponent of education reform." The Modern Red Schoolhouse design team was a member of the National Center for Effective Schools as is the Core Knowledge Foundation (See Northwest Regional Educational Laboratories for more information regarding "effective schooling practices").
In 1991, We Must Take Charge by Dr Finn was published. In that book, Dr Finn states,
"... Perhaps the best way to enforce this standard is to confer valuable benefits and privileges on people who meet it, and to withhold them from those who do not. Work permits, good jobs, and college admission are the most obvious, but there is ample scope here for imagination in devising carrots and sticks. Drivers' licenses could be deferred. So could eligibility for professional athletic teams. The minimum wage paid to those who earn their certificates might be a dollar an hour higher."
The "standard" to which Dr Finn refers is the core learning standard of systems education and the "certificate" to which he refers is the Certificate of Mastery (or Initial Mastery), also called the CIM.
Lamar Alexander, US Secretary of Education in 1991, endorsed Finn's book, stating,
"This book saved me six months. It explains the educational successes and more to the point the failures of the 1980s and frames the 90s debate better than anything else I have seen. ..."
It was in 1991, under President George W Bush, Sr, that America 2000, the precursor to Goals 2000, came into being and the New American Schools Development Corporation was established. The abstract to an article published in U.S. News and World Report in 1991, stated,
"The Bush Administration's true educational philosopher is Chester Finn, Jr., a professor of education and public policy at Vanderbilt University. Finn is the chief architect of Bush's plan to fix the nation's schools."
William Bennett also endorsed Finn's book, stating,
"Chester Finn gives us a war plan for the educational battles of the nineties. The issues he discusses and the common sense answers he proposes will set the terms of the education debate for years to come."
In 1982, Finn wrote,
"Some to be sure, like to think they can have it both ways; i.e., can obtain aid without saddling themselves with unacceptable forms of regulation. But most acknowledge the general applicability of the old adage that he who pays the piper calls the tune, and are more or less resigned to amalgamating or choosing between assistance and autonomy."
Dr Finn also sits on the board of K12®.
On the Education Advisory Committee at K12® is Michael Kirst of Stanford University. Kirst has an extensive background in systems education, including being on the Educational Advisory Panel of the New American Schools Development Corporation. In 1992, Michael Kirst also shows up as an "expert consultant" to the Governor's Council on Education Reform and Funding (GCERF) in Washington State along with Marc Tucker, the head of another NASDC design team, the National Alliance for Restructuring Education (NARE) which later became America's Choice® and which also promotes and makes its money implementing systems education.
In Senior Management at K12® is Dr Thomas Boysen, senior vice president of the Miliken Family Foundation. Boysen served as the commissioner of education in Kentucky, bringing the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) to that state. As an outcome-based system, KERA was held up as the model for all states to copy until it became obvious that it was an abysmal failure, at which point it slid into obscurity. Dr Boysen has been involved in education reform (systems education) all over the United States.
Then there is Lowell Miliken who comes to K12® as the president of the Miliken Family Foundation, a foundation which promotes systems education nation-wide and with which Bennett associates.
There is yet more.
In exploring the K12® website, no mention is made of the FTE (full time equivalent) money Bennett receives from the states where K12® Virtual Academies have been established. While it is stated that the Virtual Academy is "tuition free," that term is not defined. No reference is made to the fact that "tuition free" means the student is considered a public school student subject to the control of the government education system. "Tuition free" is nebulous, misleading, open to interpretation, while its unspoken definition is not.
It is obvious, in looking through the K12® website, that the Virtual Academy is the priority of K12®. At the same time, the Virtual Academy home page makes no direct reference to being connected to the government education system, instead stating,
"K12® Virtual Academies combine the best elements of homeschooling flexibility and individual instruction with the support and accountability of a public or private school."
This statement gives the impression, but does not state outright, that the Virtual Academy is tantamount to homeschooling. It is not. The statement is misleading.
As stated in Homeschools, Private Schools and Systems Education, in the arena of systems education, all really does mean all and the system must, by its very construct, include all.
It is interesting to note that the homeschool page on K12® requires the homeschooler wishing to use the K12® curriculum to "enroll." While most homeschool curriculum companies simply set up an account for anyone wishing to order and use the curriculum offered by the company, at K12® the homeschooler must "enroll" in order to purchase curriculum. "Enroll" means to sign on or join. What is the homeschooler joining in purchasing the K12® homeschool curriculum? As with other nebulous terms used on the K12® website, this term is not defined.
K12® gives the impression that it is about homeschooling without stating such outright, using the term homeschool to refer to a school in the home but under the control of the government. Such takes a term that has traditionally meant a school in the home independent of government control and changed it to mean just the opposite. Such changing of the meaning is, of course, beneficial to systems education, just as the changing of the meaning of academic to mean process benefits systems education while giving parents the impression it retains its traditional meaning.
But parents, educating their children at home, like the K12® curriculum. Whether parents like the K12® curriculum is not the issue. The issue is the manner in which K12® is presented and that K12® is a buy-in to systems education. The way K12® is presented is misleading. The nebulous terms used mean one thing to parents but actually mean something entirely different in the context of the systems education process supported by Bennett and those involved in his company, K12. Parents are allowed to assume the terms mean what they believe they do.
Some parents don't care that being involved with the K12® Virtual Academy keeps them under the control of the government, or that being part of the K12® Virtual Academy cedes to the government the right to interfere in the education of the child in the home.
But some parents do care. And they care about the changing of the meaning of "homeschool" as used by K12®. Considering that systems education must include all, it is neither paranoid nor irrational for homeschoolers wishing to maintain their authonomy to guard carefully the meaning of the word "homeschool."
Finn, Jr, Chester E; NAASP Bulletin; "Public Service, Public Support, Public Accountability", p .69; March, 1982.
Finn, Jr, Chester E; We Must Take Charge; New York: The Free Press; 1991.
Governor's Council on Education Reform and Funding; Putting Children First; Washington State; 1992.
New American Schools Development Corporation; Designs for A New Generation of American Schools; Request for Proposals; Arlington, VA; October 1991.
Toch, Thomas; "The Wizard of Education"; U.S. News and World Report; July 15, 1991; p. 46.
© 2003 Lynn M. Stuter - All Rights Reserved
Mother and wife, Stuter has spent the past ten years researching systems theory with a particular emphasis on education. She home schooled two daughters, now grown and on their own. She has worked with legislators, both state and federal, on issues pertaining to systems governance and education reform. She networks nationwide with other researchers and citizens concerned with the transformation of our nation. She has traveled the United States and lived overseas. Web site: www.learn-usa.com E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
"If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck, you can pretty well figure it's a duck. K12® fits the bill (no pun intended) of outcome-based education (aka, systems education)."