NY Times ‘un-Time-ly’ digital learning article

The NY Times ran an anti-digital learning article on December 12, 2011 that has stirred up a hornet’s nest – mostly about Times reporting.

You can read some of the better criticisms here.

While I don’t know much about the company the Times article attacks, I’ll add a few concerns about what appear to be dubious statistics.

In the third paragraph, the Times article claims that there are more than 200,000 full-time ‘cyberpupils’ in the United States.

OK, but a week and a half earlier, on December 2, 2011 the Times ran another digital learning piece from a different author titled “Virtually Educated” that says there are around 250,000 ‘cyberschool’ students and the number is growing fast. I wish the Times would get their data straight, or at least identify the sources.

At one point, the Times’ article says that in Pennsylvania online schools get funding of about $10,000 per pupil. But, read a little further into this long piece and it says that K12, a commercial digital learning company that is the primary focus of attack in the Times article, only gets an average of $5,500 to $6,000 per pupil. There might be an explanation for the difference, but it’s hard to understand how Pennsylvania’s funding could be so far out of line with the rest of the country, or if this statistic is actually true.

The Times says that K12 spent $26.5 million on advertising in 2010. It also says near the beginning of the article that one school run by K12 gets total funding of $72 million this year, and that this is more than 10 percent of the entire anticipated K12 revenue. If so, K12’s total revenue runs on the order of $700 million or so. That would make the advertising expense somewhere around only 3.8 percent of total revenue, which seems fairly reasonable. In fact, when you consider that simply advertising its existence is a MAJOR problem facing the Barren Academy of Virtual and Expanded Learning, Kentucky’s statewide digital high school (As I discuss in my recently released digital learning report and earlier digital learning study), K12’s ad costs seem even more acceptable. I don’t think the Times author has a clue about the problem of getting the word out to students that digital learning options even exist.

The Times really fusses about the K12 firm spending nearly $500,000 between 2004 and 2010 for state political candidate campaigns. That would average out to around $71,400 per year or so, nationwide. HA, HA! Here in Kentucky, the Jefferson County Teachers Association regularly spends over $100,000 on just one local school board member’s campaign in Louisville. The Times is really making a mountain out of a molehill with this one. The teachers unions GROSSLY outspend other politically active groups in the education area.

The Times article is very friendly to unions, which correctly or not tend to view digital learning as a potential threat to teachers’ jobs and the status quo. The article relies on several reports from a research group that receives notable funding from the National Education Association, a fact the article does acknowledge, if you read far enough.

Anyway, the story of digital learning is far larger than anything the Times treated us to. While I am not in a position to comment on the K12 firm, I, like a lot of other people, have looked at this new educational innovation, and I am confident that digital learning is here to stay.

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