Education Week - April 24, 2013 - Special Report - (Page S3)
EDUCATION WEEK APRIL 24, 2013
Industry & Innovation > www.edweek.org/go/i&ireport
left, a senior vice
and Robert Onsi, a
vice president of
are shown at a
digital classrooms at
the company’s Silver
Kinney and Mr. Onsi
have worked with
states to ensure that
Lance Rosenfield /Prime for Education Week
and their cyber-charter-school counterparts have often been seen
through a critical lens. A 2011 study by Stanford University, for example, examined Pennsylvania cyber charter schools and found poor
performance compared with that of regular public schools and brickand-mortar charter schools.
In 2012, the state had 157 brick-and-mortar charter schools and 16
cyber charters, according to a report released in March by state Rep.
James R. Roebuck, a Democrat, who chairs the education committee
of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
That means charter school companies have substantial interests to
protect in the state.
K12 Inc., for example, which operates two cyber charters in Pennsylvania, including the largest in the state, had six lobbyists there
last year and established a small political action committee, the K12
Pennsylvania pac. The company also helps fund supportive parent
groups that lobby at the state Capitol.
Mr. Kwitowski said the company is particularly pleased with that
support. Teachers’ unions and groups representing school boards, for
example, have always had a place at the state policy table, but it is
unusual to see parents in education committee hearings, he said.
“We are very proud to help give parents and teachers involved in
these schools a voice,” he said.
K12 is one of the biggest financial supporters of the parents’ group
Pennsylvania Families for Public Cyber Schools, said Jenny Bradmon,
the executive director of that organization. Last year, close to 2,500
parents from the group spent a day at the state Capitol highlighting
the benefits of cyber schools, she said.
Also in Pennsylvania, the owner of the for-profit Chester, Pa.-based
csmi, which runs the state’s Chester Community Charter School, donated $325,714 to the successful gubernatorial campaign of Tom Corbett in 2009 and 2010, according to the National Institute on Money
in State Politics. That was more than any other individual donor to
the campaign. In 2011, Gov. Corbett, a Republican who took office that
year, visited the school and called it a model for the state.
Charter schools in Pennsylvania and elsewhere in the country are
under serious scrutiny, however, from state lawmakers who see them
as often lacking in financial and academic accountability. Mr. Roebuck
recently introduced legislation to overhaul Pennsylvania’s charter
school laws and strengthen oversight.
In January, the state’s secretary of education, Ronald Tomalis, rejected all eight of the applications for new cyber charters for the 201314 school year, citing problems with curriculum, finance, and operations.
Though Mr. Tomalis, who served as a senior official in the U.S. Department of Education under President George W. Bush, said such
companies should be scrutinized, he doesn’t fault them for advocating
on their own behalf.
“Their appearance at state legislatures mirrors the appearance of
these initiatives, because these initiatives weren’t around 10 years
ago,” he pointed out. “The question is, like anything else, are these new
sectors that provide quality and opportunities?” u
Look for Common Ground
hough advocacy by education companies can mean donating to candidates, hiring lobbyists, and getting
deeply involved in the political process, some industry players say it’s
often more about simply educating
policymakers on new options in a
Ed-tech companies, in particular, say they grapple
with laws and regulations that don’t allow for new
educational tools that didn’t exist when those rules
were adopted, or must deal with legislators with a
limited understanding of what new technologies can
do to improve teaching and learning.
“This is a new dynamic, and it’s different,” said Michael B. Horn, a co-founder of the Innosight Institute.
“It’s another constituency group with interests that
sometimes do align with [traditional educational
interests] and sometimes don’t align in different
ways.” The San Mateo, Calif.-based institute, which
conducts research on education and health care, is
a proponent of virtual learning and other new approaches in education.
Given such a dynamic, advocacy often begins with
education, said Scott Kinney, a senior vice president
for Discovery Education, based in Silver Spring, Md.
In 2009, when Discovery Education launched its digital Science Techbook, the for-profit company found
some states unsure of or even resistant to the idea
that a digital textbook could be considered as part of
the textbook-evaluation process.
Though the company doesn’t employ lobbyists, “we
advocate constantly,” Mr. Scott said.
“A lot of people have asked me, ‘How did you get
around this?’ or ‘What lobbying have you done to
change this law?’ ” he said. “We try to work collaboratively to overcome obstacles.”
BY MICHELLE R. DAVIS
That’s what happened in Oregon, said Drew Hinds,
an education specialist with the Oregon education
Mr. Hinds said Oregon made it clear that it could
not create a separate system for evaluating digital textbooks, and that Discovery would have to go
through the traditional process. It took some explaining by Discovery to determine whether that would be
possible, he said.
Over time, the textbook-evaluation process in Oregon has made nods to the digital-textbook side, providing digital devices for teacher reviewers to allow
them to evaluate the e-textbooks, and this year, for
the first time, incorporating a form to detail the
media format for the design of digital materials.
Previously, Discovery had to fill out a form that
asked the company to provide irrelevant information about such factors as the weight of paper in its
books or the type of glue used to hold them together,
Mr. Hinds said. “There have been some procedural
changes we had to make to the process,” he said.
Jane Swift, a former governor of Massachusetts
and the chief operating officer for Middlebury Interactive Languages, which sells online language
courses, said business can play a significant role “in
being one of the catalysts for our very successful education reform movement.”
Middlebury Interactive—a for-profit joint venture between Vermont-based Middlebury College
and K12 Inc., an online learning company based in
Herndon, Va.—announced in January a $2.6 million initiative with the Vermont education department to provide 30 of the state’s schools discounted,
unlimited access to the company’s Web-based language classes.
Ms. Swift said it’s reasonable for groups—
whether they are private companies or public agencies—to disagree on policy and to hash that out in
a public forum. But, she said, “the demonization of
folks who participate in the political process is so
far from the reality that I’ve experienced that it’s
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - April 24, 2013 - Special Report
Education Week - April 24, 2013
Education Industry Players Exert Public- Policy Influence
Companies, Policymakers Look For Common Ground
Industry Shapes Goals And Tech Focus at N.Y.C. School
Beta Testing Ed. Products Can Get Tricky for Schools
Vetting Product Research to Determine What Works
Big-Name Companies Feature Larger-Impact Research Efforts
What to Ask About Research
À la Carte Purchasing Tactics Signal Districts’ Unique Needs
Big Companies Face K-12 Shift
Education Week - April 24, 2013 - Special Report