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Francia Wisnewski & Hélène J. Powers: How do students fare at online public schools?

To the editor:

It is exciting to think the Greenfield public schools can be a leader in state and nationwide initiatives related to innovation and online education. Greenfield operates the first virtual online school in Massachusetts and enrolls students from a wide area, including Hampshire County.

However, citizens have raised important questions that continue to go unanswered. Many relate to this growing national trend: Large for-profit corporations, identifying themselves as educational experts, are investing significant funds in lobbying for policies that support sales of their products in public education settings.

Within the last year, numerous investigative reports have pointed out that this model undermines the value of public education and transfers decision-making and stewardship of public dollars to private, for-profit groups.

There is no question that our school systems need to continue thinking about how to invest wisely and seek new opportunities for effective models that provide a solid foundation, leverage and infrastructure for student achievement. But we continue to have particular concerns about the involvement of K12 Inc., the large for-profit vendor running Greenfield’s Massachusetts Virtual Academy.

One investigative piece in The Republican and on masslive.com reported that students in the K12-run online school ranked second lowest in the state on student progress in the MCAS math and English exams. They also post an unusually high attrition rate.

The Maine Sunday Telegram reports that K12 Inc., the Jeb Bush organization Foundation for Excellence in Education and the corporate-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) were involved in crafting policies (later tabled) to create taxpayer-funded virtual schools in Maine.

Now, Greenfield’s contract with K12 is up for renewal and the Greenfield School Committee will vote on it soon.

At the same time, Massachusetts has just passed legislation to provide accountability and avoid pitfalls for future virtual school efforts.

Our community deserves transparency and continuous feedback so we know and understand how our tax money is spent. Our society is best served when publicly funded schools are accountable to the whole community and open to all children.

Francia Wisnewski

Hélène J. Powers

Greenfield

Francia Wisnewski is a member of the Greenfield School Committee.

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