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Update: Charter Supporters Debate Online Behemoth K12, Inc.

ScreenHunter_01 Oct. 01 15.17
First, reform supporter Whitney Tilson (right) "shorted" K12, Inc.  Then CER founder Jeanne Allen (left) defended it.  Then Tilson responded.  And so forth.  Who's got the better data?  Who's more conflicted, financially?  See the latest back and forth below, in case you didn't already see it on Whitney's email blasts or CER's emails. With any luck, the argument will continue right up to the big october 9 CER gala celebration and awards event (aka "The Reformies").  Either way, it's a great way for Tilson to push the stock down (and make money doing so) and Allen to protect an ally and funder and to publicize CER's anniversary.

Previous posts:  K12 Inc. A Bad Deal For Schools -- And Investors?

Jeanne Allen released a letter this morning in response to mine, to which I just responded (see both below). 

 

I want to be clear that I think Jeanne and the Center for Education Reform do important and valuable work. As best I can tell, we’re allies on everything except online charters – which is why I’ve supported CER in the past! In fact, Jeanne reminded me that I haven’t donated in a couple of years, so I just donated $1,000 on CER’s web site. I wish I could make the gala next week – I’m sure it’ll be a lot of fun and many of my friends will be there.

 

My quarrel with Jeanne, beyond online charters, is the mocking and obnoxious tone of her articles and, most importantly, how she questioned my integrity. My reputation is my most valuable asset and when it’s wrongly questioned, I will forcefully correct the misinformation.

----------------------

Dear Jeanne,

 

I’m so disappointed in you. I’ve been an avid reader of yours for many years and know you’re better than this. Your entire letter yesterday was a series of snarky and obnoxious personal attacks on me and my sources, without a single fact or piece of data to rebut over 100 pages of interviews, investigative journalism reports, research studies, state data, etc. that I compiled.

 

But you promised to “explore further” the meat of these issues “in [your] next edition,” so I was looking forward to hearing a thoughtful critique of my arguments. Instead you just sent outthis??? (see below)

 

First, you misrepresent what I said about the generous funding your organization receives from K12 and many of its peers creating significant conflicts of interest for you. In my email yesterday I wrote:

 

“To be clear, I am not criticizing you for accepting their support. But it is highly ironic to raise “ethical questions” about my conflict of interest without disclosing your own.”

 

The issue here is not, as you are trying to make it, about who supports CER. Heck, I’ve been a CER supporter! Rather, it’s simply one of disclosure. I have a financial interest at stake here, which presents an obvious conflict of interest, so I disclosed it up front. You have at least as great of a financial interest at stake here, which presents at least as much of an obvious conflict of interest, but you didn’t disclose it in your article yesterday – and then had the chutzpah to raise “ethical questions” about me?! Big mistake.

 

I repeat my main question from yesterday:

 

Specifically, how much money has the Center for Education Reform taken from K12, Connections Education (the second-largest online charter company), and other online charter organizations over, say, the last five or ten years?

 

Secondly, you say that you have an “interest in talking about real issues” but in your two articles you have yet to present a single fact, piece of data, or cogent argument about a real issue – K12’s dismal academic results, sky-high student churn, possible bilking of states via lax enrollment policies, possible illegal siphoning of profits from nonprofit entities, etc. If you had nothing of substance to say, then why did you say anything at all?

 

Lastly, you write that you are shutting down the discussion:

 

It is neither my job nor my interest to work on rebutting your claims. It's not my mission nor is it a fruitful use of my time. Why do you have so much of it, I wonder?

 

This really takes the cake. Your article yesterday was little more than a drive-by shooting – and now that I’ve called you on it, you run for cover, refusing to engage me in a thoughtful discussion about the many “real issues” at stake here. Again, I repeat what I wrote yesterday:

 

You would be doing me a great favor if you would, in your promised subsequent article(s), move beyond attacking me and my numerous sources, and present actual data and evidence that rebuts my arguments. Please show me – I really want to know – any evidence that the students at even one of K12’s 54 schools are doing well.

 

Sincerely yours,

 

Whitney

 

PS—The reason I have so much time to research K12 and engage in discussions of the company and the industry is that it’s my job! As a concentrated, long-term, value-oriented investor, I try to become an expert on every company in which I invest. As part of this ongoing process, I have conversations with as many people as possible who I think might have relevant information or opinions. In particular, I try to seek out those who can provide well-articulated contrary points of view – which is what I was hoping to get from you.

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From: Jeanne Allen [mailto:jamail@edreform.com
Sent: Tuesday, October 01, 2013 10:25 AM
To: Whitney Tilson
Subject: Dear Whitney - Are we having fun yet?

 

 

 

From the Desk Of

Jeanne Allen

 

Dear Whitney:

 

It's late. I'm home bound on a train from Philly from an extraordinary set of discussions about saving Catholic schools as one of the important options that should remain available to our kids, the least advantaged among them, especially. But I just had to write you. 

 

Before reading your second tirade on online learning, I read the following Facebook post from my oldest son, a TFA educator in Boston. He wrote:

 

"I was told by one of my students today that she couldn't do her homework over the weekend because she was kicked out of her house. She then asked me where I lived and if I would be willing to take custody of her because of how rough things are at home. So much going on at home with all these kids I'm glad I can be there in the classroom to help them work toward college and beyond."

 

That's what it's about, isn't it? Who has time for these tirades against a method of learning for one group??!

 

I think you probably need to read my piece again, Whitney. You seem to confuse my words and interest in talking about real issues with waging a discussion about one company. 

 

It is neither my job nor my interest to work on rebutting your claims. It's not my mission nor is it a fruitful use of my time. Why do you have so much of it, I wonder?

 

I raised issues about truth and validity of your assertions, as making unsubstantiated claims about online learning is simply irresponsible. 

 

No, it's not because I or the Center seeks or receives contributions from such organizations, though after 20 years of work I find the suggestion amusing that you'd assert that any funder actually dictates what I say or do. 

 

In fact, K12 and Connections are among dozens of education organizations who fund major education events - like those held by groups on whose boards you've served! I'm grateful to they and the other funders who are helping us celebrate our 20 years! (Reminder to all reading this – it’s next Wednesday, Oct 9th, www.edreform.com more info!)

 

Their generosity has made it possible for us to fund the participation of 30 outstanding and pioneering advocates whose contributions are responsible for the substance of this very debate.

 

I had hoped you'd join us but alas, you've answered none of our appeals to attend, or to support our event next Wednesday. But I would gladly take your money too, even if you are wrong about stuff. As my good friend Howard Fuller has often pointed out when people attack funding sources of his good works, if their funds help him get the job done he's more than happy to accept.

 

Alas some of us who do non-profit work have to sing for our supper but it doesn't mean we only sing the tune of those who feed us. Just ask CER's tried and true funders how often we do what they most want. Ask those who say no. It's the reason we've remained small all these years, though strong in results.

 

As we celebrate 20 years I'm grateful that I stand with integrity and pride knowing that only principle moves us, and that allegations and assertions to the contrary are the cry of those who have no other legs upon which to stand.

 

Continue your campaigns for or against issues, people and work. I’m happy to applaud anyone who does so well but will not permit weak arguments, innuendo or opinion to stand unchallenged, no matter who says them or how big their megaphone is. Life is just too short.

 

Cordially -

 

Jeanne

 

PS A big THANK YOU to all in the states who wrote with their perspective and support. I read your notes and will be in touch soon!

 

PSS I don’t think you fully appreciate who our awardees are and what they’ve done for the movement for excellence in education. No one would even be having a conversation about school options had Bill Bennett not articulated such a principle first and publicly as Secretary of Education in 1985! As for Barbara Dreyer, not only would online learning not exist, but there would be no Rocketship, no Khan Academy and no Amplify. History is an amazing teacher if you take time to learn it.

 

Jeanne Allen, head of the Center for Education Reform, posted an article today (see below) entitled Truth Matters: A look at the “Tilson Tirade” on Online Learning, in which she responds to my presentation on K12.

 

I’ve known Jeanne for many years, we have a very friendly relationship, and I truly admire the difficult work she’s done in the trenches over many years fighting for better schools for kids and parents – which is why I’m puzzled that she can’t see how K12 (and most of the rest of its industry) have franticly pursued growth at all costs, resulting in an educational catastrophe for the significant majority of kids enrolled in online schools.

 

But it’s OK for we reformers to disagree on certain issues. I welcome a healthy debate, so in that spirit, below is an open letter to Jeanne in response to her article:

 

Dear Jeanne,

 

Nearly two weeks after going public with my analysis and conclusions about K12, of the dozens of people I heard from, not a single person had anything positive to say about K12. In fact, it appears that I was very late in discovering what many other people had already figured out: that, if anything, K12 is even worse than I had described (hard as it is to imagine).

 

So it’s great to finally hear someone try to rebut my arguments – after all, if I’m wrong, I want to know about it. But after reading your article carefully a number of times, it hasn’t introduced even the tiniest bit of doubt in my mind that my conclusions are correct that K12 has run amok, is engaging in a variety of bad acts, and is running schools with the worst academic outcomes I’ve seen in my 24 years of involvement with this movement.

 

The argument that underlies most of your 10 points is that I cherry-picked information from a handful of disgruntled and/or biased former employees and researchers to draw false conclusions that are otherwise unsupported by the data. The problem with this argument is that, by your own admission, your article is “only a brief expose of what’s wrong with the first 5 pages of text” in my presentation. But my presentation is 123 pages long! The first five pages are only the introduction, which is why the title of page 8 says “Summary of Why I'm Short K12's Stock.”

 

If the totality of my presentation were just the first five pages, I’d agree that you have a point. Yes, one or two former employees might be disgruntled. Yes, one or two researchers might biased against K12. Yes, the data in one or two states might be flawed. But I present over 100 pages of interviews, investigative journalism reports, research studies, state data, etc. – all of which say the exact same thing. It’s not as if 60% of the data points are against K12 and 40% are in favor – it’s more like 99% vs. 1%. It reminds me of the old saying: “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.”

 

You would be doing me a great favor if you would, in your promised subsequent article(s), move beyond attacking me and my numerous sources, and present actual data and evidence that rebuts my arguments. Please show me – I really want to know – any evidence that the students ateven one of K12’s 54 schools are doing well. To be clear, I’m not talking about a few anecdotes – I acknowledge in my presentation that “a few students at even the worst online schools are doing well.” Rather, show me evidence that rebuts what one person I spoke with told me: “To be sure, [online schools] work well for some students, but I'd guess only 15% of the ones cyber charters are currently serving.”

 

I want to respond specifically to three things you wrote in your article:

 

1) You wrote:

 

I’ll limit this to educational facts and data – and let the investing community delve deeper into ethical questions about someone who attempts to malign a company while shorting that company’s stock.

 

First, I’m scratching my head at how you use the words “facts” and “data” in your article multiple times, yet I couldn’t find a single fact or data in your entire article. Not one! All you did was cast aspersions on my facts and data.

 

Second, your raising the issue of “ethical questions” remind me of two old sayings: “Don’t throw stones when you live in a glass house” and “Whose bread I eat, his song I sing.”

 

I’ve openly disclosed my short position in K12 at every opportunity and made it clear that my funds and I will profit if K12’s stock goes down.

 

Now I call on you to be similarly transparent about your financial interest in this debate. Specifically, how much money has the Center for Education Reform taken from K12, Connections Education (the second-largest online charter company), and other online charter organizations over, say, the last five or ten years? My understanding is that they have generously supported your organization.

 

I know for sure that both K12 and Connections will be featured prominently at CER’s 20thAnniversary Celebration next week, CER at 20 (the press release about the gala confirms that “Current sponsors of CER at 20 include Charter Schools USA, K12, Inc., Connections Education…”). In addition, two of the honorees at the gala are William Bennett, the first Chairman of K12, and Barbara Dreyer, the Co-founder and CEO of Connections Education.

 

To be clear, I am not criticizing you for accepting their support. But it is highly ironic to raise “ethical questions” about my conflict of interest without disclosing your own.

 

2) You write that I am “opposed to all online schools.” Most folks don’t understand the nuances between online/cyber/virtual schools, hybrid schools, blended learning, and online learning (confusion that K12 takes full advantage of), so I amended this paragraph on page 6 of my presentation to read:

 

Note that my critique is specifically of K12, not all online charter schools, for-profit charter schools or blended learning schools. While I think the online charter school sector has, overall, run amok, there are a small number of good online schools – and a few students at even the worst online schools are doing well.

 

3) Lastly, in point #9, you write:

 

Finally Whitney gets to academic achievement, which I will explore further in my next edition. However, here are a few notes to chew on.

 

Once again we look at NEPC for data, not any credible source.

 

I find it curious that in a five-single-spaced-page article you completely duck the single most important issue for any school operator: the academic achievement of students. In contrast, I address this issue in great depth across 25 pages of my presentation (pages 34-60), of which NEPC data is only a small part. I eagerly await your “next edition.”

 

Then you write:

 

Whitney slams K12 for not permitting outside evaluators to look at their data. Where are his outside evaluators?

 

What do you mean, where are my outside evaluators? Even if K12 were willing to share its data (which it’s not), why would it be my responsibility to hire outside evaluators? In light of the criticisms from all directions of K12’s dismal academic results, you’d think the company – if it even had mediocre data – would be eager to put these issues to rest by hiring credible independent evaluators, especially since K12 now admits that the Scantron results, which it’s been trumpeting for years, can’t be relied on (see page 39 of my presentation).

 

Finally, you turn to student churn and write:

 

To be sure, K12 and others do not retain kids well in the first couple of years. There is enormous churn, and some of that might be due to the organization running the school, and some might be due to the kind of situation each student brings and leaves with.  We need to know more… and we simply don’t. We need more data, which would have been a noble use of Whitney’s bully pulpit.

 

But the lack of data doesn’t stop Whitney from accusing K12 of fraud.

 

My response is three-fold. First, to your comment that calling for more data “would have been a noble use of Whitney’s bully pulpit,” I point out on page 62 of my presentation that CEO Ron Packard said: “we haven't chosen to” disclose churn rates to investors. In fact, K12 is so loath to release the data it has on student churn that it’s defied two letters from the SEC demanding that it do so.

 

Second, while you assert that there’s a “lack of data,” in reality there’s quite a bit of data showing shockingly high student churn, which I cover in pages 62-65 of my presentation.

 

Third, I find it interesting that you chose to use the word “fraud” because it doesn’t appear anywhere in my presentation (the closest I come is to ask Is K12 Defrauding States Via Lax Enrollment Policies? in the title of pages 31-33). A Freudian slip?

 

Sincerely yours,

 

Whitney

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From the Desk of 
Jeanne Allen
 
Truth Matters
A look at the “Tilson Tirade” on Online Learning.

http://hosted.verticalresponse.com/1397421/71de7e3490/542540291/5e887f5f42/ 
 
Whitney Tilson is a self-described reform warrior who from his hedge fund perch disseminates information and opinions – as well as a variety of travel logs about his own escapades around the world – with a wide and growing group of people that just like being “in the know.” It’s often entertaining, sometimes informative, and in general, everyone gets a kick out of reading about themselves or something Whitney likes that they did.
 
Obviously no one likes reading about something they did Whitney doesn’t like. He doesn’t mince words. Sometimes when he criticizes he’s right. Often, he’s wrong. One such example is his tirade against online learning in general, and K12, Inc. in specific. 
 
Presenting to his email audience his 100-page plus Power Point to the Value Investing Congress “proving” that K12 and online learning sucks, Whitney takes the reader through a series of arguments that he is 100% convinced are right.  The fact that he presented to such an esteemed body is worrisome for anyone who thinks he is wrong. Upon further scrutiny, it turns out the Value Investing Congress, while big, was actually founded by Whitney himself, so being invited to present there isn’t like getting invited to the Clinton Global Initiative! 
 
But anyone who makes statements like “online education is a cancer” requires more scrutiny, don’t you think? To that end, here is just a brief expose of what’s wrong with the first 5 pages of text in Tilson’s Tirade. (I’ll limit this to educational facts and data – and let the investing community delve deeper into ethical questions about someone who attempts to malign a company while shorting that company’s stock.)
 
 
THE FIRST TEN FLAWS in An Analysis of K12 and Why It Is My Largest Short Position, By Whitney Tilson, Kase Capital
http://seekingalpha.com/article/1707192-an-analysis-of-k12-and-why-it-is-my-largest-short-position
 
 
#1  —Whitney says he is opposed to all online schools:
 
“The schools I’m talking about are ones in which students are supposedly learning by sitting at home all day in front of a computer, interacting with teachers almost exclusively online.”
 
Supposedly? I don’t know of many people who make statements about kids “supposedly” sitting in front of computers all day that actually understand how online learning works.  Yes, teachers deliver instruction via the computer. Some are live, many are posted and self-paced.  The best instruction in the world can be online and self-paced. The worst instruction in the world can be online and self-paced.  But this paints the picture that the child is glued to a teacher behind a computer screen when in actuality, the experience can be much richer than that. Regardless, Whitney provides no evidence of this “fact.”
 
#2 — In these next excerpts, the writer makes inferences and assumptions about who can benefit and why – and we’re asked to think about his logic, his reason, as if this kind of critique is new – and factual…
 
“While online schools can be an excellent option for certain students, it’s a very small number – typically those who have a high degree of self-motivation and strong parental commitment. It’s sort of obvious if you think about it. Do you think you would have learned more during your K-12 educational experience if you’d sat at home in front of a computer, or gone to school and had daily face-to-face interaction with teachers?”
 
#3  — The next sloppy assertion comes when he quotes a Brookings Institution researcher, Tom Loveless, who has done some good work in the past, and some rather mediocre work. He provides this opinion, which Whitney uses as evidence:
 
“We’re talking about high schoolers and young kids. The idea that parents go to work and leave their kids in front of a computer—it’s absurd.”
 
Just a few sentences earlier Whitney acknowledges that virtual or online schools actually require a coach to be with the student every day. The notion that a parent or grandparent, or hired adult might be working with kids is never explored in this report.
 
#4  — An interview with the former head of the Ohio Virtual School provides much fodder for assertions about K12. Whitney argues that it is this interview that sent him over the edge and on his new crusade.  The former head of this K12-managed charter school says the company was all about making money and growth and didn’t care about student achievement. Shocking that a former employee would say something like that.  How many of us have had former employees that loved the job when they had it, but upon leaving – suddenly discovered all sorts of things they really found fault with.  Most professionals would never discuss a personnel matter with people externally, so we really do not know the story behind why his particularly school head left and why he feels compelled to damn his former employer. Maybe he is right to condemn, may he’s not, but his opinions about his former employer does not a case against online learning make.
 
#5 — A Teachers College researcher and professor is given lots of credibility in asserting that K12 never cared about kids.  Never mind that Teachers College and its various sub-organizations and researchers have consistently stood against any education reforms that put parents and students in the driver’s seat! He told Whitney that
 
“The virtual providers like K12 are now mostly going after at-risk kids, kids on their last straw – if they didn’t sign up, many would be dropouts or go back to juvenile court.”
 
So of course, it fit the profile, and Whitney took it to the bank.
 
This professor goes on to say:
 
“K12 and Packard use this as an advertisement, saying they’re doing noble things and wondering why they’re being criticized. It’s almost comical. It’s so misleading and conniving.”
 
This is a teacher of teachers? Putting out opinion as fact? Unbelievable.
 
#6  — One person is quoted as saying that online schools do lots of advertising and enroll kids who don’t succeed just for the money. Wow, now that’s convincing.
 
#7  — Next Whitney is quoting someone criticizing K12 on “Glassdoor,” a website that permits people to post anonymously about a company without any need for verification.  It’s like a Trip Advisor or any number of rating systems that anyone can participate in. We’re supposed to give such a quote credibility – even when there are dozens of positive comments about K12 on the same page linked to his damning discovery.
 
Whitney tells us that he believes it a “catastrophe” to permit low income students to be enrolled in an online school.  Really? It’s a catastrophe for a child whose schools and environment has not served him well and is disadvantaged and has any number of good reasons to do his schooling outside of a traditional classroom?  It sounds like Whitney doesn’t believe that what’s good for higher income students isn’t good for lower income students, even if it’s a choice their parents make.  Whether he’s right or wrong is irrelevant – he has no data that supports his allegations – again. 
 
And we’re only on page 4.
 
#8 — Low spending on teachers is demonstrated by a bar graph the result of data supplied by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC). Hello?? Do you know who these people are?  The NEPC is run by individuals with degrees, masquerading as researchers, who are funded by unions and have since 1994 been involved in “research” that criticizes and finds fault with ANY charter school efforts, companies that work in charter schools and anything without unions at their core. Alex Molnar, Gary Miron and others on the NEPC team have never been credible, and never trusted by anyone left, right or center who really cares about research. They make up what I once called, more than 10 years ago – the Don’t Worry, Be Happy crowd – who believe US education has never been better and any attempts to change it are simply self-serving.
 
That said, even if the data NEPC’s chart shows about the level of teacher spending were right, there’s no connection between the spending on teachers and student achievement. We hear from Whitney about ONE disgruntled teacher that says EVERY teacher had her same experience. Where’s the rigor on this? Where is “EVERY” teacher saying this? Shouldn’t be too hard to find them all, right?
 
Would you trust a survey in which ONE person said they liked something? Would you not go to a restaurant because ONE person was unhappy? This is the problem with education writ large today. We are so quick to buy into someone’s “data’ simply because it sounds so darn convincing
 
#9 — Finally Whitney gets to academic achievement, which I will explore further in my next edition. However, here are a few notes to chew on.
 
Once again we look at NEPC for data, not any credible source. Whitney slams K12 for not permitting outside evaluators to look at their data. Where are his outside evaluators?
To be sure, K12 and others do not retain kids well in the first couple of years. There is enormous churn, and some of that might be due to the organization running the school, and some might be due to the kind of situation each student brings and leaves with.  We need to know more… and we simply don’t. We need more data, which would have been a noble use of Whitney’s bully pulpit.
 
But the lack of data doesn’t stop Whitney from accusing K12 of fraud.
 
#10 — Finally - for now - he connects us to state reports in Colorado and Pennsylvania, where he presents “studies” from newspapers that show student achievement low and dollars potentially being misspent.
 
We are given a link to an article about Colorado with some state data about online schools and many comments from reformers commending the reporters for their investigation.  There’s information about schools, and analysis of what that might mean, but no actual analysis of student performance over time or SES data, and because it’s aggregate data, we don’t know who goes to that school and who succeeds, or not.  It’s general, it’s not a great picture, but we simply don’t know what that means for the kids the schools serve.  It might be bad, very bad, as Whitney suggests, or it might be good, for some. I’ve looked at it and I’m an expert and I know in order to make a conclusion I’d have to do a lot more work and get more data to understand if kids achieve or not.
 
I presume state officials have done this.  As most people know, state officials are on the hot seat for making laws work for kids.  Many work and have great success with chartering and ensuring quality outcomes for kids.  For whatever reason, officials in Colorado -- a state that has mounds of good data about schools -- have not shut down its virtual schools, though the record shows that they have scrutinized and intervened to improve many.
 
New York Times article is cited as evidence that online schools in PA are very bad and yet again, there is no objective school-by-school data upon which this is based so the conclusions belong to the reporter and to Whitney, not to any comprehensive, proper evaluation. 

But Whitney is willing to make pronouncements, regardless.  He is a friend to good causes and children’s needs, and most of the time to education reform, but this new vendetta against online learning in general for kids, and one particularly company, K12, appears to be lacking in real rigor, and content, and truth.
 
*************
Aristotle once said that “our duty as philosophers requires us to honour truth above our friends”. I’d say our duty as stewards of sound policy require us to honor truth above our friends.
 
Oftentimes because a person has a big megaphone, they will have an impact on policy regardless of the data they present.  The result is that policy is often made based on someone’s opinion, rather than real live success.  Research isn’t objective right because it’s done by someone who has advanced degrees. It’s as flawed as the human mind itself.  We’ve seen this repeatedly.
 
The most important thing people of principle can do when reviewing someone’s words or comments or research, and not having enough data themselves to make a determination of right or wrong is to stop and ask the questions:

  • Does he have facts and have they been vetted by other people who have no bias in the matter, and no prior knowledge of the issue?
  • Has he interviewed a large enough sample of people to know that it’s bad, or is he/she just repeating what has been said that confirms his/her deepest suspicions?
  • Has the person actually been to see and talk to the very people he is calling frauds or worse, those he is saying have been duped?
  • Has the person actually seen the work – the school, the students, the parents, the educators, the actual, raw data — about which he is writing?
  • Does he understand data and how it is created?

 
The Internet is a marvelous thing. But it’s also produced a parade of acts that entertain and get applauded, often for simply being part of the show. Just as a walk through Barnes & Noble demonstrates that not all books are more than someone’s folly, a stroll over thousands of Google results daily demonstrates that just because it lives doesn’t mean it should. Sadly, the same problem we work to solve in the schools is a problem outside: namely, the lack of real rigor and content when it comes to learning, using and analyzing information.
 
One example is Diane Ravitch. A lot of people talk about Diane Ravitch. Some consider her courageous for standing up to the people whose work, research and causes she once advanced, wrote about, studied and celebrated.  She liked standards once, and now she just wants her grandkids to have fun and meaning (because I guess standards are just not fun and not meaningful and testing to find out if they have met standards kills childhood).  Diane liked choice once upon a time because she saw the inadequacies in schools and the fact that a student’s lifetime could be spent in a bad school with no escape. Now she rallies her growing army of ignorance against anyone who believes in freedom and choice for the poor as social justice. Why she does that is the subject of much debate. I actually think I have the root cause, and her communications to me over the years will help me shape my thoughts I will share in the not-too-distant future (not because I think Diane Ravitch, the person or critic, needs more attention, but because the attention she has created against real educational opportunity for children is morally repugnant, harmful to real people who don’t live in an upscale Brooklyn Heights apartment among people who only agree with her, and truly unfounded and inaccurate).
 
I don’t have the luxury of stopping everything to read and analyze Whitney Tilson’s documents or Diane Ravitch’s hundreds of pages of commentary and rants against education reformers.  But in the pursuit of truth, I can do a few pages at a time.  We all can. 

 

Comments

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I have immense respect for Tilson. He is a longtime supporter of charter schools, but he has been willing to take a courageous stand against a charter school company that is taking government money and harming its students. That kind of nuance has been lacking in the education debates.

I first started following education reform issues back in early 2001 when once-hailed, now-fizzled Edison Schools Inc. released baldfaced false test score figures for its school here in San Francisco. Among the operations that published the false figures, the Center for Education Reform declined to retract, correct or discuss them. For the record, the Economist also published the fake figures and then retracted/corrected the falsehood. Once the Economist had done that, it came down to willful dishonesty to refuse to retract/correct, and that was what CER engaged in. Just for the record.

Ray, it's not necessary to start pouring hypocrisy and unction on Whitney Tilson at this time. He's actually better than that.

He has the grace to present himself as far from "willing to take a courageous stand" yadda yadda. Instead, he's taking a courageous collapse, and a confused, contradictory retrenchment right out there in front of friends and enemies alike.

"I’m embarrassed by my own ignorance and silence on this issue, so I’m determined to make up for this by using my bully pulpit to get the word out to my fellow reformers that we need to immediately end our collective silence for two reasons..."
http://www.valuewalk.com/2013/09/whitney-tilson-k12-short-3/

What a mess, and there's lots more of it. The only way he can come out of this in one piece is by breaking loose from all self-serving drivel, and doing it. That "nuance" talking point line isn't going to work, he has crossed it.

"I’m embarrassed by my own ignorance and silence on this issue" How many people would have the guts to say something like this? Tilson is in no way responsible for the unethical behavior of K-12 Inc., yet he is willing to take on this powerful company.

I don't have to agree with everything that Tilson advocates in order to respect him. Mary, you need to move beyond thinking of people you disagree with as the enemy. I suspect that I am closer to you than to Tilson when it comes to education policy. This does not stop me from recognizing integrity when I see it.

Reformers fighting about money...and we thought teachers' unions were evil.

Back to Ray. You aren't showing respect for the actual Tilson. You're trying to muffle him by praising your pretend-
Tilson.

You're denying him respect for the actual courageous thing he did do, which was to examine his own previous FAILURE to "take a courageous stand against a charter school company that is taking government money and harming its students."


Hi, Alexander. I only just saw this, Thank God, because your incredibly misinformed summary might have really ruined an otherwise great week!

While Whitney's self-described raid on K12 has since taken a slightly different turn in his 4.5 hour chance meeting with Ron Packard the other night (which I hope you'll also print), I'd respectively request that you actually go back and read what I wrote both times which you described as a defense of K12. In actuality, far less informed people have recognized that what I sought to do was to put the burden of proof on Whitney to prove his statements, as data and real facts were lacking. My beef was his condemnation of online learning and suggestions that those who administer such programs can't be trusted.

A corner has since been turned of course, but I do call on you as well to be clear and factual when describing what one's work really says and what one's intent may be. I am a call away an email or two closer, and you can always, as you have in the past, find me.

The gala is since over (it was great!) and K12 was but one of dozens of sponsors who not only made it possible for us to salute people who have done much for kids but to ensure that people could be in a room pursuing common cause for a day and night. That such sponsorships come without strings should not be a surprise to you and to suggest otherwise is pretty lame. Sponsorships gave us the ability to comp educators and press, policymakers and some grassroots folks who have few funds. We also had your prime sponsor - Scholastic - sponsor us. Which makes me wonder -- if you think we are influenced by our sponsors does that mean you are?

Speaking of which, where were you? No matter -- you can see it completely live -- and soon -- at www.edreform.com.

I look forward to your correction being printed and the subsequent and fair coverage of the continuing debate on online education.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in This Week In Education are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.