Trump Administration Forcing Detained Children to Attend Online, For-Profit Charter School?

Is the Trump Administration forcing detained migrant and refugee children to choose an online, for-profit charter school in Texas?

The stories of refugee and migrant children torn from their parents and sent to detention centers is one of the most heinous violations of human rights that United States has experienced in recent times. Sadly, it’s a continuation of discriminatory policies and racialization of the law that has impacted communities of color in the United States throughout its history (See Rothstein’s book Color of Law).

A few sources in Texas reached out to me and indicated that at the Dilley South Texas Family Residential Center, detained children are being forced to attend an online, for-profit charter school. This is allegedly happening at the same detention camp where the American Immigration Lawyers Association recently said that a migrant toddler died shortly after being released from this U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention camp. The Washington Post reported that association’s lawyers have “seen ongoing inadequacies in the standard of care provided to mothers and children in Dilley, and have filed complaints with the government raising these concerns.” In fact, the Wall Street Journal reported that the children in the Dilley camp only go to school on “most days.”

The same sources are telling me that Dilley Independent School District and other school districts in Texas have reached out to detention centers in Dilley and across Texas to educate the children that the Trump administration has incarcerated, but they have been rebuffed because charter schools have already arranged contracts with or are the detention centers. Mercedes Schneider, classroom teacher and blogger, explored this issue in her post Migrant-Child Shelter Operator, Southwest Key, Also Runs a Charter School (or Two). She writes,

Southwest Key is a nonprofit that operates several of the detention centers for children of the migrants who are currently the focus of the news for their being forcefully removed from their parents as part of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance policy.”

What I am hearing is that Fuel Education has obtained the contract for the Dilley South Texas Family Residential Center. A quick search of available jobs for Fuel Education in Dilley revealed the following job listing on LinkedIn.

Screen Shot 2018-08-24 at 11.14.28 AM.png

Who is Fuel Education? What explains the K12 Inc logo on the job ad? In 2014, K12 Inc, rebranded a subsidairy as Fuel Education. Education Dive reported:

  • K12 Inc., one of the largest for-profit virtual schools in the nation, rebranded a number of its products under a new banner: Fuel Education.
  • The virtual education provider argued that decision to rebrand is not to distance itself from a recent wave of critical news reports but rather to regroup a number of related offerings under one, marketable banner.
  • Fuel Education, a separate legal entity owned by K12 Inc., will provide various “personalized learning” platforms, as well as professional development content, consulting, and virtual classes.
  • K12 Inc., has received a high volume of critical attention recently. The American Federation of Teachers called the company out on its new site, Cashing in on Kids, as one of the most egregious education profiteers.

Fuel Education is run by a former military intelligence officer who (according to his LinkedIn profile) apparently did not have any experience as an educator before entering the for-profit education industry and later being selected as CEO of the Fuel Education company.

So what is K12 Inc’s track record? Wikipedia does a great job of laying out the predominance of the research on the organization that essentially finds that their success rate for students is “not encouraging.” That’s probably an understatement.

The National Education Policy Center regularly conducts studies of the performance of K12 and other for-profit virtual schools including Connections Academy (a subsidiary of Pearson Education).[5] These studies have not been encouraging.[34]A study at Western Michigan University and the National Education Policy Center found that only a third of K12’s schools achieved Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), which is required for public schools by the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation.[3] According to the Times, “By almost every educational measure, the Agora Cyber Charter School [a school run by K12] is failing.” In Pennsylvania, 42% of Agora students tested at grade level or better in math, compared with 75% of students statewide. 52% of Agora students tested at grade level or better in reading, compared with 72% statewide.[3] Nonetheless, Agora brought K12 $72 million in the 2011 school year – more than 10% of K12’s revenue….[3] 

The press and politicians have been equally critical. A 2012 PolitiFact.com article noted K12’s poor performance in Tennessee.[12] The New York Times investigated K12 and concluded that the company squeezes profits from public school funding by raising enrollment, increasing teacher workload, and lowering standards.[3] The Washington Post raised similar issues.[37]Also, In the Public Interest’s report entitled Virtual Public Education in California: A Study of Student Performance, Management Practices and Oversight Mechanisms at California Virtual Academies, a K12 Inc. Managed School System found,

The virtual education model advanced by K12 Inc. in California does not adequately serve many of its students. In every year since it began graduating students, except 2013, CAVA has had more dropouts than graduates. Its academic growth was negative for most of its history and it did not keep up with other demographically similar schools after 2005. Its Academic Performance Index scores consistently ranked poorly against other demographically similar schools and the state as a whole. Evidence of low quality educational materials, under- staffing of clerical employees and low teacher salaries all indicates that an additional investment of resources in the classroom is necessary for improvement.

It makes sense that the Trump Administration would force students in the Dilley detention center to attend an online, for-profit charter school because Secretary DeVos has championed online charter schools depsite their poor results nearly everywhere they operate. Notably, Politico reported that,

DeVos and her husband invested in virtual school powerhouse K12 Inc. before she became secretary. At least two of the school choice groups DeVos helped found, Great Lakes Education Project and the American Federation for Children, pushed for virtual charters — including in DeVos’ home state of Michigan.

So, to add insult to human rights injury, it appears that the Trump Administration is forcing detained migrant and refugee students in Dilley Texas to choose an online, for-profit charter that has had incredibly poor results.

(Update 8.28.18) It seems that the detention camp is also run by a for profit company that ACLU has criticized previously here.

In summary, it is clear that traditional and online charter schools and for profit imprisonment companies are empowering the Trump Administration’s child and family detention policy.

I’ll end with good news. In California, we are headed the opposite direction. This last week a bill came out of our legislature to ban for-profit charter schools. Will Jerry sign it?

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