Following U.S. education policy, Doug Ford declares public high schools open for business

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Image: Can Swac Pire/Flickr

Among his sins, now rising up to haunt him before they even settle into the loam, Doug Ford has decreed that beginning in fall 2020, Ontario high school students will need to take four online courses to graduate.

It seemed to come from nowhere. In no other place in North America are students required to take four online courses. Michigan, Florida, Alabama, Virginia and Arkansas demand one. The schools of Alabama are now more circumspect than ours. Of all Ford's jolts to education -- like scrapping teachers, courses, programs for kids with special needs -- this stood out, someone said, like a sore thumb.

His newly shuffled education minister, Stephen Lecce, presented as comms savvy, says, "Our government has been clear about our commitment towards reforming the outdated education system left to us … our objective and central focus of any reform … remains the same: student success." OK, so that gets us nowhere.

We know Doug's idée fixe, around which his mighty intellect revolves, is "saving money for the taxpayers" (though taxpayers, according to polls, are having doubts). But we've learned more about Doug recently. His entourage has an affinity to cashing in around him. It saddens me to explore this but, as they say on Law and Order, the premier has opened the door to it.

It bears the odour of lobbyists and hangers-on. Does someone in the male fog around the premier clear his voice and say, "We could save a lotta money teaching online." Hmm, says the preem. Then Voice-clearer moves in for the kill: "Lotsa companies are already providing it in the U.S., who could invest here."

And Shazam! DoFo's Ontario proves it is indeed Open for Business -- not just on your licence plates. It turns out online courses aren't just big business, they are mondo, devouring business. Merely glance southward.

  • Online learning is a money-maker because it doesn't need to maintain "bricks and mortar" schools yet can qualify for as much or more public money, often when done through the charter school movement (virtual charters).
  • The Washington Post said Ohio's Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) "epitomizes the corruption in the virtual charter sector." They overcharged taxpayers $80 million in two years for "truant" students who hadn't logged into the online system "for even the required minimum of once every 30 days." Their test scores were worse than "all but 14 of 609 Ohio school districts." (Mother Jones). Governors Jeb Bush and John Kasich -- "enlightened" Republican statesmen -- addressed "ECOT" graduations and scored campaign donations.
  • The New Yorker said in 2010, Rupert Murdoch "launched" an ed-tech division because "we see a $500 billion dollar sector … waiting desperately to be transformed." He meant public education, which was being slashed and was ready to shift students online where everything, including teachers, is cheaper.
  • California has nine "virtual charter schools" i.e., publicly funded but only online. Through standard business manoeuvres they became profit gushers for private companies, though they generally "perform much worse than brick-and-mortar schools serving similar populations" (Center for American Progress). When Kamala Harris was A-G there, she sealed a deal where they repaid $8.5 million for "inflated attendance figures … aggressive marketing campaigns and inadequate instructional support." They told teachers to mark kids present if they logged in for at least a minute a day, to qualify for public bucks.
  • Wall Street bloodsucker Michael Milken, model for Gordon Gekko, after serving time for securities/tax violations, set up K12 Inc. on the same, elearning, model. They raked it in: $10,000 per kid, double their actual cost, said Pennsylvania's state auditor. Its CEO said it was about freedom: "Kids have been shackled to their brick-and-mortar school down the block for too long."

So guess what, this thing didn't come out of nowhere. It has a past, mostly in the failed, corrupt charter movement in the U.S., and in Doug Ford's breathless Open for Business mentality. It didn't just happen.

Image: Can Swac Pire/Flickr

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