Tag Archives: Who Benefits From Online Ed?

Study of Washington community college students: Online college courses could widen achievement gap

27 Feb

Moi wrote in Online K-12 education as a cash cow for ‘Wall Street’:

There should be a variety of options and approaches in education. Still, School choice does not mean education on the cheap! K-12 education should not be the next sub-prime mortgage or derivative gambit for large for-profit companies. Lee Fang has written the alarming Nation article, How Online Learning Companies Bought America’s Schools.

While most education reform advocates cloak their goals in the rhetoric of “putting children first,” the conceit was less evident at a conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, earlier this year.

Standing at the lectern of Arizona State University’s SkySong conference center in April, investment banker Michael Moe exuded confidence as he kicked off his second annual confab of education startup companies and venture capitalists. A press packet cited reports that rapid changes in education could unlock “immense potential for entrepreneurs.” “This education issue,” Moe declared, “there’s not a bigger problem or bigger opportunity in my estimation.”

Moe has worked for almost fifteen years at converting the K-12 education system into a cash cow for Wall Street. A veteran of Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch, he now leads an investment group that specializes in raising money for businesses looking to tap into more than $1 trillion in taxpayer money spent annually on primary education. His consortium of wealth management and consulting firms, called Global Silicon Valley Partners, helped K12 Inc. go public and has advised a number of other education companies in finding capital.

Moe’s conference marked a watershed moment in school privatization. His first “Education Innovation Summit,” held last year, attracted about 370 people and fifty-five presenting companies. This year, his conference hosted more than 560 people and 100 companies, and featured luminaries like former DC Mayor Adrian Fenty and former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein, now an education executive at News Corporation, a recent high-powered entrant into the for-profit education field. Klein is just one of many former school officials to cash out. Fenty now consults for Rosetta Stone, a language company seeking to expand into the growing K-12 market.

As Moe ticked through the various reasons education is the next big “undercapitalized” sector of the economy, like healthcare in the 1990s, he also read through a list of notable venture investment firms that recently completed deals relating to the education-technology sector, including Sequoia and Benchmark Capital. Kleiner Perkins, a major venture capital firm and one of the first to back Amazon.com and Google, is now investing in education technology, Moe noted.


Henry M. Levin of Columbia University had some cautionary notes about for-profit K-12 education in 2001.

In the 2001 paper, Thoughts on For-profit Schools, Levin wrote:

The fact is that we know little about how for-profit schools will operate and how they will affect students and other schools. At least three major questions have yet to be answered satisfyingly:

If schools are a potentially profitable endeavor, then why did entrepreneurs wait so long to enter the market? Is there something unique about schooling that makes it difficult to earn a profit?

Now that we do have for-profit schools, how will they achieve cost savings? Will they bring fundamentally different approaches to education through curricular and technological innovations that will “break the mold”?

Even if they are more effective or less costly, or both, will they earn profits that are comparable to the returns on other investments? http://www.ncspe.org/publications_files/7_OP14.pdf

Levin mused about some of the other issues that for-profit operators of K-12:

In short, even the most expensive private schools with the most elite clientele fail to cover their costs with tuition. This goes far in explaining why entrepreneurs have shied away from the K–12 market. This is not to say that an individual, for-profit, family-owned school can’t survive. I know of a few for-profit schools at the K–12 level and more at the preschool level that appear to be marginally profitable. But much of what appears as profit is due to the family members’ hard work for little pay. The salaries they draw on the school understate the value of their time, leaving the impression that the enterprise is profitable.

Whether this can be replicated on a large scale by corporate entities is doubtful. Historically, economic studies have not identified substantial economies of scale in education at school sites or in multi-school endeavors. Perhaps this is for the reason suggested by John Chubb and Terry Moe in Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools (1990): that the best results are obtained when schools are given great autonomy.2 A corporate competitor in schooling must establish brand and product identity, which necessitates relatively uniform operations and services from site-to-site. This puts the need for quality control and similarity from site to site in direct competition with the need to be responsive to differences among particular clients and settings. http://www.ncspe.org/publications_files/7_OP14.pdf


The study, Adaptability to Online Learning: Differences Across Types of Students and Academic Subject Areas reviewed Washington community college students and concluded that many college students do not benefit from online courses.

Jake New reports in the Chronicle of Higher Education article, Online Courses Could Widen Achievement Gaps Among Students:

Low-cost online courses could allow a more-diverse group of students to try college, but a new study suggests that such courses could also widen achievement gaps among students in different demographic groups.

The study, which is described in a working paper titled “Adaptability to Online Learning: Differences Across Types of Students and Academic Subject Areas,” was conducted by Columbia University’s Community College Research Center. The researchers examined 500,000 courses taken by more than 40,000 community- and technical-college students in Washington State. They found that students in demographic groups whose members typically struggle in traditional classrooms are finding their troubles exacerbated in online courses.

The study found that all students who take more online courses, no matter the demographic, are less likely to attain a degree. However, some groups—including black students, male students, younger students, and students with lower grade-point averages—are particularly susceptible to this pattern.

Shanna Smith Jaggars, who is assistant director of the Community College Research Center and one of the paper’s authors, said the widening gap is troubling, as it could imply that online learning is weakening—not strengthening—education equality.

We found that the gap is stronger in the underrepresented and underprepared students,” Ms. Jaggars said. “They’re falling farther behind than if they were taking face-to-face courses.” http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/online-courses-could-widen-achievement-gaps-among-students/42521


Adaptability to Online Learning: Differences Across Types of Students and Academic Subject Areas

By: Di Xu & Shanna Smith Jaggars


Using a dataset containing nearly 500,000 courses taken by over 40,000 community and technical college students in Washington State, this study examines how well students adapt to the online environment in terms of their ability to persist and earn strong grades in online courses relative to their ability to do so in face-to-face courses. While all types of students in the study suffered decrements in performance in online courses, some struggled more than others to adapt: males, younger students, Black students, and students with lower grade point averages. In particular, students struggled in subject areas such as English and social science, which was due in part to negative peer effects in these online courses.

Associated Project(s):

Online Courses in Community Colleges

Doug Lederman writes in the Inside Higher Education article, Who Benefits From Online Ed?

The new study is a follow-up prompted by questions from officials at the Washington State Community/Technical College System whose courses were examined. (The study examined the performance of 40,000 students in about 500,000 online courses.) “They asked us, ‘So who? Is it all students who fare less well, or certain subgroups?’ ” said Jaggars.

The answer is that virtually every group of students fared less well (defined by the number of course credits they completed, and/or by their grades) in online courses than they did in on-ground classes.

But some groups fared worse than others. Men showed a more negative effect from online courses than did women in terms of both course persistence and grades. Black students’ grades fell significantly more in online courses, as did those of Asian students. Students with stronger academic skills saw their course persistence and grades decline less in online courses than did students with weaker academic credentials.

Like other groups, older students were less likely to complete online courses than they were on-ground courses, though their grades were actually slightly higher. But traditional-age students saw their comparative performance decline such that while they outperformed adult students significantly in face-to-face classes, they lagged their older peers in online courses.

To the researchers, the working paper’s findings that “students who are already doing poorly in college do even more poorly when they take online courses” suggest several possible implications, said Jaggars. It may make sense, she said, “to restrict online courses only to students who demonstrate they do well in those courses.”

Other options would include incorporating into the sorts of lower-level courses in which struggling students tend to cluster training in online-learning skills, to help such students adapt better to online environments.

And most of all, the researchers suggest, colleges should focus on improving the quality of all online courses, to “ensure that their learning outcomes are equal to those of face-to-face courses, regardless of the composition of the students enrolled. Such an improvement strategy would require substantial new investments in course design, faculty professional development, learner and instructor support, and systematic course evaluations.”

The Study’s Implications

Jaggars acknowledged that the researchers did not do any analysis of the quality of the Washington State community college courses examined in the working paper. And that led numerous observers to urge caution in applying its results too broadly, as a New York Times editorial about the study arguably did last week.

The editorial focused on the terribly high attrition rates of noncredit massive open online courses and used the Community College Research Center’s study to extrapolate about online learning generally: “The picture the studies offer of the online revolution is distressing.” http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/02/25/study-finds-some-groups-fare-worse-others-online-courses

Children are not the new sub-prime mortgage business or the new derivative gambit. People must be afraid, very afraid of the vultures who are now hovering around the education sector. If folks don’t watch them, the results will not be pretty.


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