The Lesson of Tennessee Virtual Academy

Tennessee Virtual AcademyI am really interested in education, but I find it very depressing to write about. It seems to me that it is all tail chasing that passes for educational reform. What’s more, most of it comes down to private companies trying to make a buck and politicians (in this case, the Democrats are almost as bad as the Republicans) helping them along. The recent scandal about the Tennessee Virtual Academy (TVA) is particularly illustrative, although not in the way that most people are reporting it.

TVA as its name implies is an online school. Basically, it is just a way to allow parents to more easily home school their children. But there are actual teachers who interact with the students and the parents. I have a problem with home schooling. It isn’t that I don’t think children can be home schooled well. I flatter myself that if I had children and I home schooled them, they would get stellar educations. (And they would hate it.) The problem is that most people who home school their kids don’t do it because they want their kids to be well educated; they do it because they want to “protect” their children from dangerous ideas like natural selection, quantum mechanics, and pretty much any post-Enlightenment thinking.

But if people are going to home school, I think the state should provide all the help it can. Unfortunately, TVA is not succeeding, at least on the terms that it was sold to lawmakers. According to Raw Story:

Democratic lawmakers are now attempting to cap enrollment at 5,000 after 2011 test scores showed that only 16.4 percent of middle school students were proficient in math, and only 39.3 percent were proficient in language arts.

I don’t think much of tests, but that is pretty bad. But here’s the thing: that isn’t the story.

TVA is in the news because the vice principal sent out an email to teachers telling them to erase the failing grades from September and October. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. Yes, it is probably just TVA trying to cover itself. But it must be at least in part them trying to make adjustments. What’s more, when I taught, all I cared about was how well the students understood the material at the end of the course. I made allowances for students who did poorly at the end, but I never penalized a student for doing poorly at the start; students who got As on the final, got As in the course.

Because of this story, now the poor test scores are getting some attention. I think this is backwards. But so be it. What’s important here is that companies like TVA (a for-profit public school) sell their services on the basis of test scores. Yet when they fail by the one metric that they and their political allies claim to care about, nothing happens. I think this is because this kind of educational “reform” and “innovation” is not about test scores and it most certainly isn’t about education or the betterment of children. It is about making profits and gutting public education. In this regard, the Republicans are far worse. But regardless of the motivation, the result of pretty much all educational reform is to divert public funds to private (for-profit) companies and weaken public education.

And that is the real story of the Tennessee Virtual Academy.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “The Lesson of Tennessee Virtual Academy

  1. What a sad use of the initials TVA. They once stood for something much better . . .

    Another issue with homeschooling is that teachers (both public and private) have a duty, in most if not all states, to report signs of potential abuse or neglect. It’s easier for homeschooled kids to fall through the cracks. I’m sure it’s not a hugely widespread problem, but I’ve seen it happen, and it’s quite sad.

  2. @JMF – Yeah, I thought about making some mention of the Tennessee Valley Authority. The Virtual Academy doesn’t seem to use the acronym, I just didn’t want to have to type out the whole name a bunch of times.

    That’s a good point about abuse. I just think that there is a bit of not wanting to be a member of a club that would have you as a member. We probably don’t generally want the sort of people who want to home school their kids home schooling their kids.

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