by David Safier
The story about Arizona Virtual Academy sending student papers to India made the Friday news on KPNX-TV, Channel 12, in Phoenix. The video isn't available online, but the reporter, Brahm Resnik, posted an excellent article on the 12News website.
Resnik read my original post, then did some research of his own. (I'm very pleased the article included a link to my post, so pleased I'll even forgive Resnik or the proofreader for misspelling my name. For the record, it's David Safier, not Safien.) He contacted Mary Gifford, who confirmed the story, though she still claims she's not sure the papers went to India. This from someone who was with AZVA from the beginning and is now a regional vice president for K12 Inc. Maybe Gifford hasn't been paying much attention, just going along with everything K12 says without asking questions. That doesn't speak well for her qualifications as an educator. Maybe K12 is so secretive it doesn't let even its top employees know what's going on. Or maybe Gifford is not being entirely honest with me or Resnik.
Resnik asked Gifford if the parents knew their children's papers were going to India. She told him she's not sure, then said, in language that could have been crafted by the Bush administration, "I don't know that we had carte blanche communications." The sentence not only says nothing, but it misuses the term "carte blanche." Dr. Word, aided by a number of online dictionaries, found the term "carte blanche" means unrestricted power or authority to act at one's own discretion. If any of you can tell me what "carte blanche communications" means in the context of Gifford's answer, I'll give you an automatic A in my Literary Criticism course at BOA (What, you didn't know about the BfA Online Academy?) [Note: I'm not a Doctor, but I play one on Blog for Arizona.]
Resnik contacted John Wright, president of the Arizona Education Association, who objects to the idea of outsourcing student work, whether it goes to India or to a grader in the U.S.
"You're becoming part of that child's life," he said. "You're engaging in their learning, and to be doing that as a third-party contractor whether you're in Yonkers or India, adds a new element of risk that does not support good teaching."
I agree, though I would go beyond the idea of "risk." As someone who read, commented on and graded untold thousands of student essays in my 30 plus years of teaching English and other subjects, I can tell you that the connection teachers have with students and their writing is a far more powerful teaching tool than a number from 1 to 100 based on rubrics for various writing characteristics and comments from an anonymous grader. Essays on standardized tests like AIMS and the SAT have to be scored by a group of trained readers to guarantee a reasonable level of consistency, but that's not the way you do things if you want to help students advance to their greatest potential.
Apparently, this school year AZVA plans to outsource the papers to grad students in Arizona. The for profit school will continue to farm out student papers to keep costs down and profits up, but it's moving the operations onshore.
When Resnik asked Gifford about the issue of fingerprinting, Gifford repeated what she said to me, that the essays gave the graders no way to learn the students' identities. It would be helpful if Gifford would respond to the assertion made by Suji, a commenter on this blog, that student names and school IDs were on every paper he saw when he worked on the project in India. Gifford could easily go back through the records or check with AZVA teachers to find out whether Suji's assertion is accurate and respond either in a comment on this blog or a phone call to Resnik.
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