by David Safier
[*Source of "87% bunkum" figure: I pulled it out of my own head.]
The for-profit, publicly traded online education corporation, K12 Inc., expends a great deal of effort recruiting new students. With a "churn rate" (students who leave each year) close to 33%, it has to replace a third of its students every year just to stay even, and it also needs to grow to make a profit. The corporation is known for resorting to all kinds of high pressure, deceptive practices to lure and keep students -- the kind of behavior that makes me question whether K-12 Inc. has the ethical integrity needed to educate students successfully.
I recently ran across an online ad for Arizona Virtual Academy that proclaims, "96% satisfaction rating* from parents." See that asterix in the statement? Follow it to the bottom of the page and you find, "*Source: K-3 Experience Survey, TRC."
The survey by TRC Market Research, which advertises it tailors its research to meet a company's needs, only includes parents of very young children, not the entire K-12 population of the schools, something you only learn by reading the fine print no one reads. It's likely parents of younger children are going to find the online environment more satisfactory than parents who have to take responsibility for the education of their older children. But even so, it's hard for me to believe, with a churn rate of 33% -- probably lower for the early grades -- only 4% of parents would be dissatisfied. There had to be a far larger number of unhappy campers.
That 96% satisfaction figure has an interesting history in K12 Inc. literature. More below the fold.
When the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools refers to the state's K12 Inc. school, it says, without qualification, "surveys consistently show a 96% satisfaction rating among parents."
Massachusetts Virtual Academy claims a "96% parent satisfaction rating" in its brochure, applying that number directly to the Massachusetts school, without an asterix to indicate which grades were included.
K12 Inc. also uses the stat without qualification in the front portion of its 2008 Annual Report that goes out to shareholders:
"We are also proud to have earned a high, 96 percent satisfaction rating among families using our program."
"As we have seen in past years, this year’s 96 percent satisfaction rating drove a high volume of referrals."
Later, in the fine print, you learn:
"According to a 2008 independent survey we commissioned of parents of K-8 students enrolled in virtual public schools we serve, approximately 96% of respondents stated that they were either satisfied or very satisfied with our curriculum and 95% of respondents stated that they would recommend our curriculum to other families. The survey was conducted by TRC, an independent research firm, in January 2008."
The consistency of the 96% figure using K-8 parents as well as K-3 parents is suspicious. Honest surveys generally don't replicate indentical figures using different samples in different years.
A 2010 Investor Presentation restates the 96% Parent Satisfaction figure using the 2008 K-8 survey.
Then a 2010 brochure uses a 2009 survey without indicating the students' grade levels but once again coming up with that consistent 96% number.
"Based on a Fall 2009 survey conducted by K12, 94% of K12 parents agree that their student has benefited academically, 96% of the parents are satisfied with the curriculum quality, and 94% would recommend K12 curriculum."
Currently, shareholders are suing K12 Inc. because it inflated the test scores of students at one of its online charters. Stockholders might also ask to look at all the data from a number of different surveys done by TRC Market Research to see how they came up with the exact same 96% figure using different samples of students at different grade levels in different years.