As for-profit virtual schools expand, are children getting the short end of the stick? (Photo credit: Flickr user Elizabeth Albert)

One of the biggest scams Corporate America is trying to foist on the nation is the privatization of our schools, often by promoting online education. The Nation’s Lee Fang documented last year how online learning companies are flooding state legislatures with lobbyists to win funding and mandates for online, for-profit charter schools and educational software.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) used his budget last year to quietly remove the cap on student enrollment his state’s virtual charter schools, opening up a flood of taxpayer dollars for online education companies. The “Wisconsin Coalition of Virtual School Families,” a group promoting these companies, named Walker a “Rock Star of Education Reform” for this move.

But a new analysis shows that these online schools aren’t living up to lobbyists’ hype:

Enrollment in Wisconsin’s online schools has doubled in the last five years, but students who have chosen class without a classroom often struggle to complete their degrees and repeat grades four times as often as their brick-and-mortar counterparts, according to a Gannett Wisconsin Media analysis. […] In the 2011-12 Wisconsin Student Assessment System testing,virtual students fared slightly better in reading than their brick-and-mortar counterparts, with 83.1 percent scoring proficient or advanced, compared with 81.9 percent statewide. But virtual students fell short in other subjects, with 5 percent to 12 percent fewer virtual students scoring proficient or advanced in math, social studies, language arts and science compared with the statewide average.

Promoting huge subsidies for private school education takes well-connected lobbying. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has been promoting virtual schools since 2005, and unsurprisingly the group’s education task force is co-chaired by for-profit education companies like K12 Inc. and Connections Academy. This new data shows that while these schools may offer some benefits to some kids, their overall promise of improving the education system is not being kept.