To Floridians, class size matters.
A decade ago, 2,550,201 state voters said so, approving a constitutional amendment limiting the number of students who can be jammed into a single class.
No more than 25 kids can be assigned to a high school class offering a core course. Plainly, that’s the kind of teacher-to-student ratio that Floridians expect in their public school system.
I’m guessing they might not be thrilled by a ratio of 275 to 1.
Of course, the public wasn’t supposed to find out. The state’s over-packed classes are of the virtual kind, administered by distant, unseen teachers employed by K12, the for-profit contractor that provides online classes for public school districts in 43 Florida counties, including Miami-Dade and Broward. Students working from their home, pecking away on their computers in remote reclusion, wouldn’t know how many other students had been dumped into their particular class. Neither would their parents. Not even the local school boards that write the checks to K12 would be privy to the ratios. Opaqueness has worked out well for K12. Because the more kids the company can load onto a single teacher, the lower the overhead and the higher the profits.
That has been the great thing about virtual education, at least as a business plan. Nobody has known what the hell’s going on. At least they didn’t until reporters from the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting uncovered a 2010 confidential memorandum that revealed the company’s secret staffing formulas. As FCIR discovered, the number of schoolchildren stuffed into virtual classes depends on how much money a particular school district can pay. It’s like buying coffee from Starbucks, with education coming in three sizes. Except more dollars means smaller classes.
Not that the small-sized classes are so small. School districts paying the premium rate, $4,000 a kid, buy themselves a 225:1 ratio for high school classes. Pay a bit less, down to $3,000 a head, and cyber class ratios go up to 245:1. Cash-strapped districts, paying less than three grand, get venti-sized classes, up to 275 children per teacher.
K12 hasn’t explained their staffing formula to the school districts sucked into these contracts. Perhaps because the company suspects that the public school officials would not be pleased to find out they were paying good money for gigantic classes. Just eight months ago, Miami-Dade schools rejected proposals for four new all-virtual charter schools in part because the teacher-student ratios would be 50:1.
Apparently, virtual classrooms are exempt from the 2002 constitutional amendment limiting class size. It’s not illegal for K12 to overload its teachers. However, the Florida Department of Education is investigating allegations that this same outfit has employed improperly certified teachers for some classes. Now, that would be a violation of state laws. It would also be cheaper, of course, for an educational company to forgo the bother of paying qualified teachers for each course offering.
K12 CEO Ron Packard dismissed news reports about certification violations as “rumor mongering and absurd,” but the FCIR has discovered an email exchange between K12 employees that doesn’t quite fit that description. A K12 supervisor asked a certified teacher to sign off on a roster of 100 Seminole County students who had completed a virtual course. But the rather heroic teacher, Amy Capelle, recognized just seven names on that list. She refused. “I can’t sign off on students who are not my actual students. It is not ethical to submit records to the district that are inaccurate.”