Joseph Gentile

Readin', Writin' & Runnin' Into Trouble

Filed By Joseph Gentile | August 12, 2012 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: 2009 National School Climate Survey, Arizona Connections Academy, Beau Patterson, bullying, Connections Academy, education policy, Gary Miron, GLSEN, homophobic behavior, Internet, Iowa, Jessica Urschel, K12 Inc., LGBT teens, National Education Policy Center, Western Michigan Univeristy

Crooks.jpgSchool's out, but homophobia is still in. Two years ago, the mainstream media began hyping bullying by giving it the "Shark Week" treatment - and yet LGBT teens still face stiff odds. These odds, if left unaddressed, are invariably traced to their dropping out.

However, there are virtual schools that see the latent talent beneath their tears. They're from the Internet, and they're here to help... or are they out to help themselves?

If you've read the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network's (GLSEN) latest report card about the state of affairs for LGBT students, it's apparent the findings of the 2009 National School Climate Survey still aren't much better a decade after GLSEN first began its polling.

Before a spate of needlessly tragic suicides rattled our national psyche, GLSEN found that, of the 7,261 middle and high school students they interviewed, 9 out of 10 respondents faced discrimination due to their sexual orientation. Two-thirds admitted their classmates made them feel unsafe, and that a third purposefully skipped a day of school to elude confrontation.

Just as "It Gets Better," for-profit education companies are spreading optimism to distressed students, and their families, by promising a safe environment for these teens to continue their studies ... at home. Specializing in online, distance learning, firms such as Connections Academy and K12 Inc. are proliferating, and fast.

Nationwide, statehouses can't throw cash at them quickly enough, per-pupil, as the non-unionized alternative toward justifying an already anemic education budget. Next year, Iowans are actually preparing to transfer more than $4.1 million taxpayer dollars alone out-of-state to those two aforementioned for-profits. Perhaps us gays could learn more about recruitment from them?

Connections Academy does this expertly - pulling at the heartstrings of the prospective applicant's parents - by promising that their kids too can be "Thriving in a Safe Learning Environment" if they only withdrew their children from those brick-and-mortar schools of yesteryear. Granted, they're also blogging about helpful anti-bullying resources to engage school administrators with, but wouldn't it be better if families simply realized "there are other educational options available for helping students succeed."

Fourteen-year-old Beau Patterson, a freshman at Arizona Connections Academy, used to be "beat up a lot" before he and his mother discovered they had options online. His grades aren't "dropping and slipping a lot" anymore, and he's able to focus more upon the hobbies he enjoys rather than the torment he formerly felt. Bully for him.

However, that doesn't eliminate the fact that, nationwide, these distance learning-programs are underperforming, and failing young people at a dramatic rate.

In a study released last month by the National Education Policy Center, authors Gary Miron and Jessica Urschel of Western Michigan University learned not only that the K12 Inc. students of five different states (Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Ohio and Pennsylvania) aren't graduating as often as their traditional public school and charter counterparts; they're also lagging far behind federal and state requirements mandated for math and reading proficiency. Now more than a dozen former employees are signed onto a class-action lawsuit alleging K12 Inc. aggressively recruited at-risk students only to improve their bottom line.

Nevermind the results of another 10-month investigation, launched by EDNews Colorado, highlighting the $100 million spent by the state of Colorado upon online schools. Of the approximately 10,500 young Coloradans enrolled into the state's 10 largest online education programs, half left their school within a year; producing three times more dropouts for K12 Inc. and Academy Connections than they graduated.

Before these for-profit education companies are afforded yet another ripe opportunity to outsource their instructional capabilities to India, let's evaluate, and enforce, actual strategies that banish anti-gay bullying from the classroom. Of the 49 out of 50 states that stood up to bullying so far, no more than 19 (and the District of Columbia) made sexual orientation, or gender identity, a target of their legislation. Before prescribing our LGBT youth to an education that truly bytes, let's lobby our elected officials to enact anti-bullying legislation that's truly got their backs.

(Crooks image via Photobucket)

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