Cyber Charter Schools: Neoliberals Determined to Commodify More Students

The parasitic seizure of social wealth by the rich has intensified in recent years and promises to increase in 2021. While the stock market soars to artificial new heights, the productive sector of the economy continues to steadily disintegrate, leaving the financial oligarchy with fewer options to maximize profit over time. This in turn is causing the rich to engage in more stock market gambling, private lending, bankruptcies, and restructuring of the state in order to funnel more public funds into private hands (e.g., through more “public-private-partnerships”). As the law of a falling rate of profit invariably intensifies, the nexus between the rich and the state will become more critical to analyze in the months and years ahead. Left unchallenged, state-organized corruption to pay the rich will be strengthened well beyond 2021, leaving society, the economy, and the environment worse off, and making it harder for the New to emerge.

In the sphere of education, given the increased obsession with technology and screen-based instruction, the rich are more aggressively striving to seize public funds, impose user fees, and maximize profits through a dramatic expansion of “virtual learning,” especially through cyber charter schools, which have consistently low graduation rates and are regarded by many as a scam. The rich are extremely eager to commodify as many students as possible, at home and abroad. To be sure, the charter school phenomenon is reducing more and more students, parents, and teachers to fend-for-yourself consumers entangled in commodity logic, which in turn degrades the integrity of human relationships and lowers the level of education. It is bad news for education, society, the economy, and nation-building. Even the staunchest supporters of screen-based instruction admit that the in-person classroom experience is superior to buffered digital learning where one sits for endless hours behind a screen gradually developing a range of health problems. For nearly a year, students, educators, and parents have complained about how counterproductive, restrictive, and inferior screen-based learning is. Many say that it is isolating, alienating, and a far cry from the rich organic human connections that developed naturally and spontaneously before the “COVID Pandemic.”

The rich are energetically using the “COVID Pandemic” as a pretext to maximize profit in many ways. To this end, they have maximized the “fear virus” to pressure and compel parents to send their children to cyber charter schools. The intimate connection between fear and thought paralysis is critical to appreciate here because intense fear can stop reason, logic, and coherence instantly, giving rise to major cognitive distortions, which is dangerous for everyone. Today, the critical thinking faculties of many are overwhelmed by fear and paranoia. ((According to WebMD, the overall Covid-19 recovery rate is between 97% and 99.75%.))  Many parents naturally want what is safest for their children. That is normal. At the same time, one result will be a rude awakening for many parents who send their children to virtual charter schools. Many will experience firsthand the inferior educational experience provided by poor-performing virtual charter schools frequently mired in scandal.

Pointing to the massive profit potential in “virtual learning,” on December 31, 2020, The Courier carried the following article with the revealing title, “Virtual Schools Market to Receive Overwhelming Hike in Revenues by 2025.” The article highlights the “Global Virtual Schools Market” report and assures major owners of capital that the virtual learning sector “is anticipated to witness significant growth during the forecast period from 2020 to 2025” (emphasis added).

The expansion of “virtual learning” and cyber charter schools is certainly not driven by grass-roots forces or a desire to raise the level of education so as to serve the general interests of society. The report, which costs $3,500, is geared explicitly toward “stakeholders, investors, product managers, and marketing executives.” It stresses that for-profit Education Management Organizations and non-profit Education Management Organizations (EMOs) are the two main types of virtual schools to profit from. EMOs are private organizations that include cyber charter schools and brick-and-mortar charter schools. Both types of charter schools are governed by unelected individuals, plagued by fraud and corruption, and have a long record of failure and closure. Both kinds of charter schools rest on the ideologies of consumerism, individualism and the “free market,” which contradict the basic premises underlying a modern conception of human rights and social responsibility.

Commodity logic saturates every page of the “Global Virtual Schools Market” report which makes it clear that major owners of capital need to go global in their efforts to cash in on kids. A main purpose of the business-centric report is to strategically guide major owners of capital in ways that will allow them to best use kids to maximize profits. Owners of capital will learn how to “channelize their efforts and investments to maximize growth and profitability,” says the report.

The “top players” in the global “virtual learning” market include:

Aurora College, Beijing Changping School, K12 Inc, Florida Virtual School (FLVS), Pansophic Learning, Illinois Virtual School (IVS), Connections Academy, Charter Schools USA, Mosaica Education, Acklam Grange, N High School, Alaska Virtual School, Lincoln Learning Solutions, Inspire Charter Schools, Basehor-Linwood Virtual School, Virtual High School(VHS), Abbotsford Virtual School & Wey Education Schools Trust.

The biggest market remains the U.S.

Many are wondering how the detrimental effects of the lowering of the level of education through “virtual learning” are going to affect the abilities, skills, competencies, and dispositions of future students, not to mention the future of society. Can a modern society based on mass industrial production be built and sustained on the basis of a privatized and commercialized virtual learning system designed to maximize profits as fast as possible for a tiny ruling elite? Can the healthy extended reproduction of society be guaranteed by a generation of screen-based “learners” with little real-life practical in-the-field experience? Major owners of capital are not only unconcerned about this, they are also striving to commercialize everything around and connected to “virtual learning” (e.g., auxiliary services and products). Everything is to be commodified. Everything is to be converted to an exchange-value. The logic of buying and selling is to overwhelm and eliminate a modern theory of human rights and social responsibility.

Many thought that 2020 was perhaps one of the worst years ever for humanity. In many ways it was. The chaos, anarchy, and violence of an outmoded economic and political system revealed itself extra sharply during the “COVID Pandemic.” Unfortunately, 2021 and beyond is likely to make 2020 look like a trivial speed bump along the way to greater tragedies for people worldwide. More mayhem lies ahead and neoliberals and privatizers are not standing passively on the sidelines. They are moving forward rapidly with self-serving schemes in many spheres, including education, which will lead to further destruction in those spheres.

But it does not have to be this way. The human spirit is resilient and an alternative to the retrogressive status quo is both possible and necessary. Neoliberal wrecking does not have to be tolerated. People do not have to stand silently on the sidelines as the rich and their entourage destroy the social and natural environment. Much can be accomplished when the weight, organization, and numbers of people are put behind pro-social struggles. The rich are not invincible and do not have full control of life, history, and humanity. They do not always get their way. Many of their retrogressive agendas and policies have been restricted or blocked successfully by humanity in the past. Their pragmatism, megalomania, and convoluted machinations are actually weaknesses that can be exploited.

Technology can and should play an important role in education and other spheres but only when it is driven by a human-centered aim and outlook, only when it is wielded in the public interest, and only when privileged private interests are deprived of all control of that which concerns the common good. The common good and unlimited greed for private interests have nothing in common. How technology is used and for what end is something that people themselves must decide, without the interference of privileged private interests who seek only to maximize profit with impunity.

Shawgi Tell is author of the book Charter School Report Card. He can be reached at Read other articles by Shawgi.