More Than Just Education

The bipartisan education reform movement sweeping the nation calls for opening up public schools to free-market competition. That has meant sending billions of tax dollars to private, for-profit companies to educate kids.

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But the companies do more than pay teachers, develop curriculum and buy supplies with all that revenue.

They use it as a launchpad for new products, new brands and new markets.

Consider K12 Inc., the nation’s largest private operator of public schools. It runs 54 online schools in 33 states and Washington, D.C. But it also runs a tutoring center in the United Arab Emirates. 

It sells courses to the Cook County correctional system in Chicago. It’s making a big push to get its new online curriculum for toddlers into Head Start preschools for low-income kids.

 “These companies are invited in to bring an entrepreneurial spirit to education” — and they’re doing just that, said Gary Miron, an education professor at Western Michigan University.

Advocates argue that the energy the private sector brings to the table will transform education for the better. Miron, however, worries that the relentless drive to grow and conquer new markets distracts companies like K12 from the job the public pays them to do — teach kids to read, write and reason.

K12 Executive Chairman Nathaniel Davis says he remains intently focused on his No. 1 goal: 

“To make sure we have everyone in the organization focused on the best academic results for students.”

But he also has to report to investors who expect quarter after quarter of strong growth. Here’s a look at how K12 has expanded beyond its well-known role of running virtual public schools.  Read more: 

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