The news release showed up at the Idaho Statesman on Wednesday. Produced by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado, it said students from Idaho and other states enrolled in K12 Inc. virtual schools lag behind traditional students in math and reading.
K12 is controversial. A for-profit education company, K12 powers the Idaho Virtual Academy, the states oldest and largest online charter school, which served 3,000 students from 43 counties in 2011. K12 also contributed $44,000 in 2010 to Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Lunas re-election campaign. The company was cofounded by William Bennett, education secretary under President Ronald Reagan.
So the news release caught reporters attention. The Associated Press filed a story the next day that was picked up by news outlets around the state. A new report takes aim at the nation's largest for-profit online education provider and finds students taking K12 Inc. classes in Idaho and four other states are falling more behind in math and reading than their traditional school counterparts, the AP reported.
But there was a problem: The release was wrong.
The Statesman examined the report it was based upon and saw that it contained almost no data on how well Idaho students in K12 programs are doing academically. Fields that were designed to include data on reading and math performance were empty.
The newspaper called the reports author Thursday but did not receive a return call that day. So the Statesman withheld the AP story from Fridays print edition, although it appeared on the newspapers website, as all Idaho AP stories do automatically.
On Friday, center researchers called back. The reports co-author, Gary Miron, said information on K-12 education in Idaho was not available at the time the center did its analysis last spring.
Kevin Welner, the centers director, called too. He said he did not see in advance the news releases sent out on the centers behalf that cited specific states. Idaho is not a focus of the achievement-outcome analyses, he said.
I apologize, he told the Statesman Friday afternoon.
Jamie Horwitz, who has a public relations consulting firm in Washington, D.C., does PR work for the Colorado center and is listed as a contact on the release. Horwitz said the centers study is valid but the release citing Idahos performance was a mistake. He said the Idaho release was prepared by a staffer, and he didnt see it before it was sent either. Horwitz said he would issue a correction Friday.
I take full responsibility, he said.
Bill Roberts: 377-6408, Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts