Physicist Offers New Education Enterprises

Published December 22, 2009

David Anderson, Ph.D., aspires to reform K-12 education by developing and offering schooling in the for-profit sector.

In 2003, Anderson, a 68-year-old retired physicist who lives in Rhode Island, launched Asora® (Asynchronous, Self-paced, Online, Rigorous content, in an Assessment-based curriculum) Education Enterprises, for which he developed Stellar Schools, a self-paced, online instructional model he hopes to franchise. Anderson believes his model can improve schools’ productivity and students’ learning.

“To facilitate the cost-efficient development of such schools,” Anderson says, “there needs to be an economy of scale, which we intend to achieve by developing a franchising or licensing networks of schools.”

Converting Data

Anderson designed Stellar Schools to operate in small-school environments, ideally with less than 50 students. He believes rural areas and small, religious, private schools, where the number of available students is limited, might benefit the most from the model.

As a high school junior in 1957, Anderson learned physics by watching taped programs taught by Harvey White, a University of California-Berkeley physics professor. That experience—which he now refers to as his time as a distance-learning “guinea pig”—led to Anderson’s career in physics and his current passion for Web-based, individualized instruction.

Thus far, Asora® Education Enterprises has been unable to raise the capital needed to launch Stellar Schools, so Anderson has focused on other education endeavors, including testing analysis. Anderson’s primary income comes from the achievement test analysis consulting services he provides.

“We convert inflated public school system achievement test proficiencies from those reported by state educational authorities for localities to ones that are consistent with the Nation’s Report Card, also known as National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP),” Anderson says.

And the Numbers Say …

Several state-based think tanks have asked Anderson to analyze their states’ data. The analyses consistently show states set their “cut scores” and academic standards significantly lower than NAEP, resulting in test results that artificially inflate their students’ reported proficiency levels.

“The test results claimed by states tend to be double what the NAEP says is proficient,” Anderson says. “My analysis discovered that almost all public school students are below grade level.”

Anderson’s analyses of New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont data revealed “the worst schools in urban districts typically have less than 5 percent of their students proficient. The best schools in the best districts rarely have more than 60 percent of their students proficient,” he says.

To raise proficiency levels legitimately, Anderson recommends using testing regimens consistent with NAEP. He also recommends using retention persistently to place each child appropriately and avoid “social promotion”—the practice of passing a child on to the next grade level to keep up with his peers when his academic work indicates he would be better served by being held back.

Anderson believes the NAEP’s credibility comes from its almost 40-year track record and its use of National Assessment Governing Board-approved content standards. NAEP tests and reports state-level proficiencies for 4th and 8th grades. For 12th grade students, NAEP reports only at the national level. Anderson has analyzed testing data of seven states.

Great Minds

Anderson takes pride in a letter he received from the late Milton Friedman in 2003 responding to his Stellar Schools proposal.

“You and I are certainly singing the same tune,” the Nobel Prize-winning economist wrote, but cautioned Anderson to not be overly optimistic about succeeding.

Anderson is blunt about his company’s limited success so far. “Asora’s only marketable assets are its achievement test analysis work and maybe its registered trademark,” he explains. “The business plan for Asora’s Stellar Schools currently requires upwards of $30 million to bring the schools to a profitable status after four years. This is a large amount of capital for a company with no experience running schools or running online instructional systems.”

While he remains dedicated to the Stellar Schools concept, Anderson intends to focus on other endeavors in the meantime.

Virginia Gentles ([email protected]) writes from Virginia. She previously served in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement and led Florida’s school choice office.