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Hearing on N.C. virtual school opening scheduled for Monday

A Wall Street-run online charter school is on the verge of opening this fall, unless attorneys for the state education board can get a Wake Superior Court judge to stop the charter school from opening.

A hearing scheduled for Monday morning in Raleigh’s Wake County Courthouse will pit the interests of K12, Inc. and N.C. Learns, the non-profit formed to house the school, against the N.C. Board of Education and more than half of the state’s public school boards. The N.C. Justice Center, the anti-poverty non-profit that houses N.C. Policy Watch, has filed an amicus brief in the case, in opposition to the virtual charter school.

An administrative law judge ruled in May that the N.C. State Board of Education acted improperly by not reviewing the North Carolina Virtual Academy’s application upon receiving it this February after the Cabarrus school board’s gave the proposed statewide school preliminary approval.

In exchange for sponsoring the virtual charter school, the Caburrus school district was promised free use of K12, Inc. online products, as well as a 4 percent cut of the public education funding the virtual charter school anticipates receiving.

The virtual charter school backers argue that they have a right to open the school because of procedural mishap by the state education board. Meanwhile, state education officials plan on arguing that the controversial form of education hasn’t been vetted enough to warrant taxpayer money flowing through to a company with mixed reviews.

The K12, Inc., (NYSE: LRN) has good reason to want to do business in North Carolina,where the company hopes to recruit 2,750 students in its first year and take in $18 million in federal, state and local education dollars in its first year.

Taxpayer-sourced dollars are where the company gets its profits.

More than 80 percent of its $522 million worth of the company’s revenue in 2011 came from running online-based public schools, according to the company’s 2011 annual report. It runs publicly-funded virtual schools in 29 states, as well as the District of Columbia, and may pursue offering virtual pre-K as well, according to its CEO Ron Packard made in a recent investor’s call.

But while the company has successfully cornered a large piece of the virtual education market, the company’s school hasn’t necessarily performed well in all states.

In Ohio, where the Ohio Virtual Academy has been run by K12 since 2002, only 30 percent of the school’s ninth graders graduate within four years, according to the school’s 2010-11 cohort graduation rate, which is adjusted to account for students that leave to attend other schools.  It plummets to 12.2 percent for black students. The Colorado Virtual Academy had an even lower four-year graduation rate – 12 percent overall, and 9.1 percent for black students, according to the state’s education department.

To compare, North Carolina’s statewide cohort graduation rate is 77.9 percent, dropping to 71.5 percent for black students and 68.8 for Hispanic children — all levels that has been decried as in need of improvement by state leaders of all political stripes.

K12 officials explain away those graduation rates and testing scores by saying that they take in students that are worse off academically than most, and were far behind in their schoolwork by the time they come to the online school.

5 Comments

  1. JeffS

    June 22, 2012 at 8:07 pm

    It would be interesting to chart school expulsion rates after the arrival of K12.

    In the age of evaluation-by-test-score, it seems all too easy for schools to dump the students that need the most help into these online repositories.

    K12 gets all of the money, none of the oversight and the traditional schools get to improve their test scores by doing nothing. And many argue this is a great thing because it “saves money”.

    Until, of course, you factor in the lifetime of govt support, or prison fees, and lack of taxable income associated with these discards. Education is the absolute cheapest service that we provide to these people and all some people can talk about is “saving money” while conveniently turning public money into private profits in the process.

  2. Frank Burns

    June 23, 2012 at 3:15 pm

    Then there is also the problem of spoiling the education of the children who want to learn by those miscreats who don’t and have no respect for the teachers.

  3. gregflynn

    June 25, 2012 at 8:25 am

    Then there is also the problem of spoiling the reading of the people who want to learn by those miscreants who don’t and have no respect for the writers.

  4. [...] the N.C. Board of Education mishandling the company’s application. (For more background, read this post I wrote on [...]

  5. Chris Everhart

    June 25, 2012 at 10:23 am

    The first sentence makes it super clear which way Sarah’s writing slants. Having a school run by a commercial enterprise is certainly a valid concern, but the numbers on graduation rates are completely meaningless. The state of PA has 13 cyber schools. Graduate rates and test scores vary highly depending on how the individual cyber school is used. Some of the cyber schools are “dumping grounds” for students who absolutely could not perform in a brick and mortar environment. These are usually children with a variety of problems that impair their ability to learn in the traditional manner. Graduation rates will certainly be lower for these kids — they need extra time. And this is something that the cyber school environment provides them. Instead of just being passed along from grade to grade and graduating without really earning it, these kids have an opportunity to learn in an environment that lets them continue at whatever pace they are capable of without distracting other students. This is far, far better than someone graduating from high school without being able to read or write beyond a third grade level.

    For a fair comparison, you need to look at some of the cyber schools that have entrance requirements. You’ll notice their graduation rates and test scores are significantly higher than the public schools. Why? Because they can choose who is allowed to attend. The best comparison you can make is on the performance if children who have moved from a traditional public school into a cyber school. See how much better (or worse) they perform. That will give you a much more balanced evaluation.