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Charters look to cherry-picking high performing students to sustain business model

As North Carolina faces increased interest by online virtual charter schools, it is worth noting that last week Reuters ran a special report looking into public charter schools’ selectivity during the admissions process and other practices that enable the schools to get the students they want.

Many charters were found to require of applicants lengthy personal statements, entrance exams, character references, and even in one instance requiring families to invest in the company running the school. Outside of the admissions process, other barriers to access included not offering free and subsidized lunch or transportation and requiring families to volunteer their time to the schools. Many consider these practices, known in policy circles as “creaming,” as efforts toward ensuring a school’s ability to serve up high scores and high graduation rates, which result in continued access to public dollars and, ultimately, big profits.

Not all charter schools engage in selective admissions. Nashville Public Radio reports that Tennessee Virtual Academy, an online charter school, is facing scrutiny from lawmakers in light of students’ poor performance on standardized tests. The head of the academy, Josh Williams, defended the school by suggesting that public school districts were funneling poor performing students to his academy. The charter school is run by K12, Inc., a for-profit company that operates numerous online virtual charter schools and is under investigation in Florida for its use of uncertified teachers.

As my colleague Sarah Ovaska reported here and here and here, K12, Inc. has been trying to make inroads in North Carolina for some time now. Last year the corporation filed a lawsuit over its application to open a statewide virtual charter school, and recently it has  filed a letter of intent to open in 2014. K12, Inc. has faced widespread scrutiny for its schools’ poor outcomes and management of funds—in some instances graduation rates have been as low as 12 percent. The New York Times and The Washington Post have each profiled K12, Inc extensively, questioning whether the company is more interested in profit than in providing quality education to its students.

Another online virtual charter school, Connections Academy (owned by the for-profit Pearson) has also filed a letter of intent to open in North Carolina in 2014.

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