Editorial, research: Halt rush to launch virtual charters

slowdownThis morning’s editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer gets it right on the state Board of Education’s plan to approve two new “virtual” charter schools. The central message: “Not so fast!”

Charters were seen initially as a chance to be “laboratories” for public education, as places to cultivate innovations that could be used in conventional schools. But too many charter advocates have viewed them as “alternative” schools, almost private schools funded by the public. Now that there’s no limit on the number of charter schools North Carolina can have, Republicans seem inclined to invite an almost unlimited number to open without knowing whether they’re succeeding.

The state needs to more closely oversee and evaluate the charters that exist before going in to the Brave New World of online-only charters.

The N&O’s conclusion is pretty self-evident — especially if you’ve read any of NC Policy Watch’s reporting on the scoundrels at the for-profit virtual charter company, K12, Inc. But if you have any doubts, check out this in-depth report from earlier this year by a team of experts at the National Education Policy Center. According to the authors:

“Despite considerable enthusiasm for virtual education in some quarters, there is little credible research to support virtual schools’ practices or to justify ongoing calls for ever-greater expansion.”

Here are it’s chief conclusions after a nationwide examination of the virtual charter school situation:

  • Given the rapid growth of virtual schools, the populations they serve, and their relatively poor performance on widely used accountability measures, it is recommended that:
  • Policymakers should slow or stop growth in the number of virtual schools and the size of their enrollment until the reasons for their relatively poor performance have been identified and addressed.
  • Given that all measures of school performance indicate insufficient or ineffective instruction, these virtual schools should be required to devote resources toward instruction, particularly by reducing the ratio of students to teachers.
  • State education agencies and the federal National Center for Education Statistics should clearly identify full-time virtual-schools in their datasets, distinguishing them other instructional models. This will facilitate further research on this subgroup of schools.
  • State agencies should ensure that virtual schools fully report data related to the population of students they serve and the teachers they employ.
  • State and federal policymakers should promote efforts to design new outcomes measures appropriate to the unique characteristics of full-time virtual school.


  1. Vicki Boyer

    September 5, 2014 at 2:47 pm

    Given that the state of Tennessee just ordered K12 to close all virtual charters in their state, for non-performance, yes, we really should rethink this. A K12 spokesperson said they were not set up to help the low-performing students who were drawn to their ‘school.’ One can wonder why they would then accept such students, if they themselves recognize they are not equipped to properly help them.

  2. Claire

    September 10, 2014 at 12:00 pm

    Virtual charter schools definitely deserve a second glance. If they are performing this poorly in North Carolina and, as Vicki states, in Tennessee, we need to put our research where our money is. Why not construct extensive studies on the effects of virtual charter schools before opening any new ones? Ethical issues could be avoided by opting for observation-based studies. There are numerous educational websites available to the public, but most are not mandated by governments or used as stand-ins for public education. Sites such as are free and offer supplemental online learning .

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