State report on controversial virtual charter schools due in the coming days

Virtual charter schoolsA state report on the first year of operations for North Carolina’s controversial virtual charter schools is likely to wrap in a matter of days, according to a top state consultant.

Deanna Townsend-Smith, a consultant for N.C.’s Office of Charter Schools, told Policy Watch that she expects the report will, at the latest, be ready for the State Board of Education’s regular monthly meeting in early November.

Townsend-Smith’s comments come days after the consultant told members of the Charter School Advisory Board—which counsels the state board on charter applications and policy—that her office is attempting to put a “positive spin” on the report.

The “positive spin” quip is likely to rile up some critics of the virtual charters, but it follows a sometimes tense year of back and forth between state and virtual charter leaders regarding attendance requirements for the schools.

As Policy Watch has reported, the two pilot schools—N.C. Connections Academy and N.C. Virtual Academy, both run by for-profit outfits—have been troubled by high droput rates in their first year.

Townsend-Smith said the state office will be releasing a “factual report, nothing biased.”

“I’m trying to present a report that doesn’t seem like our office or the state board is against virtual charter schools,” she said. “We are trying to just present the facts as they are without editorializing them.”

Expect the report to include interviews with virtual charter board members and administrators, as a well as a survey of hundreds of parents whose children have participated in the four-year pilot programs.

The report will also bundle state data on the academic performance of virtual charter students.

The virtual charter model, touted as a boost to students who struggle in a traditional school setting, has been plagued by bad publicity in other states, with a Stanford University study last year finding that virtual charter students trail their peers in traditional schools by as much as a full academic year.

Meanwhile, N.C. Virtual Academy’s parent company, Virginia-based K-12 Inc., recently settled a multi-million court case with California state leaders over claims that the for-profit company inflated its attendance and performance data in order to guzzle more public cash. The company admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement, but coughed up millions in payments and debt relief for the state.

Despite the criticisms, lawmakers in the N.C. General Assembly approved relaxed regulations for the virtual charter schools during this year’s session.

Check back with Policy Watch for full coverage of the virtual charter report once it’s released.

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