State Board of Education receives troubling report on virtual charters

Virtual charter schoolsAs Policy Watch reported last month, a new state report on North Carolina’s pilot virtual charter schools included some troubling dispatches about the new, for-profit schools.

According to the draft state report, N.C. Virtual Academy and N.C. Connections Academy will receive a designation of “low-performing” for less than stellar marks in their first year. In addition, the two schools continued to report high dropout rates, although one of the two schools seemingly just met the 25 percent withdrawal bar set by state law.

This week, members of the State Board of Education were presented with the report, and while members reportedly expressed concerns, the panel isn’t expected to take a vote in advancing the draft to the N.C. General Assembly until next month.

From WRAL’s report Wednesday night:

State Board of Education members on Wednesday said they want to do a better job of monitoring the state’s two virtual charter schools after a report found high withdrawal rates and low performance.

“I really think we need to monitor this closely,” said board member Becky Taylor. “The last thing we want is to be in the newspaper like some other states have been. We want to have good articles in the end … We need to be on our toes.

State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey said he is looking forward to seeing what happens in the future with the program.

“I’m actually more concerned about the second year because the first year a lot of people — including a lot of homeschoolers — tend to opt in to the virtual charter school, not realizing how structured the virtual charter school is,” Cobey said. “So it’s not exactly what they thought it would be, so they tend to drop out. And I think that phenomenon — you’re over it in the first year.”

The programs are operated by British education giant Pearson and Virginia-based K-12 Inc., an outfit that has been troubled by bad publicity in other states that allow their virtual schools.

This year, K-12 Inc. settled a massive lawsuit with California officials over claims they had inflated student performance and attendance in order to take in more public cash.

Virtual charters have also been criticized for lagging academics, with one high-profile Stanford University study last fall finding wide gaps between virtual charter students and their traditional school peers.

The report prompted relatively little discussion when it appeared before the appointed Charter School Advisory Board last month, which offers counsel to the State Board of Education on charter school matters.

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