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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.”

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Tennessee’s education commissioner has ordered the closure of a struggling K12, Inc.-operated online school, as lawmakers here at home debate a budget proposal that could pave the way for K12 to finally set up shop in North Carolina.K12 logo

Tennessee Virtual Academy began operating in 2011 and struggled to produce positive academic results from the get go, according to The Tennessean. Three years of low student growth at the K12-managed school prompted Kevin Huffman, Tennessee’s education commissioner, to order the school’s closure at the end of the 2014-15 school year.

K12, Inc. has a history of producing low performance and graduation rates across the country, most recently prompting the NCAA to announce that it will no longer accept coursework from 24 virtual schools that are affiliated with the company.

The company has also been compared to subprime mortgage lenders, pulling in and churning out a disproportionate amount of students who are not well prepared for the online learning model–all in the name of big profits from taxpayer budgets.

A spokeswoman for K12, Mary Gifford, told members of a study committee considering virtual charter school options here in North Carolina that the poor results simply reflect the fact that their company tends to attract low performing students, and the home-based system of education can do little to help that demographic.

“High school is a nightmare,” Gifford told the virtual charter study group in February. “Forty percent of the students in high school will be very successful.”

K12, Inc. has been trying, unsuccessfully so far, to land in North Carolina, and is currently waiting on the state Supreme Court to hand down a decision on their appeal to open a virtual charter school in the state.

Meanwhile, lawmakers have acted on the recommendations of a virtual charter school study committee and have inserted language into the proposed 2014 budget to direct the State Board of Education to establish a Virtual Charter School Pilot Program, which would authorize the operation of two virtual charter schools serving students in kindergarten through 12th grade beginning in the 2015-16 school year.

The provision would allow the virtual charters that show positive academic outcomes to become permanent institutions at the discretion of the State Board, without having to go through a formal application process.

There does not appear to be criteria set forth in the proposed legislation for how the State Board of Education should vet and select the two virtual charter schools that would take part in the pilot program.

Notably, at least 90 percent of all teachers employed by the virtual charter schools must reside in North Carolina.

To read the virtual charter school study committee’s report to the legislature, click here.

To read the language for a virtual charter school pilot program in the state budget proposal, click here and read section 8.35.

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BMO Capital downgraded K12, Inc.’s stock (NYSE: LRN) yesterday, on account of slowing enrollments. Shares of the stock tumbled on the news, down 25 percent at the start of trading this morning and down 35 percent as this story was posted 40 minutes after the market opened.

K12, Inc. is a Virginia-based for-profit company that runs online schools in 32 states and attributes nearly 85 percent of its income to public dollars.

The company has been trying to break into the North Carolina market by opening a virtual charter school, but their bid thus far has been unsuccessful.

K12 has run into numerous problems recently, with school districts dropping their partnerships with the company, news of teachers lacking certification, and instances of very low graduation rates.

Just last week, news surfaced of a K12 school outsourcing the grading of student essays to workers in Bangalore, India.

In a press release, K12 explained the slowed enrollment growth:

We believe the increase in Managed Public School enrollments fell short of internal expectations due to several factors, which include, among others:

–The Companys inability to convert the increased volume of student applications into enrollments at a level achieved during previous years due to performance in its enrollment centers and, to a lesser extent;

–The delayed start of the open enrollment period for certain schools.

Managed Public School first quarter enrollments were 5.7 percent over enrollment numbers this time last year, short of expectations.

Revenue is projected to come in between $905 million and $925 million, below the anticipated target of $988.5 million.

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There’s a lot of education news this week, so here’s a roundup of happenings for your Tuesday morning.

Guilford County suspends tablet program

A significant number of defective tablet computers has forced Guilford County Schools to suspend their highly anticipated technology initiative that would put tablets in the hands of thousands of middle school students.

GCS spent more than $3 million in federal Race to the Top funds on the one-to-one technology initiative. Amplify supplied the 15,000 tablets, of which thousands developed broken screens, came with unsafe chargers causing tablets to melt, and students reported problems with cases.

Read the News & Record’s story here.

K12, Inc. outsources student essay grading to India

The Idaho Virtual Academy, operated by K12, Inc., outsourced thousands of student essays for grading by reviewers in India, reports Idaho Education News.

This isn’t the first time K12, Inc. has been outed for outsourcing instructional work to laborers outside of the U.S.

K12 said this was just a pilot program to offer teachers more support. Another K12 teacher in Pennsylvania discussed how she was overwhelmed trying to grade the papers of the 300 students she was assigned for just one term.

State Board of Education member calls for increasing teacher pay to the national average

Veteran school board member John Tate called for a resolution at last week’s school board meeting to raise teacher pay to the national average.

Board chair Bill Cobey called his move out of order and tabled it for discussion at next month’s meeting.

North Carolina was in the middle of the pack for teacher pay as recently as 2008, according to the National Education Association. Today the state ranks 46th in the nation.

Are Charter Schools a Threat to Traditional Public Schools?

This WFDD story considers the conflict between state support of charter schools and the needs of the public school system in advance a WFDD-hosted community forum on school choice, charters and vouchers.

The forum is tonight at 7 p.m. at the Kulynych Auditorium in the Wake Forest University Welcome Center.

Election Day school bond

It’s Election Day, and the contentious $810 million Wake School bond is on the ballot for voters to decide on today. The bond would provide funds to build new schools, renovate others and provide for improved technology as the district looks forward to increased population growth.

Opponents of the bond question the accuracy of the county’s enrollment projections and worry that residents will be burdened by both the 10-percent property tax increase and the additional debt they’ll incur if the measure passes.

The News & Observer has loads of coverage on the bond issue here.

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K12 logoThe Wall Street sharks who want to buy up our public education system do not appear inclined to go away quietly. After being rebuffed by state education officials and failing thus far to get what they want in the courts, K-12, Inc. (the troubled, for-profit, “virtual” charter school company) has turned to what it undoubtedly expects will be a more hospitable  forum — the General Assembly.

As N.C. Policy Watch reporter Sarah Ovaska reported yesterday afternoon, K-12 lobbyists have prevailed upon a state lawmaker to enter legislation that would put the company on the path to open its proposed online charter in North Carolina. For people who care about public schools, this should be a very worrisome development. This is from Ovaska’s report: Read More