Report skewers controversial virtual charter schools for running non-profits as a business

virt-chartTake some time this afternoon to read a fascinating, in-depth report from The Mercury News in San Jose, Calif., on the tightrope virtual charter school operator K-12 Inc. walks in order to operate for-profit institutions under non-profit tax exemptions in California.

It’s important to note because Virginia-based K-12 is the operator of its own online school in this state. It’s one of two for-profit operators behind a fledgling pilot program in North Carolina which has been troubled by soaring dropout rates in its early months. 

Virtual charters have also been skewered nationwide by severely lagging academic performance in states like California. A report last year by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) found that students in virtual charters fell as much as an entire academic year behind their traditional school peers. 

Now, The Mercury News reports that the virtual charter operator has been exploiting charter and charity laws for profits.

From The Mercury News:


Although the schools are set up like typical charters, records show they’re established and run by Virginia-based K12 Inc., whose claims of parental involvement and independent oversight appear to be a veneer for the moneymaking enterprise.

 The company — the subject of a two-part investigative series by this newspaper — says the schools operate independently and are locally controlled. But the academies’ contracts, tax records and other financial information suggest something entirely different: K12 calls the shots, operating the schools to make money by taking advantage of laws governing charter schools and nonprofit organizations.
“What this company has done may make sense from a business perspective, but to me, it’s a sham,” said Renee Nash, a business and tax attorney and a member of the Eureka Union School District’s Board of Trustees.

“K12 is clearly taking advantage of the laws in California,” she said, “and the Legislature needs to put a stop to it.”

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In county wracked by increasing segregation, Charlotte schools to weigh new student assignment plan

school-busespng-91b35e2c325e0b5bLast month, Policy Watch reported on the tremendous resegregation challenges facing North Carolina’s two largest school systems, the Wake County Public School System and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS).

Fittingly, this week, leaders in the Charlotte school system will be considering a draft plan for a pending student assignment, and it’s likely to be a disappointment to those advocating for more sweeping changes.

CMS is planning a public hearing on the draft Wednesday, but as The Charlotte Observer reported last week, the proposal had generated applause from some, and disappointment from others.

It’s important to note in this discussion that, at last count, the school system reported that 93 of its 168 schools handle school populations where more than 50 percent of children hail from low-income families.

In 65 schools in CMS, the percentage of disadvantaged children exceeds 70 percent, despite long-held research that high concentrations of poverty can be harmful when it comes to student achievement.


Despite calls to speed assignments that heavily weighed socioeconomic diversity, the draft plan unveiled last week would continue to prioritize so-called “neighborhood schools,” meaning students’ geography will continue to play a heavy part in their assignment.

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Lawyer for NY teacher: Don’t rely on computerized evaluation of teachers

This weekend, education experts and advocates from around the state and the country will be gathering in Raleigh for the 2016 Network for Public Education National Conference. The following essay by a New York attorney named Bruce Lederman highlights a subject of one of the panels at the event — the controversy surrounding computerized evaluations of teachers based on student test scores. Lederman is representing his wife in litigation against the state of New York over its use of this evaluation method.

Misguided obsession with computerized teacher evaluations based upon students test scores
By Bruce H. Lederman

On April 16, the Network for Public Education will be holding its annual meeting in Raleigh. One of the panels will feature a discussion of the New York case Dr. Sheri Lederman, v. John King, Jr, NY Commissioner of Education, in which a single teacher is standing up and saying that her computerized evaluation based upon student scores is simply irrational. Just like in New York, North Carolina teachers are evaluated (called Standard 6) based on how well their students perform on standardized tests which are used to demonstrate academic growth from one year to the next year.

With the nation divided over Common Core, and with parents opting children out of testing to protest its improper use, it’s worth pausing and considering why the political obsession with computerized teacher ratings based upon student scores, particularly with complex computer evaluation models, is bad policy and bad for students.

The teacher evaluation process in question, which is used in one form or another by numerous states, is a complex statistical program known as a value-added model (VAM) or “growth scores.” VAM or “growth scores” were originally developed to study how to improve growth of agricultural seeds by analyzing the effects of factors like fertilizer, sunlight, water and temperature. The problem is that children are much more complex than agricultural seeds and rating teachers by a complex computer program designed to measure seed growth simply does not work. In North Carolina, the value-added model used is called EVASS (Education Value-Added Assessment System) and performs in the same manner by generating an expectation of how students should perform during the year and holding the teacher accountable for lower than expected student performance

A problem discovered as a result of the Lederman litigation demonstrates why parents in North Carolina should think twice when politicians say that they can use complex computer programs to identify and get rid of failing teachers. Read more


Wake County schools weigh how to fund more than $1 billion in needs

districtIn March, we wrote about at least one of the major challenges facing North Carolina’s largest public school system, Wake County Public School System, in the coming years, not the least of which being a growing number of schools heavily loaded with low-income children. 

Addressing the problem, which might involve a combination of small-scale reassignments and magnet programs, could be expensive.

But it’s just one of many issues the school system will face in the next four years, it seems.

The News & Observer reported this week that leaders on the county school board are mulling multiple ways to raise an estimated $1.4 billion in needs through 2020.

From the N&O:

Under one scenario, the Wake County Board of Commissioners could put a $852 million school bond referendum on this fall’s ballot with the next referendum scheduled for 2020. A second scenario has commissioners borrowing money, without voter approval, to tide the school district until a bond referendum is put on the May 2018 ballot.

With commissioners expected to put a referendum on the November ballot to raise sales taxes to pay for the transit plan, they’ll have to decide whether having a school referendum on the same ballot would be a help or a hindrance.

But if the commissioners nix a 2016 school bond referendum, state law would prevent the next one from being held until May 2018 when all the polling places would next be open on Election Day.

If the decision is made to go for a 2016 bond, the school board would have to make the formal request by June.

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Public forum on disproportionate school suspensions on for tonight in Raleigh

ScoolSuspensionLast month, Policy Watch reported on the troubling numbers behind suspensions in North Carolina schools, particularly when it comes to the racial disparity.

School staff told members of the State Board of Education that the rate of short-term suspensions for black students, about 3 out of every 10, more than tripled the rate for white students.

And, as far as long-term suspensions go, the rate—about 153 per every 100,000 black students—more than quadrupled the number for white students, according to DPI data.

“The only thing that’s surprising to me is that we haven’t addressed this head-on,” James Ford, an adviser to the state board and North Carolina’s Teacher of the Year in 2014-2015, told Policy Watch.

Now, with the state’s largest school system in Wake County facing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, parents will get a chance to have their say.

The federal agency will hold a forum at the Vital Link School Event Center—1214 E. Lenoir St. in Raleigh—from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. tonight.

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