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It’s bad enough that North Carolina will be turning over the future of thousands of its children and tens of millions in taxpayer dollars to a predatory Wall Street company in the name of “school choice,” but this morning’s report from NC Policy Watch reporter Lindsay Wagner that state officials have waived attendance taking requirements for the state’s new “virtual charter schools” is simply and absudly beyond the pale. This is from Wagner’s story:

“The North Carolina State Board of Education quietly approved a policy last month that could allow the state’s two brand new virtual charter schools to avoid recording and reporting daily student attendance, and stipulates that the virtual schools would only lose their state funding for a student if he or she fails to show any “student activity,” —as defined by the for-profit charter operators—for at least ten consecutive days….

Previously the online virtual charter schools, which are taking part in a pilot program authorized by the legislature last year and set to begin this fall, would have had to record daily student attendance using the state’s online reporting software—like traditional brick and mortar public schools—to comply with compulsory attendance laws.

Via conference calls before the start of school in late August, both the Charter School Advisory Board and the State Board of Education quickly approved a new policy that doesn’t require the virtual schools to record and report daily student attendance to the Department of Public Instruction.

That change came at the behest of officials with the North Carolina Virtual Academy, the school backed by controversial for-profit online school operator K12, Inc., who complained to state officials that recording and reporting daily student attendance through the online reporting software that traditional schools use didn’t work for them, according to DPI’s interim director of the state’s charter school office Adam Levinson.”

The story goes on to explain that while schools will be required to monitor “student activity,” the requirement is vague and basically left up to the schools themselves. In Michigan, where such laissez faire policy was in effect, the results were predictably dreadful.

The bottom line: The move to sell off our public schools to the privatizers and corporate vultures continues apace. Read the entire story by clicking here.

News

*Scroll to the end of this story for a response from the NC Department of Public Instruction

Politico’s Stephanie Simon published an investigative report today looking into the business dealings of British education giant Pearson, finding that the company’s success is due in part to negotiating lucrative no-bid contracts with public education agencies around the country — including one with North Carolina.

The investigation found that public officials often commit to buying from Pearson because it’s familiar, even when there’s little proof its products and services are effective.

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, for instance, declined to seek competitive bids for a new student data system on the grounds that it would be “in the best interest of the public” to simply hire Pearson, which had done similar work for the state in the past. The data system was such a disaster, the department had to pay Pearson millions extra to fix it.

The data system Simon refers to is PowerSchool, which the News and Observer reported last year “has so many problems that the accuracy of transcripts, athletic eligibility and the number of students enrolled in schools is uncertain.”

Many of those problems were fixed, and the state sought a discount from Pearson to reduce the $7.1 million price tag for the PowerSchool. It’s not clear if any money was refunded, however, nor is it clear whether the state or local districts will be responsible for the $6 million owed to Pearson next year for PowerSchool.

Simon’s investigation also found that in many cases, Pearson was never held to performance targets outlined in the contracts—if they didn’t meet the standards, they weren’t penalized.

In addition to PowerSchool, Pearson also backs one of North Carolina’s new online virtual charter schools, N.C. Connections Academy. The State Board of Education approved N.C. Connections academy just last week for a four year pilot program, alongside K12, Inc.’s N.C. Virtual Academy.

The state legislature required the State Board of Education to approve two virtual charter schools for the pilot program, and only two non-profit organizations applied — one backed by Pearson, the other by K12, Inc.

The approval came in spite of serious reservations on the part of some board members as well as education advocates who feared that North Carolina’s students could experience the same negative academic outcomes that have been experienced by virtual charter school students in other states, or that poor students would have a hard time accessing the technology and infrastructure necessary for online learning.

Read Stephanie Simon’s full investigation of Pearson here.

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2/18/2015 UPDATE: NC Department of Public Instruction’s CFO, Philip Price, reached out to N.C. Policy Watch to respond to the Politico investigation of North Carolina’s contractual relationship with Pearson for its new student data system, PowerSchool.

Price said DPI took 16 months to work with the NC Attorney General’s office and other key state-level education stakeholders to gain a waiver for bidding out the adoption and implementation of a new student data system. The impetus for continuing to contract with Pearson, said Price, was that the education behemoth also owned the state’s old data system, NC WISE. A significant costs savings would occur if Pearson also undertook the construction and implementation of PowerSchool.

“NC WISE cost $168 million to implement. Pearson charged us just $3.7 million to convert to PowerSchool,” said Price.

That figure doesn’t include additional monies ($1.25 million) that the state had to pony up for more training and help with migrating data from NC WISE to Power School. Even so, Price says, the state saved a lot of money going with Pearson.

Politico’s story also makes the allegation that Pearson is typically not penalized when it fails to live up to contractual obligations. But Price says at least in North Carolina, that’s not the case.

“We’ve gotten credits back since we established a service learning agreement,” explained Price, who says that if Pearson doesn’t meet certain agreed upon elements of the contract, they refund the state money. “$437,000 in September 2014, and we’re still receiving credits.”

Pearson also gave North Carolina a year of free content, worth $6 million, for its SchoolNet application, which allows teachers to build lesson plans and formative assessments.

News

K12, Inc.As expected, the State Board of Education gave its blessing Thursday to two virtual charter schools applying for a new pilot program set up by the state legislature.

The new public schools will allow students to take their entire course loads remotely, and stand to send millions in public education dollars to two companies that will manage the daily operations of the virtual schools.

N.C. Policy Watch has been covering the push by K12, Inc., the company behind the N.C. Virtual Academy, since 2011 to open a virtual charter school in North Carolina. The company has been criticized in other states for its aggressive lobbying of public officials to open schools, as well as low academic results from many of the public schools it manages.

On Thursday, the state board also decided to drop a requirement that would have required schools to provide or pay for learning coaches for students whose parents can’t serve in that role.

Here’s more from my article earlier today:

Get ready to add “attend third-grade” to the growing list of things you can do over the Internet in North Carolina, after ordering pizzas and watching cat videos.

The State Board of Education, which oversees public education in the state, is expected to approve two charter schools today that will teach children from their home computers in schools run by Wall Street-traded companies.

Daily monitoring would be in the hands of “learning coaches,” a role that’s been filled by parents, guardians and athletic coaches in the more than 30 other states that offer publicly-funded virtual schooling options.

Today’s anticipated vote of approval (click here to listen to an audio stream of today’s meeting) will be a significant change of the state board, which fought an attempt in the courts from the N.C. Virtual Academy to open up a virtual school three years ago.

If approved, the N.C. Virtual Academy (to be run by K12, Inc., NYSE:LRN) and N.C. Connections Academy (to be run by Connections Academy, owned by education giant Pearson, NYSE:PSO) will be able to enroll up to 1,500 students each from across the state, and send millions in public education dollars to schools run by private education companies.

You can read the entire piece here.

 

News

Members of a State Board of Education committee met Monday to consider a draft agreement with winners of a virtual charter school pilot program that would require them to provide computers or other technology to needy students.

Explaining that equal opportunities must be provided to every child in accordance with the state constitution, N.C. Office of Charter Schools Director Joel Medley outlined the provision in the agreement that would force virtual charter schools to provide any student, should she need it, with a computer or internet access at no cost.

The provision reads:

1.     Accessibility

7.1       Pursuant to the Constitution of North Carolina which declares that “equal opportunities shall be provided for all students, the Virtual Charter School cannot deny a child access to this program.  If a child is properly admitted through the lottery but cannot afford the appropriate connectivity or equipment, the Virtual Charter School shall provide that access and equipment at no cost to the family

7.2       The Nonprofit will ensure that all of its advertising and marketing materials includes a statement that no child will be denied admission on account of inability to afford the necessary equipment and connectivity.

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Commentary

K12, Inc.It may be 10 days before Christmas, but there are still a lot of worrisome/controversial policy decisions taking shape in the halls of state government this week. As noted in this morning’s Weekly Briefing, a state legislative committee will meet this Friday to recommend rolling back some important consumer protections in the mortgage lending industry.

Now, comes word that a special committee appointed by the State Board of Education will be meeting tomorrow to interview two private, for-profit companies seeking to run virtual charter schools in North Carolina — at least one of which (K12, Inc.) has been shown on numerous occasions to be a predatory failure. As Bloomberg Business Week reported last month:

“K12 Inc. (LRN) was heralded as the next revolution in schooling. Billionaire Michael Milken backed it, and former Florida governor Jeb Bush praised it. Now the online education pioneer is failing to live up to its promise.

Plagued by subpar test scores, the largest operator of online public schools in the U.S. has lost management contracts or been threatened with school shutdowns in five states this year. The National Collegiate Athletic Association ruled in April that students can no longer count credits from 24 K12 high schools toward athletic scholarships.”

Of course, K12, Inc. isn’t an unknown to the State Board of Ed. To its credit, the Board has been holding the troubled company and its whole scam at bay for years. Unfortunately, K12, Inc. lobbyists prevailed upon the privatizers at the General Assembly to slip a provision into the state budget bill this past summer which directs the Board to approve two virtual charters as part of a “pilot” program. Now, low and behold, there are only two applicants for those slots.

Whether this means that the State Board will roll over and approve K-12, Inc. or show some backbone and tell the company and its buddies in the legislature to stuff it remains to be seen. Let’s hope for the latter eventuality.

Lest you have any doubts about the appropriateness of such a response, Read More