North Carolina Moves Ahead With 2 Online Charter Schools

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Even though a state advisory board had reservations, this week the committee approved two online charter schools which could begin functioning in the 2015-2016 school year in North Carolina.

There were only two virtual school, for-profit companies which applied for the openings: North Carolina Virtual Academy, affiliated with K12 Inc. and North Carolina Connections Academy which will be a part of Connections Education. Laura Leslie, reporting for WRAL-TV, explains that K12 Inc. runs online courses in 30 states and, in several states, has had problems with academic performance. Two times before this, North Carolina officials have turned down charter school applications from the company.

“You have a lot of ideas, and they’re good ideas. I think where I struggle is how much they can actually be implemented,” Charter School Advisory Board Chairwoman Helen Nance told company representatives Wednesday, noting she was especially worried about how N.C. Virtual Academy would serve special-needs students.

In spite of these concerns, the board voted to approve North Carolina Virtual Academy. Whether speaking of traditional schools or online classrooms, Nance is determined that allocated money be used fairly and well. As long as the for-profit online companies keep the focus on the students and not on company profits, Nance says she is OK. NC Connections Academy was welcomed a little more warmly, and Bryan Setser, state president for Connections Academy, says that he wants to show the board that virtual schools can work.

Next month the State Board of Education will hear presentations from the schools and then will vote on the charter schools in February. Mark Jewell, vice president of the North Carolina Association of Educators wants to be sure that the state board will examine closely how elementary students handle taking online classes rather than interacting with teachers and their fellow students.

“We need to set this up so we can prove that this will work in the best way for North Carolina and for our families in North Carolina. It’s going to take all of us putting our heads together and doing it right and not just doing a willy-nilly kind of, ‘OK, here we go. North Carolina’s in the virtual charter business now,’” state board member Becky Taylor said. “If we do that, we’re going to be on the newspaper and the TVs all across the nation, and I don’t want to go there.”

The advisory committee was made up of representatives from the State Board of Education, its charter school advisory board, state education staff, along with an outside evaluator, writes Lynn Bonner for the News & Observer.

At one point K12 was asked questions about its performance in other states. Last year the education commissioner of Tennessee was considering closing the Tennessee Virtual Academy, which was producing minimal learning growth on the part of the school’s online students. In Pennsylvania, the board of trustees for the K12 school made the decision not to renew its management contract with this company. The state will continue, however, to use its curriculum. The senior vice president of K12 says that no districts or boards have terminated contracts, but a few contracts have not been renewed.

North Carolina has resisted establishing virtual charter schools until this year when legislators required the State Board of Education to approve two virtual charters. Still, the National Education Policy Center, based in Colorado, suggested that states slow or stop adding online charters until poor student performance and low graduation rates has been addressed.

Emery P. Dalesio of Associated Press says that virtual charters are growing and could enroll more than 6,000 students and cost taxpayers $66 million a year by 2017. Students who are disabled, bullied, are committed to arts or athletic training, or are in other similarly unique situations are drawn to a school that can be wherever they are. High school students take about 70% of their of their class work online, but the children in kindergarten through the second grade will spend half their time at the computer and half their time being guided by a parent, or other adult.

North Carolina has a state online school, the NC Virtual Public School, but it is aimed at remediation classes for students, reports Sarah Ovaska of NC Policy Watch. Ovaska writes that funding levels for the virtual schools is approximately $9,000 per student, or federal, state, and local public education funds amounting up to $26 million. The National College Athletic Association does not accept transcripts from schools run by K12, which are a necessary part of a student-athlete’s admission process, she adds.