North Carolina State Board Consider Online Schools

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The State Board of Education in North Carolina is looking to expand education options with the introduction of two new virtual charter schools within the month. Voting on the online charter school applications commences in February and, if approved, the schools will start taking in students by the start of August.

Both the schools are connected to online education companies K12 Inc. and Connections Academy. Their proposals were recently recommended by the state advisory committee, placing them in a four year pilot program set by the legislature that gives State Board of Education the right to approve two statewide virtual charter schools by the end of 2015, writes Keri Brown of 88.5 WFDD.

The Board of Education has also voted for the opening of 11 charter schools later in the year. The schools were approved among 71 applications reviewed and will open in August. The process continues to get more strenuous following 29 schools that have lost their charters since 1998, writes Eileen Park of WNCN.

The virtual charter schools, however, are offered to all grades. The state superintendent of public schools, June Atkinson, mentioned how this has added a risky dimension to parents choosing to direct their children towards online education.

“We know that in kindergarten, first and second grade it is extremely important to have adults in the lives of students, so with the virtual charter school, it means there is a greater burden on the parents or the people who will be directing the learning given the support from an online source. This is a place that we have never been before and the board wants to move very cautiously.”

Students studying in virtual charter schools receive their formal education in the comfort of their homes. Communication with teachers and classmates mostly occur online and younger students requiring adult support at home could employ the services of “learning coaches” for their education.

Applicants aiming to initiate virtual public charter schools in North Carolina have undergone close exaination from members of the Board, with the hope of tacking the problems such schools have faced in other states, writes Lynn Bonner of the News-Observer.

Most of the questions they were requested to answer involved tracking student progress, communication with learning coaches and co-operation with students having difficulty working with the English language.

Charges that virtual charter schools provide subpar education relative to traditiona schools has been denied by representatives of N.C. Connections Academy, affiliated with Pearson-owned Connections Education, and North Carolina Virtual Academy and under management of K12 Inc.

K12 Inc. education in other states has received criticism over student performance, and its virtual academy was nearly terminated by the Tennessee education commissioner in 2013. The board of trustees, including board member Wayne McDevitt, for a K12 school in Pennsylvania also decided to not renew its management contract with the company.

“If I Google K12 Inc., you know what’s going to come up. It’s important we be able to rely on a credible voice as our partner,”

Board member Becky Taylor emphasized the need to tailor the design of the program to meet the needs of the students.

“We have to keep in mind that the kids are the ones we are piloting with. We want it to work. We don’t want four years from now to have thousands of children who didn’t quite make it.”