Charter Groups Call Out Virtual Schools

In August 2014, there were 135 full-time virtual charter schools operating in 23 states and the District of Columbia.

A coalition of charter school advocates banded together Thursday to take a shot at some of their own – virtual charter schools – and urged state policymakers to tighten regulations on their lesser-known school-choice stepsisters, which have come under fire for poor student performance.

“When national groups that advocate for and champion charter schools question the impact of virtual charter schools on student achievement, policymakers should take note,” said Chad Aldis, vice president for Ohio policy and advocacy with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative-leaning education policy organization.

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The groups – the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the 50-State Campaign for Achievement Now and the National Association of Charter School Authorizers – published a set of sweeping recommendations for how states should overhaul their virtual charter schools, complete with calls for shuttering the poorest performers.

Among the many detailed recommendations, the groups called on states to set minimum academic performance standards for virtual charter schools whose charters are in the process of being renewed, and for enforcement mechanisms to ensure that all charter schools, including full-time virtual charter schools, meet those minimums.

In addition, the groups recommended that states create a method to hold charter authorizers accountable for results, and said an entity should be tasked with regularly monitoring those authorizers’ performance. States should also require charter authorizers to show via annual audits that they are using all of their oversight money for oversight functions.

“These provisions are tailored to the unique problems that have emerged among too many full-time virtual charter schools, which require states to enact significant policy changes,” said Todd Ziebarth, senior vice president for state advocacy and support at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

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Greg Richmond, president and CEO of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, urged those bodies also to work within existing state policy frameworks to close chronically low-performing virtual charter schools.

“Authorizers have a legal and a moral responsibility to close chronically low-performing charter schools of any kind, including full-time virtual charter schools,” he said. “In many cases, this would not require a change to state law.”

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As of August 2014, there were 135 full-time virtual charter schools operating in 23 states and the District of Columbia – about twice as many as in 2008 – and serving approximately 180,000 students. A majority of the schools are run by for-profit organizations and serve large numbers of poor and white students.

The recommendations come on the heels of reports by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes, the Center on Reinventing Public Education and Mathematica Policy Research that showed when compared with their classroom-based traditional public school counterparts, full-time virtual charter schools fail across multiple metrics.

For example, in math and reading in a given year, full-time virtual charter school students learn essentially no math compared with their peers in classroom-based traditional public schools, according to the Center for Research on Education Outcomes report. In fact, students in virtual charters, the report showed, experienced the equivalent of 180 fewer days of learning in math and 72 fewer days of learning in reading in comparison with traditional public school students.

Moreover, all subgroups of students enrolled in virtual schools – including when students are broken down by race, economic background and native language, as well as students in special education – reportedly perform worse in terms of academic growth than their classroom-based peers.

“If traditional public schools were producing such results, we would rightly be outraged,” the groups charged in their set of recommendation. “We should not feel any different just because these are charter schools.”

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The recommendations underscore that there is a place for virtual charter schools, especially for rural students seeking to avoid a lengthy bus ride, home- or hospital-bound youth who want to stay in school despite an illness, and high school students looking for an alternative to dropping out.

Still, the groups called on state policymakers to ensure the sector is more tightly monitored so students are not slipping through the cracks.

“A few states have opted to simply ban full-time virtual charter schools, but this solution risks limiting parental choice without giving otherwise high-performing virtual charter schools a chance to operate,” said Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. “This is why we need a better regulatory framework to govern full-time virtual charter schools.”

Eight states do not allow full-time virtual charter schools, according to the alliance report: Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Virginia.

Currently, enrollment in full-time virtual charter schools is highly concentrated in three states – Ohio, Pennsylvania and California – which collectively enroll over half of full-time virtual charter school students nationwide, according to National Alliance research.

In Ohio alone, some schools enroll upward of 10,000 students.

“If Ohio leaders are serious about improving student outcomes for virtual-school students, they’d be wise to consider these recommendations,” Aldis said.

Enrollment At Nation’s Largest For-Profit Charter Operator Still Growing Despite Lawsuits, Regulatory Problems

K12 Inc. is facing a litany of regulatory problems and a new shareholder lawsuit, but as long as new students are signing up, none of that matters to investors.

Molly Hensley-Clancy

BuzzFeed News Reporter

A K12 student does coursework in of the company’s virtual charter schools.

The problems plaguing K12 Inc., the country’s largest publicly traded virtual charter operator, are no secret. They’ve been hit with two shareholder lawsuits, subjected to state investigations, and weathered exposes in the New York Times and the Associated Press.

But in their quarterly earnings call today, K12 reported that enrollment has grown yet again, swelling to 125,000 students — an increase of more than 5% since March of last year. Their revenue, which topped $235 million, actually exceeded analysts’ estimates, as did their operating margins. Net income was $15.9 million.

Enrollment is what matters to the company and its shareholders: each student that signs up for K12’s online schools comes with public funding attached, and as long as enrollment grows, revenue likely will, too.

Though enrollment is growing, as many as 50% of K12’s students drop out within a year, according to Gary Miron, a researcher with the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado. Because funding is allocated on a yearly basis in most states, however, Miron says that doesn’t matter much to K12’s bottom line.

“It doesn’t really hurt them because if the student leaves, the money stays,” Miron said. “They can just enroll another student the next year.”

A representative for the company disputed Miron’s analysis, saying, “K12 is not paid for the students who are not there.”

In addition to high dropout rates, K12’s student outcomes are notoriously poor, with students performing worse than their counterparts in brick-and-mortar schools. As a result, just a quarter of their schools meet adequate yearly progress metrics. Just like for-profit giants University of Phoenix and Everest College, K12 attributes these outcomes to the higher numbers of poor and academically challenged students it enrolls, and the high turnover among its students.

After a 2011 article in the New York Times highlighted the company’s many problems with student performance, shareholders filed suit against K12, alleging that they had been misled about student outcomes and had boosted its enrollment and revenue by using “deceptive recruitment” practices. That lawsuit was eventually settled last year, although a portion of its claims were voluntarily dismissed. A second one is in the works, according to an announcement by law firm Levi & Korsinsky.

A K12 representative noted that the company has seen academic improvement “in some areas.”

Prominent hedge fund manager Whitney Tilson, of Kase Capital, has been one of K12’s biggest critics, announcing last year that the company was his biggest short position.

Though legislators and state education departments have started to go after K12 and its smaller counterparts, Miron said most attempts to close down or limit funding to underperforming virtual charter schools have been settled or dropped altogether.

On the company’s earnings call, executives assured investors that the latest attempt to scale back virtual schools, a Pennsylvania bill that targets online charter funding, would have minimal impact.

Both Sides Of The Education Debate Are United In Scorn For Online Charter Schools

In the wake of a scathing report on the performance of virtual schools, there is rare agreement between teachers unions and charter school advocates.

Molly Hensley-Clancy

BuzzFeed News Reporter

Alain Jocard / AFP / Getty Images

In the wake of a scathing report on the failure of online charter schools, pro-charter groups are distancing themselves from the controversial industry, publicly condemning the performance and calling for a regulatory crackdown. Some are even suggesting that the schools should no longer be considered charter schools at all.

“I don’t know that the charter space is a perfect fit for online schools,” said Nina Rees, the president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, a prominent national charter advocacy group. The poor performance of online schools revealed in the report was “alarming,” Rees told BuzzFeed News. “Our first reaction was that we have the power and means to shut some of these schools down, and we should.”

Thanks to the abysmal results in the report — and years of criticism and controversy that preceded it — virtual charter schools appear to have become so politically toxic that they have produced a rare consensus between two dueling factions of the education debate: charter school advocates and teachers unions. Unions have long been vocal opponents of the virtual charter industry, calling for tighter regulations and limits on schools’ growth.

“This data is disconcerting, and we’re not pleased, obviously,” said Marc Sternberg, director of elementary education for the Walton Family Foundation, a pro-charter group that funded the virtual charter study. “Online schools obviously need to rethink their model going forward, because this is not a flattering picture of students’ experiences and student outcomes.”

“We welcome anyone who is willing to join us in shining a light on the terrible practices and even worse results of virtual charter schools,” Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, told BuzzFeed News.

The study, conducted by Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, found that online schools have an “overwhelming negative impact” on students, setting them back 180 days of learning in math over the course of a school year that is, on average, 180.4 days long.

Long before the report was released in October, the virtual charter industry had drummed up controversy for poor academic results and high dropout rates, churning through students in a troubling cycle of enrollments and withdrawals. The sector is is dominated by for-profit companies, including K12 Inc., a publicly traded company, and Connections Academy, a division of the education giant Pearson. The schools have been criticized for recruiting widely — with advertising budgets that number in the millions — especially among poor and academically struggling students.

But condemnation of online schools is a departure for the charter advocacy movement, which has so far been largely silent on the subject.

“I believe there’s a schism forming between the for-profit virtual [charters] and the charter school establishment,” said Gary Miron, a fellow at the National Education Policy Center who has been a longtime critic of the industry. For years, Miron said, some charter advocates had expressed concern to him behind the scenes about the poor performance of online charters — but did not publicly condemn them.

Miron was “very surprised” to see the Walton Family Foundation had funded a study so deeply critical of online charters. Created by the politically conservative Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart, the Walton foundation typically backs policies and research that support charter schools and their growth; it has funded some virtual schools in the past.

“Everything that’s been out there has shown that these schools continue to perform poorly and still profit,” Miron said. “I think it’s getting harder and harder for the charter establishment to ignore.”

The Center on Reinventing Public Education, a policy and research group funded by the country’s largest charter advocates, including the Gates Foundation, issued a report that called for tightened accountability measures and increased state oversight of online schools. Most state laws, the CRPE report said, lumped virtual charters in with their brick-and-mortar counterparts, failing to account for issues unique to virtual charters like funding and attendance.

Robin Lake, the report’s author, suggested states should consider allowing virtual schools to turn away students who were not a good fit for online learning, something that is currently barred by charter law. That would mean that the schools, Lake said, would no longer be considered charter schools at all.

“Given the magnitude of the results that we saw,” Lake said, “you could take them out of the charter school regulatory framework.”

Jeff Kwitowski, a spokesperson for K12 Inc., said the company was opposed to policies allowing virtual charters to screen students. “What you’re proposing is limiting parent choice,” Kwitowski said, echoing one of the charter school sector’s core arguments. “We provide equal access and opportunity and respect parent choice.”

Both K12 and Connections Academy have pushed back against the results of the Walton-funded study, saying that the comparisons do not take into account the “unique circumstances” of virtual charter students — who often enter the school partway through the year, sometimes because they struggle with health or social issues and have a history of struggling academically in brick-and-mortar schools.

Mary Gifford, the senior vice president of policy at K12, said that the study was “incredibly validating in many respects” because it found that virtual charter students tended to come from low-income backgrounds and be academically troubled.

The Walton Foundation and the National Alliance for Public Charters have called for significant policy changes in light of what they said were revelations about online schools’ academic performance. They want funding formulas changed to penalize virtual schools where students do not finish the year — some have turnover rates of more than 50% annually — and to make it easier for authorizers to shut down poorly performing virtual schools.

Todd Ziebarth, a senior vice president at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said the group would be “substantially” rethinking its approach to virtual charters. In its annual ranking of states’ charter-friendly policies, and in a model charter policy law, the organization has long encouraged blanket support for virtual schools — a policy that is likely to change, Ziebarth said.

“We’re looking at questions of whether states need to govern virtual schools out of the charter concept,” Ziebarth said. “It’s been suggested that maybe states need to move these schools out of the charter space, so that they can have enrollment criteria.”

As it stands, online charters pose a significant threat to the broader charter school movement, dragging down charter schools’ academic results nationwide. Virtual schools serve disproportionately poor and academically challenged students, considered “at-risk” — a fact frequently cited by industry supporters as an explanation for their poor academic results.

But that is a stance at odds with some of the country’s most successful charter schools, which advocate a philosophy of making “no excuses” for failing to educate struggling children and sometimes turn up test scores on equal footing with those of wealthy students.

Whitney Tilson, a hedge fund manager and prominent education reform advocate, has been a vocal critic of the leading provider of online virtual schools, K12 Inc. He bet publicly against the company’s stock for several years, accusing K12 of intentionally recruiting “at-risk” students as a way to decrease accountability and explain away poor test scores.

Tilson is also on the board of KIPP, one of the country’s largest charter networks and the pioneer of the “no excuses” model. KIPP schools enroll mostly poor students but consistently post test scores above the national average.

The Walton Foundation, the National Alliance, and other charter groups have so far said little about the for-profit companies that operate two-thirds of all online charter schools. K12, a public company, and Connections Academy, a division of the education giant Pearson, are by far the biggest players. Sternberg, of the Walton Family Foundation, said it was “neutral” about for-profits, preferring instead to focus on results. He said he didn’t yet want to condemn individual providers, but work with them to improve their results.“That said, if they had access to this data and did nothing about it, then we have a problem,” Sternberg said.

But teachers unions and their allies claim for-profit companies bear much of the responsibility for the failures of virtual charters.

“The two companies driving most of the bad policies are the ones making the most money from virtual charters,” said Weingarten, the AFT chief. The sector’s most serious problem, she said, was the practice — echoed by Tilson’s allegations — that schools “focus on recruiting as many students as possible, including those who are not a good fit for online learning.”

For years, K12 Inc. spent huge portions of its budget, drawn mostly from taxpayer money, to advertise on children’s channels like Nickelodeon and teen-friendly websites like VampireFreaks.com.

Miron, of the National Education Policy Center, said the results of for-profit and nonprofit online schools are equally “dismal.” But he said the companies’ extensive legal and lobbying efforts in many states — which they use to push through laws friendly to virtual charters and oppose attempts to shut down poorly performing schools — have stood in the way of reform.

Those extensive lobbying presences are likely to pose a problem for some of the efforts that the National Alliance for Public Charters hopes to push through in the wake of the report. Kwitowski, the spokesperson for K12, said the company did not support proposals to pay virtual charters only if their students had completed the school year, or based solely on students’ academic performance. Virtual schools “should be paid like all other schools,” Kwitowski said.

But both K12 and a spokesperson for Connections Academy said the companies supported more specialized laws and oversight measures for virtual schools, including some suggested in the Walton-funded report.

“Many of the recommendations are things we’ve been saying for a long time,” said Mary Gifford, of K12. “We believe in these laws, and we’ve already helped shape them in several states.”


Can California AG’s new bureau clean up for-profit virtual schools?

A K12 Inc subpoena revealed in an SEC filing reveals wider investigation of virtual charters

Inside a carefully decorated home, a young girl in a navy sweater and a plaid scarf sits in front of a roaring fire place. Two framed photographs of her sit in the background, perched on a granite mantel. This is Emma. She’s in sixth grade.

“I used to go to traditional schools, and I’d get left behind,” she says. “There’s 30 students in my class and there’s only one teacher, and she can’t always get to each student.”

Emma stars in a promotional video on the website for California Virtual Academies, a chain of online virtual schools run by the online school management company K12 Inc.

Yet it’s online students like Emma who are now reportedly getting left behind — one issue, among many, that may have helped spark a new state investigation of the virtual schools industry.

On September 24, 2015, K12 Inc. was subpoenaed by the California Bureau of Children’s Justice, a new arm of the California Attorney General’s Office. A K12 SEC filing revealed that the subpoena was related to an industry-wide investigation of for-profit online charter schools.

“At this early stage, the Company is not aware of any material adverse effect this industry-wide investigation would have on the results of its operation and financial condition,” the filing stated.

A history of controversy and complaints

This isn’t the first time that K12’s California branch has come under scrutiny .

Earlier this year, a searing report from In The Public Interest , a DC-based research and policy institute, found that California Virtual Academies (CAVA), a chain of 11 virtual charter schools in California, was “a failing system that consistently produces more dropouts than graduates.”

The report called CAVA’s San Diego branch, which serves around 3,000 students, a “low-quality education in a poorly sourced educational setting.” It also noted that CAVA only graduated around 58% of its students, as opposed to approximately 80% in California overall.

That’s a problem, in part, because high school dropouts cost the state a reported $46 billion dollars in decreased revenue annually.

Before the release of the report lambasting CAVA, the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) included a CAVA school, CAVA Kern in Simi Valley, in its  recommendations of 10 schools to close due to academic underperformance and a failure to meet the association’s Minimum Criteria for Renewal.

The other nine charters on CCSA’s list included Los Angeles County Online High , run by Olin Virtual Academy, currently still in operation.

A total of 31 charters ranked “Below CCSA’s Minimum Criteria for Renewal.”

Thirty-six online charters operate in California, according to the National Education Policy Center.

California teachers have also spoken out against CAVA, banding together to stage protests complete with props like empty school chairs meant to represent CAVA’s low graduation rates.

“We need local school districts to hold CAVA administrators accountable, so our students can thrive,” CAVA Los Angeles teacher Stacie Bailey told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune .

A New Office; A New Investigation

Last February, California Attorney General Kamala Harris opened a new office within the California Department of Justice: the Bureau of Children’s Justice. Two of the new bureau’s five core priority areas include tackling the state’s “elementary school truancy crisis” and “discrimination and inequities in education.”

Within seven months, at least one subpoena had already been filed in relation to an industry-wide investigation into for-profit online charters in the state.

Kristin Ford, a press secretary at the California Department of Justice, declined to comment “in order to protect the integrity of our investigations.”

A 2013-14 report by the National Education Policy Center, ” Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2014 ,” agreed, finding that 30% of online charters hadn’t received state accountability or performance ratings.

“Of the 231 schools with ratings,” the report says, “only 33.76% had academically acceptable ratings. On average, virtual schools’ Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) results were 22 percentage points lower than those of brick-and-mortar schools.”

And in California, only 5 out of 36 virtual schools met AYP targets.

Virtual school performance: A national problem

Around the country, virtual charters have been scrutinized in Maine , Florida , Oklahoma , Ohio , and Massachusetts.

Overall, graduation rates for virtual schools are around half the national average, the NEPC report says .

And a recent 2015 report of 158 virtual charter schools from Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) found that the schools have an “overwhelming negative impact” on student learning as compared to traditional schools.

K12 Inc. has also long been the subject of intense media scrutiny. Last year, Bloomberg reported that the company had “lost management contracts or been threatened with school shutdowns in five states this year.”

And in 2011, the New York Times investigated the company, noting that “a portrait emerges of a company that tries to squeeze profits from public school dollars by raising enrollment, increasing teacher workload and lowering standards.” High-profile investors began  shorting K12 stock .

Are companies anticipating virtual classroom closures?

With ongoing controversy around transparency, student performance, and financial clarity, K12 has expressed interest in turning its focus to ed-tech and curriculum development instead.

A recent Buzzfeed article noted that the company’s CEO, Nathaniel Davis, said “… Most growth opportunities exist in the small slice of K12’s business devoted to selling content and curriculum,” reporting that the company planned to focus on “an increasing amount of energy and investment on selling its curriculum, called FuelEd , as well as software and other individual services …”

Education Week also reported the  pending transition , calling it a “rebranding move.”

New legislation proposed by Democratic Assemblyman Roger Hernandez that would prohibit all for-profit corporations from operating charter schools, online or not, in the state was successfully adopted by the California legislature earlier this year, in February. Yet the bill won’t go into effect until 2017.

For now, California Virtual Academies remain in expansion mode, with a self-reported total enrollment of around 16,000 students.

It’s unclear whether the new state investigation into the for-profit virtual school industry by the Attorney General’s office will change that.

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Ready or not, virtual charter schools on verge of powering up in North Carolina – Jefferson Post

Ready or not, virtual charter schools on verge of powering up in North Carolina

Last updated: February 11. 2015 7:00AM –


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.

(Update: The two virtual charter schools were approved Thursday.)

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.

North Carolina has experienced a rapid increase in charter schools since state lawmakers lifted a 100-school cap in 2011 on the publicly funded schools run by private non-profit boards of directors. There are now 147 tuition-free charter schools that operated in counties across the state.

But North Carolina, unlike many states, doesn’t have any full-time virtual charter schools. The state does run the North Carolina Virtual Public School, which offers individual classes to schoolchildren around the state.

Ensuring that students are learning

North Carolina’s education board is wrestling with what, if any, additional restrictions should be placed on the virtual schools that will be run by education management companies that have seen mixed results in other states.

A committee of state board members previously recommended the schools provide and pay for “learning coaches” if parents weren’t available to monitor students, and provide computers and Internet access to students living in low-income families. Both schools say they won’t have the resources to pay for learning coaches.

At-risk students with parents who work wouldn’t be able to attend the virtual schools otherwise, Evelyn Bulluck said during Wednesday’s discussion at the state board. Bulluck is a Nash County-Rocky Mount school board member who serves in an advisory role to the state board.

“That tells me that this school is not accessible for many children which means then that we’re excluding a segment of our student population,” Bulluck said. “North Carolina would not have established a law that excludes a whole segment of children.”

But other members stressed Republican lawmakers hadn’t envisioned those types of restrictions when they created a four-year pilot program for two virtual charter schools in last year’s budget bill.

“The responsibility should fall on the parents,” said Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, a Republican supportive of expanding education choice options in the public school system. “It’s very problematic for us to get in the business in telling them they must provide a learning coach.”

The N.C. Virtual Academy hopes to serve students from kindergarten through 10th grade, while the NC Connections Academy aims to help children in the elementary and middle-school grades. In other states, the online-based schools have proven popular with families that prefer home-schooling, or students who contend with serious health problems, behavior problems, taxing extracurricular schedules or bullying.

Other states have experienced problems or expressed concerns about K12, Inc., the for-profit vendor behind the N.C. Virtual Academy. One Colorado school run by K12, Inc. had a graduation rate as low as 10 percent in 2010, Tennessee may shut down a K12, Inc.-run school following poor academic results and the NCAA has indicated it won’t accept classes for prospective student athletes from a number of K12, Inc.-run schools.

A 2012 report from the National Education Policy Center (which has been critical of the charter schools) found that students who attended virtual schools performed worse academically then their peers in other public schools.

The virtual schools will be funded at levels close to what brick-and-mortar charter schools receive, but with fewer local funds available to the online schools. The schools could receive up to $66 million a year by 2017, if enrollment reaches a combined 6,000 students by then, according to the Associated Press.

Investors watching North Carolina decision

North Carolina’s warming to virtual schools will be welcome news to investors, who have seen online charter schools in other states scale back their involvement with K12, Inc. as school leaders take over the management functions from the company.

Today’s decision by the state board was mentioned in a Jan. 29 earnings call K12, Inc. management had with investors.

“In North Carolina, we continue to support our independent not-for-profit partner, the NC Learns Board, as they were the policymakers in the State Board of Education on their application to open a statewide online public charter school for the upcoming year,” K12, Inc. CEO Nate Davis told investors, according to a transcript of the call. “If approved the school could enroll up to 1500 students in the upcoming school year and increase this to about 3000 students by the fourth year of operation.”

There’s not much wiggle for the state board in considering the applications, after the Republican-led legislature slipped a provision into last year’s budget bill mandated the creation of four-year pilot with two schools.

At least two Republican lawmakers contacted education board members this week to remind them of that.

“The language is unambiguous that the legislature intended for there to be exactly two virtual charter schools, no more, no less,” wrote state Rep. Jason Saine, a lawmaker from Lincolnton. “Moreover, it is equally unambiguous that the legislature intended for the virtual charter schools to cover all grades, kindergarten through twelfth grade.”

N.C. House Speaker Pro-Tem. Paul “Skip” Stam, a powerful Apex Republican and key supporter of school choice issues, sent a similar letter this week.

The law passed “requires that the school ensure that each student is assigned a learning coach,” Stam wrote. “It does not require the school to provide a learning coach.”

Forest, the state’s lieutenant governor, also said educational choice options are designed to offer solutions, and that means that the virtual schools may not work for everyone but can make differences in the lives of some students.

“Not every (educational) choice is going to be a good choice for every single child,” Forest said. “That’s why you do these things.”

Questions? Comments? Reporter Sarah Ovaska can be reached at (919) 861-1463 or sarah@ncpolicywatch.com.

Virtual schools could be coming – Robesonian – robesonian.com

Virtual schools could be coming

Last updated: December 24. 2014 9:58AM –

North Carolina schoolchildren may be attending classes on their home computers next year after a state education committee moved the applications of two proposed virtual charter schools forward.

The State Board of Education, which sets education policy in the state, will take up the applications of two virtual charter schools at their January meeting as part of a four-year pilot program created by the state legislature.

A special committee of N.C. Department of Public Instruction staff and charter school educators voted Wednesday to move the applications from two proposed virtual schools forward while also expressing concerns about how the online-based education system will serve students and taxpayers.

“We need to be very careful,” said Becky Taylor, a State Board of Education member who served on the special committee, during Wednesday’s discussion. “Who is going to suffer if it doesn’t go well?”

North Carolina has experienced a rapid increase in charter schools since state lawmakers lifted a 100-school cap in 2011 on the publicly funded schools run by private nonprofit boards of directors. There are now 148 tuition-free charter schools that operate in counties across the state.

But North Carolina, unlike many states, doesn’t have any full-time virtual charter schools. The state does run the North Carolina Virtual Public School, which offers individual classes to schoolchildren around the state.

North Carolina’s Republican-led legislature tucked a provision in this summer’s budget bill that created a four-year pilot program for two online-based charter schools to open by August 2015.

Paul Davis, a committee member who works with N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s testing department, questioned whether the online schools, with heavy involvement required from parents, would largely appeal to families already teaching their children outside public classrooms.

“Elementary virtual school sounds almost like publicly-funded home schooling,” Davis said.

The legislature opted to include younger students in the pilot despite prior recommendations from the State Board of Education to begin a pilot program with high school-aged children.

Nationally, the virtual education market is dominated by two companies, K12, Inc. and Connections Academy, a subsidiary of Pearson, an educational publishing company also traded on Wall Street.

If approved by the state, the N.C. Virtual Academy and N.C. Connections Academy each hope to enroll 1,500 students in the first year, for a total of 3,000 students.

Though final funding formulas have not been set, high enrollments of students could potentially divert millions in public education dollars to the virtual charter schools.

Of the two companies vying to open charter schools in North Carolina, K12 Inc. is the more controversial, and faced more questions at last week’s meeting. The State Board of Education blocked a 2012 bid to open a K12 Inc.-run school, leading to a lawsuit.

The company operates virtual public schools in 30 other states and has garnered national attention for what critics say is a model geared more toward profits from public revenue streams than providing quality educations.

Proponents says that many of the students who turn to online education had been struggling in traditional schools, one reason why test scores may be lower than those of traditional charter schools.

Mary Gifford, a K12 Inc. senior vice president, answered a question about issues the company has faced in other states by saying that no contracts have ended prematurely. At one Pennsylvania cyber school, which generates a large portion of K12’s revenue stream, the school board recently opted to stop using the company for day-to-day management of the virtual school.

State Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County Republican , said he supported the pilot program and backed putting it in the budget bill this summer.

Horn also said he had gone on a visit with other lawmakers to visit K12’s headquarters in Herndon, Va. a few years ago while in Washington for a conference and was impressed with the company. Horn said he paid his own way, and could not recall what other lawmakers were with him on the trip nor when he went.

“It left an impression on me that the organization was professional,” he said.

K12’s spokesperson Jeff Kwitowski said the company did not pay for a North Carolina delegation to visit, and that groups often drop in to visit the company’s headquarters in northern Virginia while attending to other business in the nation’s capital.

The pilot program will show whether virtual charter schools should have a permanent spot in the state’s educational system, Horn said.

“It deserves a look,” he said.

Sarah Ovaska can be reached at (919) 861-1463 or sarah@ncpolicywatch.com.

Sarah Ovaska can be reached at (919) 861-1463 or sarah@ncpolicywatch.com.

Virtual schools get state’s approval – Laurinburg Exchange – laurinburgexchange.com

Virtual schools get state’s approval

Last updated: December 20. 2014 8:12AM –


North Carolina schoolchildren may be attending classes on their home computers next year, after a state education committee moved the applications of two proposed virtual charter schools forward Wednesday.

The State Board of Education, which sets education policy in the state, will take up the applications of two virtual charter schools at their January meeting as part of a four-year pilot program created by the state legislature.

A special committee of N.C. Department of Public Instruction staff and charter school educators voted Wednesday to move the applications from two proposed virtual school forward while also expressing concerns about how the online-based education system will serve students and taxpayers.

“We need to be very careful,” said Becky Taylor, a State Board of Education member that served on the special committee, during Wednesday’s discussion. “Who is going to suffer if it doesn’t go well?”

North Carolina has experienced a rapid increase in charter schools since state lawmakers lifted a 100-school cap in 2011 on the publicly funded schools run by private non-profit boards of directors. There are now 148 tuition-free charter schools that are operated in counties across the state.

But North Carolina, unlike many states, doesn’t have any full-time virtual charter schools. The state does run the North Carolina Virtual Public School, which offers individual classes to schoolchildren around the state.

North Carolina’s Republican-led legislature tucked a provision in this summer’s budget bill that created a four-year pilot program for two online-based charter schools to open by August 2015.

Paul Davis, a committee member that works with N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s testing department, questioned Wednesday whether the online schools, with heavy involvement required from parents, would largely appeal to families already teaching their children outside public classrooms.

“Elementary virtual school sounds almost like publicly-funded home schooling,” Davis said.

The legislature opted to include younger students in the pilot despite prior recommendations from the State Board of Education to begin a pilot program with high school-aged children.

Nationally, the virtual education market is dominated by two companies, K12 Inc. and Connections Academy, a subsidiary of Pearson, an educational publishing company also traded on Wall Street.

If approved by the state, the N.C. Virtual Academy (which will be run by K12, Inc.) and N.C. Connections Academy (to be run by Connections Academy) each hope to enroll 1,500 students in the first year, for a total of 3,000 students.

Though final funding formulas have not been set, high enrollments of students could potentially divert millions in public education dollars to the new virtual charter schools.

Of the two companies vying to open charter schools in North Carolina, K12 Inc. is the more controversial, and faced more questions at Wednesday’s meeting. The State Board of Education blocked a 2012 bid to open a K12 Inc.-run school, leading to a lawsuit.

The company operates virtual public schools in 30 other states and has garnered national attention for what critics say is a model geared more toward profits from public revenue streams than providing quality educations to students.

The NCAA doesn’t currently accept classes from K12 Inc.-run schools for student-athletes looking to play at the collegiate level, and Tennessee education officials plan on shutting down a K12 Inc.-run virtual school there for low academic results.

Proponents says that many of the students that turn to online education had been struggling in traditional schools, one reason why test scores may be lower than those of traditional charter schools.

“We recognize that virtual education is not going to work for every child,” said Chris Whithrow, the board chair of N.C. Virtual Academy.

Mary Gifford, a K12 Inc. senior vice-president, answered a question about issues the company has faced in other states by saying that no contracts have ended prematurely. At one Pennsylvania cyber school, which generates a large portion of K12 Inc.’s revenue stream, the school board recently opted to stop using the company for day-to-day management of the virtual school.

“There are no charters that have been revoked,” Gifford said Wednesday. “There are a handful of contracts that have not renewed.”

State Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County Republican who attended Wednesday’s meeting, said he supported the pilot program and backed putting it in the budget bill this summer.

Horn also said he had gone on a visit with other lawmakers to visit K12, Inc’s headquarters in Herndon, Va. a few years ago while in Washington for a conference and was impressed with the company. Horn said he paid his own way, and could not recall what other lawmakers were with him on the trip nor when he went.

“It left an impression on me that the organization was professional,” he said.

K12 Inc.’s spokesperson Jeff Kwitowski said the company did not pay for a North Carolina delegation to visit, and that groups often drop in to visit the company’s headquarters in northern Virginia while attending to other business in the nation’s capital.

The pilot program will show whether virtual charter schools should have a permanent spot in the state’s educational system, Horn said.

“It deserves a look,” he said.

Sarah Ovaska writes for NC Policy Watch. She can be reached at 919-861-1463.

Quicklink: Bad News: K12 Inc Enters the Preschool Market; by Diane Ravitch | OpEdNews

Quicklink: Bad News: K12 Inc Enters the Preschool Market; by Diane Ravitch

Ravitch says : 'Here is the latest bad news for American children: Having created a string of low-performing but profitable virtual charter schools, K12 Inc. has announced that it is entering the lucrative preschool market. Equity investor Whitney Tilson warned other investors last year against K12, which he compared to the subprime mortgage industry, but the company keeps coming up with new ideas to put children in front of computers and absorb public dollars'…. 'According to the U.S. Department of Education, there is a robust body of evidence and research demonstrating that high-quality, early learning programs help children arrive at kindergarten ready to succeed in school and in life' but as this post shows, there are many charlatans and privateers are seeing dollar signs.

K12, Inc., the virtual charter chain founded by the Milken brothers, is in big trouble, according to politico.com. Its stock is tanking, and its legal troubles growing. Its virtual charters seldom get good academic results, but a heavy investment in marketing and recruiting have kept the profits flowing. Until now. I have never liked virtual charters. I think they are a rip-off of kids and taxpayers.


Writes politico.com:


TOUGH TIMES FOR K12, INC: The nation’s largest for-profit operator of public schools, K12, Inc., has had a bumpy ride of late. Its stock closed Friday at a 52-week low of 13.82 per share, down from a recent peak of 36.78 in September 2013. What’s behind the slump? For one thing, the company’s astronomical growth has slowed significantly. Just last fall, K12 executives were projecting revenue of $987 million for fiscal year 2014. But actual revenue for the year came in under $920 million. In a conference call last week, executives projected revenues would rise only slightly in the next fiscal year.


– Meanwhile, K12’s academic empire has been in turmoil. The board of Agora Cyber Charter in Pennsylvania, which is one of K12’s largest and most profitable online schools, has signaled its intent to seek new management (though it will continue to buy digital curriculum from K12). Colorado Virtual Academy broke ties with K12 before the start of the school year. And late last week, Delaware’s state board of education voted to close another struggling school operated by K12, the Maurice J. Moyer Academic Institute. Trouble also looms in Tennessee, where Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman has ordered the K12-operated Tennessee Virtual Academy to shut down after this school year unless it shows big gains in academic performance. And last spring, the NCAA said it wouldn’t accept coursework completed at any of two dozen K12-operated schools as proof of a student’s eligibility to compete for Division I or II colleges and universities.


– To top it all off, K12 faces a trademark infringement lawsuit in Florida. The state Supreme Court last month ruled that Florida Virtual School – which was founded in 1997 – could sue K12 Inc. for opening a slew of competing online schools under the name Florida Virtual Academies. Pro Education looked at K12’s business model and examined the shaky performance of online schools in general in a series last fall:


http://politi.co/ZznuQd and http://politi.co/ZUDaOW
















via Diane Ravitch’s blog » K12 Inc. http://ift.tt/1D9OzII