A recent report on virtual charter schools being managed by a for-profit company that wants to set up shop in North Carolina should disturb state leaders and the rest of us. According to Understand and Improving Virtual Schools, an assessment by the nonprofit research group the National Education Policy Center, K12 Inc. students across the nation perform worse and drop out of courses more frequently than students in brick-and-mortar schools.
K12 Inc. is a for-profit online education company that runs virtual online schools in 29 states and enrolls 105,912 students in 59 full-time schools, which is more than any other private education management organization in the United States. It was all set to manage a virtual charter in this state starting in August until a judge put the opening on hold because the state board of education had not acted on the charters application. The school would have accepted students from anywhere in North Carolina and would have received more than $18 million in federal, state and local funding for next school year.
Wake County Superior Court Judge Abraham Penn Jones ruling reversed an administrative judges finding that the N.C. board of education had failed to meet a deadline to act on the application. Jones said regardless of the deadline, only the state board had the authority to approve a charter school.
This approval glitch is not likely to derail K12 Inc.s application for next year. But state policymakers should examine closely the National Education Policy Centers findings, released this month, to see if it should be sidelined permanently.
Online learning does have great value and popularity. The states N.C. Virtual Public School program offers courses to high school students across the state often courses that dont have high demand but ones that students in various parts of the state need or desire, and courses that students have flunked which can be recovered without students having to go back through a whole semester.
But the K12 Inc. managed school would be different. It would operate as a standalone school, completely online, taking in students from anywhere in the state.
Whether thats a good idea is worth debating. But K12 Inc.s involvement is another matter. The report from the National Center for Education Policy should prompt a thorough investigation before K12 Inc.s application goes forward.
The company disputes the report, arguing that it uses selective data that do not take note of a tendency for many students enrolled in virtual schools to already be behind academically. Officials say the study ignores academic growth.
But none of that negates these troubling findings: Less than 28 percent of K12 Inc. managed schools met the federal measure for Adequate Yearly Progress during the 2010-11 school year, according to the report, compared with 52 percent of brick-and-mortar schools nationwide. And, the report said, K12 Inc. graduation rates for K-12 schools are 49.1 percent compared with a rate of 79.4 percent for the states in which K12 Inc. operates schools.
Those statistics dont inspire confidence that this is a good value. They dont support a case that this move would be an academic benefit for N.C. students nor that it is a wise use of taxpayers dollars.