Charter schools are tuition-free, independent public schools exempt from most of the rules, regulations, and statutes that apply to other public schools. In contrast to traditional “brick and mortar” classrooms, online charter schools offer full-time learning—in front of a computer—not necessarily in a space dedicated to learning, or with any adult supervision. Students attending online charter schools give up their classroom seats and face-to-face time with teachers and other learning resources.
Online (or “virtual”) charter schools have become a big business for the for-profit companies that run and manage them. “Cyber education” is an industry anticipated to grow by 20 percent between 2012 and 2017 with revenues reaching $13.4 billion.
Educational experts and researchers cite a lack of evidence that would point to the merit of full-time, online learning. In its report, Online K-12 Schooling in the U.S., the National Education Policy Center notes: “There exists no research from evidence that full-time virtual schooling at the K-12 level is an adequate replacement for traditional face-to-face teaching and learning.” And, as one educator noted, “The early development of children requires lots of interaction with other children for purposes of socialization, developing collaboration and teamwork, and self-definition.”
Concerns about Online Charter Schools
There is a clear need for a system of checks and balances to ensure online charter schools are well managed and serve the needs of students. And there is strong evidence that some online charters cause a great deal more harm than good—to students, local school districts and taxpayers—for the following reasons:
- Online charters have poor academic results: low four-year graduation rates, poor test scores, and unusually high dropout rates. Only 27.4 percent of online schools met federal adequate yearly progress (AYP) standards.
- Limited interaction with teachers—in many cases, the student and teacher are not even online at the same time.
- The authenticity of student work has become a serious problem in at least one state. The inability to monitor test taking has led to a lack of credibility in testing results.
- Taxpayers may foot the bill twice, once to pay tuition to the for-profit corporation running the online charter, then to the local public school district when a student returns to a brick and mortar school to catch up on what they did not receive in their online course of study.
- Cause significant loss of revenue and resources to traditional public schools when local districts are required to turn over funds to for-profit online charter corporations. A loss of funds poses significant challenges for traditional public schools, which are often forced to reduce staff, programs, and other basic expenditures.
Doesn’t North Carolina already have a virtual school?
The state-led NC Virtual Public School (NCVPS) was created in 2007. It offers supplemental courses to public, private, and homeschooled secondary students; only homebound students take a full course load through NCVPS. NCVPS currently serves 50,000 students and is the second largest virtual school in the U.S. With classes taught by educators with an NC professional teaching license, NCVPS is a cost effective way to educate students who need access to a course unavailable at their school; a year-long class costs $438. NCVPS also offers its classes to home schooled and private school students.
What is the history of full-time, online charter schools in North Carolina?
- In December, 2013, a state appeals court turned down online charter operator K12, Inc.’s request that its application to run a school in North Carolina be automatically considered.
- In Section 8.48 of the Appropriations Act of 2013, the General Assembly directed that the State Board of Education conduct a study of online charter schools and prepare “recommendations in the form of draft rules and proposed statutory changes to the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee by February 1, 2014.”
- One of the findings of the Virtual Charter School Study, April 15, 2014 was a recommendation for “three individual pilot schools” that “would provide an adequate basis from which to collect data.” Further, “each pilot will be allowed to enroll up to 1,000 students in the first year and expand by not more than 20% in each successive year until completion of the pilot, not to exceed 1,728 students. The law authorizing the charter pilot schools exceeds this maximum enrollment by more than 850 students.
- Section 8.35 of the Appropriations Act of 2014 authorizes the creation of two pilot K-12 online charter schools. The length of the pilot will be four years. The maximum enrollment in each pilot is capped at 1,500 students in the first year, rising to 2,592 in year four. The law further states, “The school shall have a withdrawal rate below twenty-five percent (25%).” Two-thirds of students at industry-leading K12,Inc.’s online charter schools leave after less than two years.
- In October 2014, K12, Inc. and Connections Academy each submitted their applications to pilot full-time online education in North Carolina. The applications are being reviewed in December, with approval anticipated in January 2015 for schools that will open in August 2015. Read the applications here:
- On January 7, 2015, both applicants presented at a meeting of the State Board of Education. The State Board of Education granted its final approval for both schools at its February 2015 meeting.