“Those making policy should be clear on this key point: 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. Yet to date, this lack of support appears to have exerted little or no influence on the proliferation of virtual K-12 schools.”- National Education Policy Center, Online K-12 Schooling in the U.S.
What are charter schools?
Charter schools are tuition-free, independent public schools exempt from most of the rules, regulations,
and statutes that apply to other public schools. In North Carolina, charter schools are vetted by an advisory council, approved by the State Board of Education, funded with taxpayer dollars, and are governed by private, nonprofit organizations.
What is an online or virtual charter school?
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.
Are the numbers of online charter schools growing?
Online education is a big business. Online charters are becoming the fastest growing alternative to traditional public schools due to for-profit corporations that are active in the “cyber learning” industry. In recent years, state legislators have enacted laws that promote the online learning industry which is anticipated to grow by 43 percent between 2010 and 2015 with revenues reaching $24.4 billion. In 2010-2011, there were 250,000 students in 40 states enrolled in full-time online schools.
If online charter schools are operated by nonprofit organizations, can for-profit companies run them?
According to North Carolina statute §115C‑238.29E (b), “a charter school shall be operated by a private nonprofit corporation.” For-profit companies can easily set up nonprofit organizations that obtain a charter for an online school. The nonprofit then purchases everything needed from the for-profit company: instructional tools and materials, technology services, budgeting and financial reporting, student records management, administrative services (including personnel assistance), pupil recruitment and family services, and teacher training and evaluation tools.
A for-profit company could easily govern its online charter—instead of that function being in the hands of the nonprofit corporation established for that very purpose. Simply stated, there is no system of checks and balances to ensure online charter schools are well managed and serve the needs of students.
What are the concerns over online charter schools?
Online charter schools are often cited as a cost-effective way to deliver education but research indicates lower test scores and higher dropout rates for online charters overall.
Outcomes for Students
The vast majority of students who attend online schools are failing. According to a National Education Policy Center report, only 27.4 percent of online schools met federal adequate yearly progress (AYP) standards. Graduation rates are astoundingly low. K12, Inc.’s Ohio Virtual Academy reported an overall 30.4% four-year on time graduation rate with a 12.2% rate for African American students and a 24.2% rate for economically disadvantaged students (versus a statewide rate of 78%). K12, Inc.’s Colorado Virtual Academy reported a 12% four-year on time graduation rate (versus a statewide rate of 72%). There is also deep concern about the ability of these online charters to effectively educate at-risk or special needs students.
Other concerns about online instruction that directly impact student achievement include:
- Online charters offer limited interaction with teachers, and interaction may not extend beyond a particular course. In many cases, the student and teacher are not even online at the same time.
- The absence of academic standards raises concerns about quality of online instruction and curriculum.
- The quality of teacher preparation for delivering instruction online may be a problem since there are no standards for licensure or certification for teachers instructing students online.
- Some for-profit online charter corporations outsource teacher duties (tutoring and grading) to untrained personnel in India, and in Wisconsin, and some teacher responsibilities were offloaded to parents.
- The authenticity of student work since due to the inability to monitor test taking has led to a lack of credibility in testing results.
- Two-thirds of K-12, Inc.’s online charter school students leave after less than two years in the program.
Effect on Local Public School Districts
North Carolina’s traditional public schools would lose revenue and resources if local districts are required to turn over funds to for-profit online charter corporations. A measurable loss of funds poses significant challenges for traditional public schools and could force them to reduce staff, programs, and other basic expenditures.
Lack of Oversight
Experts call for slow expansion of online charters and encourage careful, uniform oversight in light of the documented poor academic track record.
Does Online Education Make Sense?
North Carolina already has the second largest online or virtual public school in the country. The NC Virtual Public School is not a full time school. Rather, students across the state enroll in individual classes taught by certified teachers and designed to provide courses that students are unable to take at their local schools.
Using an online learning environment for course recovery or to supplement face-to-face learning is highly recommended by educators and supported by research instead of replacing face-to-face learning entirely.
What is Needed?
“The early development of children requires lots of interaction with other children for purposes of socialization, developing collaboration and teamwork, and self-definition.”- Irving Hamer Jr., Deputy Superintendent, Memphis City Schools
More than 20 states prohibit full-time online schooling. In January 2013, the NC State Board of Education passed the first policy specifically addressing online charter schools, and establishing standards for testing, graduation rates, student withdrawal rates, student-to-teacher ratios, and funding.
This policy has been characterized as a “step in the right direction.
Sources of Information on Online Charter Schools
Public Schools First NC, The Facts on Charter Schools http://www.publicschoolsfirstnc.org/fact-sheets-and-reports/
NC School Boards Association, Charter Schools Issue Brief http://www.ncsba.org/index.php?src=gendocs&ref=Charter%20Schools&category=Governmental_Relations
NC Justice Center, Amicus Brief Supporting the NC State Board of Education http://www.ncjustice.org/?q=education/nc-justice-center-amicus-brief-support-petitioner-north-carolina- state-board-education.
NC State Board of Education, January 11, 2013 – Policy on Virtual Charter Schools http://sbepolicy.dpi.state.nc.us/policies/TCS-U-015.asp?pri=04&cat=U&pol=015&acr=TCS
National Education Policy Center, Online K-12 Schooling in the U.S.: Uncertain Private Ventures in Need of Public Regulation http://nepc.colorado.edu/files/NEPC-VirtSchool-1-PB-Glass-Welner.pdf
Profiles of For-Profit and Nonprofit Education Management Organizations: Thirteenth Annual Report -2010-2011 http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/EMO-profiles-10-11
Profits and Questions at Online Charter Schools http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/13/education/online- schools-score-better-on-wall-street-than-in-classrooms.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
Virtual Failure: The Growth of Online Charter Schools http://www.maine.nea.org/assets/document/ME/Virtual_Failure_Online_Charter_Schools_Report.pdf
News and Observer, Judge Says Online Charter School Cannot Open in August http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/06/29/2168939/judge-says-online-charter-school.html
NC Justice Center Media Release: New Virtual Charter Schools Policy a Step in the Right Direction http://www.ncjustice.org/?q=education/media-release-new-virtual-charter-schools-policy-step-right- direction-education-advocates
Capital Tonight Interview: The Pros and Cons of Virtual Charter Schools, Jan. 15, 2013 http://triangle.news14.com/content/capital_tonight/capital_tonight_episodes/682396/capital-tonight-jan--15–pros-and-cons-of-virtual-charter-schools
Allegations of Fraud by K12’s Former Employees http://legalclips.nsba.org/?p=17966&utm_source=NSBA+e- Newsletter+Subscribers&utm_campaign=c0dd5f9e11-Legal+Clips+Daily&utm_medium=email
Virtual Schools are Multiplying, but Some Question Their Educational Value, by Lyndsey Layton and Emma Brown, November 26, 2011 http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2011-11-26/local/35283370_1_virtual-schools-virtual-education-support-school-choice
How Online Learning Companies Bought America’s Schools http://www.thenation.com/article/164651/how-online-learning-companies-bought-americas-schools#
Some See Inequity in Virginia “Virtual School” – Online Education Companies in Virginia Are Encouraged to Partner with Poor Counties to Boost Profits http://www.roanoke.com/news/roanoke/wb/277743
Last revised March 7, 2013