A long-time supporter of charter schools, the Walton Family Foundation, has issued a damning report regarding online charter 'cyber' schools. These are the same 'virtual charters' Senator Jerry Tillman demanded be opened here in North Carolina. K12-Inc opened the N.C. Virtual Academy, and Pearson opened the N.C. Connections Academy. Both have seen substantial loss of students since opening last fall. Emphasis below is mine.
For the second time in three months, the Walton Family Foundation—which has spent more than $1 billion to create a quarter of the nation’s 6,700 public charter schools—has announced that all online public school instruction, via cyber charter schools, is a colossal disaster for most K-12 students.
“If virtual charters were grouped together and ranked as a single school district, it would be the ninth largest in the country and among the worst performing,” co-wrote Walton’s Marc Sternberg and Marc Holley, respectively the foundation’s director of educational giving and its evaluation unit director, in a recent Education Week commentary. “Online education must be reimagined. Ignoring the problem—or worse, replicating failures—serves nobody.”
In the three reports released late last year, the Foundation said that in the online charter schools they previously supported students were "barely learning the basics."
“The majority of online charter students had far weaker academic growth in both math and reading compared to their traditional public school peers,” their experts’ press release said, after noting that kindergarten-through-high school students need to be in classrooms with live teachers, not occasional faces on computer screens. “To conceptualize this shortfall, it would equate to a student losing 72 days of learning in reading and 180 days of learning in math, based on a 180-day school year.”
These failing online charter schools exist all across the country and are costing taxpayers about $1.2 BILLION a year.
Does the Foundation call for an end to online charter schools? A moratorium on their approval? With such a dismal report, and from their own researchers, one would think so. But no, they are not. The Foundation's plan is to examine such schools more intently before awarding them grants. Oh. And to "urge policymakers to make changes, too....urging state charter regulators to “create new accountability systems… rethink their expectations and policies, and test novel policy arrangements.” The group that started out not wanting government interference with education and parental choice now wants the government to step in and rein in the Frankenstein they created. But only this Frankenstein. Virtual charters, they seem to say, need government oversight, but the rest of the charter industry, not so much. After all, people are making money off this.
The Foundation made itself very clear:
State regulators “must take action if schools are failing students,” the foundation’s Sternberg and Holley wrote, but then drew the line on where they don’t want government interference. “To be clear, our comments about online charter schools are not an indictment of instructional technology or online learning more generally, nor how these stand to help create more high-quality educational options.”
In other words, as state legislatures, which are the primary overseers of education policy, convene across the country, Walton is giving lawmakers a green light to go after online charters—just not the rest of the burgeoning industry that’s also dominated by corporate franchises with other failed experiments. That highly political response begs the policy question of why lawmakers and education policymakers should stop there, as what has emerged as the charter school industry since the 1990s is not what lawmakers envisioned when they were sanctioned as local experiments in public education.
..While the cyber school industry wants the public and policymakers to discuss these schools as if they are similar to traditional classrooms with teachers supervising students, the reality is anything but. They are corporate-run franchises, called “education management organizations” in Wall Street’s parlance, that rely on delivering the same instruction to large volumes of student to profit.
The Center’s report discussed what it said “can be cause for concern,” calling them “suspicions” but not facts. It noted two-thirds of online charters “contract with for-profit education management organizations (EMO), raising suspicions that schools will skimp on quality to maximize profits.” It said government regulators “often raise concerns about the quality of teachers…
But then it said states were sufficiently responding to the industry’s problems. Exhibit A was K12. “States have taken action to sever ties with for-profit providers, such as K12 Inc., due to perceived resource mismanagement and poor performance... In the 2010-2011 school year, only 27.7 percent of K12 Inc.‐operated schools across the nation met the Adequate Yearly Progress standard.”
Admiting there are problems before the regulators show up is an old lobbying strategy. The Center’s report said some states were taking a serious look at online charters and praised them for responding cautiously; that is, without alarm that multi-millions are being spent on public schools that are failing two out of three students.
“We saw no direct cuts to online charter school funding, but determined that there are plenty of new regulations that affect online charter school revenues,” CRPE said, offering examples. “Colorado changed the way it counts online students, from enrollment once per year to monthly counts, which reduced overall allocations. Florida recently started funding online charter schools based on course completion, effectively reducing overall online charter school funding.”
When confronting the for-profit industry’s biggest fear—a moratorium, which Illinois enacted—the example was framed as a reaction by an outlier state. “This is one of the few instances where a state issued an all‐out ban on opening new schools for several years in order to ensure that existing laws and administrative rules reflect the unique characteristics of online charter schools.”
Perhaps it is time to review the virtual charter school program created by NCGA Republicans. Perhaps it is time for a moratorium: no new students until there are drastic improvements in student learning. Perhaps it is time to pay these schools differently: instead of giving them a year's worth of student funding right at the beginning of the year, fund them quarterly, or even monthly, first ascertaining that the students the school claims to have are actually still in attendance and making academic progress.
North Carolina cannot lure business to locate here with a state full of poorly educated students. As we go into the Information Age, and a time of demand for expertise in math and science, we won't even be able to supply employees to the businesses already here if we allow this to continue.
You can read the entire article here.