Another virtually ignored accountability problem in the education privatization crusade

Another virtually ignored accountability problem in the education privatization crusade

virtual-400The crusade to privatize public education in North Carolina has become a hallmark of the folks currently in charge in Raleigh.

There’s the sketchy school voucher scheme that diverts public money to almost completely unaccountable private schools and religious academies that even some prominent Republicans say shouldn’t receive taxpayer funds.

There’s the explosion of for-profit charter school companies that run what are supposed to be public schools that serve students and communities not out of state corporations and their shareholders.

And there’s the least discussed of the privatization tactics, two virtual charter schools that opened in the state this fall operated by two different for-profit companies, one of which has a scandal-plagued record in other states.

A provision snuck into the budget in the 2014 session ordered the State Board of Education to approve two virtual charter schools as pilot programs. Only two companies applied to run the online schools, all but guaranteeing they would both be selected, and they both were.

One of the companies is K12, Inc. A report by a Washington think tank about a California virtual charter run by the company found a series of problems, including dramatically lower test scores than traditional public schools, startling high dropout rates, questionable attendance figures and a host of other problems.

That didn’t stop the State Board from awarding the contract to K12. Board members had no choice.

This week a new report by the well-respected Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University found that it’s not just K12, Inc. that is falling far short of expectations for virtual charters.

The report, the National Study of Online Charter Schools, was done in collaboration with the Center on Reinventing Public Education and Mathematica Policy Research and funded by the Walton Family Foundation, a strong advocate for the charter school movement.

There is no bias here but the findings are clear. Students in publicly funded and independently managed online charters across the country made far less progress than their counterparts in traditional public schools.

Education Week quotes one of the authors of the report saying the gains in math were so small that it was “literally as though the student did not go to school for the entire year.”

The report puts it this way.

“The majority of online charter students had far weaker academic growth in both math and reading compared to their traditional public school peers. 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”

There were plenty of other findings that are almost as startling. Students in the online charters have less live contact with a teacher in a week than students in conventional schools have in a day.

The majority of middle and elementary school charters and almost half of the online high schools expect parents to be active part of the teaching, not just answer questions or help with homework.

That’s not always possible of course, and the study finds that “maintaining student engagement in this environment of limited student-teacher interaction is considered the greatest challenge by far.”

That’s probably why the two virtual charter companies operating in North Carolina convinced the State Board of Education to approve a policy allowing the schools to avoid recording daily attendance or reporting it to the state.

There’s more but most of the findings were summed up in a simple conclusion made in the report, that the results “leave little doubt attending an online charter school leads to lessened academic growth for the average student.”

Less growth for students, less accountability for the schools, and more profits for the companies.

Thanks to the General Assembly, that’s what our tax dollars are paying for this year as the dangerous education privatization crusade continues in North Carolina.