If lessons from other states are any indication, get ready for scandals, the wasting of millions of dollars of taxpayer money, dreadful student achievement and maybe even fraud next fall as North Carolina turns over the education of thousands of students to a company with an astoundingly spotty record.
And amazingly, not many people seem too worried about it.
The budget the General Assembly passed last session included a provision directing 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 recent 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, startlingly high dropout rates, questionable attendance figures and a host of other problems.
On the heels of the report, NC Policy Watch reporter Lindsay Wagner talked with Jan Cox Golovich, a former teacher at the K-12 California virtual charter — who was not involved with the study but recounted even more troubling practices at the online school.
Golovich, a former teacher in the traditional public schools, was excited about working at the virtual academy, a feeling that quickly faded after she realized how teachers were pressured to take student attendance, which determined how much money K12 was paid by the state.
Golovich couldn’t tell how long her students were actually logged into the virtual school, and she started worrying when many of her students were struggling. After a training session with K12 officials, a tech person showed her how to determine how long her students were logged in and when she checked, she found that
many were only in the online class for five minutes a day even though they were recorded as attending school.
K12 was getting its money from the taxpayers but the students weren’t getting an education. School administrators then started demanding that teachers check with parents to see how much time students were spending on school work offline, an impossible task since teachers were responsible for hundreds of students.
Golovich told Wagner that she eventually resigned because she didn’t want to put her teaching credentials at stake by lying about attendance figures.
And it’s not just California where K12, Inc. schools have had problems. The think tank report found that in every state where information was available, students at K12 virtual schools had lower math and reading test scores well below the state average.
Graduation rates at K12, Inc. schools were as much as 50 percent below the average in some states. But the company still gets its money.
Things got so bad in Tennessee that the state education commissioner called for the K12 virtual charter to be closed because academic performance was so bad.
Now it’s North Carolina’s turn to pay the company millions of dollars starting next fall, thanks to a secret provision in last year’s budget.
Never mind the miserable track record of the company, the damage done to students’ education and the public money wasted in other states.
And all this from folks in North Carolina who keep pushing for more accountability in traditional public schools.
Maybe most shocking of all is that you probably haven’t heard much about K12 bringing its sketchy record to North Carolina to make millions of dollars off the taxpayers.
But you will. Stay tuned. The scandal’s coming.
—Chris Fitzsimon is the executive director at N.C. Policy Watch.