September 4, 2014

Online charter schools moving too quickly for NC

North Carolina should evaluate current charters before allowing online versions.

There now are 149 charter schools in North Carolina, schools funded by taxpayers but free to experiment with curricula and allowed to operate outside the rules governing the conventional schools to which most North Carolina families send their children.

Into the mix the State Board of Education now plans to add two online charter schools next year. In a pilot program, those schools will receive the same $8,000 per pupil state allocation that regular charters get.

Charter advocates may view this as a Brave New World, but previous state boards have had strong misgivings. And the charter push overall has gone much too quickly in North Carolina, with Republicans, who have been critical of conventional public education, leading the charge.

They’ve even put in a “fast-track” option that lets charter operators judged to have created successful schools open a new one without having to go through a typical planning year.

Yevonne Brannon, head of Public Schools First NC, says that other states have run into problems expanding charters too quickly. She rightly suggests that charters opened in recent years should be evaluated every year, and “if they’re working well for students, let’s applaud them. If not, let’s not waste another year of a child’s time and taxpayer dollars.” She said there has not been an adequate look at student achievement in fairly new charters.

Charters were seen initially as a chance to be “laboratories” for public education, as places to cultivate innovations that could be used in conventional schools. But too many charter advocates have viewed them as “alternative” schools, almost private schools funded by the public. Now that there’s no limit on the number of charter schools North Carolina can have, Republicans seem inclined to invite an almost unlimited number to open without knowing whether they’re succeeding.

The state needs to more closely oversee and evaluate the charters that exist before going in to the Brave New World of online-only charters.

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