Education

Company with ties to NC virtual school accused of misleading parents in California

Posted July 14

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— A company with ties to a North Carolina virtual charter school has reached a multimillion-dollar settlement with the state of California over claims it manipulated attendance records, misled parents and overstated the academic progress of students at its online charter schools in that state.

The Virginia-based, for-profit company K12 Inc. has admitted no wrongdoing but will pay $8.5 million to California as part of the settlement.

K12 helped start the North Carolina Virtual Academy, a taxpayer-funded online charter school that launched last year and serves about 1,400 students at any one time. The company provides the school with curriculum and other materials but does not operate the school, according to NCVA's head of school Joel Medley.

NCVA is governed by a board of directors made up of local community leaders, parents and state educators who oversee academics, staffing and other items for the school. Medley said it's unfair to compare NCVA to K12-affiliated schools in other states.

"We’re not California. We need to be careful with generalization," he said, noting that states have different laws and policies for how online charter schools are run. "This has had no impact on us. We’re continuing to do business as normal."

North Carolina debuted two virtual charter schools last August – NCVA and North Carolina Connections Academy, which has ties to Pearson, a London-based education company. The schools were launched as part of a four-year pilot program to determine whether virtual charters can succeed in North Carolina.

Their first year has been marked with questions about their high student withdrawal rates. In March, a report to the State Board of Education found that about 500 students, or about 26 percent of those who had signed on to take courses, had withdrawn from each school in the first five months of operation.

Virtual charter school leaders, including Medley, say those numbers are misleading because some students plan to take online classes for only a brief period.

In a letter to state school board members in March, Medley said "higher withdrawals are not a testament to a virtual school's quality but rather the nature of the online model." He pointed to virtual schools in other states, including Florida, which he says have higher withdrawal rates.

He urged people to be patient with NCVA.

"With this being a pilot, we’ve got four years. Give us four years," he said. "Give it time."

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