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North Carolina school board study urges 4-year test to see what works in online-only education

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RALEIGH, North Carolina — North Carolina's statewide school board signaled Wednesday it wants to experiment with an online-only charter school while holding off pressure by for-profit companies seeking a slice of taxpayer education spending.

The state Board of Education accepted a report that calls for the General Assembly to authorize a test of up to three new virtual charter schools beginning in 2015 and lasting for up to four years. Some lawmakers and two of the biggest companies in the field want to move sooner on virtual charter schools, which would be allowed to operate under fewer rules than other public schools.

A North Carolina appeals court ruled in December that the school board was justified when it blocked a bid by Herndon, Virginia-based K12 Inc. to establish an online-only charter school before the study. K12 and rival online education company Connections Academy want to open up a virtual charter school starting in 2015.

"The marriage of charter schools and online learning is fairly new and, albeit growing, has produced very little measurable data and best practices to date," said the report from a study panel that included last year's statewide teacher of the year, charter school administrators and an advocate for home schooling.

Thirty states operate fully online schools that educate 310,000 full-time students, consultants who helped produce the report said. Most are in virtual charter schools. More than half of those students attend online-only schools that are managed by for-profit companies.

The panel recommended that state law require online-only schools to be run by governing boards of a majority of North Carolina residents. Representatives of education management organizations, the companies often hired to run charter schools, should not have a seat on a virtual school's decision-making body, the report said.

If lawmakers approve, the state school board would solicit proposals for virtual charter schools from potential operators. They would describe how much money they'd need to operate based on their education and business plan. The virtual schools would need to hold down the one out of four students many online schools lose to withdrawals, meet teacher qualification and training standards, and meet student-teacher ratios that are below the industry norm.

North Carolina and more than two dozen other states offer online courses that supplement but don't replace neighborhood schools. About 50,000 public school students across North Carolina take part in online high school courses that help them keep up with course work, study subjects unavailable locally, prep for tests or seek career planning help.


Emery Dalesio can be reached at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio

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