Prominent Lawmaker Seeks to Slow Down NJ's Virtual Charters

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

education, classroom, school, school supplies, class, teachers, students (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

As students continue to sign up for New Jersey’s first experiments with online charter schools, one leading legislator is asking the state to slow down.

State Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan Jr. (D-Middlesex), chairman of the Assembly’s education committee, said yesterday that he is preparing legislation that would seek at least a six-month moratorium on new online charters.

If approved, how much impact the bill would have is uncertain. Five charters that are either full-time or so-called hybrid online schools have already been approved, although not yet granted final charters.

Diegnan yesterday said he wasn’t seeking to stop them from opening this fall. But he wanted to send a high-profile message that the state shouldn’t move too fast with a scheme that has more than its share of critics, if not outright opponents.

“I’m not looking for a long-term moratorium but something short term so we can at least get some information,” Diegnan said in an interview. “Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s take a time out.”

Expected to be filed in June, the legislation comes as online charter schools continue to gain a foothold in the state, but also draw increasing concerns on a number of fronts.

The largest of the five schools, the New Jersey Virtual Academy, has already signed up its full complement of 850 students for next year. The charter, based out of Newark, would be managed and staffed by the nation’s largest online education company, K12 Inc.

“We are moving forward as if we will be opening in September,” said Peter Stewart, K12’s vice president for school development.

The Newark Virtual Academy is one of four schools that K12 will play a prominent role in. The others include three more Newark charters -- Newark Prep, Spirit Prep, and Virtual Charter -- that are be based on a hybrid model, which mixes online and in-person classes. Stewart said those schools, each starting with 150 students, have also met their enrollment goals. (The fifth school is Merit Preparatory School, also in Newark, which will enroll 180 in the first year. It is not connected to K12.)

Diegnan said K12’s role in the schools as a for-profit, publicly traded company is one of the issues he wants to discuss. He said there also remain ongoing issues with how the schools would be monitored and funded, given the state’s existing charter law did not envision virtual schools and has no provisions in place for them.

Even if a moratorium would not prevent the approved schools from opening, Diegnan said they can at least be the test cases for the state before it OKs any more. None of the 36 applications under consideration for next year are online schools.

“Maybe we can see what happens with them first, before we move on to more of them,” Diegnan said.

These are issues that the Christie administration is considering as it moves closer to issuing the final charters, which must be done by July 15, after the schools have shown they will have facilities and programs in place.

The state’s charter school law has several provisions that stand as obstacles to online education, including one requirement that a charter serve specific and contiguous communities. The two online-only schools plan to draw from throughout the state. The other three would be specific to Newark.

In addition, the state’s current charter school law requires districts to pay the charters 90 percent of their per-pupil costs for each student who attends. But questions have arisen as to whether that should apply to virtual charters, where costs are considerably less than those of traditional programs.

“Those are all questions we are still looking at,” said Justin Barra, the state Department of Education’s communications director. “Those are things we will be looking at over the next two months.”

At the same time, the administration is quietly pressing for new administrative regulations that would address at least some of the issues, including one provision that would allow charter schools to serve students from disparate communities.


Comments [2]

Rob SUtter from New York City

This is not a surprise, a for-profit company is “raping” public education and legislators they “paid off” are allowing it for campaign contributions. K12 “falsifie” results and make money but the children lose. Around the country; in Iowa, K12 made an aggressive push to enter the Iowa school systems. It already contracted with a district and begun signing up students. Unfortunately it came to light that the service that K12 offers (virtual online education at home) is prohibited under Iowa state law! K12 had expected as many as 300 students to sign up by March 1, but reportedly has “fewer than 50 so far. In Mississippi, the state’s recent education bill expressly prohibited online education. Sen. David Blount stated “There’s just no evidence that virtual charter schools have been successful”.

In Arizona, writer David Safier updated his 2008 findings about LRN outsourcing student papers to India for grading. After the practice was uncovered in 2008, K12 quickly discontinued the practice and noted that it was limited to the Arizona schools only (another lie).

Safier recently presented his findings that the practice of outsourcing papers to India extended to 10 of LRN’s schools, which incidentally are the largest of the company’s schools and account for a majority of the students. The outsourcing practice extended beyond Arizona to Colorado, California, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Chicago, Minnesota and Washington.

In Texas, The Texas Observer recently described in detail how one K12 school was effectively shut down due to underperformance only to reopen after partnering with a new school district. The net effect was that the previous school (and its poor track record) was eliminated, and a new school (with a new identification number and no track record) was created. The new school would employ the same teachers and enroll the same students. It is certainly a very novel and creative solution to the problem of having one of its school close, but it seems to indicate that K12 is more concerned about maintaining enrollment than it is in fixing the problem of chronic underperformance.

The article from deserves attention. The main focus of the article is “churn.” Although K12 has been increasing its enrollment numbers, the dropout rate is downright alarming at 25% to 50% per year. This compares to a typical dropout rate of around 5% per year for brick and mortar schools (i.e. an 80% graduation rate over four years). This raises two issues. First, until they are “withdrawn” they continue to generate revenue for K12. Second, it creates a massive incentive (a necessity) to aggressively enrolle new students to replace dropouts.

You need to look at HOW we educate our children and don’t sell their futures to Wall Street or a slick talking, suit wearing person like Ron Packard who never had a child in PUBLIC SCHOOL but pays his children’s tuition on the backs of our children.

May. 30 2012 09:42 PM
Robert Sutter from Native New Yorker

I cannot agree more about slowing down K12 and their strong-hold on education. Read the articles about them and you make your own decision. If it was one article, reporter or story then I would say ok but it is not.

All I can say is our children, families and communities should not be able to be bought with campaign contributions from this or any company. Please do your research before you enroll as just yesterday an article about the k12 school in wyoming had lost over 700 of their initial 2,000 students. They lose learning time and may not catch up if they are "lured" into a K12 school.

May. 22 2012 09:09 PM

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