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Our View: Very little confidence in online charter school

Published: Saturday, April 6, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

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On the surface, the proposal to create the Illinois Virtual Charter School at Fox River Valley appears as shiny as an apple on a teacher’s desk.

The nonprofit that would govern it, Virtual Learning Solutions, and the company that would provide administrative and curriculum support, K12 Inc., promise to provide engaging, technology-driven education tailored to each pupil. All teachers would be credentialed and live in Illinois. Students would spend at least six hours daily on coursework and have a learning coach, likely a parent, to keep track of attendance and progress.

They are seeking approval from 18 area school districts – including Batavia School District 101, Geneva School District 304, Kaneland School District 302 and St. Charles School District 303 – to enroll their students.

But peel below the glare coming off that apple, and you’ll find what could turn out to be a rotten core.

Providing a solid education for its children is the highest priority for any community and cannot be entrusted to just anyone. To say we have concerns about K12 – a for-profit, Virginia-based company with a troubling track record – is an understatement.

K12 is under investigation by the Florida Department of Education for reportedly using uncertified teachers and falsifying records to show teachers had taught students when they had not. The National Collegiate Athletic Association will no longer accept certain credits offered by K12. And a 2012 study by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado found only 27.7 percent of K12’s schools made adequate yearly progress in 2010-11, versus 52 percent of public schools.

Virtual Learning Solutions and K12 representatives unsatisfactorily answered questions when those 18 districts held public hearings in March on the proposal; instead, late this week, they gave a nearly 1,100-page packet to those districts’ superintendents that purported to provide answers.

The financing of the proposed charter is of concern, too – up to $8,000 would be siphoned away from local districts for every student who attends the virtual school.

School districts are struggling financially because of decreased and late funding from the state. The loss of funding would be easier to accept if that money would go to an online school that holds some promise of student success.

But we have no reason to expect that can be accomplished by K12. Why should precious taxpayer money go to a for-profit, out-of-state company that can’t answer in a timely fashion the most basic questions about how it would provide a compelling education for its students?

Those 18 districts are set to vote on the proposal this month, some as soon as Monday. We implore our local boards to vote against it, even though Virtual Learning Solutions has said it would appeal any denials to the state.

Parents should have options about how their children are educated. Competition for students should lead to improved public schools that don’t want to lose state funding if their population declines. We believe technology must be integrated into all education options, and realize some of today’s students may learn better online than in a physical classroom.

But the inability to assure student success – combined with the disrespectful attitude and unacceptable lack of transparency Virtual Learning Solutions and K12 have demonstrated toward local school districts, and the questionable practices of K12 – ensures that we cannot support Illinois Virtual Charter School at Fox River as a valid option.

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