The Supreme Court ruling that upheld the Affordable Care Act has many of us talking about checks and balances, so let’s use this teachable moment to examine how separate branches of North Carolina’s government have left its first virtual charter school in limbo.
The North Carolina Board of Education simply ignored a law it didn’t like.
A Wake County Superior Court judge ruled Friday that the North Carolina Virtual Academy can’t open this fall because the state’s Board of Education never said it could. The academy had won preliminary approval from the county school board where it would have been based, but Judge Abraham Penn said that ultimate approval lies with the state board.
The problem—one that even Judge Penn acknowledges—is that the state board refused to even consider the academy’s legitimate application. And this is where governance in the Tar Heel State breaks down.
When North Carolina’s 2011 legislative session ended in the summer of that year, lawmakers lifted the cap on the number of charter schools in the state and allowed for the creation of virtual charters. Months later, in October 2011, state Board of Education Chairman William Harrison told his colleagues, without asking for a vote, that the board would not consider virtual school applications for the academic year starting in fall 2012.
In other words, the Board of Education, whose members are chosen by North Carolina’s executive branch of government, never bothered to advise its Department of Public Instruction how
As Bobby Jindal learned last week, upending teacher tenure and emancipating thousands of students with private school vouchers will get you sued by adult interests hostile to this kind of disruption. But what if you’re a fledgling virtual charter school that plays by the rules established by your legislature? Should you have to turn to the courts to get launched? And should you expect the fury of most of the school districts in your state? How much disruption can one school cause?
This one school has challenged our suppositions of school boundaries and governance.
A lot, according to sixty of North Carolina’s 115 school districts, which have joined a lawsuit that aims to stop the North Carolina Virtual Academy from opening this fall. One school board member in Wake County, which has signed on to the fight, said districts are incensed that the virtual charter could enroll students from any county in the Tar Heel State. What’s worse, say the plaintiffs, the school will be managed by the for-profit K12 Inc.
In other words, this one school, which would be North Carolina’s first online charter academy, has challenged our suppositions of school boundaries and governance. That’s the sort of disruption that’s arguably more threatening to the status quo than school vouchers, for it’s a disruption that leads to a re-definition of “local control” and school choice.
In this case, the school board in Cabarrus County gave permission to a nonprofit group called
The mainstream resistance to school choice has embraced the language of fear and unrest. National School Boards Association executive director Anne L. Bryant asked recently in the Huffington Post whether virtual schools are a sham and warned of “corruption and greed” among for-profit providers looking to cash in on students. It would be foolish to dismiss this as a more aggressive rhetorical attempt to retain dominance in the public school marketplace. Arguments such as Bryant’s are showing success in state legislatures and they’re degenerating legitimate debate over education reform.
The mainstream resistance to school choice has embraced the language of fear and unrest.
For instance, a proposed parent trigger law in Florida failed in the state Senate after opponents similarly warned that gullible parents would be swooned by corporate education raiders looking to profit by converting traditional schools to charters. Never mind that charters have been flourishing in the Sunshine State for more than fifteen years. Democrat Nan Rich, the Senate’s minority leader, said the trigger would lay “the groundwork for the hostile corporate takeover of public schools across Florida.” Eight Republicans joined Rich and eleven other Democrats to defeat the measure, and nearly all expressed the same contempt.
There is more than just semantics at stake. Rich and her colleagues arguably were trying to revise history and the parent trigger gave them the opportunity. Bryant, while representing more than 90,000 local school board members, used her polemic to frame how
On Fordham’s Boards Eye View blog today, Hoover scholar John Chubb made the case that states should relieve local school boards of the authority to govern student access to the burgeoning online learning market and expose school systems to more disruptive innovations. A new analysis of virtual education trends from the Evergreen Education Group gives us more evidence that districts may be unwilling to give up their authority easily.
This year’s “Keeping Pace” report from Evergreen gives us a snapshot of online and blending learning practices and tells us that the fastest-growing segment is coming from single-district programs—those run by one district for that district’s students. While it’s satisfying to see more districts embrace digital learning programs—some with the purpose to compete with state-run virtual schools—these are school systems that are drawing boundaries around a practice that should be boundless.
These aren’t examples of disruptive innovations. These are not all fully online programs, but rather mostly blended models that combine face-to-face learning with virtual instruction that is mostly supplemental. This is not surprising, given that districts are serving only their own students, many of whom are at-risk and take advantage of online instruction mostly for credit recovery. The self-paced, fully online multi-media instruction with one-on-one teacher support that bridges long distances is found primarily in state-run programs, not in school districts.
Even the most reform-friendly states can be unwelcoming to the disruptions to which Chubb refers.
Even the most reform-friendly
About the Editor
Director, Program on Parental Choice
Adam Emerson is the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s school choice czar, directing the Institute’s policy program on parental choice and editing the Choice Words blog. He coordinates the Institute’s school choice-related research projects, policy analyses and commentaries on issues that include charter schools and public school choice along with school vouchers, homeschooling and digital learning.
May 16, 2013
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