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An in-depth look by I-News - a Colorado-based nonprofit investigative news collaborative, Education News Colorado, and KUNC at the state’s online K-12 schools. Topics include: online K-12 school performance, state- and district-level oversight, and for-profit Education Management Organizations, such as K12 Inc.

CU-Boulder Report Raises More Questions about Virtual Schools

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CU-Boulder based National Education Policy Center released a 65-page report calling for state policy makers to slow or put moratoriums on growth of full-time virtual schools.

The news comes after media attention on the topic in Colorado last fall, including reports from KUNC and I-News/EdNews Colorado, raised questions about state oversight, academic performance and funding of online K-12 schools.

The report focused on K12 Inc., the largest for-profit Education Management Organization that oversees daily operations of 48 full-time virtual schools across the country, including Colorado Virtual Academy.

Key findings include:

  • Just under 28 percent of K12 Inc. schools reported making Adequate Yearly Progress during the 2010-2011 school year. Nationwide, 52 percent of public schools met AYP the same year. 
  • On average about 40 percent of K12 Inc. students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, compared with just over 47 percent for the same state-comparison group.
  • K12 Inc. schools spend more on overall instructional costs than comparison schools, but noticeably less on teacher salaries and benefits.

K12 Inc. released its own report evaluating student performance trends last April. The school contends that AYP is not an accurate measuring stick for student performance and focuses instead on student growth during enrollment. Read the company's complete response to the report here.

Key recommendations in the NEPC report touch on revising student academic performance measures and funding formulas for virtual schools, something Colorado online K-12 school leaders discussed last January.

Legislators discussed some changes for online K-12 schools, but the topic was largely off the table during the 2012 session. However forthcoming research from the Colorado Department of Education will likely thrust the topic back into the spotlight this fall.

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