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Do We Need Virtual Charter Schools in North Carolina?

In recent years there has been an ongoing debate among educators and policymakers about the viability of virtual charter schools in North Carolina. The State Board of Education and more than 60 county school districts have indicated that this is not in the best interest of education in North Carolina, and that such schools would divert a significant amount of money from the traditional public schools. It is worth noting that this argument has also been used in recent months against the opening of charter schools in Durham and Orange Counties.

It is hard to say if virtual charter schools will make a positive difference in the academic performances of K-12 students in North Carolina. There is scant evidence or research to make a case either for or against such schools. However, there is little doubt that many of our students seek, and flourish, in non-traditional school settings. As a school director, many of my students were often bored in the traditional classroom and might have benefited from a less structured environment. Still, it is hard to determine if the virtual setting would have made them successful. One thing is certain, the virtual classroom is not for everyone; however, if a student is serious about attaining her or his high school diploma, and if she or he is not interested in the various social and non-academic aspects often associated with a traditional education, this may be the right alternative.

The most important issue that we need to address is how such schools could be monitored most effectively. Given the organizational structures that currently exist within each school district, and the potential for using the resources of North Carolina's Department of Public Instruction (DPI), it makes sense that virtual schools might be most effective if they come under the direct supervision of the traditional school system of North Carolina. The charter school office within DPI would simply be overwhelmed in trying to deal with virtual schools, on top of the almost 200 charters that will soon exist. The bottom line is that such an initiative requires significant oversight and it should not be driven by politics. This issue needs to be decided on the basis of what is in the best interest of our students, not our politicians.