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Firm to pitch D-300 charter

Controversial for-profit company will propose online school for district

Published: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 1:16 p.m. CDT

CARPENTERSVILLE – The online curriculum company that could oversee the day-to-day operations of a proposed online charter school throughout the Fox Valley has drawn many critics skeptical of the company’s for-profit status.

K12 Inc., a Virginia-based company that has developed and managed virtual learning schools across 27 states, has endured a firestorm from critics, who argue the company siphons tax dollars from public schools and has yet to produce superior academic results in the face of increasing profit margins.

The company soon could be used in the Fox Valley region, after the newly formed Illinois Virtual Learning Solutions recently proposed to start an online charter school for underserved students in 18 school districts, including Carpentersville-based District 300.

The nonprofit Virtual Learning Solutions would partner with K12 for administrative and curriculum services that would guide daily operations, despite the well-documented criticisms.

But Sharnell Jackson, board president for Illinois Virtual Learning Solutions, said those critics are “spewing misinformation” about a company that has a proven track record of educational success despite being required to answer to shareholders.

“People keep repeating the same misinformation,” Jackson said. “It has been unfounded and dismissed.”

The controversy over K12’s business methods came to a head in a 2011 New York Times article that portrayed the company as squeezing profits by raising enrollments, excessively increasing teacher workloads and lowering achievement standards.

The article, which the company deemed one-sided, led to a lawsuit from some K12 investors, who alleged that company executives inflated student achievement standards and provided inaccurate information on student-to-teacher ratios and student recruitment.

The two settled the lawsuit on March 4 for $6.75 million for K12’s disclosure of student retention and enrollment information. The allegations regarding K12’s academic performance and work environment were dismissed for “lack of merit.”

K12 spokesman Jeff Kwitowski said families in the Fox Valley should not fret about K12’s business practices, since the online charter school would be governed by the nonprofit Virtual Learning Solutions.

Likewise, Jackson said the Illinois nonprofit sought K12 because the company’s curriculum combines innovative technology that is flexible enough to accommodate a variety of students and their learning styles.

“K12 has to adhere to all the criteria and all the requirements that any other public school has to do,” Jackson said. “It’s us, not K12, driving this.”

Virtual Learning Solutions representatives already have held public hearings with boards from Burlington School District 301, Plainfield District 202 and Elgin’s U-46.

Board members in District 300 will hear the proposal for the first time Tuesday evening inside Algonquin’s Westfield Community School, where the public can ask the nonprofit about the virtual charter school proposal.

If any of the 18 Fox Valley districts deny the proposal, Virtual Learning Solutions already plans to appeal to the Illinois Charter School Commission to start the online charter school.

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