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NC Virtual Charter Schools See High Withdrawal Rates

As part of the 2013-14 state budget, the State Board of Education is required to study virtual charter schools and propose draft rules.
Ian Usher via Flickr

  UPDATED Jan. 11, 2016

Twenty percent of students who enrolled in the state's first virtual charter schools left before the end of the semester, according to a report from the state department of public instruction.

State Board of Education member Olivia Oxendine says she wants to find out why so many students are pulling out.

"We just need to know," Oxendine said. "The more we know, the more we can improve and strengthen and make it a better model."

The state's first online charter schools opened last fall as pilot programs. North Carolina Virtual Academy had around 1,800 students enroll for fall semester and Connections Academy had around 1,700. Each saw around 350 students withdraw in the first three months.

A November report from North Carolina Virtual Academyto the state board said 39 percent of its withdrawals were students who returned to homeschool. Other reasons the school gave for withdrawals included a preference for face-to-face learning, acceptance into other programs, changes in family situation, or the program being seen as "too rigorous" or "not a good fit."

North Carolina Connections Academy  principal Nathan Currie, said in an email sent to WUNC Friday, that according to its own calculations, its withdrawal rate is at 14 percent, with 9 out of 62 students having left for reasons counted as true withdrawals.

"I did not see the data prior to the meeting, but the data presented did not use the withdrawal rate calculation contained in the approved charter application," Currie wrote.

State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey said he isn't surprised the program is seeing such high withdrawal rates in its first year.

"Let's see as we go forward with the pilot as to what happens with those percentages," he said.

Online charter schools have been criticized for having high withdrawal rates in other states. A national study of online chartersout of Stanford University showed on average 53 percent of students remain in online charters at least two years, and only 6 percent remain five.

Jess is WUNC's Fletcher Fellow for Education Policy Reporting. Her reporting focuses on how decisions made at the North Carolina General Assembly affect the state's students, families, teachers and communities.
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