“Virtual” school investigated by NECIR faces possible probation

The Massachusetts Education Board will consider placing the state’s first – and controversial – virtual school on probation Tuesday because of growing concerns over poor academic achievement, the Boston Globe reported today.

The school, The Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School was investigated by an NECIR reporter two years ago who found widespread problems, including high dropout rates, low achievement and a far different student body make-up then administrators claimed. The school was founded in 2010 and offers all courses online. It has 720 students whose local school district pays $6,625 per child to attend.

NECIR found that students at the school, which costs Massachusetts taxpayers almost $2.5 million a year in 2012, scored far below other students in the state on standardized assessment tests, and half quit during the academic year or failed to return the next year.

Supporters of the school contended then that its students score so poorly on assessment tests because they arrive performing below grade level in math and reading. But internal reports obtained by NECIR in 2012 showed that the proportion of students at the school who required special education was far lower than the state average.

The school has touted itself as being an option for students who are medically challenged, expelled and have safety concerns. However, the internal documents indicated that fewer than one in five students enrolled because of a medical condition, fear of bullying, or other safety issues, NECIR found.

The Boston Globe reported other concerns, such as the school’s arrangement with a private company that hires and evaluates teachers. If problems persist, the school could be forced to close in two years. The Globe reported there is one other virtual school in the state, TEC Connections Academy in East Walpole.