“Incubators of innovation”: Isn’t that what charter schools are supposed to be for our education system?
You know the rap: All we have to do is unshackle local entrepreneurs and public-spirited groups and individuals from the burdensome rules that bind traditional public schools and then stand back and watch as the “genius” of market forces and “parental choice” drive all sorts of amazing and creative change.
Well, that the rap anyway.
Here’s the reality: Some charter schools are very good (most typically the ones that have creamed off the most engaged parents and ambitious kids), some are okay and some are truly dreadful. On average, they’re no better than traditional schools and, for the most part, we’re still waiting for all of those amazing innovations that will somehow percolate back through the system.
And here’s the other side of that reality — especially here in North Carolina: Because we provide essentially zero meaningful oversight of the charters we have, some have become embarrassing disasters.
Consider, for instance, the Winston-Salem charter school profiled in a new NC Policy Watch investigation by reporter Sarah Ovaska . The school — Quality Education Academy — is, by all indications, a gussied-up basketball factory. As Sarah reports in great detail, the tax dollar-supported public school has been recruiting and enrolling basketball players from all over the nation and the world — some of whom it has apparently housed in an unsupervised makeshift dorm owned by the school’s founder and CEO. What’s more, the basketball coach it employs to oversee all of this is a man with a very troubled past.
Things have been so bad at this place that, at one point in 2010, three Serbian students on the basketball team actually sent an email  to State Superintendent June Atkinson begging for help:
“We are international students from Serbia and we are going to Quality Education Academy but we have big problem cause we are Seniors and they won’t let us graduate this year,cause they put us to reclass the eleven without our promition and we can’t graduate and that is a big problem cause we whanted to go to college next year.
We get a full scholarship but we still had to pay 4000$ each to Isaac Pitts.He is a Head Athletic Coach in our school. Thank you for your concern hope to hear from you soon.”
And in a testament to how overwhelmed and impotent the tiny charter school staff is at the Department of Public Instruction (and how little oversight it is able to provide to the state’s charters), nothing was ever really done about this pathetic story or the troubles it should have opened DPI’s eyes to. Indeed, in 2012, DPI granted the school’s CEO authorization to open another charter!
The bottom line: Read Sarah’s story today and share it with your friends. Maybe, just maybe, it will help force the General Assembly and Governor McCrory to rethink their mad, headlong rush to “charterize” and privatize our entire public school system.