State Board of Education questions charter takeovers


Faced with stiff deadlines in forcing charter takeovers of a few low-performing schools next year, members of the North Carolina State Board of Education on Wednesday described the reform as a somewhat avant-garde approach.

“This is truly an edgy idea,” said board member Olivia Holmes Oxendine. “I don’t say that in a pejorative way. It’s mind-boggling really.”

The comments came as state staff explained plans for the “achievement school districts,” which could turn over control of five low-performing elementary schools to for-profit charter operators.

The contentious measure, much decried by many public school advocates, passed during the legislature’s short session this year. State officials are required to choose a superintendent to helm the district and tap qualifying schools in early 2017.

Some state board members and their advisors on Wednesday seemed alarmed by the legislative mandate; others were curious or even perturbed.

“Its negative impact could virtually set us back to I don’t know when,” said Christine Fitch, a state advisor representing local boards of education. “It’s very scary.”

Others, such as state Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, a Republican school-choice proponent who sits on the State Board of Education, described the reform as a “calculated risk” for chronically under-performing schools.

“Year over year, for decades, students failing is not acceptable,” said Forest.

In the coming months, Forest is expected to lead an advisory committee which will choose a superintendent for the achievement school district.

Similar reform efforts received mixed reviews in other states such as Tennessee and Louisiana, but supporters, mostly Republicans and a handful of Democrats, described the new district as an “innovative” approach to a long-running problem.

Board members who spoke Wednesday questioned provisions of the new law requiring local school boards maintain transportation and infrastructure services even after charter operators take over.

They also questioned whether the charter operators would have the power to adjust the bell schedule in schools, pointing out some districts have heeded studies showing later school opening may help improve student performance, something that remained unclear after Wednesday’s meeting.

State staff told board members that chosen schools could opt to close or enter the achievement school district for a five-year period, with the option of an additional three-year term. No more than one school per district can be tapped.

Fitch told state board members Wednesday that she believes the reform will only place a “stigma” on the qualifying schools.

N.C. Superintendent of Public Schools June Atkinson, meanwhile, urged board members to consider the “root causes” of poor student performance too, such as poverty or a lack of early childhood education.

Board Chairman Bill Cobey pointed out that the achievement school district reform is a legislative requirement.

“No matter what the feelings are on either side, it’s our job to do it so it works,” said Cobey.

One Comment

  1. Vernon Thomas Johnson

    August 4, 2016 at 11:14 am

    I am a special education teacher starting my 46th year in the classroom and I have seen education at its best and in some cases at its worst. I taught when students were tested at the beginning of the school year and then again at the end of the year. Teachers were allowed to teach the rest of the time and the students were not tested to death. I figured up last year that the school system I was in tested a total of 45 days. These 45 days of testing did not show overall growth. That was 45 days of lost instruction in my opinion. The tests that are given are tricky and they are not designed to meet the needs of our special education students. It is not fair to expect students with learning disabilities to perform on the same level as an AIG student. However, my students make growth and that is what I look at when I reflect on my teaching style. We have great teachers in North Carolina but we are losing a lot of them to other states that pay more and to other professions that offer them more. The news is that all teachers received an average pay raise of 4.5% (approximately), when in reality teachers with more experience get 0% raise. The veteran teachers are the ones who will be there for the long run and the younger teachers who get the largest raises leave the profession. My suggestion is to treat all teachers the same which is only fair and also treat us and respect us for what we do. After all we are the ones who make all other professions possible. I think we need to examine the tests and give tests that meet the needs of our students and not trick them. I think special needs students need a separate assessment that meets their individual academic ability.

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