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West Forsyth High School teacher Stuart Egan has penned another open letter to a prominent state official on the subject of public education in North Carolina. This time, the letter is directed to Lt. Governor (and State Board of Education member) Dan Forest and relates to Forest’s recent comments regarding the North Carolina Charter School Report released by the Department of Public Instruction. Click here to access some of Egan’s previous on-the-money efforts.

“Lt. Gov. Forest,

I read with great interest two news articles just published concerning the recent NC Charter School report prepared by the Department of Public Instruction. Both Ann Doss Helms’s article in the Charlotte Observer (“The sausage factory…”) and Lynn Bonner’s piece in Raleigh’s News and Observer (“Charter schools in NC less diverse…”) state that you requested the report be revised because it did not have, as you say, “a lot of positive things to say.”

You claim in Helms’s article that the report could be “the fuel that the media uses for the next year to criticize whatever we’re doing.” However, what really seems to be the issue is that you simply did not like that report shows what is already known (and even verified by an April 2015 study by Helen Ladd, Charles Clodfelter, and John Holbein of Duke University). That fact is that many of the charter schools you have enabled are perpetuating segregation and are not accomplishing what you advertised they would do.

Yet, instead of accepting the report for its contents and moving to remedy what it reveals, you requested that it be edited and amended because you did not like what it said. You demanded that the SBOE not honor these findings of academic research based on hard data and the logical conclusions that come from them.

That’s not the leadership we North Carolinians need from our Lt. Governor and a ranking member of the State Board of Education; it’s simply placing personalities before principles.

If I used your illogical reasoning, I should also be able to “revise” a lot of issues that I deem are “too negative.” I could even extend that line of thought to my personal life. I could demand my doctor to revise my health screenings to show that I have the body of a triathlete. I could have my transcripts be rewritten to show that I am a summa cum laude graduate of a top tier school. I could even send back those Powerball tickets I bought this past weekend to reflect the winning numbers. But, alas, I cannot change the truth.

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Commentary

Dan ForestAdd the Wilmington Star News and Raleigh’s News & Observer to the list of community voices that are rejecting Lt. Gov. Dan Forest’s absurd and revealing attempt to squelch the truth about charter schools.

Here’s the Star News from over the weekend:

“The theory is that, let loose from red tape, charters can experiment and try new teaching techniques, revitalizing education. Some charter schools do, in fact, live up to that lofty goal.

Like a lot of theories, however, that formula doesn’t always work in practice. In Southeastern North Carolina, for example, we’ve seen that charters run by private, for-profit companies have been remarkably secretive about how they spend taxpayer money. It’s hard to tell, but it appears that some of them have been paying headmasters and administrators bloated salaries while doling out peanuts to the front-line teachers….

Some Republicans, it seems, don’t want to hear anything bad about charters – or any inconvenient facts.

We are not anti-charter school. Some are excellent. We simply want thorough transparency and a complete accounting of how the schools are performing. We don’t need politicians asking us to use rose-colored glasses.”

And this is from the lead editorial in this morning’s N&O:

“Charters began about 20 years ago with the idea that they would be free of some rules governing regular schools. They didn’t have to adhere to the regular teacher pay scale, and they could alter their school calendars. They could experimen, and successes could be integrated into regular public schools.

Unfortunately, conservatives have crusaded for charters, which are funded by taxpayers, almost with the attitude that they represent a private school system within the public one. That’s not good, and critics have warned that the expansion of charters could indeed lead to these exact problems of economic and racial imbalance.

Forest and other state officials need to face the fact that there are problems with charters that may require some serious changes in structure and rules. Otherwise, charters will become exactly what some advocates appear to want: a publicly funded private school system with little accountability.

The charter school mission needs to be refocused on its original intent. And weak charters, or those with dramatic racial and economic imbalances, should be shuttered.”

Let’s hope other voices continue to speak out in opposition to Forest and his twisted efforts to undermine public education.

News, Uncategorized
N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson

Expect very little to change in the state’s controversial demographic assessment of North Carolina’s burgeoning charter school population if N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson has her way.

Atkinson told Policy Watch Friday that, despite Lt. Gov. Dan Forest’s objections this week to a report on the increasingly white charter population, her office has a responsibility to avoid massaging the data.

“I don’t see how (the report) could be different,” said Atkinson. “We have used the facts.”

During this week’s monthly State Board of Education meeting, Forest pulled a draft of an annual report on charter schools due for the N.C. General Assembly that included population statistics he deemed overly “negative.”

Included in the report, authored by DPI’s Office of Charter Schools, state staff noted that, while the charter student population is relatively similar to traditional public schools, they differ in a few major ways.

Most importantly, while traditional schools are becoming increasingly more diverse, charters are bucking the trend in North Carolina. More than 57 percent of the students in the state’s 158 charters are white, the report states, compared to more than 49 percent in traditional schools.

Additionally, only about 8 percent of charter students are Hispanic, about half the percentage reported in traditional schools.

Also, over the last 15 years, North Carolina charters’ share of minority students has declined. In traditional schools, it’s the opposite, the report said.

This week, Adam Levinson, interim director of the state’s Office of Charter Schools, attempted to assure state board members that the report is purely data-driven, but Forest, a charter advocate, worried aloud that the media and charter critics would use the numbers to fuel opposition.

Atkinson, however, tells Policy Watch that the report used data pulled from the system’s accountability statistics, numbers used to report students’ academic growth rate and proficiency.

So what should we expect from a Forest-approved version of the charter report? Atkinson says she’s not sure.

She says Forest has yet to relay any information to her office about what he would like to see changed. However, she pointed out, state board member Becky Taylor, chairwoman of the board’s Education Innovation and Charter Schools Committee, has asked each board member to send her their revisions for review next week, something certainly worth following.

Atkinson said she may suggest adding copies of the school systems’ accountability forms to the report in order to provide further confirmation of the data.

“We go the second mile of asking our schools to affirm that the information is true to the best of their knowledge,” said Atkinson. “That’s the way it is. In the report our goal was actually to not have much of a narrative other than stating the facts. There are no policy recommendations.”

One other interesting point from the state report. Since the state lifted its 100-school cap on charters in 2011, North Carolina has added another 58 operating charters, including two hotly-debated virtual charters, which seem to be facing a troubling dropout problem.

DPI staff expect to have a rewrite of their annual charter report prepared for the state board in February.

Commentary

As reported here this week:

“A Lake Lure charter school suspended all of its extra-curricular clubs last week after controversy erupted over a new club that supports lesbian, gay and transgender students.

The board of directors for Lake Lure Classical Academy, which serves students from kindergarten through high school in Rutherford County community, voted for the temporary suspension of extra-curricular activities Thursday.”

Today, the ACLU of North Carolina called on the school to reverse its decision:

“Lake Lure Classical Academy (LLCA) should promptly rescind its ban on all student-led noncurricular groups, including an LGBTQ+ student organization that was recently formed to promote tolerance and equality for all students, according to a letter sent today by the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation (ACLU-NCLF) to school officials.

At its November 12 meeting, the LLCA Board of Directors voted to suspend all student-run clubs after some community members challenged the new LGBTQ+ club. In today’s letter, ACLU-NCLF Legal Director Chris Brook explains that the federal Equal Access Act forbids schools from permitting some student groups while barring others. LLCA has a history of allowing noncurricular students organizations, including a campus Christian organization, Raptors for Christ, that has met on campus for five years.

“The LGBTQ+ club does not seek special treatment,” Brook writes in the letter. “They simply seek to be treated the same as other student groups on campus, a right guaranteed to them by the Equal Access Act.”

Read the entire letter by clicking here.

Commentary

With lawmakers on the verge of passing controversial legislation to expand funding for charter schools at the expense of traditional public schools, yet another voice is speaking out against the proposal.

Proposed charter school bill masks true budget issues

By Amy Wamsley and Lynn Michie

There are few things that stir a dust-up among education advocates like the issue of charter schools. Even among our own board of directors and members of Western North Carolina for Public Education (WNC4PE), we don’t agree on the value and role of charter schools in our communities and our region. But one thing we all can and do agree on is that making our state’s public education budget a scrap heap for different viewpoints to fight over is not just bad public policy – it’s very bad for our children.

That’s exactly what HB539 does. It once again pits traditional public schools and charter schools against one another for funds that are hard-earned and precious. In a nutshell, HB539 would redirect a portion of funds used by traditional public schools to public charter schools during a time when all of North Carolina’s public schools are inadequately funded to meet the diverse needs of all our students.

There is no doubt that there will be vehement argument and outcry on both sides of the debate about HB539, and that debate will mask the true issue at hand: public schools, traditional or charter, in North Carolina are still woefully underfunded.

Yes, the budget just passed included some tiny gains, such as the promised raise for first-time teachers and a stay of execution for thousands of teacher assistant jobs. But the fact remains that North Carolina’s leadership have yet to step up and fulfill their obligations to the taxpayers of the state to provide “a sound basic education.” Not making additional cuts is not the same as making investments.

Let’s put it in perspective. Read More