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Berger_Jr.-and-Sr.There’s a degree of irony in the “surrender of charter” letter submitted recently by the charter school started by former Rockingham County D.A., failed congressional candidate, new Administrative Law Judge and son of State Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, Phil Berger, Jr.

In the letter, the school’s current chairman, David Whicker, complains that “the lack of availability and/or provisioning of fiscal resources and assistance from the NC Board of Education and/or Office of Charter Schools, other than training courses, seemed only to multiply the challenges we already faced.”

In other words, it’s the same story heard so often in the murky world of school privatization: A group of folks who railed against “government schools” and who demand “choice” and the right to be unshackled from all those burdensome rules (like having to serve anyone who comes in the door — whatever their level of preparedness — and  providing free transportation and free meals to a large proportion of their students) finds out that running a successful school without a lot of bureaucratic support ain’t as easy as it looks.

Like demanding children, these folks want complete freedom to do as they please and the right to have Mom and Dad bail them out when they discover that the grown up world isn’t as easy to negotiate as they thought.

The sad thing about all this, of course, is that it’s actual children — the ones whose parents get sold a bill of goods by charter operators who are actually in over their heads — who end up suffering. Them, plus the traditional schools, of course, who will, as always, have to take in the kids left out in the cold.

Happily, in this case, Berger Jr.’s charter never really got up and running and the damage will apparently be minimal. Unfortunately, this has frequently not been the case — both here in North Carolina and around the country — for the scores of charters that have crashed and burned in the middle of school years.

The takeaway: The “genius of the market” is great when things are going good, but not so hot when things turn sour. And therein lies one of the biggest problems with charters and school privatization.

Commentary

K12, Inc.It may be 10 days before Christmas, but there are still a lot of worrisome/controversial policy decisions taking shape in the halls of state government this week. As noted in this morning’s Weekly Briefing, a state legislative committee will meet this Friday to recommend rolling back some important consumer protections in the mortgage lending industry.

Now, comes word that a special committee appointed by the State Board of Education will be meeting tomorrow to interview two private, for-profit companies seeking to run virtual charter schools in North Carolina — at least one of which (K12, Inc.) has been shown on numerous occasions to be a predatory failure. As Bloomberg Business Week reported last month:

“K12 Inc. (LRN) was heralded as the next revolution in schooling. Billionaire Michael Milken backed it, and former Florida governor Jeb Bush praised it. Now the online education pioneer is failing to live up to its promise.

Plagued by subpar test scores, the largest operator of online public schools in the U.S. has lost management contracts or been threatened with school shutdowns in five states this year. The National Collegiate Athletic Association ruled in April that students can no longer count credits from 24 K12 high schools toward athletic scholarships.”

Of course, K12, Inc. isn’t an unknown to the State Board of Ed. To its credit, the Board has been holding the troubled company and its whole scam at bay for years. Unfortunately, K12, Inc. lobbyists prevailed upon the privatizers at the General Assembly to slip a provision into the state budget bill this past summer which directs the Board to approve two virtual charters as part of a “pilot” program. Now, low and behold, there are only two applicants for those slots.

Whether this means that the State Board will roll over and approve K-12, Inc. or show some backbone and tell the company and its buddies in the legislature to stuff it remains to be seen. Let’s hope for the latter eventuality.

Lest you have any doubts about the appropriateness of such a response, Read More

Commentary

NC Policy Watch contributor Betsey Russell recently forwarded a story from the Akron Beacon Journal that raises further doubts about for-profit charter schools. It turns out that the Beacon-Journal has been conducting a months-long study of charters in Ohio and discovered that for-profit charters were consistently among the worst performers. As the article notes:

“Ohio’s charter schools have a national reputation for hiring for-profit companies that produce poor academic results.

Only three of 26 states had lower performing charter schools, according to a Stanford University study of states with schools in operation long enough to compare results.

After a year in a charter school, Ohio students typically lag behind district school students by weeks in reading and months in math, the study finds.

In most states, it’s the opposite.

A factor in the difference appears to be the motivation to make money.

Tennessee, New York and Rhode Island, which the study reckons have the highest-performing charter school sectors, are among the six states that ban for-profit companies.”

The story goes on: Read More

Commentary

charterschoolsIt’s funny and sad how humans have to constantly relearn basic lessons of history. The latest exhibit here in North Carolina comes from the world of education where, once again, we’ve been reminded of just why it is that our forebears established a uniform system of public education.

It’s not that children didn’t receive education prior to the construction of a statewide public system that featured uniform rules, standards and oversight. The “genius of the market” assured that some kids did very well.

The problem, of course, is that “market failures” and parental “choice” also assured that huge numbers of children got very little education. To make matters worse, no one was ultimately responsible for the failure and, not surprisingly, North Carolina was a poor and backward state with a handful of “haves” and boatload of “have nots.”

We were reminded of these simple truths about the past again this morning by this story on the Charlotte Observer documenting the latest outrage from the world of barely-regulated charter schools. As the Observer reports: Read More

Commentary

There are two excellent reads over on the main Policy Watch site today that you should check out if you haven’t already.

#1 is this excellent and sobering analysis of North Carolina’s new fracking rules and the shortcomings therein by Sarah Kellogg of of the environmental advocacy group Appalachian Voices. As Kellogg writes before outlining the detailing the failures:

The North Carolina Mining and Energy Commission (MEC) issued its final vote on proposed changes to the rules regulating the process of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas (i.e. fracking) last Friday. As you’ve probably heard by now, the panel voted unanimously to approve the rule set.

What you may not know is that between July 14 and Sept. 30, the MEC received 217,000 public comments on more than 100 draft rules regarding safety standards for fracking in the state. More than 2,000 North Carolinians attended the commission’s four public hearings, and the vast majority of speakers opposed fracking and asked for stronger rules. The MEC’s response, written in a hearing officer’s report released two weeks ago, showed a considerable lack of consideration for public comments, a fact that disappointed concerned citizens and advocates across the state. Almost all of the recommendations fell short of what the public overwhelmingly asked for, and the few recommendations that strengthen the rules do so quite minimally.

Must read #2 is this news story by NC Policy Watch Reporter Sarah Ovaska about some equally troubling developments at a public charter school in western North Carolina:

Read More