NC Policy Watch reports that legislation is advancing that would permit for-profit charter operators to take over the state’s lowest-performing schools, the great majority of them in low-income minority communities. The models for the takeover is the Tennessee Achievement School District, the Michigan Educational Achievement Authority, and the elimination of public schools in New Orleans. However, sponsors of the legislation say that the North Carolina would be the same only different. It would be done the North Carolina way.
N.C. Rep. Rob Bryan, the Republican from Mecklenburg County who chairs the committee and the leading proponent for achievement school districts in the legislature, said that the districts—pioneered, to mixed results in states like Louisiana, Michigan and Tennessee—could be phased into North Carolina as soon as the 2017-2018 academic year.
“We are neither Tennessee, nor are we New Orleans,” said Bryan. “But what I’m looking to do here is do what’s right for North Carolina.”
Bryan authored a much-discussed draft of legislation last year that would have funneled five of the state’s lowest-performing elementary schools into the state-controlled achievement districts as a pilot program, although the notion did not gain any significant traction during the General Assembly’s long budget debates last summer.
The draft Bryan unveiled Wednesday had few differences from last year’s prospective bill, potentially ceding the power to hire and fire teachers and administrators to private, for-profit charter leaders. Pilot schools would be placed into a special state-run district, with a superintendent chosen by the State Board of Education who would have the power to negotiate operation contracts with private companies, effectively seizing control from local school boards.
The charter operators would be expected to help turn around academic performance in the schools.
As N.C. Policy Watch reported last year, lobbying for the movement was financed by Oregon millionaire and conservative private school backer John Bryan (no relation to Rep. Rob Bryan).
One of the researchers at Vanderbilt who studied the Tennessee ASD model and found it ineffective was in town to speak to a public education group about his study, but the legislative committee did not invite him to address them about what his group learned.
The state superintendent said that the public schools should lead any turnaround effort; the Tennessee study from Vanderbilt showed that the iZone schools, created and led by the public schools, outperformed the ASD charter schools:
“I believe that the taxpayers of North Carolina would get a better return on their investments by going with a model that has proven positive results,” North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson told N.C. Policy Watch Tuesday.
To Atkinson, that means pursuing public school-led initiatives, offering low-performing schools greater support, access to preschool programs and more flexible calendar years.
As Atkinson points out, students in low-performing schools can lose two to three months of reading development during traditional schools’ summer break.
“We have to address these root causes or we’ll continue to have these conversations 10 years from now,” said Atkinson.
And then there was a startling statement, startling because it was plain common sense, which has been in rare supply since 2010 in North Carolina:
Meanwhile, Rep. Ed Hanes Jr., a Democrat from Forsyth County, blasted state officials during Wednesday’s committee meeting for failing to do enough to address the societal and economic causes of low-performing schools.
As Barbour pointed out Wednesday, low-performing schools in the state are disproportionately serving low-income and minority children.
“It sounds like a lot of talk,” said Hanes. “It sounds like we don’t really dig into what the real issues are. … And it sounds to me like we really don’t care a whole lot about poor people.”