Archives for category: North Carolina

State officials may close the Hope Charter Leadership Academy in Raleigh due to persistently poor academic performance.

“A high-poverty Raleigh charter school is in danger of being ordered to shut down by the state at the end of the school year due to its low test scores and lack of academic growth among its students.

“The N.C. Charter Schools Advisory Board voted Thursday to require the leadership of Hope Charter Leadership Academy to show up at the group’s November meeting with a comprehensive plan to improve academic performance. The vote came after advisory board members decided to hold off on recommending that the State Board of Education take away Hope’s charter at the end of the school year.

“Last school year, Hope’s passing rate on state exams was 26.5 percent, the school didn’t meet growth and it received a “F” school performance grade. Fifth-grade state exam passing rates of 10.5 percent in reading and 5.3 percent in math were called unacceptable.

“These scores are horrible,” said advisory board member Steven Walker as he repeatedly banged his hand on the table. “You’re talking about one kid in 5th-grade passing math, one kid.”

Read more here:

Reading this sad story reminds me of a hopeful book I read years ago: “Hope and Despair in the American City: Why There Are No Bad Schools in Raleigh,” by Syracuse University scholar Gerald Grant.

Grant wrote not so many years ago that Raleigh had a successful school system because it adopted a carefully crafted plan to desegregate its schools. Not long after his book was published, a Tea Party faction gained control of the school board and hired one of Michelle Rhee’s deputies to restore segregated neighborhood schools. He was Broad-trained superintendent Anthony Tata. When the Tea Party group lost in the next election, Tata was out but Raleigh did not recover. The state Tea a Party swept the state legislature in 2010, and North Carolina began its race to the bottom, adopting charter schools, virtual schools, and vouchers, while cutting away teacher professionalism and job protections. The state that once boasted the largest number of NBCT teachers in the nation began to fund TFA instead of investing in its career teachers.

A sad story.

Hoping Governor Pat McGrory and his merry band of legislative allies take a whupping at the polls next month so North Carolinians can start to rebuild their public schools.

Stuart Egan, an NBCT high school teacher in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, wrote an open letter to the Republican candidate for State Superintendent, Mark Johnson. Johnson is 32 years old. He worked for two years as a Teach for America teacher. He was elected to the Winston-Salem school board and is only halfway through his first term.

Egan writes:

Dear Mr. Johnson,

I read with great interest your essay posted on entitled “Our American Dream” on September 7th. Because you are a member of the school board from my own district and the republican nominee for State Superintendent, I was eager to read/see/hear what might distinguish you from Dr. Atkinson.

I agree that there is a lot to be done to help cure what ails our public education system, and I agree that we should not be reliant on so many tests in order that teachers can do what they are trained to do – teach. I also positively reacted to your stance on allowing local school boards to have more say in how assessment portfolios are conducted and focusing more resources on reading instruction in elementary grades.

However, I did not read much else that gives me as a voter the immediate impetus to rely on you to lead our public schools, specifically your words on student preparedness, the role of poverty, and school funding. In fact, many of the things you say about the current state of education in this op-ed make you seem more like a politician trying to win a race rather than becoming a statewide instructional leader.

You opening paragraph seems to set a tone of blame. You stated,

“Politicians, bureaucrats, and activists are quick to proffer that public education is under assault in North Carolina. They angrily allege attacks on the teaching profession; furiously fight against school choice; and petulantly push back against real reform for our education system. But why is there no comparable outrage that last June, thousands of high school seniors received diplomas despite being woefully unprepared for college or the workforce?”

In truth, many politicians and bureaucrats have engaged in attacks on the public school system and its teachers. Just look at the unregulated growth of charter schools, the rise of Opportunity Grants, and the creation of an ASD district. Look at the removal of due-process rights and graduate pay for new teachers.

Not only am I a teacher, but I am a parent of two children in public schools, a voter in local school board elections, and an activist. I have fought against school choice as it has been defined on West Jones Street with Opportunity Grants and charter schools because it has come at the expense of traditional public schools that still teach a vast majority of our kids.

And I would like to hear what you think real reforms are. Your op-ed would have been a great place to outline (not just mention) some of those reforms.

Johnson claimed in his statement:

“The education establishment and its political allies have one answer that they have pushed for the past 40 years – more money for more of the same.”

Egan asks:

First, I need for you to define “same.” In the years I have been in NC, I have been through many curriculum standards, evaluation systems, pay scales, NCLB, Race to the Top, etc. Secondly, who is the educational establishment? The people I see dictate policy in schools on West Jones Street certainly are not the same people who were crafting policy ten years ago. And less than fifteen years ago, North Carolina was considered the best, most progressive public school system in the Southeast. Is that part of the “same” you are referring to?

It is a brilliant dissection of the usual rightwing claims about our public schools. It is sad that many TFA alums have aligned themselves with Tea Party Republicans, as Johnson has.

Stuart Egan demonstrates once again why tenure matters. It protects his freedom to speak.

Stuart Egan, NBCT high school teacher in North Carolina, wrote a sharp rebuke to Phil Kirk, chairman emeritus of the State Board of Education, for defending the Republican efforts to defund public schools, demoralize teachers, and cut spending. Kirk claims that all the criticism is based on myths; the Tea Party majority in the General Assembly really do care about public schools, as does Governor McCrory.

Egan goes through each “myth” to demonstrate that the Kirk is cherrypicking data to defend the Republican leadership of the state.

This article, an open letter, demonstrates why teachers need tenure.

Stuart Egan, National Board Certified Teacher in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, learned that he was entitled to a bonus of $2,000 for the students in his AP classes who passed their exams. He doesn’t want the money. He needs the money, but he won’t take it. After taxes, he will donate it to his school, which is under-resourced, like many in the state. In this post, he explains why.

Behind the bonus, he writes, is a lack of respect for all public school teachers.

Here are three good reasons he doesn’t want the bonus:

1. I do not need a carrot stick. If getting a bonus to get students to perform better really works, then this should have been done a long time ago. But it does not. I do not perform better because of a bonus. I am not selling anything. I would like my students and parents to think that I work just as hard for all of my students in all of my classes because I am a teacher.

2. This creates an atmosphere of competition. I did not get into teaching so that I could compete with my fellow teachers and see who makes more money, but rather collaborate with them. Giving some teachers a chance to make bonuses and not others is a dangerous precedent.

3. I did not take those tests. The students took the tests. Sometimes I wish that I could take the tests for them, but if you are paying me more money to have students become more motivated, then that is just misplaced priorities. These students are young adults. Some vote; most drive; many have jobs; many pay taxes. They need to be able to harness their own motivation, and hopefully I can couple it with my motivation.

Stuart’s response reminds me of something Albert Shanker once said about merit pay: “You mean that students will work harder if teachers are offered an incentive? How does that work?”

Rita Rathbone, an NBCT teacher in Durham, explains how the increase in charters in Durham is causing more segregation in the Durham public schools. Curiously, this post appeared at Education Post, which is normally cheerleading for charter schools.

Rathbone reports that when the legislature lifted the state cap on charters in 2011 and loosened state regulation of charters, charters became a vehicle for white flight.

As a result of these policies, charter schools in the state are more segregated than traditional public schools. Researchers at Duke University have pointed out that 20 percent of all charter schools in the state are 90 percent or more White. Durham, a district with less than 40,000 school-aged children, now has 13 charter schools with number 14 scheduled to open this fall and number 15 already approved for the future.

The net result of the growth in charters is that they have concentrated poorer children of color in the district schools and complicated district planning with unanticipated student movement. According to the 2010 census, 40 percent of Durham County’s population is White.

As of last school year, only 18 percent of Durham Public School students were White. Meanwhile, four Durham charter schools are 54-67 percent White. Essentially, since the growth of charter schools beginning in the 2007-08 school year, approximately 1200 White students have disappeared from Durham Public Schools.

Rathbone is concerned about the future as charters continue to open:

While each student who leaves the district for a charter school takes with them their per-pupil spending, the district has been left with students who are more expensive to educate. In a district with a 30 percent child poverty rate, Durham Public Schools now has a 65 percent free- and reduced-lunch rate as well as higher concentrations of students with disabilities and English-language learners.

In a vicious, self-fulfilling cycle, the exodus of White and middle-class families may cause the district schools to look more like those very schools those families want to avoid. Concentrated poverty and disadvantaged students have impacted school test data and the district faces greater testing pressures.

The future holds even more uncertainty. While area charters still claim long waitlists, insiders express concerns of a charter market over saturation with some new charters failing to meet enrollment goals and charters investing more time and money into recruitment efforts. Area charter teachers also quietly express concern about practices of grade inflation and lack of rigor as charter schools try to keep students and families satisfied.

The intersection of race and school choice is complex. Given the known benefits of school integration for all students, it is time to consider policy approaches that ensure that school choice leads to more integration rather than contributing to more racial and economic isolation in our public schools.

Lindsay Wagner is a veteran education reporter in North Carolina, now working as an education specialist for the A.J. Fletcher Foundation.

In this article, she describes the charter landscape in North Carolina. The original idea behind charters were that they would be laboratories of innovation, but like almost everywhere else, they have not met that charge. They have turned into havens for students “escaping” from “failing schools.” But many of the charters fail, and students are left high and dry, sometimes in the middle of the year.

When the Tea Party took control of both the legislature and the governorship in 2012, the charter movement took off. Some of the members of the state’s charter advisory board opened charters themselves, in some cases for-profit charters. Charters are allowed to have as much as their staff composed of non-certified teachers.

One of the charters that recently closed was called StudentFirst.

She writes:

StudentFirst was one of 10 charter schools in North Carolina that have closed since 2012, displacing more than 1,100 students, according to the state Office of Charter Schools. Four of them closed during their first year of operation. Most closed because of financial problems, but some also closed because of academic failings or improper governance—or all three.

The closing of a charter school is a highly disruptive event for students and their families, and costly for taxpayers as well. Charter schools that closed in their first year of operation spent altogether about $3.5 million in taxpayer funds with little to show for that investment.

There is a pattern to the failures. In nearly all the cases, red flags appeared in charter applications well before the schools even opened. And as problems mounted once the schools were up and running, the state was in no position to offer a lifeline, in part because the state’s oversight and support process is disjointed and understaffed.

Politics, of course, plays a part. Charter applications are reviewed and approved by the Charter School Advisory Board, composed of members appointed by the Republicans who now dominate state government. Day-to-day operations, meanwhile, are monitored by the Office of Charter Schools, which until last year was part of the Department of Public Instruction. That department, led by an elected state superintendent, has historically been viewed with suspicion by legislators jealous of its independence, and all the more so now because the current superintendent, June Atkinson, is a Democrat.

A bill enacted in 2015 placed the Office of Charter Schools under the jurisdiction of the State Board of Education (of which the charter school board is a subgroup). But so far, little has changed. Although legislative leaders are pressing for a rapid expansion of the charter school sector, they have not boosted resources for oversight and support. Eleven new charters are scheduled to open in the coming weeks, and evidence is mounting that half or more of them will be starting out on thin ice…

Even as the political appointees on the board allow more shaky charters to open, lawmakers have been slow to allocate additional resources to the Office of Charter Schools. OCS has just seven employees to oversee the 158 existing schools and to provide guidance and coordination to new charters preparing to open. There’s little help available for charters as they struggle to get up and running or run into difficulties later on.

Deanna Townsend-Smith, a lead consultant for the state oversight office, told the Carolina Public Press earlier this year that no longer can a staff member make annual site visits to each charter school, as they once did when the cap was at 100. They now direct their site visits toward schools that have already made the list of those that are at risk of failing.

Not a problem. The choice zealots want more charters, not more oversight.

The National Basketball Association announced that it would not hold its all-star game in Charlotte, North Carolina, due to the Legislature’s adoption of HB 2, which strikes down local laws that protect LGTB people against discrimination.

The legislation, passed in March, also mandated that transgender people use public bathrooms that match their birth gender.

The law created an immediate backlash and raised speculation that the N.B.A., the North American professional league now most identified with engagement on social issues, would conclude that it had no choice but to move the game.

In a statement accompanying the announcement, the league said it hoped to hold the 2019 All-Star Game in Charlotte — with the clear implication that changes to the legislation would have to be made — and that a new site for the 2017 game would be announced in the next several weeks. The game had been scheduled for Feb. 19 at Time Warner Cable Arena.

Gov. Pat McCrory of North Carolina issued a blistering statement soon after the announcement by the N.B.A. He said “the sports and entertainment elite,” among others, had “misrepresented our laws and maligned the people of North Carolina simply because most people believe boys and girls should be able to use school bathrooms, locker rooms and showers without the opposite sex present.”

Mr. McCrory, a Republican, did not specifically refer to the N.B.A. in his statement, but he said that “American families should be on notice that the selective corporate elite are imposing their political will on communities in which they do business, thus bypassing the democratic and legal process.”

Several musicians — including Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr and Itzhak Perlman — have canceled concerts in North Carolina to protest the law, and there have been calls for repeal by a number of businesses, some of which have canceled plans to create new jobs in the state.

Governor McCrory doesn’t care about the thousands of jobs that were lost because of this unnecessary and obnoxious law. He doesn’t care that entertainers are shunning his state. But basketball? That’s a hard pill to swallow.

As I wrote previously, the brouhaha over bathrooms is absurd because most major public spaces in North Carolina already offer gender-neutral bathrooms, called “family” bathrooms.

The Charlotte Observer in North Carolina reports that Chinese investors put up $3 million to start up a new charter school, which is now struggling for survival.

Is a foreign-financed charter school a public school?

They did it in exchange for green cards,

Chinese investors provided $3 million in startup money for Thunderbird Preparatory Academy, a Cornelius charter school that’s fighting for survival.

That’s one of the insights that emerged from last week’s state review of the school’s finances, governance and facilities.

Thunderbird’s network of investors and lenders left Charter School Advisory Board members shaking their heads and palming their faces. “A spider web,” one member dubbed it. “Exceedingly messy and complex,” said board Chair Alex Quigley.

But as North Carolina has opened itself to rapid charter school expansion, a growing number of startup schools are turning to charter-school finance companies to pay for facilities. Some also tap a network of companies and consultants to help them run the schools. That means tax money from North Carolina is flowing across the country and around the globe to repay debts and cover outsourced services.

Lee Teague, executive director of the N.C. Charter Schools Association, said he had never heard of the Chinese investment in charter schools. But because charter schools don’t get public money for facilities – and because schools must begin paying bills before the first state check arrives – it’s common to see new schools taking out loans, he said.

Thunderbird, which opened in 2014, got its $3 million through the EB-5 program, which provides green cards to foreign investors who create U.S. jobs. Although charter school salaries are paid with public money, an Arizona-based company called Education Fund of America offers the opportunity to invest in charter schools, claim the job-creation visa benefit and rely on government support of such schools to secure the investment.

Parents at the Thunderbird Charter School are angry, and they have called for the removal of the principal and the chair of the charter board. The school opened in 2014 and has struggled with staff, rodents, finances, and academics.

After probing topics ranging from rodent infestation to high-interest loans, a state charter panel Thursday backed away from a call to close Thunderbird Preparatory Academy in Cornelius.

But the Charter School Advisory Board voted unanimously to demand intense scrutiny in the coming year.

“I think you have a very short period of time to right this ship,” board Chairman Alex Quigley told school leaders.

The advisory board called Thursday’s special meeting after voting June 14 to recommend closing the school when Thunderbird leaders missed a regular meeting where they had been summoned to discuss financial, academic and health/safety concerns.

Thunderbird board Chair Peter Mojica said Thursday that bad publicity has damaged recruitment for the coming year, with enrollment dropping from 500 at the start of last year to 432 enrolled for 2016-17. The school has also lost 11 of the 23 teachers it had last year.

But Mojica said the board and the school’s recently hired principal are committed to fixing problems and reviving the school.

“We have a great school that is not absent of its problems,” he said. “We are well aware of them and are trying to address them.”

Thunderbird, which opened in 2014, has struggled to find and pay for a building, establish leadership and show academic gains – challenges that face many new charter schools. The problems have been compounded by spring flooding and a bitter rift dividing board members, faculty and families.

The school has had three principals in three years. Some parents vow to return to the public schools. Others say they are satisfied. The state has gotten more complaints about this charter than any other.

The Chinese investors have their green cards, so they are not complaining.

Read more here:

Public Schools First NC reports here on the actions of the state legislature in its closing hours. It enacted as much as possible of the ALEC privatization agenda, inviting out-of-state charter operators to take over public schools, creating an “achievement school district” like the one that failed in Tennessee, and reducing oversight of charters.

Go to the website of to see the full report and open the links.

The $22.34 billion conference budget (and money report) was released Monday evening, June 27. The Senate passed the budget Wednesday, and the House passed it on Friday, July 1. The spending plan for the next fiscal year obviously affects our public schools in many ways:

Average 4.7% salary increase for teachers. The teacher salary schedule will restore annual step increases for teachers in years 0-14, at year 15 salary will stay the same for next 10 years.

Raises average teacher salaries to over $50,000 in 2016-17 and $55,000 over the next three years.

School administrators receive step increase and a 1.5% increase to base salaries
Noncertified school personnel receive a 1.5% salary increase.

School administrators and noncertified personnel will also receive a one-time 0.5% bonus.

Starts a pilot program for rewarding third grade teachers. Teachers who are in the top 25% in the state for EVAAS student growth index scores in reading will share $5 million. Teachers who are in the top 25% of their LEAs for the same score will share $5 million, and teachers who fall in both categories will receive both bonuses.

Expanding the voucher program by an extra $10 million and 2,000 students every year until 2026-2027 when spending will plateau at $134.8 million per year. The budget also expands the percentage of money that can go to Kindergarten and 1st grade recipients, from 35% to 40% of what remains after prior recipients are enrolled.

Keeping the school performance grade formula at 80% test scores, 20% growth and the 15-point scale will remain for the next three years.

Requiring maximum class size ratios are: Kindergarten 1:18; 1st grade 1:16; and 2nd and 3rd grade 1:17. The budget also eliminates districts’ flexibility around those caps.
Funding 260 new pre-K slots at a cost of $1.325 million. This is far less than the more than 7,000 children on the state’s pre-K waiting list and contrasts with both the governor’s and the House plans to spend $4 million on 800 spots.

Changing requirements for virtual charter schools, including reducing the percentage of teachers who must live in state from 90% to 80%, and changing the way students who withdraw are counted under the withdrawal rate cap of 25% by creating four new exceptions. For instance a student who withdraws for “a family, personal, or medical reason” and who notifies the school would not count as a withdrawal under the cap.

Reducing central office budgets by $2.5 million, bringing funding down to mid-90’s levels.

The House passed the omnibus charter school measure HB 242, which changes many aspects of charter reviews and renewals, despite the opposition of a national charter school group. The National Association of Charter School Authorizers criticized the bill in a letter because the changes leave little way for the State Board to close low-performing charters while also making reviews too infrequent for high-performing charters to be eligible for federal grants. The measure was sent to Governor McCrory to be signed on Wednesday, June 29.

In addition to the budget, the Senate amended and passed the ASD bill HB 1080 this week, over the objections of several Democratic members. Sen. Chad Barefoot amended the bill to require the chosen school operators be experienced in turning underperforming schools around, to allow the extension of the charter operators’ contracts, and to allow Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools to create an innovation zone with their existing Project Lift schools. The House quickly concurred with the coercive takeover measure and sent it to the governor along with its li’l buddy, HB 242. Is it a coincidence that a measure forcing communities to surrender schools to out-of-state charter operators was put before the governor on the same exact day as a measure shredding accountability for charter operators? I can raise one eyebrow at a time, and I’m doing it now. For real.

These bills and many others are on the governor’s desk now. No surprise vetoes are expected, but all that signing is a hand cramp waiting to happen. Keep hope alive!

Follow us on Facebook and the web for the latest on the massive voucher expansion contained in the budget. Refresh yourself on the differences between public and private schools in order to scrutinize the growing Opportunity Scholarship program.

Be sure to visit our LEGISLATIVE UPDATE page for information, including our Week In Review summary and our weekly video review.

Over the next few weeks, we will provide more in-depth analysis of the bills that impacted K-12 public education in North Carolina.

I posted last night that Governor Pat McCrory plans to appoint a man to the state board of education who has little experience in public education, but is known for his strong support for removing a book taught in a high school English honors class.

North Carolina teacher Stuart Egan points out that the nominee has a conflict of interest. His wife ran/runs a school that receives state-funded vouchers.