Category Archives: North Carolina

Charter Non-Renewal in North Carolina: This is How the System is Supposed to Work

The North Carolina State Board of Education voted unanimously last week to not renew the charters for two schools based on non-performance. The North Carolina Charter School Advisory Board recommended last month that neither charter should be renewed.

The purpose of this post is not to debate the merits of the decisions of the North Carolina Charter School Advisory Board or the North Carolina State Board of Education. Instead, my purpose here is to point out that this is how charter school accountability is supposed to work. When charter schools don’t perform up to the academic standards agreed to in their charters, after going through due-process, charters are  supposed to be revoked or not renewed. That process is fundamental to the charter school movement. Revoking the charters of schools that do not perform is fundamental to the success of the charter school movement.

Those of us who are advocates for high quality charter schools do not fight for the passage of charter school legislation to set up schools that do not serve children well. Sure, what it means to serve children well continues to be and should be debated. That conversation is an important one, not just for charter schools but for public education writ large. But performance contracts for charter schools should be very clear about how schools agree to be held accountable for academic performance. Failure to shut down charter schools that do not live up to the standards they have agreed to does a disservice to children and damages the credibility of the charter school movement.

So again, I do not have enough details to make a judgement about these particular schools; and it is my understanding that one of the schools has the opportunity to appeal the decision within the next 60 days, which I believe the board should do if it has in fact met the standards it agreed to and it has been treated unfairly in this process. The right to appeal is a part of the system. But I applaud North Carolina for staying true to the charter school accountability system that is in place and holding charter schools accountable for academic performance. Accountability for academic performance is what makes charter schools different. That means sometimes making difficult decisions about charter revocation and non-renewal, but so be it. Children’s lives are at stake.

Proposed New Charter School Board in North Carolina (Senate Bill 337)

In an interesting turn of events, the North Carolina Public
Charter Schools Association has come out in opposition to the Senate Bill 337’s
creation of a separate charter school governing board in the state which would
have independence from the NC State Board of Education and Department of Public Instruction, and broad chartering, monitoring, renewal, and charter revocation authority.

Current North Carolina Charter
School Law

Currently in North Carolina, there are three chartering entities in the state with the authority to
give preliminary approval to charter schools: local boards of education, the
board of trustees of a constituent institution of the University of North
Carolina (with the provision that this institution is involved in the planning,
operation or evaluation of the charter school), and the State Board of Education.
Chartering entities are authorized to give preliminary approval to charter
applications, but final approval for all charter schools rests solely with the
State Board of Education. Applicants who are denied preliminary approval by a
chartering entity other than the State Board of Education may appeal to the
State Board. The State Board may give preliminary approval to an application on
appeal if it finds that the chartering entity “acted in an arbitrary or
capricious manner in disapproving the application, failed to consider
appropriately the application, or failed to act within the time set” by law.

If a charter
applicant submits an application to a chartering entity other than the local
board of education, within seven days of its application, the applicant must
also submit a copy of its application to the local board of education where the
charter school will be located. The local board may offer comments or
information about the application to the chartering entity. The law requires
that when making decisions about preliminary or final approval of a charter
application, the State Board will consider the information or comments
submitted by the local board of education, and consider the “impact on the
local school administrative unit’s ability to provide a sound basic education
to its students.” The State Board may grant initial charters for periods of up
to 10 years, and upon the request of a chartering entity, may renew charters
for subsequent periods of up to 10 years.

For the purposes of
ensuring compliance with laws and meeting the standards agreed upon in their
respective charters, North Carolina charter schools are held accountable to
either the local board of education (if it applied for and received preliminary
approval from that local board) or to the State Board of Education. Any charter
school, however, may choose to be held accountable to local board of education
where the charter school operates instead of the State Board. The law requires
that each charter school report at least annually to its chartering entity and
the State Board of Education the information required by the chartering entity
or the State Board.

Senate Bill 337

Senate Bill 337
would establish a new North Carolina Public Charter Schools Board to be located
administratively within the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction,
but empowered to “exercise its powers and duties independently of the State
Board of Education and the Department of Public Instruction.” Key functions of
the new Charter Board would include the following: (a) overseeing the process
for accepting and approving charters and making final approval of all charter
applications (a function now reserved for the State Board of Education); (b)
overseeing the process for monitoring charter schools’ operation; and (c)
taking actions regarding charter schools in the state, including renewals,
nonrenewals, and revocations of charters. The North Carolina State Board of
Education, however, would have the authority to “veto by a three-fourths vote
any action adopted by vote of the Charter Board if the State Board’s veto vote
is taken within 45 days of the date the Charter Board voted to adopt the
action.”

The Charter Board
would be comprised of 11 voting members, including: three members appointed by
the Governor, three members appointed by the NC General Assembly “upon recommendation
of the President pro Tempore of the Senate,” three members appointed by the NC General
Assembly “upon the recommendation of the recommendation of the Speaker of the
House of Representatives,” the State Treasure or her designee, and the
Lieutenant Governor or her designee. The State Superintendent of Public
Instruction would serve as secretary and a non-voting member of the Charter
Board.

The Controversy

Senate Bill 337 was
passed in the NC Senate earlier this month. The vote was largely along party
lines, with support for the bill coming from Republicans in the
Republican-controlled Senate. What makes the NC Public Charter Schools
Association’s opposition to the creation of the separate Charter Board as
proposed in the current version of Senate Bill 337 is that the Association
first supported passage of the bill. Charter school advocates have supported
the creation of the Charter Board to give charter schools in the state a
greater degree of autonomy from the State Board of Education and the Department
of Public Instruction; bodies which depending on the who controls them, could
be antagonistic to North Carolina’s charter schools. So the reason for the NC
Public Charter Schools Association’s seemingly change in attitude toward the creation
of the board is unclear. But I am betting that when that reason surfaces the plot
to this story will thicken considerably.

North Carolina Charter Schools, Teacher Credentialing, and the Future of Teacher Licensure

North Carolina Senate Bill 337 would, among other things,
remove the current statutory requirement that at least 75% of teachers in
elementary charter schools and 50% of teachers in charter high schools hold
teacher licenses. The controversial bill was passed in the Senate and now sits
with the House Education Committee. In addition to the eliminating teacher
licensing requirements, the bill would create a new state Charter School Board
with substantial statutory authority. I will discuss the implications of the creation
of such a board in a future post, but here I want to focus on the potential
elimination of teacher licensure requirements for charter school teachers in
the state.

If Senate Bill 337 is passed by the Republican-controlled North
Carolina House and signed by Republican Governor Pat McCrory, as I believe it
will be, the implications for teacher certification in the state are pretty
significant. If the bill passes, North Carolina wouldn’t be the first state to
remove certification requirements for teachers in public charter schools. In
Louisiana, a state that has blazed the trail in recent years for controversial
school choice policies, provisions of House Bill 976 (2012) eliminated certification
requirements for charter school teachers in the state. Prior to the passage of House
Bill 976, Louisiana law required that 75% of teachers in charter schools have
valid teaching certificates. The elimination of certification requirements for
charter school teachers in Louisiana has been pretty hotly debated—as I believe
it will be in North Carolina; with the change drawing the ire of teachers
unions and traditional public school district superintendents.

In Louisiana, this change has immediate implications for the
vast majority of teachers in the city of New Orleans. Approximately 75% of
public schools in New Orleans are charter schools and nearly 80% of the city’s
public school students attend charter schools. So eliminating requirements for
teacher certification in Louisiana could mean that over time, a majority of
teachers working in public schools in a major American city could be non-licensed teachers. Charter schools in
none of North Carolina’s cities serve nearly the percentage of students as
charter schools in New Orleans, so the immediate implications of the passage of
Senate Bill 337 are not quite as drastic. But eliminating licensure
requirements for charter school teachers in North Carolina and Louisiana
represents a national conversation (or debate) around what the most appropriate
credentials for public school teachers ought to be.

The majority of advocates for eliminating state licensure requirements
for charter school teachers see state-licensure as an unnecessary hurdle for other-wise
qualified aspiring content experts
who would like to teach. While the current policy changes pertain only to
teachers in charter schools, changes to licensure requirements for teachers in
traditional public schools will likely follow in some states. How could they not?
Whatever one’s feelings regarding the utility of charter school reforms, there
is no debating the fact that charter schools are in fact public schools; and
states will have a difficult time rationalizing the maintenance of one set of
credentialing requirements for chemistry teachers at Johnson Traditional High
School, but then waiving those credentialing requirements for Jackson Charter
High School right across the street. It just doesn’t make sense.

Teachers unions and traditional public school district
superintendents in Louisiana and North Carolina are currently making the
argument that different requirements for charter school teachers and traditional
public school teachers doesn’t make sense. They are right. But what I don’t
think they understand yet is that the resolution to these differences in
requirements for teachers will likely be the elimination of state licensure
requirements for all public school teachers in a state. It won’t happen
overnight and it won’t happen in all states, but mark my words, that’s where
this is heading.

The implications for teacher training, schools of teacher
education, and the teaching profession are huge! More to come…

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) Braces for Big Cuts Despite Governor’s Pledge

With the state of North Carolina facing an estimated $2.4 million budget shortfall, Governor Bev Perdue pledged last night in her state of the state address to protect teacher and teacher assistant positions. But Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) superintendent Peter Gormon isn’t buying it. Gormon still projects a $100 million shortfall and the elimination of roughly 1500 jobs (over 600 teachers) for CMS. Given that Gov Perdue has not yet said how she will protect teacher and teacher assistant jobs, Gorman is probably wise. With cuts to other areas of the state budget, Perdue may be able to salvage a significant number of teaching jobs across the state, but given the severity of the projected budget shortfall, I think it would be more than a stretch to think that she can save them all. But maybe I’m the pessimist. I hope I am wrong and Gov. Perdue does in fact pull a rabbit out of her hat. North Carolina’s children and schools could sure use it.

University of North Carolina System May Discontinue 60 Degree Programs, Many of them Education Degree Programs

In response to a looming significant state budget shortfall, The University of North Carolina General Administration released a memorandum last week call for the discontinuation of 60 degree programs across the state. I have included the link to the memorandum here for your viewing.

I should note that an alarming number of the programs to be discontinued are educator preparation degree programs that will soon be offered as concentrations within degree programs in the the content subject areas. For example, at the University of North Carolina Charlotte (UNCC), the bachelor’s degree in History Education will be discontinued, but teacher licensure for middle grades and secondary history will continue to be offered through the bachelor’s degree program in History.

I believe what we are seeing in North Carolina is not isolated. In fact, I believe it is a trend. Other university systems and universities across the US have already eliminated educator preparation degree programs in the wake of budget shortfalls, and others across the country will likely follow suit. As this happens, I believe we will continue to see educator licensure degree programs eliminated from colleges of education and placed as concentrations or degree options in content area degree programs in colleges or arts and sciences, liberal arts, music, etc. If I am correct, we could be seeing the end of colleges of education as we know them.

Wake County (NC) School Board Votes Down Diversity Policy

In a historic vote Tuesday night, the Wake County School Board (Raleigh, NC) voted to end the district’s longstanding policy of busing to achieve diversity in its public schools; a policy which has earned the district national recognition as recently as 2009. For over 30 years, the Wake County School Board has used either race or socio-economic status as factor in making school assignment decisions. The vote Tuesday was the first of two approvals that the board will need to scrap the diversity policy and require that children begin attending neighborhood schools. The new board resolution would result in the North Carolina’s largest school district being divided into community zones, with each zone having its own magnet, year-round, and traditional calendar schools. If approved on March 23, the community zones would be phased in over the next three years. Many of the specifics of the board’s plan, however, have yet to be fully worked out.

The board’s vote was not really a surprise. Newly elected board members had campaigned on the promise of ending the district’s controversial diversity policy, with their actions Tuesday being their first steps toward fulfilling campaign promises. The board’s intentions have already resulted in the district superintendent, Dr. Dell Burns, announcing his retirement effective June 30, 2010. Dr. Burns has been a vocal opponent of the school board’s plans. 



Supporters of ending the busing policy contend that they want stability in their children’s school assignments, citing examples of children who are moved to different school throughout the course of their time in middle school or high school. They also begrudge their children having to attend schools may be on the other side of the county for the sake of maintaining diversity. Critics of the board’s decision to abandon the diversity policy argue that ending consideration of diversity in school assignment will result in the resegregation of schools in Wake County; something the school district has a long history of trying to prevent. In 1976, the Raleigh and Wake County school boards merged with just that purpose of preventing Wake County schools from becoming “white-flight” havens, and the public schools of Raleigh becoming predominantly minority schools with a disproportionately high concentrations of poverty. The board’s recent success in maintaining racial and socio-economic diversity has earned it national recognition several times over the last couple years; not to mention that the district’s diversity policy has been instrumental in maintaining its position as one of the highest performing school districts in North Carolina.



Having spent many hours discussing the issue over the last several years with good people on both sides of this issue, I do understand both sides of the debate; but I believe the Wake County School Board is making a decision that will be disastrous for the school district. I do not doubt that changes should be made to the current assignment policies to ease the burden of busing on families to the greatest extent possible. But the greater good is clearly maintaining diversity in Wake’s schools. Currently, the school district operates in such a manner that regardless of children’s race or socioeconomic status, they have the opportunity to receive a high-quality education. That will end with the ending of busing in Wake County. In the absence of the board’s current diversity policy, children who live in high-poverty neighborhoods will attend schools with the same high concentrations of poverty, and those students will not receive the same quality education that they currently receive in Wake County. Examples of the failures of high-poverty neighborhood schools are everywhere; and call me a pessimist, but the Wake County School Board has neither the answer nor the will  to make high-poverty schools work for students with any consistency. There are just too many variables stacked against high-poverty schools and low-income students, and overcoming them all would be nothing short of magical. Anyone who says anything different is naive or being deliberately untruthful. It will not work. That is why groups who oppose abandoning this policy have been so vocal, and why some citizens have at time been brought to tears; it is because they know that ending the consideration of diversity with school assignment will mean big changes in the quality of education that low-income students in Wake County receive.



It appears that convincing the new board majority that neighborhood schools will do a disservice to low-income families will not result in their deciding to keep the diversity policy. The truth is that this decision has nothing to do with the fate of low-income students. This decision to end the current diversity policy is a selfish one. It is about me, and my children, and our convenience, and the hell with everyone else. Maybe I am too idealistic, but I believe public schools are supposed to be about the fulfillment of larger societal goals too. Is that not why we invest so much government funding in them; because we believe their role goes beyond serving us individually?

 

Concerns Over Socioeconomic and Racial Resegregation in North Carolina Schools

School districts across North Carolina are on the verge of eliminating busing policies aimed at achieving racial and socioeconomic diversity in schools. Without those policies in place, those districts would become systems of primarily neighborhood schools which will undoubtedly be as socioeconomically and racially segregated as the neighborhoods where they stand. North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue has said of recent initiatives across the state to move toward neighborhood schools, “It’s the most troubling thing I think that’s happened.” Governor Perdue has been vocal about her position on increasing and maintaining diversity in North Carolina’s public schools, saying “Whether it’s racially done or economically done, there has to be some kind of momentum to continue to have diversity in our schools.”

Critics of Wake County’s (Raleigh and surrounding suburbs) current policy which uses busing to maintain racial balance in schools argue that the practice does not result in traditionally under-served students receiving a higher quality education. Instead, they argue that these students are merely spread out across the school district so that their test scores don’t adversely affect any one school. According to Wake County School Board member John Tedesco, “If we have 5 or 10 percent of the children shuffled out among resources in other parts of the county, where they’re not getting the appropriate attention they need but we’re meeting some arbitrary goals, then we’re not serving those children well.” 
This can be a pretty sensitive subject, and both sides articulate and support their arguments very well. But here are some facts. A retreat from reassignment policies will result in a considerably higher degree of racial and socioeconomic segregation in North Carolina’s public schools. There’s no getting around that. Because neighborhoods are largely racially and socioeconomically segregated, the assignment of students to neighborhood schools will result in each school’s demographics mirroring the demographics of the neighborhood(s) that it serves. This scenario is not foreign to us because it is the reality in most places across the US. Most of our children today attend neighborhood schools, and there are many benefits of neighborhood schools, including sense of community, ease of parental involvement, and schools’ geographic placements making them ideal for serving as community hubs. 
But there are drawbacks to neighborhood schools as well. Neighborhood schools that serve middle and upper middle class neighborhoods typically are well-supported financially, stocked with resources, and staffed by highly qualified teachers. Schools that serve poor neighborhoods, however, typically do not have high levels of support, adequate resources, or sufficient numbers of highly qualified staff. This happens for a number of interrelated reasons. Because public education funding is dependent at least in part based on local property taxes, and the tax bases of lower income communities are smaller, the schools that serve poor communities typically operate with less funding. Lower funding results in fewer resources and lower local salary supplements for teachers. Also, some of the most qualified teachers have been less likely to apply for and stay in schools with lower pay and that serve lower income students and/or students of color. Any combination of these factors are reasons why some school boards have believed it necessary to maintain policies that racially and/or socioeconomically desegregate public schools, giving students from lower income neighborhoods opportunities to attend the same schools that children from higher income neighborhoods attend.
Maintaining diverse schools, however, has come at a cost to some families. Such policies have resulted in some children having to transfer schools, and significant numbers of children being bused to schools that are considerable distances away from their homes. There is no easy fix here. For the fundamental question that underlies this debate is what  is the purpose of public schools? This is the same question that I believe underlies the current school choice debate. It’s a tough question. Regardless of how its answered, new questions arise. Do the goals of maintaining diversity in public schools and ensuring that all children have the opportunity to attend high quality schools trump my individual desire to have my child attend my neighborhood school? Does my child have a right to a sound, basic education at the school of my choosing, or just at “a” school? These are questions that we must come to some consensus on. I highly suggest that we start to deal with these questions in a meaningful way, because it is important that we have at least similar ideas of what public schools are here for. I argue that that consensus is necessary for moving forward with education policy in a truly meaningful way.

Charter School Cap Could Deny North Carolina “Race to the Top” Funds

North Carolina’s interest in competing for funds through the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” contest has again brought the state’s charter school cap to the forefront of education policy discussion. In order to compete for funds, the contest requires states to submit plans for overhauling their education systems with specific components, one of which is easing restrictions on charter schools. North Carolina’s current charter school policy caps the number of charter schools that can be authorized at 100, and provides that no more than five charter schools may be authorized within a school district per year. Shortly after the passage of charter school legislation in 1996, charter school advocates started pushing the General Assembly to raise or remove the cap, arguing that it limits opportunities for the success of the state’s charter school movement. All attempts have thus far been unsuccessful.

Recognizing that the state’s charter school cap could put it out of the running for “Race to the Top” funds, earlier this month the governor, state superintendent, and chair of the State Board of Education wrote to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, “objecting to the emphasis on charters as the major tool for innovation” ( see newsobserver.com/news/education/story/1671514.html ). I sincerely doubt that their letters of disapproval will result in any changes in the contest’s requirements or lead to the Dept. of Education having leniency on North Carolina’s proposal. The irony of the situation is that it has been Democrats in North Carolina that have blocked all attempts to remove the cap. If North Carolina Democrats, who have controlled state government for the better part of the last 100 years, are determined to keep the cap on charter schools, they will be the reason for putting the state out of the running to receive a substantial boost in education funding from this Democratic presidential administration.
My gut feeling is that the enticement of “Race to the Top” funds could be enough to push the General Assembly to raise or remove the cap, which again is ironic since charter schools are seen largely as a conservative education reform in North Carolina. Go figure! To say the very least, the Obama Department of Education has redrawn the education reform battle lines.

North Carolina Community Colleges to Admit Undocumented Students with Conditions

Members of North Carolina’s State Board of Community Colleges voted to allow undocumented students to admitted to degree programs at the state’s 58 community college campuses- www.newsobserver.com . This vote comes following a 16-month period where undocumented students were denied admission while the State Board debated the issue. With today’s vote, admitted undocumented students will be required to pay out-of-state tuition ($7,700 per year), will not be eligible to receive financial aid, and will not be allowed to enroll in classes until all students who are legal residents have been registered. 

Given these conditions, it is highly unlikely that North Carolina’s community colleges will enroll many undocumented students. Nevertheless, protesters were very unhappy with the State Board’s decision to not totally ban admissions to undocumented students. Since the new policy will all but assures that most undocumented students will not be able to attend a North Carolina community college, and prevents even the slightest possibility that an undocumented student’s unlikely enrollment would adversely affect a legal resident, any discontentment with the State Board’s decision is ideological. Protesters wanted the Board to turn away undocumented students, not because of any harm that their enrollment would bring to legal residents, but simply because they are undocumented students. Let’s call a spade a spade. Given the new policy, very few if any of these students will be able to enroll in North Carolina community colleges, and the ones that do will be virtually undetectable. Any opposition to the Board’s decision is ideological; not because undocumented community college students in North Carolina threaten the economic well-being of legal residents in North Carolinians. I’m sorry, but they don’t.

Chancellors “Retreat” Policy in North Carolina

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Leaders of the University of North Carolina System are debating the merits of a current policy which entitles a university president who retires after 5 years of service to a one year “retreat” with his/her full pay before returning as a faculty member and earning 60% of their administrator salary. The policy gained attention after North Carolina State University’s chancellor, Dr. James Oblinger, stepped down this summer amidst questions surrounding the appointment of the former first lady to a high paying faculty position. Under the current UNC System policy, Dr. Oblinger is entitled to that retreat. Given the circumstances of his departure, however, and North Carolina’s current economic climate, the idea of paying him a full salary after stepping down was a bit much for some to take, sparking the current debate over the policy.

Ultimately, we’re talking about state funds that pay university leaders’ salaries, so it is the right of the citizens of North Carolina through their elected and appointed officials to decide whether the policy should be retained. But in making that decision, they should know that policies like the UNC System’s “retreat” policy are not uncommon, and in fact are more the norm than not, especially for campuses that seek to attract the caliber of leaders that the UNC System schools have attracted. In a competitive market, where highly sought after leaders have choices, you can be sure that not having a policy such as this one could hinder the state in college leadership searches.

So while emotions are running high in this period of economic crisis and political turmoil, North Carolina citizens and leaders would be wise to make decisions that will be best for the future of higher education in North Carolina. As a proud alum (NC State, PhD), that’s what I’m hoping for.