Proposal Would Allow Charters to Take Over Struggling NC Schools


The first glimpse of North Carolina’s proposal to have charter schools take over the lowest-performing schools in the state came this week after legislators said they were stressed about the delay of improvement to struggling schools.

Rep. Rob Bryan (R-Charlotte) wants charter networks to take over up to five at-risk schools, writes Lynn Bonner of The News & Observer. The district, he explains, would be managed by employees hired by the State Board of Education. By 2019-20, five schools would be chosen for transfer to the district.

Bryan added that his goal was to get students who require additional learning assistance to a point where they are performing at grade level or higher as rapidly as possible. There are options in the draft bill for those districts that want their traditional schools to stay as they are.

The charter networks would be given five-year contracts and another three years could be added based on the success of the first schools.

The state Department of Public Instruction (DPI), an entity that works to improve achievement in low-performing schools and districts, began its work in 2007 in high schools. From 2010 through last year the department worked with 118 schools which comprised the bottom 5% in the state.

For the most part, the DPI used federal Race to the Top grant money and spent it on professional development, technology, and school improvements that included the coaching of teachers and administrators.

All the schools selected did improve, with 83% moving out of the bottom 5% and 67% progressing out of the bottom 10%. Now the federal grant has ended, and the division is working on 79 of 581 low-performing schools.

WFAE Public Radio’s Marshall Terry reports that the chosen schools would be included in what would be called an “achievement zone.” Bryan’s idea includes a pilot program but would have a superintendent position created to select the five schools, an assignment which Bryan said would be complicated.

Critics of the proposal are calling it a gimmick that will lead to for-profit charter school operators staging a takeover of the worst-performing schools in the state.

Bryan said that once the five schools were chosen, local school boards would have three possible avenues. They could turn the school over to the Achievement School District, or they could adopt a principal turnaround reform model, which means the current principal would be replaced by a new administrator. Alternatively, the board could choose to close the school altogether.

WRAL-TV writes that potential charter networks must have a history of improving at-risk schools or have a substantial proposal to turn schools around and currently be operating a charter school in North Carolina.

Bryan said he got the idea by studying other programs similar to this one in Tennessee, Michigan, and Louisiana, and he opines that his plan could be a faster method to improve school and student performance.

But Nancy Barbour, director of district and school transformation for the state Department of Public Instruction, said the state is already helping North Carolina’s lowest-performing schools through the use of a coaching model rather than by threatening to fire teachers and principals. She continued that improving schools “doesn’t happen overnight.”

WNCN-TV News’ Beau Minnick quoted a North Carolina state representative:

“We’ve got to step it up. That’s why I said in here, perhaps let’s do more of what we’re already doing so we can get more kids more quickly,” Rep. Craig Horn (R-Union).