Experts warn of murky results from charter-driven schools
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina could hand over some of its lowest performing elementary schools to charter school operators in an effort to reverse dismal test scores in more than half the state's counties.
Similar aggressive reforms have taken hold in New Orleans and Tennessee, and states such as Mississippi, Arkansas and Georgia are considering prescribing charter management for their failing schools. But results have been mixed so far, with opponents saying researchers and educators have found little proof that the charter companies are the remedy.
North Carolina's proposal, which passed in the House earlier this month, would create a separate district for elementary schools that have fallen to the bottom 5 percent of the state's grading system for at least three consecutive years.
Thousands of North Carolina children attend schools the state has found nose-diving in both growth and achievement. Last year, 93 schools had less than 5 percent of students testing at grade level in more than one subject, according to North Carolina Department of Public Instruction data. The bill's supporters say rural locations and limited resources trap students at schools where they are doomed to fail.
The proposal would begin with a five-school, five-year pilot program, and a newly appointed Achievement School District superintendent would choose charter companies with successful histories to run the schools. That would allow them hiring and firing powers and exempt them from state requirements such as oversight and evaluations from local school boards.
"I am here to ring the alarm in this state that we have a crisis on our hands," said Rep. Cecil Brockman, a Democrat and bill sponsor. "We cannot afford to continue to do the same thing that we've always done, year after year, expecting a different result."
North Carolina's legislation closely resembles a Tennessee Achievement School District, which was established in 2012.
The experiment has so far fallen short of its transformative promise, said Joshua Glazer, the lead investigator in a four-year study of Tennessee's program. Student testing scores at the charter-operated schools have shown little to no comparative growth, said Glazer, an associated professor of education policy at George Washington University.
Glazer also noted that some Memphis communities, where the district is concentrated, have seen it as a threat to tradition and autonomy.
"There's a second narrative which many people hold and remain very committed to: that this is outsiders, white people coming in motivated by financial benefits to wrest political control away from Memphis," Glazer said. "They are highly skeptical the real motivation here is to help their kids. There's a long history here to support that interpretation."
Ron Zimmer, director of the Martin School of Public Policy at the University of Kentucky, Experts warn of murky results from charter-driven schools: