Lawmakers considering new management for NC's lowest-performing schools
Posted January 27, 2016
Critics say it's a ploy to allow for-profit charter school operators to take over the state's worst-performing schools. But Rep. Rob Bryan, R-Mecklenburg, who is sponsoring the bill and presented it to a committee of lawmakers Wednesday, said he simply wants to diversify how the state is helping struggling schools.
The proposed bill would create a statewide school district, called the Achievement School District. Under the plan, the State Board of Education would hire a superintendent and select up to five struggling elementary schools to be part of the new district as early as the 2017-18 school year. Only those schools deemed continually low-performing would be considered. About 130 schools in the state currently have that designation.
Once the schools are chosen, their local school boards would have three options – close the school, turn it over to the Achievement School District or ask to adopt a principal turnaround reform model, which would replace the principal with a new one. Schools turned over to the Achievement School District would be put under new management, selected by the state school board.
Companies that want to manage the schools must meet one of the following qualifications – have a record of improving struggling schools or have a credible plan to turn around schools and currently be operating a charter school in North Carolina.
Bryan said he "tried to put some guardrails" in the bill to make sure any charter operator chosen to take over a struggling school has a track record of success. He said he got the idea to create a new school district after reading about similar programs in other states, including Tennessee, Louisiana and Michigan, and that he believes his plan could be a quicker way to improve school performance.
N.C. Policy Watch, run by the liberal-leaning North Carolina Justice Center, which has been critical of the expansion of charter schools, has written extensively about the proposed bill. It reported that lobbying was financed by Oregon millionaire and conservative private school backer John Bryan, who isn't related to the North Carolina lawmaker.
The North Carolina Association of School Administrators said in a statement Wednesday that it does not support Rep. Bryan's plan to take five schools out of their school districts and shift control to a private operator. However, the group added that it has met with Rep. Bryan and was glad that he was "very open" to suggested changes to the proposed bill.
"NCASA shares Rep. Bryan’s goal of helping these schools succeed," said Adam Pridemore, NCASA's government affairs specialist. "We would like to see more programs and flexibilities offered to these schools within the already established district parameters, such as granting these low-performing schools charter like flexibilities, which is a concept in Rep. Bryan’s bill, or expanding the Department of Public Instruction’s turnaround efforts, which as noted in today’s meeting, has shown successful results."
During Wednesday's discussion, committee members heard from Nancy Barbour, director of district and school transformation for the state Department of Public Instruction. She outlined the ways the state is already helping North Carolina's lowest-performing schools, saying her team uses a coaching model to help them improve instead of threatening to fire principals and teachers.
"When you have a heavy stick, things improve, (but) when you leave, things go back to the way they were," she said, adding that improving schools takes time and "doesn't happen overnight."
Rep. Bryan said he wants the Achievement School District to supplement the work Barbour and her team are doing. He plans to bring the proposed bill before the committee again in February and March for further discussion, including public comment.
Rep. Tricia Cotham, D-Mecklenburg, suggested inviting a critic of the proposed bill to speak at February's meeting.
"I would really like to hear all sides of the story before I commit one way or another," she said. "If we're really going to move this forward, let's hear the good, bad and the ugly."