WRAL Investigates

Will raising quantity of NC charter schools hurt quality?

Posted March 7, 2011
Updated March 8, 2011

— North Carolina has 99 charter schools, all of which are free to attend and don't come with the same guidelines as regular public schools. Test results show the state’s charter students are performing well in the classroom, but some question whether raising the quantity of schools will hurt the quality.

Raleigh Charter High School is not one of the state's largest schools, but it's widely considered one of the best. With a 98 percent graduation rate, it far outpaces the state average in traditional schools.

Principal Tom Humble attributes that to “an active social creative learning environment.”

“We want students active like they were in elementary and middle school,” he said.

He says the charter experience can be positive for everyone who is committed to the school's college preparatory model.

“As a public school teacher in a conventional high school, I had a lot of ideas about ways to jump this obstacle. (I) didn't get very far. As a principal, I've been handed a big lever,” Humble said.

Legislation moving through the General Assembly would hand a big lever to a lot more people by removing the cap on the number of charter schools allowed in the state, a move that some say is a bad choice.

WRAL Investigates Will raising quantity of NC charter schools hurt quality?

Chris Fitzsimon, director of NC Policy Watch, said he thinks charter schools, although public, lock out too many students, especially minority and low-income students.

“I think we should be careful about raising it (the number of charter schools allowed), and we certainly shouldn’t abolish it,” he said.

When looking at the big picture, the statewide charter student population is close to regular schools, with 62 percent white students and 31 percent black. What those numbers don’t say is almost two out of three charter schools are predominantly or even entirely white or black.

“I have some questions about the current accountability system,” Fitzsimon said. “I think the legislation that’s making its way through is much more lax.”

There's disparity in how charter schools are run. Concerns range from nepotism – family members working for family members – to salaries approved by each school's board of directors.

That leads to a tremendous pay difference across the state, especially for principals. The administrator at Cape Lookout Marine Science School makes almost $91,000, more than $1,000 per student at the school.

Cape Lookout students tested below the state average on most end-of-course tests, and the school failed to make adequate yearly progress.

Compare that to the principal at the much larger New Dimensions Charter School in Morganton who made $47,000, about $463 per child. That school topped the state’s ABC average and made adequate yearly progress.

Another question is which students those administrators choose to fill the seats.

“I think it’s vitally important to remember with these new charters, and we don’t know how many there will be to provide transportation and food, we’re by definition saying poor kids can’t go,” Fitzsimon said.

Joel Medley, interim superintendent for the state’s charter schools, says many schools get waivers on the diversity rules, as long as they try. He points to Raleigh Charter as a model for growing its’ minority student population and teaching them. Disadvantaged students at the school outpace similar students in public schools by some 40 percent.

“When we go out, we ask, ‘What are you doing to market to the entire community?’ Because that is something that needs to be done,” Medley said.

Humble says “the charter school freedom for innovation allows us to think in that way all the time.”

One freedom charter schools don’t have relates to performance. Under-performing charters face tougher consequences than their public school counterparts, including closing. Test scores show that, on average, charter students perform as well or better than their peers in traditional schools.

The big question is whether increasing the number of charters is a good idea for every child in the state.

Another concern among charter school supporters and opponents is the conflict of interest policies. Schools are not required to have them.

WRAL News found one case where a finance director hired her husband to perform bus repairs. There were also several instances of school employees being related to administrators or board members.

26 Comments

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  • dangerboy96 Mar 15, 4:24 p.m.

    sorry it didn't work out for you sculptpaint, but Neuse Charter School in only its third year of existance score Honors School of Excellence with the highest elementary AND middle school EOG scores in the entirety of Johnston County. charter schools may not be for everyone, but don't ruin the option for those who find it to be a godsend...

  • sculptingpainting Mar 9, 7:01 p.m.

    I tried charter schools for my son for 1/2 a year. It was the first charter school in Johnston County. It was a big mistake! Everything they told us to get us to pull our kids out of public schools was a complete lie! A former board member told the whole gymnasium "We can pay teachers more than public schools, and we can get the best!" My son's teacher was 22 yrs old and her first year teaching...When I asked them how is she can be the best money can hire when she has never taught a class...EVER? I was told she scored well on her tests in college. It went down hill from there. They lie and say what they know you want to hear and cannot deliver! Stay away from Neuse charter school. My son is very happy and doing well in public school. Some maybe good, but some are horrible...just like public schools.

  • ncsuecu Mar 9, 12:46 p.m.

    "Charter schools excel because they require and enforce greater parental involvement in the education process; something our public schools are ill equipped to do." When this happens in public schools, then public schools will excel.
    In the meantime, close the charter schools not performing. There is the money to replicate the charter school models that are performing.Do not increase the number of charter schools.
    Competition for funds to open free "private schools," charter schools is a part of the American Economic and Athletic Dream.

  • jervin6 Mar 9, 10:23 a.m.

    IMO, if government funding is linked to school performance that is why proponents of public school system are digging in their heels. Many parents want better choices (ie charter school) for their children because currently more emphasis is placed on low performing students while neglecting or at a minimum not pushing the students that are able to excel. Yes, there some AIG programs offered in public schools for students that qualify, but many don't. If the majority of high achieving students leave traditional public schools for charter schools it will reduce overall test scores and any funding associated with it. Charter schools also have stricter rules regarding behavior thus reducing many distractions seen in public schools. In our country public education is not looked at as a privilege and many countries that outperform us do so because every parent and child understands their purpose for attending to get an education not serve as a daycare center.

  • RudeDawg Mar 9, 8:54 a.m.

    "That leads to a tremendous pay difference across the state, especially for principals. The administrator at Cape Lookout Marine Science School makes almost $91,000, more than $1,000 per student at the school.

    Cape Lookout students tested below the state average on most end-of-course tests, and the school failed to make adequate yearly progress.

    Compare that to the principal at the much larger New Dimensions Charter School in Morganton who made $47,000, about $463 per child. That school topped the state’s ABC average and made adequate yearly progress."

    It cost more to live in Cape Lookout than in Morganton; the Principal isn"t complaining but the reproter seams to be...

    Give a child a place he/she can thrive in and that child will! As compaired to the public school system that teaches to the lowest student in the class as a teacher try setting higher expectations for your students and stop teaching the EOG's

  • genralwayne Mar 9, 8:49 a.m.

    "Quality of education depends on the quality of teachers, NOT which school you go to."

    Respectfully, teachers are a modest part of the equation. Parental involvement is the overwhelming key to a strong education. Charter schools excel because they require and enforce greater parental involvement in the education process; something our public schools are ill equipped to do.

    Teachers have one's child for a small part of the week and their attention is divided among a room full of young minds. While they can stimulate and motivate, they cannot enforce successful behavior outside of the school. Stop placing this onus on the teachers and look in the mirror for the true responsible party.

  • common_sense_plz Mar 9, 8:44 a.m.

    1.The state set regulations for Charter schools. Students are chosen by a lottery to keep it fair for all who apply.2.State taxes are given to charter schools to help pay salaries and purchase books, Charters do not receive any County taxes here in Wake county, nor do charters receive any monies from lottery sales. 3. Charter schools require parents to be active in their childs education as well as active in school, some parents do better than others. most charters do not have a cafeteria and order from local resturants who have agreed to provide lunches as a reduced price. I hope to see the cap lifted for charters so that more children can have a chance of getting a better education than the broken system of tradition public schools.

  • RudeDawg Mar 9, 8:39 a.m.

    "When looking at the big picture, the statewide charter student population is close to regular schools, with 62 percent white students and 31 percent black. What those numbers don’t say is almost two out of three charter schools are predominantly or even entirely white or black."

    this is proof that even Childeren that are minority or poor can learn and achieve high test scores! and it doesn't matter if the school is slanted towards the "segregated" model the NAACP and other liberals are worried about.

    "Disadvantaged students at the school outpace similar students in public schools by some 40 percent."

    plus if they don't perform well they face tougher penalties for doing a poor job. Why is creating more of them a bad thing?

    "That leads to a tremendous pay difference across the state, especially for principals. The administrator at Cape Lookout Marine Science School makes almost $91,000, more than $1,000 per student at the school...Compare that to the principal at the much larger

  • Bring on the 4 Dollar Gas Mar 9, 8:37 a.m.

    NO, wral, it will not. Nice try to spin it the Jim Goodmon way, but lifting that cap will be the best thing ever to happen to our failed public school system.

  • thewayitis Mar 9, 8:32 a.m.

    We really need more charter schools. I am hoping that NC will add some online charter schools, like many (most?) other states have, for people who want to school their kids at home but under the public umbrella.

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