State board chairman calls for changes to Achievement School District law

Posted May 8

State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey

— State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey would like to see "some tweaks in the legislation" before the board chooses which low-performing schools will be included in the state's new Achievement School District, he told WRAL News in an interview last week.

The new district will take five struggling public elementary schools in the state and put them under new management. Outside entities, such as charter school operators, will take control of the schools and supervise, manage and operate them with the goal of improving their performance.

Classroom 5 things to know about NC's new Achievement School District

The state board has chosen a superintendent to lead the new district and help choose which five schools will be included. But, so far, they have not put together a list of which schools could be considered.

"We’ve got some of our legislative people working on the General Assembly (to) make some tweaks in the legislation before we make a list," Cobey said.

He would like the law to expand the number of schools that can be considered.

"I don’t know what that looks like, but you don’t want to narrow it," Cobey said.

The current law states that for a school to be considered, it must meet certain qualifications, such as having a school performance score in the lowest 5 to 10 percent of all schools in the past year and not exceeding or meeting growth on test scores in at least one of the past three years.

While Cobey waits to see if lawmakers will make changes, he estimates it could be two or three months before the state education department puts together a list of possible schools to consider. The new Achievement School District will likely not be up and running until the 2018-19 school year, a year later than some had hoped.

"Some people were very ambitious," Cobey said. "(But) you know, government moves slow sometimes."

Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, who chairs several education committees, said he was not aware that the state board chairman wanted changes to the law but said he assumed some adjustments would be needed eventually.

"I’m certainly amenable or agreeable to tweaks to the bill, but it’s not going to be a shot from the hip. It’s going to be based on what folks find. Give me a reason," Horn said. "I would assume that changes would be necessary as we move from a good idea to practical reality."

In the meantime, Cobey said he plans to ask Eric Hall, the new Achievement School District superintendent, to begin reaching out to school systems across the state to try to build relationships.

"It would be very desirable if the local communities and local school systems were comfortable (with the new district)," Cobey said. "Ideally, the districts and the communities would be comfortable that this is something good that we’re providing them."

Once the state board selects a school for inclusion in the Achievement School District, the local board of education that runs the school has two options – agree to relinquish control of the school or close it down.

Hall, who starts the job as superintendent next Tuesday, said he plans to start talking with local school system leaders and trying to build partnerships.

As he awaits an official list of which schools he can consider, he plans to look at the bottom 5 percent of low-performing elementary schools in the state and begin researching how they performed the past several years.

"I'll be starting at the bottom of that list and working up," he said, adding that he'll focus on schools with the "most significant needs."

More than 200 public elementary schools in the state are currently deemed "recurring low-performing schools," meaning they have not met performance standards in at least two of the past three years.

NC's recurring low-performing elementary schools

Search by school district or school to see the state's recurring low-performing elementary schools. Those deemed recurring low-performing have not met performance standards in at least two of the past three years. In the table below, "Y" means yes. Source: N.C. Department of Public Instruction

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It's unclear which of the low-performing schools Hall and the state board may consider. By law, the five schools included in the Achievement School District must come from different districts and represent a mix of urban and rural areas. The schools also must not be taking part in one of the state's current programs for low-performing schools, known as school turnaround plans.

Hall said he hopes to have a better idea of which schools to focus on this fall, after the current school year's performance results are released. He plans to take a deep dive into the data and "really sit down and have a candid conversation" with some of the schools that are struggling.

"I think we owe it to the local communities to have conversations and not do things quickly," Hall said. "We owe it to them to do this right."


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