Wednesday, February 26, 2014

N.C. charter scrutiny getting tougher?

There's a new crew vetting the latest batch of N.C. charter applications,  and the early signs hint that they're tough judges.

Seventy-one boards applied to open charter schools in 2015-16.  Panels are currently reviewing those applications,  each of which can be more than 100 pages,  to recommend which should be interviewed by the new N.C. Charter School Advisory Board.

So far those subcommittees,  made up of advisory board members,  N.C. Office of Charter Schools staff and hired consultants,  have reviewed 24 applications and endorsed only eight, according to a tally kept by Eddie Goodall of the N.C. Public Charter Schools Association.  The advisory board,  made up mostly of charter school leaders,  will meet as a whole this spring to decide who actually gets an interview and which applications are recommended for approval by the N.C. Board of Education.

On Monday I listened in as a subcommittee reviewed two Charlotte applicants:  FOCUS Charter School and Heritage Learning Academy.

The FOCUS board wants to open a high school in west Charlotte's Severville neighborhood.  It would cater to students who have been incarcerated or failed ninth grade,  according to its application.  The school would have a STEAM theme  (science, technology, engineering, arts and math),  and groups of no more than 25 students would work together in 20-day instructional sessions.

Advisory board members Helen Nance, Paul Norcross and Mike McLaughlin and charter school staff Robin Kendall and Deanna Townsend-Smith said the group has an innovative approach for meeting a serious need.  Panelists praised the strong board and the positive attitude toward working with at-risk teens.

But they questioned the plan to mix what sounds like an alternative school with a STEAM program catering to the general population.  They voiced doubts about the staffing and the plans for 12th graders to finish at Central Piedmont Community College.  Several said the plan to open with 600 students in grade 9-11,  expanding to 800 in 9-12 the second year,  is too big for this kind of start-up.

In the end,  panelists said they hope this group will revamp its plan and bring it back next year,  but they didn't recommend that FOCUS get an interview this year.  "There are just too many questions,"  Kendall said.

The group was even more critical of the Heritage Learning Academy plan,  which was rated  "inadequate"  in many categories.  That board wants to open a K-12 school,  starting with about 150 elementary students the first year,  in southwest Charlotte.  The application said the school would relieve crowding in CMS' Berryhill and Reid Park K-8 schools.

The Heritage plan is based on the Charlotte Mason education model,  which the application describes as "developing the habit of narration"  and using  "relational education"  to develop each student's talents.

Subcommittee members said the application didn't explain the method clearly enough,  didn't articulate how it would be different from what students can get in CMS,  didn't describe the demographics of the students the school hopes to serve and didn't include specific,  measurable academic goals.  They voiced concerns that salaries budgeted seemed unrealistically low,  that the bylaws lacked a clear conflict-of-interest policy and that the board didn't bring enough financial know-how to run a school.

Not surprisingly,  the subcommittee didn't recommend an interview for Heritage, either.

How this plays out remains to be seen.  Last year's charter advisory panel got 70 applications,  eliminated 25 as incomplete,  interviewed 45 and recommended approval for 26.

Some charter critics had complained that the new advisory board,  appointed by the state legislature last fall,  might be too easy on applicants because it was so heavy on charter administrators and board members.  Instead,  those members seem to be trying to strike a balance between expanding access to charters while screening out applicants they believe aren't ready to pull of a venture they know is difficult.

"You've got charter school leaders who have excellent charter schools,"  Goodall said.  "They know what they're doing and it's pretty tough for an applicant."


Anonymous said...

Doss Helms is a very active little liberal blogger isnt she?

Anonymous said...

Ann is as middle of the road as you're going to get for free. The George Shinn models deserve just as much scrutiny as CMS, Wake, and every other public school. Some, like Metrolina Scholars do a very good job. If you don't like it, vent on the Rhinoceros or whatever alternative survives.

Anonymous said...

We need a real vocational school. That is what charlotte needs. Most teachers in CMS that I talk to agree. I hope a ca vocational charter school can open.

Anonymous said...

From what I have seen over the years Ann Doss Helms has been pretty middle of the road in her reporting. The fact is, Charter School need much great oversight! The charter school movement in NC is nothing more than an attempt to sidestep Brown v. Board and slowly dismantle public education as we know it.

Ettolrahc said...

In the mean time so many Charter Schools, doing such a great job all over Charlotte, and the surrounding area, continued on unnoticed by the observer.

Wiley Coyote said...

...Public education has been doing a stellar job of dismantling itself for forty years and there are no signs of it stopping anytime soon.

Shamash said...

"The charter school movement in NC is nothing more than an attempt to sidestep Brown v. Board and slowly dismantle public education as we know it."

You say that like it's a bad thing.

But, really, now, isn't that the purpose of "vouchers"?

Charter schools are still public schools, aren't they?

As for the "as we know it" part, that may or may not be such a bad thing, depending on what the Charter school does.

Which is why we still need good oversight and scrutiny for Charter schools.

Because if left unmonitored, all kinds of crackpots will be trying to open schools.

Not just those opposed to Brown v. BOE.

Check out Louisiana and you'll see.