Academic Accountability in NC Charter Schools

By Dalia Singleton Gary, staff editor With a new Republican majority in the North Carolina General Assembly, legislation has been introduced to lift the 100-school cap and allow for the creation of as many as 50 new charters per year. The proposed legislation contained in Senate Bill 8 could mean a rapid increase in new charters granted in North Carolina and a large increase in urban centers like Raleigh/Durham and Charlotte. What would this mean for NC students?

Since beginning its system of state-funded public charter schools in 1997, North Carolina experienced high variability in charter school performance. Only a handful of schools have consistently met the proficiency and growth standards set forth by the state’s ABC’s of Accountability, while over 30 have failed to meet these targets over time. Additionally, nearly 50% of charter schools are predominantly (greater than 80% white), a drastic contrast to the 21% of traditional public schools that represent the same demographic makeup.

While it is true that competition for enrolled students creates market accountability driven by parental school choice, the state has not done enough to enforce its own standards of accountability. In fourteen years, North Carolina has closed schools a total of 27 charter schools due to low enrollment, mismanagement, financial insolvency, and legal issues. The state has not, to date, proactively closed a school failing to meet academic achievement requirements. NC has also failed to close any charter school for not having a student population “representative of the community it serves,” a requirement set forth in NC charter policies.

Many educators (traditional and charter alike) proclaim that academic standards for charter schools are not comprehensive enough. Currently, academic requirements for charters focus on a composite level of standardized test performance that can stifle growth in high-achieving schools and prevent low-achieving schools from ever being able to have a significant impact on the neediest students.

Should there be a significant increase in charter schools, it will become more important to ensure charter quality, in part through government-run accountability mechanisms. I’m not sure the 11-member charter commission proposed in Senate Bill 8 will be effective in meeting that task.

I recommend a more cautious approach. Charters should only be allowed to expand under conditions that include a comprehensive academic metric that is primarily responsive to student academic growth, additional training and support for charter school leaders, and a more integrated process of application, review and renewal that incorporates the efforts of all stakeholders involved in the ongoing charter school evaluation

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