Representative Rob Bryan, R-Mecklenburg
On Wednesday night, the House Education (K-12) Committee gave its approval to a bill that would allow the state to choose charter school operators to take over low-achieving school districts in North Carolina, an idea that has been tried in other states and failed to produce positive results.
would transfer five participating schools in the bottom 25 percent of achieving schools in the state over to an Achievement School District. The ASD's superintendent would then recommend an AS operator, which could be either nonprofit or for-profit. Teachers at the five schools would have to reapply to get back their old jobs.
Kris Nordstrom, an education policy and finance consultant with the NC Justice Center, said in a letter to the committee members that this clause of the bill "expands opportunities for corruption." He noted that there's no limit on fees that can be collected by an AS operator, an operator's employees can work for the ASD superintendent, and termination can only be recommended by the ASD superintendent.
Nordstrom also noted that the AS operators also wouldn't be subject to a "request for proposal (RFP)" process. During the hearing, Democrat Graig Meyer of Hillsborough questioned bill sponsor Rob Bryan, R-Mecklenburg, on what his ideas were for an operator, to which Bryan responded, "Obviously there’s a full consideration process. … That's the superintendent's job to me."
(On Monday, Rep. John R. Bradford III, R-Mecklenburg, a primary sponsor, was appointed to the committee
, presumably to add an extra vote in favor. In the end, it didn't matter, as the bill passed 18–11.)
One state that was mentioned several times during the debate was Tennessee, an early adopter of ASDs. Tennessee's Achievement School District program was formed in 2011 with federal Race to the Top funds and the "absurd goal that can only be reached with some form of trickery
" of launching that state's bottom 5 percent of schools into the top 25 percent of schools. Math teacher and education writer Gary Rubinstein found earlier this month that five of the original six pilot schools were in the bottom 2.5 percent
of schools in the state. A Vanderbilt study
also found that schools in the ASD had an 83 percent teacher turnover after the takeover, as opposed to just 30 percent the year before.
Representative Cecil Brockman of Guilford, a Democrat supporting the bill, said that African-Americans weren’t doing well in the current system. “What you’re doing is supporting the status quo,” he said.
North Carolina already has a program to help low-achievement schools, however; the TALAS (Turning Around North Carolina's Lowest Achieving Schools) program, administered by the Department of Public Instruction, with—like Tennessee's ASDs—Race to the Top funds, has produced much better results: in the final TALAS report filed in 2015, researchers found that 75 percent of TALAS schools improved their graduation rate more than the average increase in similar schools, and 60 percent of TALAS schools improved their test scores more than the average increase in similar schools.
But in the end, the committee went with the ASD plan.
"Committee members repeatedly said that children in struggling schools need help now, but the Achievement School District in Tennessee has produced significantly worse results than even the lowest performing local public schools," NC Justice Center Education & Law Project director Matt Ellinwood said in a statement after the vote. "These children need immediate help in the form of proven interventions like pre-kindergarten, increased hours of instruction, and access to high quality teachers. Instead, they will be subjected to an unsuccessful experiment and will never receive the additional resources and research-based educational interventions they deserve."