School districts across North Carolina would be forced to close more than 150 traditional schools, if the State Board of Education extended new charter school performance standards to all public schools. That’s the conclusion the John Locke Foundation‘s top education expert reaches in a new Spotlight report.
Using test results from the past three years, the report shows traditional schools would make up 155 of the 164 total schools subject to closing for poor performance. Three alternative district schools also would close. Six charter schools would close.
“Under state rules, only the charter schools actually face the threat of closing,” said Terry Stoops, JLF Director of Education Studies. “The new report exposes the way that the State Board of Education systematically created both privileged and disadvantaged classes of public schools.”
“The privileged class comprises traditional district public schools, which operate year after year regardless of how well their students perform,” Stoops added. “The disadvantaged class comprises public charter schools. The state has placed an additional burden on them. They must convince state bureaucrats that they deserve to continue operating from year to year.”
Three of the six charter schools that would be threatened with closing under the new policy operate in Durham and Wake counties. While those schools would shut their doors, 13 traditional district schools and one alternative district school with similar student performance would remain open in those two counties.
One Charlotte-Mecklenburg charter school would close while the school district could continue operating 14 schools with similar student test scores.
Charter schools face additional challenges because of a policy the State Board of Education adopted unanimously in December, Stoops said. “Its one of the most punitive policies ever approved by the State Board of Education,” he said. “The State Board of Education will revoke a school’s charter if it fails to meet a pair of test performance standards for two of three consecutive years. The first strike is that the school does not meet or exceed ‘expected growth’ in test scores. Strike two is that an overall score called the ‘performance composite’ is less than 60 percent.”
Only charter schools face the threat of closing, Stoops said. “There is no equivalent policy for schools operated as part of a traditional public school district,” he said. “District schools with a performance composite of less than 60 percent that fail to meet expected growth do not close. Instead, the state Department of Public Instruction deploys additional resources and support to these schools.”
The new policy starts with the current academic year, and charter schools could lose their charters as soon as 2012 if the rules remain in place. Stoops’ report shows how the charter policy would have affected schools if the state had used existing test data for the past three years.
“Overall, the state would have closed 6.5 percent of the total district and district alternative schools in North Carolina and 6.2 percent of the state’s charter schools,” Stoops said. “Of course, this is purely a theoretical exercise. But it’s useful. It shows that the State Board of Education is targeting charter schools with the threat of charter revocation, using standards the board is unwilling to apply to district schools.”
If school districts faced the new charter school standards, 41 districts would be forced to close at least one school. Forsyth County would close 18, while both Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Guilford County would close 14 schools. Cumberland County would close 11 schools, and Halifax County would close 10.
Stoops’ report lists each school. “I’m not saying this is a list of schools the State Board of Education should close or sanction,” he said. “Ideally, the state would base its decision on an independent review of performance data and extensive input from school personnel, parents, and members of the community.”
“By the same line of reasoning, it doesn’t make sense to use these data alone to close charter schools,” Stoops added. “The State Board of Education should regard all regular public schools — district or charter — as equals. Substantive policies should apply to all of them or none of them.”