News: Quick Takes

Plan to implement Innovative School District moves forward 

In September, North Carolinians will know which low-performing elementary schools will be considered for the Innovative School District in 2018 and be turned over to charter school operators.

Formerly known as the Achievement School District, the Innovative School District was brought about last year by House Bill 1080, from Rep. Rob Bryan, R-Mecklenburg. It wasn’t until March of this year that the North Carolina State Board of Education hired Eric Hall, the former CEO of Communities in Schools of North Carolina, as the Innovative School District superintendent.

As reported by the News & ObserverHall will reveal later this year which low-performing schools fit the bill for the Innovative School District program. A mix of rural and urban schools that score in the lowest 5 percent of student performance will be considered.

By October, Hall plans to recommend which schools on that list will be turned over to charter school operators. The State Board of Education will vote by Dec. 15 on at least two schools for the 2018-19 school year.

Meanwhile, Hall will review management companies — selected by the State Board — to run the district’s schools for five to eight years. Any school board chosen for the program will have until Feb. 1 either to cede control of its school or close it.

Critics argued back when H.B. 1080 was being debated that it exploits taxpayers while also preventing struggling students from improving. They have also pointed to the mixed results of Tennessee’s version of the Innovative School District, on which the N.C. model was based.

“It’s lax accountability,” Rodney Ellis, then-president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, told the N&O. “It’s basically handing over the keys of our lowest performing schools to private charter school management.”

Hall, however, has maintained that the Innovative School District program is about cooperation and forming a working relationship.

“It’s not about takeover,” Hall told the newspaper. “It’s about how we’re creating innovative conditions in local communities in partnership with those communities and those schools that’s going to promote equity and opportunity for the students that we serve.”

Opponents of the Innovative School District plan haven’t been as vocal as they were when the bill was first introduced, something Terry Stoops, director of research and education studies at the John Locke Foundation, credits to the approach Hall has taken with the program.

“There’s strong leadership in North Carolina’s ISD and that can’t necessarily be said about other states,” Stoops explained. “Furthermore, they are being very deliberate with the plan and in choosing the right schools.”

Stoops pointed out that the ISD probably doesn’t want to create a situation where it appears that the state is imposing its will on low-performing schools, but instead create a partnership where the ISD can assist the school selected for the program and help raise student achievement.

“They are being very thoughtful, because this is going to be a big change for these schools,” Stoops added. “It may require changes in the way that teachers are assigned, classroom management, and instructional practices. Those are all on the table, and when you are talking about that level of change, it makes sense to be deliberate and thoughtful.”