Another Step Towards School Privatization

Thanks to Lindsay Wagner at NC Policy Watch, I can call your attention to this news in education. Rep. Rob Bryan (R-Mecklenburg) has gutted SB 95 and replaced it with language that will take low performing NC elementary schools, put them into a special Achievement School District (ASD) and turn them over to for-profit charter management companies. The plan is to start with the 5 lowest performing elementary schools, but if this is enacted, I fully expect to see it regularly expanded until all of North Carolina’s traditional public schools have been privatized.

This new Achievement School District, with a Superintendent recommended by Lt Gov Dan Forest (He who hates public schools) and a committee he (Lt Dan) appoints, will look over elementary schools given a grade of F and recommend 5 of those schools to the State Board of Education. They must be geographically diverse, only one from any given school district, and reflect both urban and rural schools.

After analysis of 3 years of test scores and other factors that may play into their ranking, the ASD Super will meet with principals, local boards of ed, local school super, local county commissioners “to share the findings of the evaluation.” The bill calls also for a public hearing, but does not ever state that local feelings on the matter should take precedence over the ASD Super’s decision.

The State Board of Ed will look at a list given to them by the ASD Super and name an “achievement school operator.” That list will be kept on the State Board of Ed’s website. (All the interpretations I have read of this phrase change it to For-Profit Charter School Management Company)

The ‘operator’ will be given a 5 year contract. They must have a track record of showing improving results in low-performing schools and have a ‘credible and specific’ plan to improve results for a low-performing school. (This is going to be a rather small number of entities)

This ‘school operator’ will be authorized to “have a direct role in making decisions about school finance, human capital, and curriculum and instruction for the achievement school while developing the leadership capacity in such schools.”

The school keeps it’s previous attendance zone. If a local school board has to re-do school assignment plans in a way that impacts the ASD school, those plans must be approved by the Sate Board of Ed.

In regards to school funding, the ‘operator’ can choose between two plans.
Under the first, the Local Board of Ed remains responsible for the routine maintenance of this school and for it’s capital needs. It will also bear the expense of transporting students to and from that school, furnishings for that school, and equipment for that school. (I suppose that would also include insurance on the building itself and perhaps, legal responsibility for accidents on-site.)

The new ‘operator’ of the school will hire the principal and staff, first interviewing previous staff members. If hired for the new Achievement school, they become employees of the ‘operator’ and will be allowed to keep state retirement and health plans, but will be “under exclusive control” of the ‘operator.’ (Meaning whatever ‘contract’ the operator wants to offer them, whether it’s multi-year or year-to-year.) If the ‘operator’ does not hire them, they remain employees of their local Board of Ed who can go through a Reduction of Force, if they so desire....

Under the second plan, the ‘operator’ initiates a Memorandum of Understanding with the local school authority.
In this plan, the local board will give the ‘operator’ ALL the monies expended on that school and it’s students in the previous year--to include costs for student support, building operations, transportation, cafeteria services, custodial services, broadband and utilities, student information serviced, instructional services including alternative ed, special ed, test administration, textbooks, technology, media resources, instructional equipment, et al. The State Board of Ed will resolve any differences.

The Achievement School remains under the oversight of the ASD Super for the length of the 5 year contract. If after 3 years, test scores are not up, the ASD Super can recommend the school be turned over to another ‘operator.’
This sounds weird: if for 5 years, it “remains a qualifying school” (which was initially a school given a grade of F) but has “exceeded the average annual percentage growth of other qualifying schools” (which I read to mean, it is still a failing school but has made more ‘growth’ -- in test scores? --than other qualifying schools. So the school is not failing quite as badly as other failing schools???) In this case, if the ASD Super recommends it, the State Board of Ed can renew the contract with this ‘operator.’

The bill does not address the issue of children expelled from the ‘operator-run’ school; do they return to other schools in this district, and what about the per pupil funding that has already been turned over to the ‘operator’ school? Will it be pro-rated and returned to the local school district?

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North Carolina is not the first to set up Achievement School Districts. Memphis started a few years back.
But the director of their program, Chris Barbic, has resigned from his post. Emphasis below is mine.

State education officials appointed Barbic to lead the ASD on the strength of his record as a charter operator in Texas when they formed the special district in 2012. Under his leadership, the state recruited charter operators to assume management of 22 schools, almost all in Memphis, that had been among the lowest-performing 5 percent in the state.

Unusually, the ASD asks charter operators to improve existing schools, rather than start new ones. The approach has drawn national attention because efforts to make low-performing schools better have stymied many districts.

In his email early Friday, Barbic offered a dim prognosis on that pioneering approach. “As a charter school founder, I did my fair share of chest pounding over great results,” he wrote. “I’ve learned that getting these same results in a zoned neighborhood school environment is much harder.”

Indeed, as the ASD has matured, it has experienced significant growing pains, including ones related to its student population — and its already formidable task is on the verge of growing more challenging.

Public protest contributed to several charter operators — including YES Prep, the network that Barbic founded in Houston — pulling out of agreements to take over schools under the ASD last year....

Meanwhile, test scores in year two suggested that dramatic gains were not underway, although Barbic said it was too soon to tell whether the school overhauls were working and that the extent of poverty in Memphis impeded change. “I think that the depth of the generational poverty and what our kids bring into school every day makes it even harder than we initially expected,” he told Chalkbeat last spring. “We underestimated that.”

Please note that these comments come from a man who established a successful charter program in Texas--He is recognizing that if a school chooses its students it is easier for that school to get good test results AND that poverty plays a big role in how children learn. He is saying privatization of education will not bring up test scores.

To my ears, he has learned that public schools are not doing badly after all and that poverty is the cause of differences in test scores. Remember, when we go back and look at the locations of ‘failing’ schools in North Carolina they were all located in areas of poverty.

Meanwhile, our own NCGA has failed to address issues known to have a positive affect on children living in poverty and failing at school.

First is to admit that poverty does play a role in children being inadequately prepared for learning.

Second is failing to expand Medicaid to create healthy children who are ready to learn.

In addition, instead of helping prepare children for school, NCGA has created statutes that require schools to be closed for a long summer break when it is well known that children, especially children in poverty, forget lessons over the break and then require lengthy re-hashing of last year’s materials at the beginning of the next school year. It is hard to punish local districts for the ‘failure’ of schools when it was NCGA that created this particular problem, and only NCGA that can solve it.

NCGA should be providing school children with the most highly qualified teachers available and paying them a better-than-adequate salary. It’s hard to do a good job when you’re wondering if your food stamps will feed your family through the end of the month.

NCGA refuses to provide adequate funding to schools of poverty, has cut unemployment benefits for those who have lost jobs and find themselves living in poverty.... The list goes on and on.

I tell my son, you’re too poor to buy cheap.
And a Quality Education is not cheap. It is an investment. An investment in our society and our American way of life. We cannot and should not try to do this on the cheap. To do so is to cheat ourselves out of a future.

Lindsay Wagner's report can be found here, along with draft text of the bill: http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2015/07/16/charter-school-operators-could-takeover-struggling-schools...

And of course, I will have more to say about this as time goes on.

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This comes from ALEC

They redirect public funds to private education profiteers, starving high-needs schools of funding so that those schools "fail". Then they cite the failure as a reason to take over the school -- built and operated with taxpayer dollars -- and give it to private education profiteers. You can bet that Rob Bryan has had a look at ALEC's "model" bill.

Here's a summary (with linke to details) of ALEC's evil public school privatization efforts. It's already happened in Chicago and Philadelphia.

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"I will have a priority on building relationships with the minority caucus. I want to put substance behind those campaign speeches." -- Thom Tillis, Nov. 5, 2014