The debate over charter schools is still active in North Carolina. The charter movement gained speed more than 20 years ago, with advocates saying charters would be “laboratories,” public schools with typically smaller classes, more leeway in curricula, flexible calendars, different teaching methods. If charters were successful in conveying course matter in a particular subject, that success could be used by conventional public schools. That was the idea.
From that idea, however, controversy has grown, with some charter proponents appearing at times to think charters are private schools, and with some charters having problems with economic and racial balance along with performance. Those who run conventional public schools are understandably wary of a charter system that drains funding from regular public schools.
But the State Board of Education is considering a new option involving charters that may be a valuable addition to the mix of public education. The board may allow some low-performing, conventional schools to convert to more of a charter model, with longer school days or school years to help the schools improve. Using part of the charter formula would give the schools the flexibility to do that. And with at-risk schools, more investment in teachers would be valuable and, presumably under a more flexible charter model, would be possible.
The board’s right to consider out-of-the-box options to help low-performing schools, as long as change comes after an understanding of the root causes of the schools’ troubles. And it’s important as well that teachers who are doing their best in those schools, perhaps working against poverty and its impact on children, not feel they are being blamed for lower-than-acceptable performance.