North Carolina families and teachers will find out in the next two months which low-performing elementary schools could be turned over to charter school operators in 2018.
The state’s Innovative School District, originally called the Achievement School District, is a controversial new effort to boost student achievement at low-performing schools. Eric Hall, the district’s superintendent, launched the program on Thursday by laying out a timeline in which at least two schools will join for the 2018-19 school year and up to three more schools will join in 2019.
The new district has come under fire from critics, including many Democratic state lawmakers and the N.C. Association of Educators, who have questioned turning public schools over to education management organizations and charter management organizations. Hall stressed Thursday that the district is about partnering with local communities to provide a better education for students.
“It’s not about takeover,” said Hall, who was hired in March after having served as CEO of Communities in Schools in North Carolina. “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.”
The legislature passed a law last year creating the state takeover of five schools, making North Carolina one of several states to try the achievement district model.
In Tennessee, students in Achievement District Schools have not done better academically than students in comparable low-performing schools that weren’t taken over.
Hall acknowledged the “mixed results” in other states but said North Carolina has a chance to successfully re-imagine the model.
Hall laid out six phases for implementing the new district. In the first phase, he will release in September a list of elementary schools that qualify for inclusion in the program. Schools will be eligible if they score in the lowest 5 percent of student performance.
The schools in the district are supposed to be from around the state and represent both urban and rural areas.
“We need to have a cross-section of schools,” Hall said.
Hall will recommend by October which schools to be put in the program. The State Board of Education will vote by Dec. 15 on at least two schools that will be taken over in the 2018-19 school year.
At the same time, Hall will review the management companies that will be selected by the State Board to run the district’s schools. The companies would run the schools for five to eight years.
School boards will have until Feb. 1 to either transfer their schools to the program or to close them.
In return for giving up the schools, districts would be able to operate some or all of their remaining low-performing schools with the same flexibility given charter schools. The concept is called i-Zones, or innovation zones.
“While the Innovative Schools are one strategy, the strategy to me that can impact a whole lot more schools is the Innovation Zone,” Hall said.
But Hall acknowledged the new district will create challenges for communities that he will try to mitigate.
“Someone told me you can’t be flowery about everything,” he said. “The reality is that there’s going to be some disruption and people are going to be impacted.”
State Board members praised Hall Thursday for his plan.
“You’ve got a great plan,” said Bill Cobey, chairman of the State Board. “It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be tough, but it all starts with a good mission, a good plan. I’m excited about what you’re getting ready to do.”