Under the Dome

Policy on closing North Carolina charter schools questioned

At Torchlight Academy in Raleigh, third-grader Andy Mendez, center, and his classmates do push-ups in Master Shaheed Muhammad's Kung Fu-cise class. Torchlight faces closure if schools don’t improve this school year. CHRIS SEWARD - cseward@newsobserver.com
At Torchlight Academy in Raleigh, third-grader Andy Mendez, center, and his classmates do push-ups in Master Shaheed Muhammad's Kung Fu-cise class. Torchlight faces closure if schools don’t improve this school year. CHRIS SEWARD - cseward@newsobserver.com cseward@newsobserver.com

A state advisory board may recommend changes in how North Carolina charter schools are closed because of their academic performance.

Charter schools face being closed if they haven’t met academic growth targets for two of the last three years and if less than 60 percent of their students are passing state exams. But members of the Charter Schools Advisory Board questioned Tuesday continuing to use that 60-percent threshold considering how much lower passing rates are for all schools statewide.

Steven Walker, who was elected vice chairman of the board on Tuesday, pointed out that the 60-percent figure was adopted in 2009 when passing rates statewide were above 80 percent. But with the introduction of new Common Core-based exams in the 2012-13 school year, the state’s passing rate for all public schools is 56.6 percent.

“When we said 60 percent, you had to be doing pretty rough to be doing 60 percent,” Walker said. “Now the statewide average is like 55. It just seems that charters are getting kind of unfairly almost hit with this.”

Under the latest test results released last week, Phoenix Academy in Guilford County and Rocky Mount Prep in Nash County face losing their charters. Seven charter schools, including Torchlight Academy in Wake County, could face closure if they don’t make gains this school year.

Walker said the state could wind up closing charter schools who get C performance grades while leaving open those who receive an F.

Alex Quigley, chairman of the advisory board, added that the state could close charter schools for academic reasons even though their passing rates are above the state average.

Quigley also said the current policy could result in situations where a persistently low-performing charter school could remain open because it manages to make growth every other year.

“There are some low-performing schools out there that have been low-performing charters for a really long time, and I think we need to be assertive in addressing that,” Quigley said.

Quigley said the first thing he wants the advisory board’s policy committee to address is making a recommendation on the policy governing closure of charter schools.

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