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Achievement School District report moves forward

The House Select Committee on Achievement School Districts met for a final time yesterday to approve the Committee report, which includes Rep. Rob Bryan’s Achievement School District (ASD) draft legislation.

“Anything that helps focus the light on underserved kids and attempts to find ways to deal with that, I’m absolutely on board,” said Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union.

Bryan, R-Mecklenburg, mentioned a few small changes to the draft legislation since the last meeting, including the addition of a parent from a low-performing school to the ASD superintendent selection committee. And then he heard support but also some concerns from members of the Committee.

Rep. Hugh Blackwell, R-Burke, said he thought the benchmark for success in the Achievement School District is too low. ASD schools must outperform their peers at the end of five years or face closure.

The exact language says:

“If by the end of the five-year contract, the achievement school’s average annual percentage growth during the term of the contract does not exceed the average annual percentage growth of other qualifying schools during the same term, the State Board of Education shall close the achievement school and develop a transition plan to return the school to the local school administrative unit.”

“That sounds to me like a very, very low standard if we’re looking for something to actually make a dramatic change,” Blackwell said.

Blackwell also said that the independent evaluator chosen to review the project should be involved from the beginning rather than coming in at the end, as the legislation currently says.

Horn said he had issues with the bill but that he wanted to see it move forward for a closer look from the full House K-12 Education Committee during the short session.

“I’ve really struggled with this,” he said, adding later. “As of late hours last night, as I weighed the bill, there are some things I really like, and there are, as always, things that I don’t like so much.”

He said he liked that the bill was putting the spotlight on underserved kids. But he also explained that the bill was complex, and the lawmakers didn’t have the time to drill down into it in the same way that they can during session.

Horn also mentioned the Innovation Zone portion of the legislation, saying he would like to see that possibly become standalone legislation at some point. This article discussed the addition of the Innovation Zone to the legislation. This article gives some background on Innovation Zones in Tennessee, the state where Bryan took many of his ideas for the current ASD legislation.

Rep. Cecil Brockman, D-Guilford, said his biggest concern with the bill is that it doesn’t move fast enough.

“Those kids can’t wait,” he said. “Those parents can’t wait for us to fix the problem.”

And he added that the bill was good because it was a move away from the status quo.

“What I hate the most, and this is really more so for my Democratic friends, is we defend the status quo too much.”

Brockman also expressed interest in seeing the bill fast-tracked if possible.

Bryan said he, too, was frustrated with how slow the ASD would be to roll out, saying that the first year is likely to only be a planning year. In the second year, he anticipates possibly two schools being selected for an ASD. Only in the third year, 2018-19, are those two schools likely to come online.

For more background on the Achievement School District, go herehere and here.

Below are two videos.

The first is a video of the introduction of the Committee along with an overview of the bill by staff.

This second video has comments from Bryan, followed by discussion from the rest of the Committee and the final vote.

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.