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House education committee makes changes to the Innovative School District

A number of bills made it out of the House education committee today, including one that could transform how the Innovative School District (ISD) operates. 

House Bill 798 would change how schools are selected for the ISD as well as how they are operated once they join the ISD.

The Innovative School District was charged with eventually taking over five of the lowest-performing schools from around the state, taking them out of district control and turning them over to outside operators that could turn them around. The schools could be operated by for-profit charter management organizations after inclusion, but so far only one school — Robeson County’s Southside/Ashpole Elementary —has jointed the ISD and it is operated by non-profit charter management organization, Charlotte-based Achievement for All Children

The legislation passed in committee today creates a three-year phased process for selection into the ISD and requires that districts and school communities be appraised of the situation in the school.

First, in year one, an ISD qualifying school would be placed on a “qualifying list.” The local board of education and superintendent of the district would be notified. If that school still qualified in year two, it would be put on an “ISD watch list.” Following that, the local school board would hold a public hearing with parents and employees to explain the impact of being put on the watch list and improvement plans for the school. Finally, if the school still qualified in year three, it would be put on a warning list. Another public hearing would be held, and the school board would have to present to the county commissioners about the school’s status. 

If the school still qualified after the third year and is one of the lowest five qualifying schools in the state, it would be selected by the State Board to join the ISD. 

A qualifying school would be defined under the new legislation as follows:

  • “A Title I school in the lowest-performing five percent (5%) of school performance grades of all Title I schools”  
  • “A school serving students in grades nine through 12 that failed to graduate one-third or more of its students”
  •  “A school identified by the State Board of Education as being in need of comprehensive support and improvement”

The school would qualify if it met at least one of these criteria in the prior year.

Additionally, the legislation broadens how an ISD school can be operated. If the bill passes the General Assembly, then not only can the State Board decide that the school should get an outside operator — as is currently the case — but it could also decide the school can have a consultant. If the school gets a consultant, the school would continue to be operated by its district.

This new language dovetails with the debate over Wayne County’s Carver Heights Elementary. It was slated to be taken over by the ISD earlier this school year, but the State Board of Education balked because of efforts the district was making to reform the school. State Board members wanted to have the district remain in control of the school even if it joined the ISD. Ultimately, the General Assembly made a change that allowed Carver Heights to remain in district control this year. Under this new legislation, the State Board could have assigned the school a consultant and left it in the hands of the district. 

Another bill that received a favorable vote today — House Bill 714 —would direct the State Board of Education to determine steps needed to transition the state’s elementary and secondary schools to a competency-based model of education. In competency-based education, students progress in learning depending on whether they demonstrate mastery of a subject, rather than just based on their age or grade. 

Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, started off by asking committee members if they had kids in third grade. He then asked if the lawmakers thought those kids were in third grade because that’s where they belonged, education wise, or simply because they were 8 years old. He said that the way schools work now, kids get put in a grade because of their age, but he posited that they should be educated based on competency of a subject, not based on how old they are. 

“Different kids learn different things at different rates,” Horn said, adding later. “[Competency-based education is] being done in some schools in this state. It’s being done in some districts in this nation.”

Alex Granados

Alex Granados was the senior reporter for EducationNC from December 2014-March 2023.