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State Board of Education: December

The State Board of Education considered again a revision to the revocation process for charter schools on Wednesday, but the change is much slighter than it was when they reviewed it last month.

When the revision, recommended by the Charter School Advisory Board, came before the State Board last month, it gave the state detailed options for dealing with low-performing charter schools.

Prior to any talk of revision, the State Board would start the revocation process if a school did not meet or exceed growth and had proficiency lower than 60 percent for two or three years in a row.

The Charter School Advisory Board’s suggested revision discussed last month postponed implementing that process unless a school had been operational for five years. It also would have given the State Board other options than revocation, including launching a competitive bid process to have someone else take over the school, requiring the school to come up with an improvement plan, taking no action or, more vaguely, taking “any other action deemed appropriate in the discretion of the State Board of Education.”

Since last month, alterations have been made to that suggested revision. The change postponing the revocation process until a school has been in existence for five years remains. In addition, as distinct from the original policy on revocation, the State Board is no longer obligated to start the revocation process. It is simply an option. According to Adam Levinson, interim director of the Office of Charter Schools, the revision changes the language so that “what had been a ‘shall’…it’s changing that to ‘may.’” That language change was also in the Charter School Advisory Board’s recommended policy.

The numerous alternative actions to revocation proposed in the Charter School Advisory Board’s revision have been removed.

Levinson told the Board that the revision suggested last month was put through the “standard policy review process,” to reach the current version and that the policy as presented Wednesday aligns with state statute.

He also said the new draft had been presented to the Charter School Advisory Board, which had no substantive feedback or suggestions.

The State Board will vote on this next month.

Low-performing school reform

The State Board also took a look at a new policy that would give districts innovative models of school reform for their low-performing schools.

The reform models — there are four of them — actually already existed in state statute. They were part of the turnaround effort under Race to the Top — those schools targeted for turnaround during that period had to use one of the reform models if they were receiving Race to the Top funds from the state, according to Deputy State Superintendent Rebecca Garland. She presented the policy to the State Board.

Now that Race to the Top has ended, the reform models still exist in statute, and the Alamance-Burlington School system has now asked the state if it can use one of the reform models for one of its low-performing schools.

In a phone interview, Alamance-Burlington Superintendent Bill Harrison said the district is interested in the model, which allows charter-like flexibility, defined in statute as the “Restart model.”

As a result of the district’s request, staff has written a policy directing how the state could allow local education agencies to use the reform models. The state will vote next month on the policy.

The four models as defined in state statute 115C-105.37B are:

“(1)        Transformation model, which would address the following four specific areas critical to transforming a continually low-performing school:

a.         Developing and increasing teacher and school leader effectiveness.

b.         Comprehensive instructional reform strategies.

c.         Increasing learning time and creating community-oriented schools.

d.         Providing operational flexibility and sustained support.

“(2)        Restart model, in which the State Board of Education would authorize the local board of education to operate the school with the same exemptions from statutes and rules as a charter school authorized under Article 14A of this Chapter, or under the management of an educational management organization that has been selected through a rigorous review process. A school operated under this subdivision remains under the control of the local board of education, and employees assigned to the school are employees of the local school administrative unit with the protections provided by Part 3 of Article 22 of this Chapter.

“(3)        Turnaround model, which would involve, among other actions, replacing the principal, if the principal has been in that position for at least three years, and rehiring no more than fifty percent (50%) of the school’s staff, adopting a new governance structure at the school consistent with this Article, and implementing an instructional program aligned with the Standard Course of Study.

“(4)        School closure model, in which a local school administrative unit would close the school consistent with G.S. 115C-72 and enroll the students who attended the school in other, higher-achieving schools in the local school administrative unit consistent with Article 25 of this Chapter.”

There was a lot of discussion from the State Board Wednesday about the recommended policy stemming from the statute.

Under the policy, a school would have to be “continually low performing” in order to take advantage of one of these models. That would be defined as a school with a D or F letter grade that has not exceeded growth for two out of three consecutive years.

Garland was asked whether she thought the number of schools able to use this reform model might increase given the fact that the state now has so many identified low-performing schools.

Garland said that of the 581 low-performing schools, up to 40 percent of them would likely end up qualifying.

The chance that the General Assembly could potentially change the 15-point grading scale for school performance grades to a 10-point scale next year was also brought up.

“If we go to a ten-point scale, the number will most certainly go up,” Garland said.

Superintendent June Atkinson said that the “Restart model” could give schools the ability to tailor their structure to the unique requirements of students; for instance, with a different school calendar.

“They would have the flexibility to have the calendar that would meet the needs of the children and the parents in that school,” she said. “But the money would remain the same.”

Garland said she couldn’t see any harm in Alamance-Burlington using the model on one of their schools. She didn’t mention the name of the school but said she thought she knew which one would be targeted.

“I can’t imagine they would perform any lower than they’re performing now,” she said.

Harrison said in the phone interview that the school the district is thinking about targeting is Eastlawn Elementary School in Burlington, but potentially there could eventually be more.

“It would probably be one school to start out, but I’ve got a couple of schools in mind,” he said.

He said the plan for how to use the charter-like reform model isn’t yet mapped out, but he said it could potentially include a longer school day, a different school term length, and different strategies for teacher compensation.

“We’re in the exploratory stages of the conversation,” he said.

Proof of Concept Study

The Proof of Concept Study update presented in document form to the State Board Wednesday includes the results of a survey given to teachers and parents following the first interim assessment in October.

Recall that a  task force formed by the State Board of Education has suggested sweeping changes to the testing landscape in North Carolina. To test the new plan, the State Board of Education has launched a proof of concept study to examine the feasibility of the changes. The study is looking at three interim assessments and one modified EOG.

The survey results presented to the State Board Wednesday are hampered somewhat by the limited response from parents, noted in the document. Overall, the survey yielded 134 responses for math and 98 for English language arts/reading.

The responses were better for teachers.

Thirty two of the 45 districts and charter schools completed the survey for math, and 25 of 35 did so for English language arts/reading.

Many of the teachers surveyed said they planned to use the assessment to adjust instruction, give feedback to parents or stakeholders and provide remediation. Only a very few — fewer than 5 percent for both math and English language arts/reading — said they don’t plan to use the results for anything.

The survey results on professional development were a little more mixed, with 61.4 percent of respondents saying they didn’t attend math professional development provided in August and 40.2 percent saying they didn’t attend the English language arts/reading session.

Most of the respondents either strongly agreed or agreed — 64.1 percent — that the Math professional development had an impact on instruction prior to the assessment. But that percentage dropped to 35.6 percent for English language arts/reading, with 43.8 percent neither agreeing or disagreeing.

The results were also mixed when the teachers were asked whether the August professional development was sufficient. In math, 62.5 percent agreed or strongly agreed, but in English language arts/reading, that number was only 35.9 percent.

The majority of respondents to the survey said further professional development wasn’t needed in math or English language arts/reading before the next two interim assessments.

What to look for

You should keep your eye out for the Charter School Advisory Board meeting next week, December 7 and 8, as well as what is supposed to be the final Academic Standards Review Commission meeting December 18.
Alex Granados

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