How effective are North Carolina’s charter schools?

Buckley Report

(WGHP) — After more than a century of running public schools much the same way they were started, some in the state felt they needed a bit of a makeover.

That’s when charters schools came about.

The law establishing charter schools went into effect on June 20, 1996. Charters are public schools but they are allowed much more independence than typical public schools. The idea is to use them as little laboratories to see what education innovations may become valuable.

But more freedom in how they’re run is not the only difference between charters and traditional public schools – often called “district schools.”

“In North Carolina, we get about 70 cents on the dollar that district schools get,” said Rhonda Dillingham, who is the executive director of the North Carolina Association for Public Charter Schools.

Dillingham was a teacher in a traditional public school before helping start Uwharrie Charter in Asheboro. She has nothing against traditional public schools – her older daughter graduated from Asheboro High School. But she saw the need for innovation and didn’t see that happening to the degree it was needed in traditional schools. She points out that charters don’t get any money for buildings or construction and far less money for things like foodservice, so they have to operate with a much leaner budget.

Dr. Omar Ali sees the innovation in charters, too.

“A lot of the conventions that we used, back [in the early 20th century], are not quite appropriate to today,” said Ali, who is the dean of UNC-Greensboro’s Lloyd International Honors College. “In some ways, the regulations and the need to assess has, in some ways, eclipsed the benefits of creating curious and developmental spaces for young people. So, there’s kind of a rigidity that has been imposed upon our public school system and I think that charter schools are looking to in some ways create alternative ways and approaches to educating young people.”

He sees the creativity in the way some charters are operating.

“I think the move away from the kind of assessment that we see in traditional public schools I think allows for students to explore knowledge in ways that they don’t feel that they’re just, in some ways, just studying for the test,” Ali said. “If we want to have the best kind of education for all of our students, we look at what the best practices are in the private schools, the charter schools and even some of the regular public schools because the public schools are excellent.”

Some people complain that charters are not sufficiently accountable, though they are always accountable to the parents of their students. Harold Brubaker, who was speaker of the House in North Carolina and helped establish charter schools says that those people are few and, in most cases, are simply trying to, “protect their turf.”

“The naysayers want to play up the one or two or three or four that fail,” Brubaker said. “You have public school systems – the other side, public school systems, we’ve got three or four counties that the schools are failing in. So, are you going to shut down the whole county? No. You critique it and improve it and move on.”

Brubaker says it was beyond time for creating something like charter schools.

“Don’t be afraid of change. That’s what it’s all about. We have to change the way we do things. What worked 50 years ago, doesn’t work today.”

See whether charters are effective at teaching in this edition of the Buckley Report.

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