The Cape Fear region is well represented on the new council that will help oversee the state’s expanded charter school program. Among the 15 members of the N.C. Charter School Advisory Council are Tim Markley, superintendent of the New Hanover County Schools, and Baker Mitchell Jr., co-founder of the Roger Bacon Academy, which operates charter schools in Brunswick and Columbus counties.
It is encouraging that the council includes educators from both the public and charter school worlds. The emphasis must be to ensure that charter schools are accountable to the public and that they be judged as harshly when they fail as the public schools their advocates deride.
When the Honorables lifted the charter-school cap, they opened the door to many more publicly funded but privately run schools, some of which could be profit-driven and none of which is required to provide transportation (although some existing charters do so). It is important that this not be a taxpayer-funded push to create a hierarchy of schools that are easily accessible to some students but not to others.
It is equally important that the state not be an excuse to dismantle the public schools, which have made steady progress over the past three decades, by depriving them of funding that is shifted to charter schools. The charter school cap was lifted even though numerous studies fail to show that, on the whole, charter schools perform any better or any worse than traditional public schools. Some of the same lawmakers who favored eliminating the cap also want to offer tax credits for private schooling, which would erect taller educational barriers between the haves and have-nots.
If the purpose of charter schools is to improve public education as a whole, then they must prove their worth. That is where strong oversight comes in, which should include prominent annual reports outlining school performance. Unlike the state board, which oversees all public schools, the advisory council will be charged only with scrutinizing charter-school performance.
Markley and Mitchell are good choices for the council, for different reasons. Charter Day School in Brunswick County has consistently posted good scores, while Markley is open to new ideas and is interested in finding out whether the charter school concept can work within the public schools.
The idea isn’t far-fetched; as The New York Times reported on Monday, 20 schools in Houston are using the best charter practices to help improve some of its lowest-performing schools. The jury is still out, but that experiment is noteworthy in part because it involves more than one or two schools.
Markley hopes the temporarily closed Virgo Middle School can reopen as a charter school, a prospect that could at some point create a conflict of interest. Because the council is advisory in nature, any such conflicts probably can be resolved if he abstains from decisions involving any New Hanover County-run charters.
With two local educators on the council, our region will have a significant role in shaping the newly expanded charter school program. And residents will know to whom they should direct their comments and complaints.
Published: Tuesday, September 6, 2011 at 11:05 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, September 6, 2011 at 11:05 p.m.
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