N.C. charter school oversight plan does not include ‘best practices,’ expert says

McClatchy NewspapersApril 5, 2013 

— A national organization devoted to oversight of charter schools says North Carolina is missing an opportunity by proposing to set up a new charter school commission without insisting that it follow best practices.

For example, applicants who want to set up a school should be interviewed and not just evaluated based on what they say on paper, said Alex Medler, vice president of policy for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.

The association’s list of principles covers all oversight duties, from approving charter applications to overseeing operations and closing those that don’t measure up. Some specific recommendations include having an outside expert review charter school applications and making sure all schools abide by a contract to perform as promised.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory and the Republican-controlled legislature have proposed installing an independent charter board composed largely of appointees, which is the way charter schools operate in about dozen states. Currently in North Carolina oversight is the responsibility of the state Department of Education.

“What lot of other states have done is reference our standards. That’s not in this legislation,” Medler said.

If a state insists on best practices, it doesn’t matter as much who’s appointed to oversee the charter schools, he said.

“What matters much more is the task you give them, and how you set it up, and whether you give them the resources to do their jobs,” Medler said.

Public charter schools receive taxpayer funds, but are exempt from some of the regulations that apply to traditional schools. The arrangement is meant to give charters more flexibility to try new approaches to learning.

Charter school advocates like the idea of an independent commission because it will have more capacity to oversee the schools, said Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham institute, an education policy research organization. He said the commissions were “helpful.”

Charter school backers also argue that the independent commissions would encourage the charter school movement to grow more than traditional school districts are likely to do, Petrilli said.

Medler said that while his group likes to see independent charter commissions that abide by best practices, it doesn’t agree with North Carolina’s proposal to do away with mandatory criminal background checks for charter school employees.

“You can have flexibility about how you do it, but the idea that you wouldn’t do it is not sound," he said. "Part of the authorizer’s responsibility is protecting the interest of the students."

“In most if not all other states, charter schools are required to do same background checks as employees as traditional system,” said Todd Ziebarth, vice president for state advocacy at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Email: rschoof@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @reneeschoof

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