Limit on charter schools recommended

A North Carolina research and policy organization recommends in a new report that the state hold to 100 the cap on charter schools until the schools improve their performance in four key areas.

In “Charter Schools Revisited,” the North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research evaluates the performance of charter schools, which are independent schools funded by tax dollars but not governed by local boards of education.

Charter schools were authorized in 1996 and capped at 100, a number charter advocates have been working to raise.

Currently, 93 charter schools are in operation, with another seven in planning phases.

The report says the schools are weak in four key areas — academic performance; racial balance as required by law; transfer of innovative ideas to public schools; and management and financial compliance.

“Charter schools are an important experiment, but just providing a choice is not enough,” says Ran Coble, director of the center.  “It’s got to be a good choice for educating North Carolina’s students.  Charter schools need to perform well before we expand the experiment.”

Almost one in four charter schools did not show the academic progress the state recommends during the 2005-06 school year, the study says, and while 68 percent of students statewide graduated from high school in four years, only 55 percent of charter high school students did.

Charter schools also are more racially segregated than traditional schools.  While the state’s population is about 22 percent African American, more than three in 10 of the state’s charters in 2000-01 were more than 80 percent non-white.

In part, charters were intended as a “testing ground” for traditional schools, but the report found that, while some schools have innovative approaches to learning, few of those ideas had transferred to public schools.

Since 1996, 138 charter schools have been started, the report says, and 27 of those have closed or had their charters revoked, most because of low enrollment financial noncompliance.

The report makes three primary recommendations:

* Schools that have not met expected academic growth for five straight years should be put on probation, with two years to achieve their goals.

* Revoked charters should go to planned schools with a strong chance of success, with priority given to areas with no charter schools.

* The state should keep the cap at 100 schools.

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