Below is a copy of a letter / email from Rhonda Dillingham, the Executive Director of the North Carolina Association For Public Charter Schools to charter school advocates in the state concerning the growing criticism of the unregulated charter school growth in NC.
It begins, “At our conference a few weeks ago, I shared with you my concern that our opponents are ramping up their attacks against charter schools.” She specifically refers to arguments that concern segregation and then offers six “Talking Points” that she feels should quell those “attacks.”
In some regards, all of these “talking points” really are reiterating the same ideas: “diversity,” “choice,” and “opportunity.”
But not once did Dillingham offer any DATA or analysis.
This past January, Kris Nordstrom published an article that openly showed data that maybe Dillingham should also consider when issuing “talking points.”
Did you know that student performance in North Carolina charter schools is increasingly falling behind traditional public schools?
Probably not. After all, that message was absent from state charter office Director Dave Machado’s presentation to the Board last week, nor will you find it in the related Charter Schools Annual Report submitted to the General Assembly by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.
Yet charter school performance is increasingly lagging the performance of North Carolina’s traditional public schools. And the percentage of charter schools meeting or exceeding annual school growth is increasingly falling behind traditional public schools.
The cap on the number of charter schools was removed in 2013. Since that time the number of charter school in NC has more than doubled. The super-majority in the NCGA that enabled all of these “reforms” like charter schools further weakened the oversight and regulation of charter schools in NC. With the national dialogue starting to expose the charter school industry, Dillingham is trying to preserve that loose oversight on charter schools and steer the direction into other realms like “diversity.”
It would be nice if Dillingham further define her use of “integration” and “diversity.” Is it just looking at racial divisions? socio-economic divisions? income-level?
The last report on the state’s charter schools did show some improvement on the enrollment of students of color, but it would require more concrete “talking points” from Dillingham to adeqately explain that data.
From NC Policy Watch last January:
One interesting tidbit in the report shows the percentage of students of color enrolled in charters has increased each of the last four school years.
From 2014-15 school year to the 2017-18 school years, the percentage of students of color enrolled in charters rose slightly, from 41.5 percent to 45 percent.
During that same span, the percentage of students identified as economically disadvantaged dipped slightly from roughly 35 percent during the 2014-15 school year to approximately 33 percent.
Another tidbit: The percentage of Latino students enrolled in charters ticked up slightly from 9.2 percent to 9.9 percent, the second consecutive increase following the creation of a task force by Lt. Gov. Dan Forest to examine charter school outreach to Hispanic families.
Yet that number still lags behind traditional schools, where Latino students accounted for more than 16 percent of overall enrollment as of 2015-2016.
And in North Carolina, we are seeing more instances of charter schools helping enable what is called “white flight.” Here is an example that the Washington Post highlighted this past May in a rural district in North Carolina.
It was put together by Justin Parmenter and Rodney Pierce and it makes reference to a new law (Municipal Charter School Bill) that allows for local municipalities to take public funds and create charter schools for their students within the city limits. The problem is that the original bill listed four municipalities – all of which were over 80% white and fairly affluent in a county that has one of the largest populations in the state.
And that article also makes mention of the fact that many charter schools are minority-majority.
While some charter schools in some states have helped low-income students improve academically, in North Carolina they’ve been used predominantly as a vehicle for affluent white folks to opt out of traditional public schools. Trends of racial and economic segregation that were already worrisome in public schools before the [charter] cap was lifted [in 2012] have deepened in our charter schools. Now more than two-thirds of our charter schools are either 80 percent+ white or 80 percent+ students of color. Charter schools are not required to provide transportation or free/reduced-price meals, effectively preventing families that need help in those areas from having access to the best schools.
Can Dillingham create a “talking point” that explains that?
What Dillingham’s talking points lack are specificity and concrete evidence. They are meant to be amorphous. Yet, they beg explanation.
Here’s a list of others claims she makes:
- “Charter schools are open to all.” Then why does she have to explain in the fifth point that charter schools are exploring “weighted lotteries?”
- “North Carolina’ charter schools strengthen the public school.” How? In what ways? Data? And the simple answer of “choice” is not good enough to prove what she says.
- “More personal attention.” Doesn’t that just prove that traditional public schools have classes that are too big?
- “Ability to be innovative.” So, where have those innovations been shared with the traditional public schools in order to help even more kids. Dillingham says that charter schools are public schools. Shouldn’t those innovations be publicly used?
- “By nature, charter public schools have the ability to drive innovative curriculums, draw students from a wide geographical area, tailor learning in their own communities, and do it all while being held to a higher standard than public schools.” What higher standards? Data? And remember that charter schools do not have to offer transportation and other services that public schools must. That means that drawing students from further geographic areas means that only students whose families have those resources could attend.
- “Taking the lead on integration.” Dillingham might want to look at Parmenter and Pierce’s work published in the Washington Post.
- “Addressing accessibility.” That was just implicit proof that this state should fully fund traditional public schools for educationally and economically diverse students. If just creating charter schools is going to address this problem, then the state has not done a good job at resourcing the already existing public schools.
And then there is that one electioneering point used by many in Raleigh like Berger, Moore, and Forest: the “zip code” platitude.
“Regardless of zip code, income, or ability level.”
Maybe Dillingham could ask the the NCGA to raise minimum wages in NC, stop gerrymandering poorer communities and their zip codes into the same districts to stifle political voices, and change the state’s school performance system from the only one in the country that weighs achievement over growth.
Oh, and expand Medicaid to those zip codes as well.