The Curious History of SB95
SB95 began life in the Senate (hence the SB designation) but now resides in the House Rules Committee, an altogether different bill than the one the Senate passed. The original version required local boards of education to create reduction in force policies using performance as a criterion.
SB95 headed to the House in April, where it was rewritten multiple times before surfacing in July as a bill creating an Achievement School District (ASD) into which five of the state’s lowest-performing elementary schools would be placed. As predicted, the state is using the single-letter A-F grades given since 2014 to public, alternative, and charter schools to identify and target schools for punitive, not constructive ends.
Removed from their home districts, these vulnerable schools would be controlled by the state, or, more likely, by a private entity, like a charter school operator, selected by the state. Drafted by Rep. Rob Bryan (R-Mecklenburg), the new bill would put the lieutenant governor in charge of a committee choosing the ASD’s superintendent. The bill’s new language did not garner enthusiastic support, and SB95 was moved from the Education K12 Committee to the Rules Committee.
In late January 2016, a newly created House Select Committee on Achievement School Districts met for the first time and discussed a new proposal, essentially a modified SB95, that could be reintroduced as a new bill when the General Assembly reconvenes in April 2016.
Concerns about SB95 and ASDs
Obviously, any bill that is changed so drastically with no public process is a concern. Changing a bill that has already passed one chamber further limits public involvement because the extreme makeover measure needs only its original home’s concurrence, rather than a full hearing, to make its way to the governor’s desk. In SB95’s case, the change is especially troubling because the state is proposing to take over five locally controlled public institutions and place them under the control of an unknown private, possibly even for-profit, entity.
Although improving under-achieving elementary schools is a worthy and imperative goal, forcing a district to either give up or close such a school could have negative outcomes for students and the community. There are many reasons schools earn poor grades from the state, so using a one-size approach for five schools that could be failing for completely different reasons is not likely to help. Handing funding to a “district” with no publicly elected or accountable local officials does not guarantee improvement and neglects North Carolina’s constitutional promise that all students in these schools will have equal opportunity for a sound basic education.
Concerns about ASDs, which currently exist without particular success in Tennessee and New Orleans, are many:
- Charter school operators don’t have experience taking over and running existing schools with geographic attendance zones since they typically start their own schools and select their own students.
- The success of charters themselves vary widely. This year, the state gave charters a higher percentage of A’s and B’s than public schools, but also a higher percentage of D’s and F’s. There is no data showing that charters have any better impact on at-risk students.
- Many education experts believe that lower-performing schools are better served by keeping them in their local school systems and giving them more local flexibility and more resources for innovative education methods and family support services.
- Giving a private entity control of existing public schools, including the ability to fire staff, will introduce more uncertainty and less stability to our most vulnerable elementary schools.
Persistently failing schools must have remedies that positively affect student outcomes, and research has shown what it takes to be successful in terms of at-risk students’ achievement. Proven methods for helping struggling students include:
- Universal Pre-K
- Access to health care (including vision and dental care) for at-risk students;
- Smaller classroom size and more one-on-one instruction;
- Experienced teachers trained in working with at-risk students especially in reading skills; and
- Access to strong instructional materials including technology and up-to-date textbooks.
Child advocates, parents, and educators worry that children who already struggle academically could be at even greater risk of school failure in this drastic school takeover approach.
NC Policy Watch, Is North Carolina next in line for New Orleans-style takeovers of failing schools? http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2015/07/15/is-north-carolina-next-in-line-for-new-orleans-style-takeovers-of-failing-schools/
NC Policy Watch, State turnaround teams successful yet legislators push controversial school takeover plan, http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2015/09/04/state-turnaround-teams-successful-yet-legislators-push-controversial-school-takeover-plan/
Public Schools First, NC Legislative Update: August 8, 2015 – Will Punitive Grading Lead to School Takeover?, http://www.publicschoolsfirstnc.org/our-newsletters/
Public Schools First NC, Quick Facts: A-F School Performance Grades, http://www.publicschoolsfirstnc.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/9-4-15-QUICK-FACTS-School-Performance-Grades-.pdf and http://www.publicschoolsfirstnc.org/quick-facts/quick-facts-a-f-school-performance-grades/
National Education Policy Center, Why School Report Cards Merit A Failing Grade, http://nepc.colorado.edu/files/pb-statereportcards.pdf
Last updated January 28, 2016