Thursday’s academic ratings for Charlotte-area charter schools are likely to fuel the debate over how to manage the growth and quality of the independently-run public schools.
Grades for the 34 charter schools in Mecklenburg and surrounding counties ranged from A+ to F, just as they did for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. But charter schools were far more likely to land at the bottom, with eight earning an F. That’s almost 24 percent of the charter schools serving Mecklenburg students (charters take students across county lines), compared with 3 percent of CMS schools getting an F.
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CMS also rated far better on growth, which rates students’ progress. Schools that serve disadvantaged students can get credit for making gains, even if proficiency on state exams remains low. And schools whose students arrive performing at grade level can be marked down if those students don’t advance.
CMS schools were more than four times as likely as area charter schools to exceed the expected academic growth, while charter schools were more than twice as likely to fall short.
We worked hard for our A+, but it is not lost on me that teachers in high need areas pour their hearts and souls into helping their students achieve only to be given a grade that does not reflect that effort.
Chris Terrill, head of Pine Lake Prep
Charter schools, which are run by nonprofit boards that report directly to the state, were created to give students alternatives to failing schools. North Carolina has seen a boom in charters since the state lifted a 100-school cap in 2011, and the fastest growth has been in and around Charlotte.
The four charter schools earning A’s – Pine Lake Prep, Lake Norman, Community School of Davidson and Metrolina Regional Scholars Academy, which caters to gifted students – are located in the suburbs, with student demographics similar to the most successful CMS schools.
Most educators acknowledge that schools serving children who come ready to learn have an advantage on the state grades, whether they’re district or charter schools.
“We worked hard for our A+,” said Chris Terrill, head of schools for Pine Lake, “but it is not lost on me that teachers in high need areas pour their hearts and souls into helping their students achieve only to be given a grade that does not reflect that effort.”
During the past year, state officials have debated when to close schools based on weak academic performance. They refused to renew the charters for Kennedy and Crossroads, two longstanding Charlotte charter schools that catered to disadvantaged students. Boards at both schools unsuccessfully contested the decision, contending their results would improve.
But both logged grim results in their final year. Both received F’s, with proficiency levels lower than 25 percent. Crossroads, a high school for at-risk students, failed to meet the growth goal and had an on-time graduation rate of 18 percent, compared with an average of 86 percent for all North Carolina public schools. Kennedy met the growth goal and tallied a 40 percent graduation rate.
With the public money cut off, neither school is open this year.
On the other hand, Thunderbird Prep in Cornelius, which was threatened with closing last year, had a stronger academic rating, earning a B and meeting the growth target. Most of the state’s concerns had to do with health and safety, leadership and finances, but some officials also questioned whether the school was doing enough for suburban students who were expected to arrive performing well. The school will be reviewed at the Sept. 12 Charter School Advisory Board meeting in Raleigh.
Last year North Carolina also authorized two virtual charter schools, which serve students across the state. Both earned D’s and neither met the state’s target for growth.
Results at a glance
The state issues letter grades based on a mix of proficiency and growth, a measure designed to gauge how much progress students made regardless of where they started. Proficiency counts for 80 percent of the letter grade, and schools are also rated on whether they met, exceeded or failed to meet growth goals for their students. Here’s how 34 charter schools in Mecklenburg and surrounding counties fared. One school received a grade but not a growth rating.
▪ Four schools, or 12 percent, received an A or A+
▪ Seven schools, or 21 percent, received a B
▪ 13 schools, or 38 percent, received a C
▪ Two schools, or 6 percent, received a D
▪ Eight schools, or 24 percent, received an F
▪ Four schools, or 12 percent, exceeded the growth target
▪ 18 schoools, or 55 percent, met it
▪ 11 schools, or 33 percent, fell short