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Dan Forest on charter report: Schools need chance to tell their story

North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest
North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest has been getting some attention over his request this week that state officials revise a charter school report he considers too negative.

After the (Raleigh) News & Observer wrote about that request and I posted a blog item about it, Forest’s office sent a link to a 15-minute interview Forest did with Pete Kaliner of WWNC 570 AM in Asheville (local folks will remember Kaliner from his years as a reporter for WBT in Charlotte).

Forest, who serves on the North Carolina Board of Education, didn’t give specifics Wednesday about his concerns that the report “did not have a lot of positive things to say” about charter schools. In the Thursday interview he details his issues – including his belief that withholding positive information was done intentionally and fits a pattern.

“I’ve sat here month after month and I never hear a positive thing about a charter school,” he said.

“Is there an actual anti-charter bias in the Department of Public Instruction?” Kaliner asked.

Forest didn’t answer directly, but said “they” see charter schools as competition. DPI and the state Board of Education oversee North Carolina’s school districts and 158 charter schools, which are run by independent nonprofit boards.

On Wednesday, Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey granted Forest’s request to wait another month for the charter report and send it back for revision. The Charter School Advisory Board will discuss it with staff from the Office of Charter Schools on Tuesday.

The apparent decision to craft a more positive data report sparked online commentary.

“We get reamed daily for negative results but charters get redos so they don’t look bad?” asked Steve Goodelle, an Observer online commenter whose Facebook page calls him “grumpy old teacher.”

“So when did he ask for anything ‘negative’ about public schools to be delayed. Ohhhh wait ...” tweeted state Rep. Tricia Cotham, a former Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools teacher and administrator. Cotham is a Democrat; Forest a Republican.

In the interview Forest said he objects to the way the state report compares demographics and letter grades at charter and district schools. And he said a section that details increased state spending on charter schools and concludes that most of that money would otherwise have gone to school districts is “an opinion piece.”

“I’m not saying every charter’s perfect, or every charter’s even good,” Forest said. “What I want to do is make sure we give them a fair shake.”

He says delaying the report, which state lawmakers required by Jan. 15, allows more time for it to be reviewed by the Board of Education and the Charter School Advisory Board. In addition, Forest said said there should be an opportunity for “charter schools themselves to be able to read it and look at it and go, ‘Wait a minute. This isn’t painting our picture.’ There’s a lot of great positive things going on with charter schools in the state. Let’s tell that story, too.”

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms

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