Charter Schools in North Carolina: Evaluation Context and Year-One Overview

Article excerpt

Background

Legislation (General Statute 115C-238.29) establishing charter schools in North Carolina was implemented in 1997-98. Thirty-four charter schools were granted charters that first year. The legislation required the Department of Public Instruction to carry out an evaluation of charter schools with a report due January 1, 1999. Several specific evaluation issues were addressed in the legislation, including assessment of: (1) current and projected impact of charter schools on the delivery of services by public schools; (2) student academic progress against the academic year preceding the first year of the charter school's operation; and (3) best practices resulting from the charter school operation. The report from the State Board of Education (SBE) due by January 1, 1999 was to include recommendations to "modify, expand, or terminate the charter schools approach." These recommendations were to be based on a review of the educational effectiveness of the charter school approach and the effect of charter schools on the public schools in the local education agency (LEA) where they are located.

The legislation specified a cap of 100 charter schools in the state until this evaluation was completed and a recommendation on whether or not to expand the charter school approach was submitted by the State Board of Education. By the second year of the legislation (1998-99), new approvals and revocations of charters and withdrawals by several schools resulted in a total of 62 charter schools operating in North Carolina. As of June 1999, 87 charter schools will be operating in the 1999-2000 school year. Thus, the maximum number of 100 charter schools still has not been reached.

A preview of the primary recommendation from the evaluation is in order at this point to provide a context for these articles. Although it really did not require an evaluation to arrive at this conclusion, the first-year evaluation confirmed that one year was not an adequate amount of time to determine overall effectiveness of charter schools or their impact on other public schools. Thus, the primary recommendation was for an extended evaluation (a minimum of three years). The State Board of Education agreed with this recommendation and forwarded it to the General Assembly, where a bill was introduced and passed in May 1999 to extend the evaluation for three more years with a reporting date of January 1, 2002. The cap of 100 charter schools is to be maintained until the final evaluation report is completed and any subsequent SBE recommendation regarding the expansion, modification, or termination of charter schools legislation is submitted to the General Assembly.

Evaluation Design

Given these requirements the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) entered a contract with the General Administration of the University of North Carolina (UNC) to help conduct a statewide evaluation of charter schools. An evaluation team was formed consisting of DPI staff from the Evaluation Section and the Office of Charter Schools and of faculty from several universities in the UNC system. The team built upon an evaluation design developed by the Evaluation Section of the DPI that included evaluation questions about what charter schools looked like, implementation issues, student achievement and other student outcomes, impact on other public schools, and innovative/best practices.

Several types of data collection were used in the evaluation to address the evaluation questions and to provide a comprehensive portrait of the charter schools and their impact on education in North Carolina. Existing databases within the DPI contained considerable information submitted by charter schools through the state's ABCs Accountability Model, the Student Information Management System and the Uniform Fiscal Reporting System. Information obtained from existing databases included school achievement results, enrollment numbers, grade levels of schools, gender and ethnicity of students, exceptional children served, class size and teacher/student ratios, salaries of staff, licensure information on staff, and state and federal expenditures. …