Monthly Archives

August 2023

Sixteen N.C. Charter Schools Make Annual List of Best High Schools

By News

Sixteen North Carolina charter schools earned a top-50 spot in U.S. News & World Report’s annual ranking, released yesterday, of the state’s best public high schools. Top 2023-24 high schools across the nation, according to the publication, were those producing high student test scores and “strong underserved student performance, college readiness and curriculum breadth, as well as graduation rates.”

Today the Coalition distributed a press release highlighting the achievement of these 16 charter schools. Find the release here.

The N.C. charter schools earning a top-50 spot for 2023-24 were:

  • Raleigh Charter High School, #5
  • Woods Charter School, #9
  • Community School of Davidson, #13
  • Pine Lake Preparatory, #15
  • Gray Stone Day School, #16
  • Lake Norman Charter, #21
  • Research Triangle High School, #22
  • The North Carolina Leadership Academy, #27
  • The Hawbridge School, #37
  • Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy, #38
  • Longleaf School of the Arts, #40
  • Triangle Math and Science Academy, #43
  • Franklin Academy, #45
  • Oxford Preparatory School, #46
  • Henderson Collegiate, #47
  • Pinnacle Classical Academy, #49

Six of these schools are Coalition member schools (highlighted in bold).

See the ranking of all N.C. public high schools here. View the charter-only list of top public high schools here.

2023-24 Back-to-school charter facts

By News

Across the state yesterday, many students headed back to school for the first day of the 2023-24 school year. At a number of public charter schools, students had already begun the year. In honor of the official launch of the 2023-24 school year, the Coalition yesterday distributed a press release with key back-to-school charter facts. Among them:

  • 211 public charter schools are operating in North Carolina this year. This figure includes seven new charter schools.
  • Over the past decade, there has been a 172% increase in public charter school enrollment.
  • In the 2022-23 school year, 77,000 student names were on waitlists for public charter schools. Over 137,000 students attended N.C. charter schools.

The Coalition asked schools to send in 2023-24 applicant/waitlist information in Spring 2023. Some highlights:

In the release, Lindalyn Kakadelis, the executive director of the Coalition, said:

Public charter schools are an incredibly popular choice for North Carolina families, and demand continues to grow. Charter schools are public and free to attend. Through innovative curricula like drone pilot licensing programs, manufacturing certifications, and more, public charter schools offer something different.

Read the Coalition’s back-to-school press release.

New resources with charter school fast facts

By News

Are you looking for more tools and resources to share fast facts about charter schools? We highlighted some resources in a blog post earlier this week, but we have a new one today: a short but helpful video from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. The video reinforces the basic facts about charters: They’re public. Free. And open to all.

Here are some more data points as the 2023-24 school year launches:

  • More than 3.7 million students attend public charter schools nationwide. In North Carolina, 140,000 students attend charter schools
  • Across the country, around 7,800 public charter schools serve students. In North Carolina, 211 public charter schools (including two virtual charter schools) are operating for the 2023-24 school year.

Learn more about charter schools from the Coalition’s “About Charter Schools” web page. View more national stats from the Alliance’s Charter School FAQs.

Dispelling Misconceptions about Public Charter Schools

By News

Misconceptions about public charter schools abound. As a recent national poll discovered, even some public school teachers are unaware of some basic facts about charter schools. (Read more about that on the Coalition blog.) Fact: Charter schools are public schools. They’re free for students to attend, and they’re open to all. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools is tackling common misconceptions head-on (as is the Coalition!). We have some great resources to share.

  • Here’s one: Listen to a podcast with David Griffith, the associate director of research at the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.
  • Here’s another: View a sidebar comparison of the differences between district and public charter schools.
  • Explore the Coalition’s new online resource: An About Charter Schools web kit.
  • Watch our video introduction to charter schools from State Superintendent Catherine Truitt below.

Charter Omnibus & Charter Review Board Bills Become Law

By Legislation, News

Lawmakers voted late yesterday afternoon to override Governor Cooper’s vetoes of six bills, including H.B. 219, Charter School Omnibus, and H.B. 618, Charter School Review Board. As a result, both bills are now law: H.B. 219 has become Session Law 2023-107 and H.B. 618 has become Session Law 2023-110.

H.B. 219/Session Law 2023-107 makes a number of changes to current law impacting charter schools. The new law allows counties to provide funds for charter school capital needs, and limits enrollment caps to low-performing charter schools, among other things. The new law takes effect for this current 2023-24 school year.

H.B. 618/Session Law 2023-110 streamlines the charter approval and renewal process by converting the Charter Schools Advisory Board into a Charter School Review Board with the authority to approve new charter schools or grant renewals. Board decisions may be appealed to the State Board of Education, and the State Board retains its rule making authority. This change is effective immediately.

The Coalition’s direct role in securing passage of charter bills

The Coalition has worked intensively this session to advocate for both of these bills, and we are very pleased they have become law. Getting any bill passed–from the initial idea to actual enactment–is no small feat, requiring tremendous effort and support from numerous stakeholders. Here’s what that looked like this time around:

  • At the Coalition’s request, member schools began providing input on legislative session priorities, beginning in September 2022–almost a year ago.
  • The Coalition Board’s Legislative Committee then began work to develop a comprehensive legislative agenda for 2023.
  • Following deliberations and conversations with member schools, the full Coalition Board approved the legislative agenda.
  • The Coalition’s communications team worked to develop strategy and messaging around legislative priorities.
  • Coalition Counsel Matthew Tilley wrote these charter bills, submitting bill text to the General Assembly’s bill writers.
  • The Coalition’s Government Relations Team (including Harry Kaplan and Dylan Reel of McGuireWoods and Lee Teague of Teague Advocacy) led intensive lobbying efforts at the General Assembly. This is tireless work, and involves walking these bills through all steps of the committee process. H.B. 219, for instance, had five revisions prior to ratification, while H.B. 618 had three revisions.
  • Coalition members and other stakeholders contacted and met with lawmakers to express support for charter bills and to share input around charter interests.
  • Lawmakers in the House sponsored these bills, while additional lawmakers in both the House and Senate voted to support these bills throughout the process.

Finally, Coalition Executive Director Lindalyn Kakadelis was involved all along the way, working with school members, the Coalition Board, the Coalition’s communications team and lobbyists, and other stakeholders.

Lawmaker support for charter bills

We are grateful to the lawmakers who supported these two bills throughout the legislative process.

Both bills received bipartisan support in the House. We want to thank Rep. Cecil Brockman and Rep. Shelly Willingham, two Democrats who joined with Republicans in supporting these bills and voting to override the Governor’s vetoes. Yesterday, 74 House members voted in support of these bills, while 27 Senate members did so.

  • See how House and Senate members voted on the veto override for H.B. 219.
  • See how House and Senate members voted on the veto override for H.B. 618.

Thank you to these legislators–and to the school leaders and charter parents who contacted legislators to express their views on these bills! Thank you also to Jamila Lindsay, a parent at Lake Norman Charter, who provided the voice recording for a Coalition video promoting H.B. 219.

Coalition statement on veto overrides for charter bills

Last night, the Coalition released a statement from Executive Director Lindalyn Kakadelis on the veto overrides for these two bills. Find the Coalition’s press release with that statement hereABC 11’s story on the veto overrides included Lindalyn’s statement about H.B. 219, as does this Carolina Journal article.

Work yet to do

The finalized version of H.B. 219 did not include the local funding provision the Coalition drafted and sought. We will continue to push for fair funding for charter schools. Our mission is to protect and promote public charter schools–and we know this is steady, ongoing work.

Q&A with Principal Craig Smith of Lake Norman Charter

By News

Back-to-School Q&A with Craig Smith

Hear what’s top of mind for this charter leader, principal, and charter parent

Craig Smith currently serves as the high school principal at Lake Norman Charter (LNC), one of the state’s largest charter schools. In addition, he is beginning his second term as a member of North Carolina’s Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission. This year, he’ll also serve on a new task force with the North Carolina High School Athletic Association, guiding changes to interscholastic athletic competition for the state’s public schools. He and his wife, Melissa, an English teacher at Lake Norman Charter, are also the parents of two charter school students.

Kristen Blair, the Coalition’s communications director, spoke with Craig for this Q&A at the start of the new 2023-24 school year. We share the full interview below, featuring Craig’s views on what works in education; how parents can position kids for school success; what to expect in high school athletics; and more.  

You began your career in education as a teacher and coach, later working as a district school administrator. What led you to a charter school? 

Craig Smith: My career started in Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools at Hopewell High School in Huntersville: First year teacher, 22 years old, and fresh out of school! I started as a math teacher and coach and was able to have really strong support early on from administrators. I also began pursuing my Masters in School Administration. I always wanted to become a high school principal, but the support I received within that building helped me start my administrative pursuits sooner than expected. I began my administrative career at Hopewell High School as a dean of students. I then had the opportunity to go to Ashbrook High School of Gaston County Schools, where the principal had just been hired from his feeder middle school. I interviewed with him, and we absolutely clicked. I was able to spend four years with him as an assistant principal. Then, in a full circle moment, I had the opportunity to come back to Huntersville and serve as the high school principal at Lake Norman Charter. I’m now going into my ninth year. I’m very blessed and humbled that I get to serve in this role and community. I absolutely love what I do, even with the challenges that principals face.

My family is fully invested. My wife is a faculty member, and my kids are in school here—one in the elementary school, and one in the middle school. The Smith family is truly “all in” at Lake Norman Charter!

The Smith Family on August 10, 2023, the first day of the 2023-24 school year at Lake Norman Charter.

How have your experiences as a charter leader impacted your views about what works in education?  

Craig: The greatest benefit [of the charter model] is being able to look at what decisions need to be made at the local level that directly impact our students and staff. That is huge. Part of the perk of a charter school is having flexibility and autonomy. We still follow what is required from a state and legislative standpoint, but we get to look at our three schools at LNC—elementary, middle, and high—and say, “What do we need to do to best serve our students?”

In other extremely large systems, what one school needs may be very different from what another school needs. To me, that’s the biggest difference, especially with my experience in traditional public schools before I came to LNC. When we make decisions for Lake Norman Charter, we’re looking at what is in the best interests of our students, our staff, our faculty, and our community.

In addition to serving as the principal of a charter high school, you’re also a charter parent. How do those dual roles inform and impact each other?

Craig: As a school leader, I also have the ability to walk the walk of being in the parent community. For me, the uniqueness is being in the high school role. Ultimately, the high school is where our students conclude their career. Now, I get to enjoy seeing our students starting their educational career, knowing they will eventually progress up to the high school. This will be the only school my kids attend throughout their entire career, God willing, and that’s extremely exciting—a rarity for most parents. A lot of parents don’t get to view their kids’ school experience with that type of long-term vision and expectation.

We’re on the cusp of another school year. What’s the best thing parents can do to prepare their students for success this year?

Craig: There are two main items. One is for families to put their trust in their students’ teachers, principals, support staff, and counselors. Ultimately, those educators want nothing more than for the students to be safe and successful. Know that with Lake Norman Charter—and with any school—the folks in the school community have made a choice to be there. That’s true from the parent perspective, but that’s also true for faculty and staff.

The second is to be a partner in that relationship with their students’ teachers. It’s a true partnership. There should be open dialogue, but with a positive, supportive relationship, while maintaining trust in the teachers, administrators, and school leaders. We all have our roles in the school community; working together cohesively in support of the school environment is what allows our students to thrive.

What are the opportunities and challenges ahead for North Carolina’s charter schools?

Craig: The opportunity is through ongoing collaboration. There’s a lot of school-to-school collaboration that occurs. As they grow, charter schools can tap into high performing, very successful, well-established charter schools. We want to see other charter schools succeed.

In addition, there’s a lot of opportunity for collaboration across charters and traditional public schools. Some of the closest, strongest network relationships I have with other principals in North Carolina are in traditional public schools. We’re all in the interest of educating students, and we all want our students and schools to be successful.

The greatest challenge sometimes is from the legislation coming out of Raleigh. The Coalition has been huge in having a voice there and enabling folks to have conversations directly with General Assembly members. Once lawmakers have the conversation with an educator or a lobbyist representing charter schools, you see the lightbulb go on. So, that’s an ongoing challenge—that decisions made by non-educators, who may believe they’re writing strong legislation, can actually be problematic or harmful for schools.

What do parents need to understand about the state’s charter movement, and how can they contribute to charter sustainability and success?

Craig: If a family has made that choice to send their student to a charter school, part of the commitment is they’re deciding to be involved in the school and whatever that school needs—whether that’s being involved as a volunteer, or through community organizations, or making a financial investment. When a family makes the choice to be a part of that respective charter school, they should also make a commitment to be an active, involved, and engaged supporter to what the school needs to grow and be successful.

You serve as one of two charter representatives on the Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission. Could you share more about PEPSC’s role and how its work could impact the teaching profession and charter schools?

Craig: When I was nominated, I was the first charter school representative on the commission. Now that Madison Edwards [a teacher at North Carolina Cyber Academy] has come on board, we have two charter voices. Not only that, but we are also two voices as a principal and a teacher.  A lot of the members of PEPSC are outside of the school-based staff. Having two representatives for charter schools who are also inside the school building is huge.

The experience with PEPSC has been unique. Over the last calendar year, the Pathways to Excellence [a proposed model for teacher compensation and licensure reform] was highly publicized and garnered a lot of attention, both positive and negative. It was eye-opening to see how the processes work. We as a commission make recommendations to the State Board of Education, but ultimately the State Board has the responsibility to vote in favor of what’s presented. Sometimes it also takes legislators in our General Assembly being on board for any change to actually occur.

You’ve been tapped to serve on a new task force of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA)Could you share more about what parents and other charter stakeholders can expect with changes to athletic competition?

Craig: The amendment that was approved in the spring by the NCHSAA membership—which required a three-quarters of total ballots for affirmative vote—basically changed the language in the bylaws that allows the state to move from four classifications to seven. It had been written in policy that the state had to remain at four classifications. Through the successful passage of that bylaw amendment, then-Board President Rob Jackson recommended that a task force be created. While realignment occurs every four years in our state association, this will be the first time that we’re looking at a realignment from four classifications to seven.  Not only are we looking at where schools will fall in those seven classifications, we are also identifying how conferences will be created. So, this will be a new venture.

I’m absolutely honored that I was asked to be a part of that task force. I’m really excited to connect with other task force members and work with board members and association staff. There has been a lot of conversation and dialogue statewide already. Some folks have strong feelings about where charter schools fall when it comes to various classifications and conferences, so our charter school membership should feel good that they have charter school representation on this task force. I’ve already engaged in dialogue with a lot of other charter school members over the past year. I will do my best to ensure that charter schools continue to be treated fairly and equitably when it comes to athletic involvement in our state.

Do you have a sense of the timeframe for changes to high school athletics?

Craig: The 2023-24 school year is year three of our current four-year alignment. Historically, year three is when the work is done to identify what the proposed new realignment will look like the following four years. And then year four gives schools the opportunity to potentially appeal if they’ve been put in a classification that they feel is inappropriate—or if they want to appeal a conference that they’re proposed to be in. It’s an every-four-year process.

So, 2023-24 will comprise the work of the task force and 2024-25 will be the final year of the current alignment. Then, 2025-26 would be when [new changes] will be put into place. It’s a lengthy process, especially due to the bylaw amendment of moving to seven classifications from four. Our first meeting is later this month and some of the additional items we will tackle this year include the future make-up of the Board, classes by sport, and playoff structure.

New National Poll: ‘Listen to Your Teacher’

By News

A new report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools explores teachers’ views on K-12 education, with some notable findings. Titled “Listen to Your Teacher: An Analysis of Teacher Sentiment on the State of Public Education,” the report includes poll findings from over 1,200 public charter and district school teachers. While many teachers are tired–and concerned about students–charter teachers report more durable motivation and higher levels of job satisfaction.

The Alliance released some of the poll findings in a sneak peek memo earlier this summer. (Read a Coalition blog post about that memo.) But this week’s report also provides in-depth analysis, and comes at a time when concerns are rising about teacher attrition. In fact, citing analysis from Chalkbeat of six states–including North Carolina–the Alliance notes that “more teachers left in 2021–22 than ‘at any point on record.'”

Some key findings about teachers overall

  • Most teachers support public school choice (78% of district teachers and 87% of charter teachers).
  • A majority of teachers are weary and worried: 58% are worried or anxious, 67% are burned out, and 72% are overwhelmed.
  • Teachers are quite concerned about students: 84% said student mental health is “at an all-time low.”

Key findings about charter school teachers

  • Charter school teachers are more likely to be satisfied with their work: 97% of charter teachers vs. 83% of district teachers.
  • They’re also more likely to report steady or increased motivation to teach. Seventy-nine percent of charter school teachers say they are as motivated–or more motivated–to teach than when they first started, compared to just 34% of district teachers.
  • Charter school teachers are less likely to consider leaving. More than half, 52%, have “never considered leaving the profession,” compared to 20% of district teachers.

Misconceptions and information gaps persist about charter schools

The report also highlights some surprising gaps in information. In particular, many teachers do not know that charter schools are public and free.

  • A majority of district teachers, 52%, don’t know that charter schools are free. The same is true of 43% of charter school teachers. Moreover, 51% of district teachers don’t understand that charter schools are public, along with 38% of charter school teachers.

Source: “Listen to Your Teacher: An Analysis of Teacher Sentiment on the State of Public Education,” National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, August 9, 2023.

As the Alliance notes,

These widespread misunderstandings about charter schools, even among teachers who work at them, seem to indicate that more and clearer public discussion about the unique features— and benefits—of charter schools is needed.

Download the full report here.

A shifting K-12 landscape brings 7 new charters for 2023-24

By News

The new 2023-24 school year is just around the corner, with some students headed back to school later this week. Others will don backpacks and head out the door to school later this month. Where will they go? We’ll know more precise enrollment numbers later this fall, but available data show a steadily shifting landscape.

Last year, for instance, roughly 1.4 million students attended district public schools. Around 140,000 students attended public charter schools. New non-public data for 2022-23 show nearly 127,000 students attended private schools and almost 153,000 students attended home schools.

Here’s a new graphic about K-12 market share from WFAE reporter Ann Doss Helms:

Graphic source: Ann Doss Helms, “NC school enrollment trends raise big questions about the future,” WFAE, August 8, 2023.

View more in Ann Doss Helms’s Education News newsletter or this WFAE article.

What does the 2023-24 landscape look like for charter schools?

Across North Carolina, 211 public charter schools will be operating in 2023-24. This figure includes seven new charter schools that are set to open this month. At its meeting last month, the State Board of Education gave final approval for these seven schools completing their Ready to Open process. The new N.C. charter schools for 2023-24 include:

National Review Op-Ed: ‘Gap-buster’ Roger Bacon Academy

By News

Baker Mitchell, founder of the Roger Bacon Academy, has a new op-ed in National Review about RBA as a “gap-busting” charter network. The Roger Bacon Academy earned this national recognition in a new landmark study from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO). The third of its kind, the CREDO study assessed nearly 2 million charter students over a period of four years, comparing them to matched students in district schools.

Read more about the CREDO study on the Coalition blog (here, here, and here).

The Roger Bacon Academy operates four classical charter schools–all of them Coalition member schools— in Southeastern North Carolina.

Here’s an excerpt from Baker Mitchell’s National Review op-ed:

[CREDO] researchers found that “in both reading and math charter schools provide students with stronger learning” than the traditional public schools they ordinarily would have attended. Among charters, those in group networks administered by charter-management organizations generally did best.

…While the overall results should be enough to shake up the education bureaucracy, “the real surprise of the study,” the researchers reported, was “the number of charter schools that . . . achieved educational equity for their students” — eliminating, for all practical purposes, the achievement gap between white students and “minority and poverty students.” They coined the term “gap busters” to describe such schools.

Charter-management-organization networks were credited with being “gap busters” if (1) the network’s average achievement percentages were above their state’s traditional school averages, and (2) the added days of learning above the traditional schools was as strong for disadvantaged students as for non-disadvantaged students. Of the 378 networks the researchers evaluated, the Roger Bacon Academy, I’m proud to say, was among the highest rated.

Congratulations to Baker Mitchell and Roger Bacon Academy!

Find a pdf of the op-ed here.

National charter group: Top takeaways from Stanford study

By News

Analysis of Stanford’s landmark CREDO study, revealing impressive learning gains for charter students, continues to accrue.  Yueting (Cynthia) Xu of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has developed an excellent list of seven top takeaways from the study. We’ve covered results from the CREDO study in some earlier posts (here and here), but one finding, highlighted in Xu’s post, deserves special attention. Not only does it affirm the value of the charter model for student performance right now, it also offers reason for even greater optimism as the movement continues to grow. Why? As Xu notes:

The charter school sector is demonstrating improvement over time.

From 2009 to 2023, charter school students consistently demonstrated substantial positive learning gains. In the 2009 CREDO study, charter school students showed less growth in reading (6 days less) [and] math (17 days less) compared to their district school peers. In the 2013 study, charter school students had stronger learning growth in reading (6 more days) and similar learning growth in math compared to their peers in district school. In 2023, charter school students gained an average of 16 additional days of learning in reading and 6 extra days of learning in math.

… This latest report from CREDO is one of the strongest pieces of evidence of charter school success in recent history. Between the 2009 and 2023 studies, amidst stagnant overall performance across the nation, the trend of learning gains for students enrolled in charter schools is both significant and positive. These results show that “the framework of charter schools helps current students and strengthens public education overall.

Read more about the CREDO study in the Wall Street Journal and New York Magazine.