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How the pandemic is impacting K-12 enrollment

By News

It’s obvious the COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped K-12 enrollment. But how? Emerging data show impacts for North Carolina, and in some surprising ways.

A new brief from the Education Policy Initiative at Carolina (EPIC), by Sarah Crittenden Fuller and Kevin Bastian, shows traditional public schools have been hardest-hit. Other sectors, including charter schools and home schools, experienced growth between Fall 2019 and Fall 2020. Some key findings:

  • Traditional public school enrollment dropped by 2.5%, or around 35,000 students.
  • Charter school enrollment increased by 9%, or almost 10,000 students.
  • Home school enrollment grew by nearly 19,000 students.

Enrollment declines were highest in kindergarten. Urban school districts lost more students, as did areas with more affluent and white students. Schools with higher report card grades also experienced larger enrollment declines.

Here’s a deeper dive from the EPIC authors, about charters specifically:

For existing charter schools and grades, enrollment changes were relatively constant (between 2.5 and 3.3 percent) for the previous school years but increased to 4.8 percent for 2020–21. These data reveal that increases in charter school enrollment are due to both increased enrollment in existing charter schools/grades and the opening of new charter schools.

Findings on charter enrollments affirm data just out from the state’s draft annual charter school report. That report shows charter enrollment increased from 117,000 students in 2019-20 to over 126,000 students in 2020-21. Charters experienced enrollment growth at every grade level. An additional 76,000 students are on charter waitlists.

Interested in percent enrollment changes over time? This screenshot from the EPIC report captures shifts by K-12 sector:

Read an EdNC perspective from the EPIC report authors here.

More school choice, including charters, is linked with better performance

By News

States with abundant, accessible school choice programs boast higher student performance. That’s the key finding of a new University of Arkansas study from researchers Patrick Wolf, Jay Greene, Matthew Ladner, and James Paul.

Specifically, the study evaluated states’ levels of education freedom, along with student performance on NAEP, the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Known as the “Nation’s Report Card,” NAEP tests students in 4th, 8th, and 12th grades.

The report authors write:

We find that higher levels of education freedom are significantly associated with higher NAEP achievement levels and higher NAEP achievement gains in all our statistical models.

To measure choice, researchers evaluated private, charter, homeschool, and public school choice programs in each of the 50 states. For instance, they looked at the proportion of all K-12 students involved in each kind of program. They also considered states’ charter and homeschool laws.

Then, they created a 2021 Education Freedom Index, building on an earlier index created in 2000. Compared to other states, North Carolina ranked 38th in education freedom in 2000 and 31st in 2021.

In overall accessibility of charter schools, NC ranked 20th. Here’s a screenshot–but see page 11 of the report for the full ranking.

 

The authors conclude:

The evidence gathered here indicates that increased family options in K-12 education can be useful in spurring broad improvements in student learning along with being desirable in their own right.

Read NC Senate Leader Phil Berger’s release about the study here.

Coalition seeks clarification about charters’ reopening guidelines

By COVID-19, News

Confusion is growing around reopening guidelines for public charter schools. Here’s what we know right now.

Some background

Last week marked passage of bipartisan school reopening legislation (S 220/Session Law 2021-4). The law orders local school administrative units in North Carolina to open schools for in-person learning, directing grades K-5 to open under Plan A (minimal social distancing) and grades 6-12 under Plan A or Plan B (six feet of social distancing), or both. Charter schools were not included in S 220, based on their autonomy.

At a called meeting yesterday afternoon, the State Board of Education (SBE) approved amended guidance governing school reopening. Guidance seeks to clarify what districts and charters should do. For grades K-5, charters should open under Plan A, like districts. Plan A requirements for grades K-5 are outlined in the current version of the state’s public health toolkit. However, guidance for charters with students in grades 6-12 may seem less clear. Here’s what SBE’s amended guidelines state:

Charter schools specifically were not included in Session Law 2021-4; therefore, they are required by Session Law 2020-49 to follow the provisions outlined in the most current version of the DHHS StrongSchools NC Toolkit with regard to educating students in grades 6-12.

Based on the latest version of the toolkit, charters with students in grades 6-12 must operate under Plan B. In addition to incorporating Plan A guidelines, Plan B requires that schools ensure 6 feet of social distancing when people are stationary indoors; when teachers and staff congregate; and when people are stationary outdoors. Find additional guidelines and information on page 8 of the toolkit.

What the Coalition is doing

There are two ways to clear up any ambiguity or confusion, ensuring that charters can open grades 6-12 under Plan A, like district schools. The first option is to update the toolkit. The other option is to pass legislation. Presently, the Coalition is seeking a legislative fix for this issue, which DPI has said it will support. This is just a matter of cleaning up technicalities. We hope to have a legislative fix as soon as possible. We appreciate the partnership of the Superintendent, DPI, and legislative leaders in helping to make that happen.

As COVID continues, NC charters perform well

By News

During the pandemic, charter schools have continued to perform well. In fact, charter students’ academic performance seems to be more resilient than that of students at district schools. That’s a clear takeaway from new data presented to lawmakers today, highlighting worrisome numbers of at-risk students across North Carolina.

Currently, more than one in five students are at-risk of academic failure and are not making sufficient progress. But academic failure is much less common than that among North Carolina’s charter students.

The presentation to the NC Senate Education Policy Committee, coming from NC Department of Public Instruction (DPI) officials, shared an early look at 2020-21 performance. Data, from both districts and charter schools, are self-reported.

Statewide, 23% of students in school districts are at-risk academically. At North Carolina charter schools, that number is less than 10%. A screenshot from the presentation shows the breakdown by school type:

You can access the full presentation from DPI leaders here.

Thanks to our charter leaders for their excellent service to our students!

For charters, failure means closure

By News

Improve … or close

It’s simple. Public charter schools that fail their students–year after year–face the threat of closure. This is a key difference between charters and district schools. This week, CBS 17 shared a profile of Healthy Start Academy, a Durham charter school, that was close to closing several years ago. The school’s performance has been improving since the arrival of a new principal, Alex Quigley, in 2017.

What helps spur charters’ improvement? It’s the pressure to perform and the freedom of families to choose. Charters understand the rules of engagement from the beginning:

“… Going in we know what the rules are,” said Dave Machado, the Director of the Office of Charter Schools. “Our schools said they could do a better job, and if they’re not doing a better job, they don’t necessarily deserve taxpayer dollars.”

Read the article on CBS 17 here.

Prioritized: teachers’ vaccinations and health

By COVID-19, News

Advocacy from charter leaders has helped expedite teacher vaccinations! On February 10, Governor Cooper announced that teachers would be prioritized in the next round of COVID vaccinations. This decision follows advocacy from the state’s charter and other K-12 leaders. And it comes on the heels of the Governor’s recent recommendation that schools re-open for in-person learning. In fact, numerous N.C. charter schools are already open for in-person learning.

The push: prioritize our teachers

On February 4, in partnership with Rhonda Dillingham of the North Carolina Association for Public Charter Schools, the Coalition’s executive director, Lindalyn Kakadelis, sent a joint vaccine letter to Gov. Cooper and DHHS Sec. Mandy Cohen. The ask: Prioritize vaccinations for all public K-12 educators. The letter urged that charter and district educators be vaccinated in the first wave of Group 3 (frontline essential workers).

The very good news: This is now scheduled to happen.

The letter to Gov. Cooper and Sec. Cohen noted:

“Earlier this week, you and other state leaders called on more schools around the state to open for in-person learning. As advocates for the state’s public charter school community, we support this worthwhile goal. The pandemic and related school closures have resulted in devastating lost learning opportunities for North Carolina’s students.

However, we must also ensure that charter and other public K-12 educators receive their vaccinations as quickly as possible, so they can safely and reliably perform their essential roles in person. While educators are committed to doing their part and continuing to follow established public health protocols, they should be able to do so knowing that the state is striving to prioritize their health and safety by expediting their vaccinations.”

Eligibility for teacher vaccinations opens February 24.

Coalition Speaks out on Teacher Vaccinations

By COVID-19, News

February 4, 2021

Governor Roy Cooper

North Carolina Office of the Governor

20301 Mail Service Center

Raleigh, NC  27699-0301

 

Secretary Mandy Cohen

Office of the Secretary

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services

2001 Mail Service Center

Raleigh, NC 27699-2000

Dear Governor Cooper and Secretary Cohen:

We write to you on behalf of North Carolina’s 201 public charter schools, and the thousands of teachers, administrators, and support staff who serve charter students every day. Along with their peers in district schools, charter educators are working tirelessly to teach students during the COVID-19 pandemic. Already, some have lost their lives to the virus. The NC charter community grieves, like so many others.

As they seek to enter or re-enter their classrooms, our teachers must be armed with maximum protection against the virus. In keeping with this goal, we ask you to expedite vaccinations for North Carolina’s public K-12 educators.

We understand that K-12 educators, as frontline essential workers, are already scheduled to be vaccinated as part of Group 3, following the Group 1 and Group 2 vaccinations that are currently underway. However, we request that you prioritize, within Group 3, those frontline essential workers who do their jobs in the public sphere, vaccinating them in Part A, or the first wave, of Group 3. This would encompass expediting Group 3 vaccinations for all public frontline workers, such as teachers, school administrators, K-12 support staff, police officers, and first responders. The second wave, or Part B, of the Group 3 vaccinations could be allocated to frontline essential workers in the private sector.

Earlier this week, you and other state leaders called on more schools around the state to open for in-person learning. As advocates for the state’s public charter school community, we support this worthwhile goal. The pandemic and related school closures have resulted in devastating lost learning opportunities for North Carolina’s students.

However, we must also ensure that charter and other public K-12 educators receive their vaccinations as quickly as possible, so they can safely and reliably perform their essential roles in person. While educators are committed to doing their part and continuing to follow established public health protocols, they should be able to do so knowing that the state is striving to prioritize their health and safety by expediting their vaccinations.

Thank you for your consideration of this request. Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can be of any assistance.

Sincerely,

Lindalyn Kakadelis

Executive Director

North Carolina Coalition for Charter Schools

704-231-9767

Rhonda Dillingham

Executive Director

North Carolina Association for Public Charter Schools

336-669-9996

 

cc:        Superintendent Catherine Truitt

North Carolina Department of Public Instruction

 

Chairman Eric Davis

North Carolina State Board of Education

 

Mr. Dave Machado

Director, North Carolina Office of Charter Schools