The Pulse

Charter School Advisory Board wants to close Charlotte Learning Academy

By: - February 7, 2019 6:00 am

The Charlotte Learning Academy website states that all students are “expected to achieve at high levels.”

But state charter school officials contend that hasn’t happened for most students in the five years the 6-12 school has operated.

As a result, the Charter School Advisory Board (CSAB) has recommended the school’s charter not be renewed.

The CSAB cites poor tests scores, and the fact that students have only met academic growth once since it opened in 2013 for its recommendation to close the school.

The school also has persistent financial problems.

“This school is just not cutting it,” Steven Walker, vice chairman of the CSAB, told members of the State Board of Education [SBE] during its monthly business meeting Wednesday.

Walker noted that only 17.9 percent of the school’s 260 students were proficient on state tests last year, the school has been rated an “F” school five consecutive years and students only met expected growth once in five years.

“Charter schools, we don’t have as much regulation as traditional public schools, but what we have is, we have accountability,” said Walker, adding that no traditional public school has been shut down due to poor performance.

The SBE will vote next month on whether to close the school.

SBE member James E. Ford, who lives in Charlotte, visited the school on Tuesday.

He said the school’s performance data tells a story, but not the whole story.

James Ford

“For me, this was a real clear cut case until I showed up,” Ford said. “I saw a lot of different things that were surprising.”

During his visit, Ford said he learned that many of the students, for various reasons, cannot survive in a traditional school setting.

And despite less than stellar performance data, Ford said the school graduates students.

According to state data, Charlotte Learning Academy [CLA] has a 73 percent, four-year graduation rate and a 93.5 percent, five-year graduation rate, which is slightly higher than Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

“They’re graduating their kids, their kids are going to college and a lot of their graduates are persisting in college,” Ford said. “It’s tells me something is up. I don’t know what, but something is up that needs to be investigated further.”

Ford said he wants more “contextual information” beyond the school’s performance data.

“I just need a little more information,” Ford said, adding that he wants to ensure whatever decision is made is fair and equitable.

Walker agreed to provide Ford with as much additional information as he needs before the board votes on the CSAB recommendation.

But he said, if CLA is allowed to continue to operate, it could set an unwanted precedent.

“Our concern going forward with this school is that, if it gets anything beyond a non-renewal, we can forget ever closing a charter school again,” Walker said. “Every one of them [schools recommended for non-renewal] will go to court and say that you didn’t close Charlotte Learning [Academy] and they were a lot worse than we were.”

Alex Quigley, the chairman of the SBE who directs a charter school in Durham, said he would recommend closing his school if its performance data was similar to CLA’s.

“We [charters] trade autonomy for accountability,” Quigley said. “I run a school that is 100 percent low-income children. We bus, we provide transportation, and if we were not making growth for three straight years, I would be up here recommending you close the school down myself.”

The CSAB has recommended that the charters of 30 other schools be renewed.

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Greg Childress
Greg Childress

Education Reporter Greg Childress covers all aspects of public education in North Carolina, including debates over school funding, curricula, privatization, and teacher pay and licensing.