In North Carolina, Nation: School Resegregation by Charter?

by Sue Sturgis | Published January 27, 2013 by Facing South

North Carolina could soon see a dramatic increase in the number of charter schools, with as many as 150 of the public-private hybrids opening across the state next year.

But new research from Duke University suggests the charter school boom will result in greater racial imbalance in the state’s public education system — and that can have negative educational consequences for students.

North Carolina limited the number of charter schools that could operate in the state to 100 until 2011. That’s when the General Assembly — with Republicans controlling both the House and Senate for the first time since Reconstruction and embracing a school-choice agenda — lifted the cap.

Charter schools are K-12 schools that are publicly funded but privately run, are exempt from some regulations that traditional public institutions must follow, and are attended by choice rather than by assignment. Though operated as nonprofits, some are managed by for-profit corporations.

Since North Carolina lifted its cap, applications for new charter schools have soared, with one charter advocate recently telling The News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C. that the cap removal was “sort of like seeing a dam break.”

Charter school advocates, whose ranks include President Obama as well as North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R), tout them as bastions of educational innovation and excellence. But research raises questions about those claims.

An authoritative 2009 study by Stanford University researchers found that 37 percent of charter school students showed poorer academic gains than their counterparts in traditional public schools. Only 17 percent of charter school students experienced academic gains that were significantly better than their traditional public school students, while 46 percent showed no difference.

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