by Dr. Terry Stoops
Former Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
Someone at the News & Observer thought it was a good idea to publish a second-rate op-ed attacking the N.C. Innovative School District. The piece was written by UNC-Chapel Hill education professor Brian Gibbs.
Here are some of the highlights:
1. Gibbs assumes that a for-profit charter or education management organization will be awarded the Innovative School District contract. But the State Board of Education has yet to select the entity that will initiate the reform plan. Some of the applicants are non-profit organizations, such as Communities in Schools, which have a long record of serving low-performing, low-income schools in North Carolina.
2. Gibbs speculates that the “‘innovations’ that the charter companies will likely employ are innovations of budget and a more stringent focus on testing.” No “company” has been selected. Therefore we have no idea what they will do to improve the school.
3. Gibbs writes, “Typically, takeovers like this move the needle a little due to the intense focus and often punitive nature of their approach to teaching. This is neither innovative nor what’s called for.” First, see points above. Second, which “takeovers like this” is he referring to? Why not cite actual examples?
4. Gibbs asks, “If autonomies of budget, pedagogy and some curriculum changes are needed for schools that are struggling, why are they not given to all schools?” It is a naive question that ignores 1) increased budget flexibility granted by the Republican leadership of the N.C. General Assembly in recent years, 2) the adoption of Common Core State Standards by former state superintendent June Atkinson and a Democrat-appointed State Board of Education, and 3) requirements imposed by the Obama-era Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
5. The link to the N.C. Innovative School District is incorrect.
6. Gibbs never mentions that Innovative School District staff have recommended that only one school, Southside/Ashpole Elementary in Robeson County, be selected to participate.
7. Gibbs never credits Innovative School District superintendent Eric Hall for his outstanding work leading school reform efforts at Communities in Schools of North Carolina.
8. Gibbs solution is to decentralize curriculum and testing and allow struggling schools to have more flexibility. He ignores the fact that, according to the ISD website, Robeson County “may apply and be considered for the creation of a locally controlled Innovation Zone (I-Zone). The I-Zone is a strategy that provides a group of low-performing schools within a local district the opportunity to benefit from additional flexibilities, often aligned with those provided to charter schools in the state.” In other words, by participating, Robeson will get some of the flexibility that Gibbs desires.
9. Gibbs wants a return to the “democratic practice with a long and storied history called community schooling.” We have that. It’s called a school board.
Simply put, there are too many unknowns at this point to cast judgment on the Innovative School District, and the opinion page editors of the News & Observer know that. The fact that they still published this piece is indicative of their angy assault on all things Republican.