Approving Charter Applications Despite Poor Track Record
The Charter School Review Board, empowered by House Bill 618 with a name change and the new authority, previously held by the State Board of Education, to approve charter school applications has wasted no time. In October, it voted to overturn the State Board’s previous decision to deny American Leadership Academy (ALA) – Monroe’s charter application.
The State Board’s previous rejection of ALA-Monroe’s charter cited concerns about the track record of other ALA schools in the state as well as others managed by Charter One, the charter management company hired to manage ALA schools.
But ALA and Charter One have friends in high places. In March 2023, two senators introduced SB 230 to mandate approval of ALA-Monroe’s charter application. Although their application had been rejected by the SBE twice before the decision was overturned, Superintendent Truitt did not appeal the October decision.
Lieutenant Governor Robinson’s wife is a board member of ALA-Monroe, but he recused himself from votes on the school’s application.
So what does the track record look like for ALA and Charter One in North Carolina? Does it meet a standard that would merit expansion? American Leadership Academy currently operates three schools in the state: ALA Coastal PreK-11, ALA Johnston K-10 and ALA Charlotte PreK-6 (formerly Aristotle Prep Academy).
ALA Coastal PreK-11 opened in 2017 and has always earned “Not Met” school performance growth labels. School performance grades have been D or C, with a C in 2022-23. The percentage of economically disadvantaged (ED) students served in 2022-23 is 27.8% compared to 46.6% in the local district.
ALA Johnston K-10 opened in 2022 and achieved a C school performance grade in 2022-23, but earned “Not Met” for growth. Like ALA Coastal, ALA Johnston serves a much smaller percentage of ED students (25.0%) than the local district (54.1%) in 2022-23.
Aristotle Prep received an F school performance grade but “Met” growth targets. Aristotle Prep also serves a much higher percentage of ED students (81.1%) than the local district (50.4%). ALA just assumed leadership of Aristotle Prep in July 2023, so the school’s track record has no bearing on ALA. However, based on ALA Coastal and Johnston, we may expect the newly configured school (now ALA Charlotte) to have a much lower ED population in the future and perhaps not meet future growth targets.
Charter One also manages Bonnie Cone Classical Academy in Charlotte. It opened in 2019 and has earned C performance grades but “Not Met” growth labels ever since. Like ALA Coastal and ALA Johnston, it serves fewer ED students (28.0%) than the local district (50.4%).
Another Charter One school, Wake Preparatory Academy in Franklin County opened in 2022. It also earned a C performance grade and a “Not Met” growth label. It has 16.1% ED students compared to 67.5% in the local district.
These charter schools follow a pattern found across the state for both charter and traditional public schools. The school performance grade is highly correlated with the percentage of ED students in the school (see our fact sheet for more information). But the correlation is much stronger for charter schools than traditional public schools as shown in the two charts below.
In 2022-23, NONE of the charter schools receiving an A and only 9% of the schools receiving a B had more than 40% ED students (red).
In contrast, as shown in the chart below, 32% percent of the traditional schools receiving an A and 44% of the schools receiving a B had more than 40% ED students (red). These data strongly suggest that charter schools have a lot to learn from traditional public schools about achieving strong academic outcomes for ED students.
When reviewing school grades, remember to consider the percent of ED students in the school.
Will ALA and other charter operators seek to reduce the number of ED students in their schools? Do the C grades achieved by ALA/Charter One schools last year simply reflect their relatively low ED student populations?
What about school growth? None of the ALA/Charter One schools Met or Exceeded Growth targets in 2022-23, putting them in the minority of charter schools. A full 71% of North Carolina charter schools Met or Exceeded Growth targets.
Traditional public schools also outperform charter schools when it comes to student growth. Since 2016-17, a higher percentage of traditional public schools achieved Met or Exceeded Growth targets than charter schools.
Data on the ALA/Charter One charter schools are not promising. The Board doesn’t seem to be considering the poor track record of their schools when making decisions to approve ALA’s and Charter One’s applications.