School sign (copy) (copy) (copy) (copy) (copy)

Republican legislators put on a remarkable display of a double standard as the N.C. Senate gave final approval to a bill to lift the enrollment cap on a virtual charter school that is clearly doing a bad job. Gov. Roy Cooper should veto the bill.

Republican legislators love accountability, to hear them tell it. That’s their mantra whenever they’re talking about North Carolina’s public schools. They love to impose standardized testing, ratings and grades not only on public school students but also on their teachers and their schools. They talk tough about “failing” public schools, and they vow to hold them accountable, for the sake of the students and their families, of course.

So why are they so willing to skip accountability for virtual charter schools, so eager to reward their failure by continuing to give them tax dollars for providing a substandard education, so intent on letting them expand? Why aren’t they tough now?

Accountability is important, but it can be carried to an extreme. All the emphasis on testing and regulations stifles creativity and innovation when it comes to curriculum and teaching methods.

Of course, that’s one of the reasons legislators offered when they approved the charter school experiment in the late 1990s. These schools, given money by the state for each child who attends, could operate with fewer regulations. They could try innovations that might spread to the traditional public schools — if the legislators would relax their control of the traditional schools enough to allow it.

The idea was that charter schools, with more flexibility, would provide education alternatives for the state’s children. But the legislators who supported the idea promised that the charter schools would also provide good educations for their students. And to ensure that, charter school students would have to take the state’s end-of-grade and end-of-course tests.

They, would, in words that Republican legislators usually love to use, have to be held accountable.

So how to explain the lawmakers’ willingness to overlook the dismal performance of the virtual charter schools operating in North Carolina? One of two virtual charter schools in the state, NC Cyber Academy, is being monitored monthly by the Charter School Advisory Board for now because it recently took over its own management after a fight with its management company.

The bill would immediately scrap the enrollment cap for the other, NC Virtual Academy.

Both schools have consistently received “D” grades on the state’s report cards for schools, among the worst in the state. Their defenders say that’s because they serve students who are struggling. But the virtual charter students also don’t meet a more telling measure, that of expectations for academic growth.

Funny, isn’t it, that the state Senate for years ignored arguments that the grades given traditional schools should reflect student improvement more and not rely so heavily on how high the standardized test scores are? Finally, this year the Senate agreed to at least re-examine how the grades are assigned.

Then there’s the way Republican legislators argue that parents should be able to decide whether charter schools, including virtual ones, are serving their children well, even though they don’t think parents of students in traditional schools are capable of such judgments.

And now they want to forget accountability and get rid of the enrollment cap on the virtual charter that is doing poorly, so more students can enroll. Can you say double standard?

Make sure you never miss our editorials, letters to the editor and columnists. We’ll deliver the News & Record's Opinion page straight to your inbox.

Load comments