Commentary from the Charlotte Observer:
Remember comedian Stephen Colbert's lampooning in January of the Wake County school board and its dismantling of the system's popular socioeconomic diversity school assignment plan?
That ridicule wasn't enough for some N.C. lawmakers. They're offering "help" to the Wake school board as it wards off accreditation problems resulting from the school assignment issue - and aid to school officials in Burke County too.
That help comes in the form of House Bill 342. The bill would give the State Board of Education new powers as an accreditation agency, with local school districts required to pay the board for the costs of the accreditation process. It also would force the UNC Board of Governors to adopt policies prohibiting its colleges and universities from using accreditation of secondary schools (other than from the state board of education) as a factor in admissions, loans, scholarships and other educational activity. State community colleges would face the same restrictions.
Burke County and Wake County face loss of accreditation from AdvanceED, a national school accreditation agency widely used by schools around the country. Both have dysfunctional school boards, and complaints about impacts on academics led to probes. Last week, the agency issued a scathing report on the Wake school board, saying it had created a climate of uncertainty and mistrust in the community by giving inadequate notice of major actions and making policy decisions, such as eliminating the use of socioeconomic diversity in student assignment, without compelling data. The agency gave Wake a year to fix problems or risk losing accreditation. Burke has until June.
But lawmakers, mostly from Burke and Wake, decided on a different way to tackle the matter. With House Bill 342, they are trying to make the national accreditation irrelevant. They assert that the state board would provide more accountability on standards than AdvanceED has anyway.
That's mind-boggling. A group funded by state lawmakers, wholly dependent on their support, is more credible on accountability than one with no ties to legislators and an established national reputation? We don't think so. This would be wink-and-a-nod accreditation. It's a worthless and wasteful idea.
Absurdly, the move also would burden local school districts with more costs. That's because many students seek admission to non-N.C. colleges and universities. National accreditation will still be desirable. This just sets up another accrediting agency for local school districts to pay for.
Lawmakers would be foolish to approve such a plan just to save face for a couple of school boards who don't want to or can't get their acts together. But if legislators do approve this folly, lawmakers and the rest of us should expect to become the butt of more jokes. We'll deserve it.