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Charter School Follies Continue

"Investigation" ignores Crossroads' accusers

The public will likely never know if the grades of graduating seniors at Charlotte's Crossroads Charter High School were changed to allow them to graduate. After three former math teachers from the school came forward with evidence that at least eight students had failed math, a state education official promised to investigate the matter.

Dr. Otho Tucker, director of the Office of Charter Schools at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction told Creative Loafing this spring that he would start his investigation inside the school and "review the policies and procedures" the school's administration used for awarding grades. At that time, Tucker said he would then broaden his investigation to sources outside the school, namely the teachers and the gradebooks, test copies and dated computer printouts of student grades which the three teachers turned over to CL after their accusations were ignored by the school's board.

Last week, Tucker told CL that he had completed his investigation of the North Tryon Street charter high school and found that the school's "processes and procedures are in line with those of other schools."

One problem. Tucker never contacted any of the three teachers who alleged that the grades they gave students didn't match those eventually entered into the school's computer, or front office secretary Lisa Craig, who oversaw the computer on which grades were stored and told CL she regularly saw evidence that grades had been changed.

Tucker also neglected to review the grade records teachers had handed over to CL. Without the information, and particularly grade records with computer time and date stamps that mark the day they were printed, it would be difficult to tell whether the grades entered for students matched those actually awarded by teachers.

Asked why he hadn't checked that material, Tucker responded, "I won't ask you or them (the teachers) for any materials you shouldn't have."

Dr. Herbert Moore, one of the three math teachers, laughed as he discussed Tucker's investigation with CL. "What a joke," he commented.

The school's attorney sued CL to stop publication of the students' names, but a judge eventually overturned the temporary restraining order which another judge had levied on the paper. The students' grades are now in the possession of CL's attorney, as agreed to in court. The court has never ruled on who has a legal right to the records. At the time the suit was filed, CL had already printed the first story about the situation without using the students' names. The paper remains committed to protecting the students' privacy.

Moore, who taught geometry at the school, says he was disciplined for refusing to go along with the administration's loose policies and quit his job in frustration before the end of the school year.

Joel Silver says he was fired in February for questioning the administration's policies and for refusing to pave the way for the kids, who he insisted on holding to the academic standards set out in the school's charter.

Alvin Abrams, who says he initially inflated the students' grades to help them weather the transition from public school to a makeshift school to the charter school, says that after the first quarter, he too refused to give the students grades they hadn't earned. Abrams says he was fired for allegedly assaulting a student. He claims that the student, who was bigger than he was, started a fight with him.

The grades the students received in the fourth quarter were unavailable to CL because the three teachers, who taught the same students, were gone before the end of the fourth quarter. How much instruction the students received in math during the fourth quarter is unclear, but Tucker says that they were able to do enough make-up work to boost their grades to an acceptable level. Again, without resolving the issue of whether the grades entered into the schools' computer system for the students differed from the ones the teachers claimed to have actually given them, it would be difficult for Tucker to tell whether they had done enough catch-up work in the fourth quarter of the school year to earn a diploma.

State statutes governing charter schools are unclear as to how much responsibility anyone outside the school's board has for how it educates children and executes the policies laid out in its charter. A state act in 1996 approved by the North Carolina legislature allowed schools whose charters were approved by the state to operate under a private nonprofit board of volunteer directors. The private nonprofit boards are autonomous from the elected local boards of education operating the traditional school system.

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