Thursday, November 14, 2013

Charter school express continues; middle school approved for West Little Rock

Posted By on Thu, Nov 14, 2013 at 11:21 AM

WALTONS' POINT MAN: Gary Newton of Arkansas Learns.
  • WALTONS' POINT MAN: Gary Newton of Arkansas Learns.
I was too busy with other matters to watch, but Gary Newton, the Walton-financed lobbyist working to build a white flight charter middle school in rented space on Rahling Road in Chenal Valley, reports by Twitter that the state charter advisory panel today  approved by unanimous vote the application for the Quest Middle School. It  has plans for a high school expansion. The Little Rock School District opposed the application and may appeal the approval to the state Board of Education.

I've written about this endeavor before. And also here. Quest has a ready market of upper class white parents happy with some Little Rock elementary schools, but wanting to avoid Little Rock middle and high schools in that part of town. It's a nearly guaranteed drain of white students, even as Little Rock moves ahead with plans for a western Little Rock school and Superintendent Dexter Suggs tries to convert the relatively new Forest Heights middle school in the Heights area to a high achievement school that would attract more students from the area. Quest is to be operated by a Texas charter school operator that got a poor review in a national study of charter school performance by a group at Stanford University.

But action yesterday by the charter school panel indicated a willingness to approve just about any proposals for Little Rock, whether the Little Rock school district objects or not. (If you think the state, which has paid billions for causing segregation in Little Rock, or the courts care about racial segregation any more you need only look at this panel and the political action and court decisions that put the panel in place). The panel did defeat a charter school in North Little Rock yesterday. 

More of my standard rant on the jump.


The Walton money has targeted Little Rock for years, in part because it's one of the last remaining school districts in Arkansas with a vigorous teacher union. It has poured money into other charter schools here and it wouldn't surprise me to see it in the Quest school, given the key role played in organizing by Gary Newton, who heads a couple of organizations (Arkansas Learns, for one), including a political lobby, that rely on Walton support.

It's about choice and failing schools, Newton will argue.

I'd be the last to argue that there aren't schools in need of improvement. But I don't accept that "failing" schools are always measures of the school. Give me a school with middle class kids — of any race — and I'll show you a successful school. Give me a school with parents committed to longer calendars, longer days, parent-teacher conferences and rigorous standards (or else leave) and I'll show you a school that works.

I'll continue to argue that the balkanizing of the Little Rock District into multiple charter schools (actually individual school districts with public money but not directly accountable to the public) guarantees the eventual end of both racial and economic segregation anywhere within the remaining district. That, in turn, guarantees an undersupported remnant school district of the most difficult students with the least-involved parents.

The results of this grand experiment are unlikely to be different than those shown time and again in national studies. Some charter schools, like some public schools, are excellent. Some, like some public schools, are not. On average, the results don't differ much, or even favor conventional public schools. (I don't refer to charter schools as public schools because, though they are publicly funded, they have no voter oversight and are run by corporations, some profit-making, that are able to shield operations from the public. They are also free to turn students away for failure to meet standards, a luxury unavailable to conventional public schools and an important factor in "success.")
I'd prefer that we stick to the historic model of universal and equal opportunity — not redoubts of privilege in privileged neighborhoods.

Time will tell. Little Rock can appeal this decision to the state Board of Education. But the legislature, manipulated by the Billionaire Boys Club, wanted to strip that board of charter school review in the first place. It will be a touch ironic to see the board rubberstamp a new middle school in a privileged part of town that will be hard for poor black kids to reach at the same time the state declared it has satisfied its obligations to repay the damage it did by promoting segregation in the state's largest city.

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