Monday, April 18, 2016

Inconvenient facts about Little Rock middle schools

Posted By on Mon, Apr 18, 2016 at 8:02 PM

click to enlarge HENDERSON MIDDLE SCHOOL: Surprise. This all-black, all-poor middle school — regularly used as a whipping boy by the lobbyist paid by the Walton Family Foundation to promote more charter schools  matches the vaunted eStem Charter Middle School on the state school report card. Four other Little Rock middle schools score higher.
  • HENDERSON MIDDLE SCHOOL: Surprise. This all-black, all-poor middle school — regularly used as a whipping boy by the lobbyist paid by the Walton Family Foundation to promote more charter schools matches the vaunted eStem Charter Middle School on the state school report card. Four other Little Rock middle schools score higher.

News that Republican Education Commissioner Johnny Key is ousting Baker Kurrus as Little Rock school superintendent prompts me to post early my column for this week — some counterintuitive information about the supposedly dreadful Little Rock schools.

The Billionaire Boys Club that was behind Key's appointment as education czar in the Hutchinson administration despite no training for the position are all about charter schools. Kurrus had asked for a thorough analysis of their impact on the Little Rock District and whether they truly delivered on their supposed promise as laboratories of innovation.

Inspired by the latest school report cards, I put together a look at scores in Little Rock middle schools — ground zero of the charter school war because it's the age parents become most nervous about attending urban school districts like Little Rock.Turns out Little Rock middle schools — even the most maligned — are as good or better than charter middle schools such as eStem that the billionaires love to tout. That is they are if you believe the numerical and single letter scoring system by which the "reformers" put so much stock.

I haven't analyzed all grades — too numerous and disparate in elementary. But, eStem, to name one, had some curiously low scores in elementary grades. Many Little Rock elementaries do better. High schools range from great to improving in Little Rock. Across the board, charter schools tended to drop in performance last year while Little Rock schools improved. This is at variance with the faith-based crowd talking point to whom facts never mattered. 

Read on:



 Middle school by the numbers

Disclaimer: It is folly to rate schools on a single-letter grading system. It is folly to compare schools with dramatically disparate populations based on standardized test scores.

But that is how the game is played in Arkansas today, with the ascendancy of the school “reform” movement powered by Walton Family Foundation and help from other super wealthy families including the Murphys, Stephenses and Hussmans.
For years now, Walton-paid lobbyists have pressed for more charter schools in Little Rock to save children “trapped” in “failing” schools. Their evidence of failure: Test scores.
Last week the latest school report cards came out – a letter-grade system mandated by the legislature to make it easier, supposedly, for parents to compare schools. Again: I think it is wildly misleading. But let’s go ahead and look at letter grades and underlying composite numerical scores.

I’ve focused on middle schools in Little Rock, because that’s the difficult time when many parents choose to leave conventional public schools. It is the grade segment that has been hammered hardest by the Waltons’ lead lobbyist. A particular point of emphasis has been Henderson Middle School at I-630 and John Barrow, its “failure” repeatedly cited as the reason the Waltons underwrote the new Quest charter middle school in upscale Chenal Valley and why they pushed so hard for a new conventional middle school on Highway 10. LISA Academy, within a few blocks of Henderson, was the groundbreaking charter in Little Rock — established nominally to help the disadvantaged but, like other highly touted charters such as eStem, it has far fewer black and poor children than the Little Rock School District. eStem and LISA both recently won approval for major expansions, again based largely on the belief that they are doing better than Little Rock’s conventional public schools. The 2014-15 report cards:

LRSD Forest Heights Stem B 248*
LRSD Pulaski Heights C 235
LRSD Mann C 232
CHARTER: Quest C 228
LRSD Mabelvale Middle C 222
CHARTER: Lisa Academy C 215
CHARTER: eStem C 212
LRSD Henderson C 210
LRSD Cloverdale D 208
CHARTER: Little Rock Prep Academy D 208
LRSD Dunbar D 207
CHARTER Covenant Keepers D 182
*Includes elementary grades.

A few notes: eStem fell from a B the year before to C in 2014-15. All the Little Rock schools but Dunbar rose in 2014-15, Henderson by two letter grades. Note that a mere point for Cloverdale and two for Dunbar kept them out of the C grade ranking.

Substantially all of the education that went into the 2014-15 scores came while the Little Rock schools were still under the control of the elected Little Rock School Board and before the state took over the entire district for the “failure” of six of 48 schools, including Henderson and Cloverdale.

Also: The composite score includes a rating for “improvement” of student performance based on previous achievement. Here, in order, are those scores: Covenant Keepers, 78; eStem, 78; Quest, 80; LISA, 82; Little Rock Prep, 84; Henderson, 84; Cloverdale, 85; Mabelvale, 85; Mann, 86; Forest Heights, 86; Pulaski Heights, 87.
Draw your own conclusions.

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