Thursday, June 30, 2016

Baker Kurrus' swan song: A call for 'truth-telling' about charter schools

Posted By on Thu, Jun 30, 2016 at 6:38 AM

BAKER KURRUS: A time for truth-telling.
  • BAKER KURRUS: A time for truth-telling.

Watch Channel 4's news clip (link corrected) of Baker Kurrus, the outgoing Little Rock School District superintendent, speaking before the "stakeholder's group" supposedly talking about collaboration between the district and the rapidly expanding charter schools in Little Rock.

He called for "truth telling." He refers to the lack of accountability in charter schools, many of them with contracts for management and facilities that are not transparent. The Education Department's bias was evident in remarks by Alexandra Boyd, the department's chief charter school proponent, who claimed contracts must be reviewed for charter schools.

The reviews are cursory and often ignored. A good example is Little Rock Prep — failing academically and in difficult position financially — which was approved for a move to a new campus in West Little Rock with unclear owners under a contract about which the public only knows the stated lease amount. The many management contracts with nominal non-profits are often merely the first step in pass-through to broader organizations, about which the public has no knowledge nor legal right to gain knowledge about.

Kurrus, fired by Education Commissioner Johnny Key for his resistance to unbridled expansion of charter schools in Little Rock, called, likely in vain, for a better analysis.

"You cannot continue to balance the political muscle of so many powerful people on the backs of the Little Rock School District," said Kurrus. He defended the progress the district made during his year but talked of the political agenda the district faces. "Are we in a data-driven environment or are we in a political environment?
The answer is clear. The Walton money controls the Education Department through its former legislative handmaiden Johnny Key and charter schools will continue to get a green light, no matter how academically deficient, no matter how opaque, no matter how obviously intended to skim higher income, easier to educate children (Jerry Guess of the Pulaski County District raised this again).

There was no better illustration of a system rigged for charters than Boyd's comments as reported in the Democrat-Gazette. She alibis the growth of parallel systems of education in Pulaski County — duplicative and inefficient and approved despite any showing of academic superiority — by saying charter schools provide "choice" to those without financial means for choice of moving or private schools. This the core logical fallacy of the charter movement: That choice alone must be better. It's not and parents aren't always able to judge that, unfortunately, though the scores prove it over and over.

To name one: Little Rock Prep scores lower than virtually every school in Little Rock and it has cloudy finances and an absence of accountability on its real estate benefactors (likely the Waltons) and yet Boyd and Co. believe it is a choice that must be preserved? This is politics. This is ideology. This is not education.

Commented Sen. Joyce Elliott during the meeting last night on Twitter:

Bd of Ed charter person advocated For Charters.Nothing more. No attempt at objectivity. None.
Boyd's outlook reflects her schooling. She worked for her doctorate at the Walton-financed charter school propaganda arm of the University of Arkansas, the so-called school of education "reform." It's little wonder any charter school proposed for Little Rock typically gets a big wet kiss from the Education Department.

That's about it in a nutshell. Some members of the stakeholders' group got the feeling that they were just there for show. I'm afraid that's true, but speaking up has at least some benefit. Today, at least, charter backer Walter Hussman allowed  coverage of their meeting in his newspaper.

Farewell Baker Kurrus, whose last day of employment is today. Your effort won't soon be forgotten.

Oh, and read this by Charles Pierce in Esquire, entitled "Education is not a damn marketplace. And charter schools are not working."

PS: Bad omen. An observer of the meeting noted that Walton lobbyist Gary Newton, who's pushed to wreck the Little Rock School District in various ways including with charter schools intended to siphon off high-income white people, warmly congratulated new superintendent Michael Poore for his remarks. Poore, who comes from Bentonville, home of the Walton Family Foundation, knows how to get along with the right sorts of people.

PS: For those who missed it when I first posted it, here's a comprehensive look by the New York Times at the disaster wrought by the Michigan Charter School 'Miracle.' It should sober all but Walton acolytes about the notion that choice alone guarantees something better for students.

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