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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Charter school fans massage numbers

Posted By on Sat, Oct 29, 2011 at 9:01 AM

NEW HIGH SCHOOL: LISA Academy recently opened a new high school to accommodate growth. Its in western Little Rock and part of a charter school with a 31 percent black enrollment and 74 percent full lunch price population, against about 71 percent black and free- and reduced-price lunch in Little Rock district.
  • NEW HIGH SCHOOL: LISA Academy recently opened a new high school to accommodate growth. It's in western Little Rock and part of a charter school with a 31 percent black enrollment and 74 percent full lunch price population, against about 71 percent black and free- and reduced-price lunch in Little Rock district.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette editorial page — reflecting its publisher Walter Hussman's devotion to the Billionaire Boys Club effort to wreck the Little Rock School District by encouraging establishment of as many charter schools as possible and forsaking efforts to improve the existing public school districts in Pulaski County — naturally emphasizes the positive when it comes to charter schools.

But this morning's effort went beyond emphasizing the positive. In cheering the LISA Academy's new high school, the editorial today said:

So why not have more charters? Couldn’t they prove not only better for students, but for taxpayers, too? OH SURE, those who oppose charters will say, the LISA Academy off West Markham. La dee-da. That outfit is just taking a bunch of well-to-do white kids out of the traditional schools. Of course it’ll do well.

Except . . . .

The last numbers we got show that the LISA Academy had a white enrollment of 37 percent.

Thirty-seven percent.

Black, Asian and Hispanic kids make up most of the rest.

So charter schools can perform better and be more efficient with the money they’re given and serve the whole community?

Now for what the Dem-Gaz conveniently omitted.

The State Department of Education's most recent data show 472 students in LISA's middle and high school grades. Of these 148, or 31 percent were black; 130, or 28 percent were Asian, and 162, or 34 percent were white. 30, or 6 percent were Hispanic.

Last I heard, Asian subpopulations haven't been generally identified as lagging in educational achievement. More than a few of the Asian population at LISA probably are Turkish-American students who followed the striving Turkish educators who established the LISA Academies here and who have associations with a burgeoning network of Turkish-influenced charter schools around the country. I've mentioned previously how former City Director Lottie Shackelford introduced me to several of the LISA officials at a local coffee shop and said proudly about the Turkish community here, "They even have their own school." Those with Lottie were too kind to correct her by saying LISA was actually a public school, funded by tax dollars, not a "Turkish school."

Based on national statistics, I'd guess that the Little Rock School District's test scores would be better if its population was 62 percent white/Asian, like LISA's, rather than 71 percent black. The reason, I hurry to add, is more about class than color. Study after study has shown the negative impact of poverty on school achievement and poverty falls disproportionately among black students here.

So let's compare by a more meaningful indicator, again drawn from state data.

* LITTLE ROCK SCHOOL DISTRICT 71 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches on account of low family income.

* LISA ACADEMY: 26 percent qualify.

Might Little Rock do better with reversed percentages? Good question. I do know you'll rarely find charter school backers talking about these apples and oranges. It complicates their story line.

The current State Board of Education, I'm happy to say, gets it. It turned down an expansion request from LISA Academy recently because the school could make no showing that it did any better in student achievement with similarly situated students than the surrounding Little Rock School District.

LISA claimed superiority in test results to schools locally, but it was an apples-to-oranges comparison, as Board member Ben Mays pointed out. "Of course you have better scores because they [neighboring schools] have free and reduced lunch rates of 65 to 70 percent. But when you compare it with those with 25 percent, there's not much difference." Scores for black students are higher than black students in the area as a whole, but LISA officials couldn't say if their black students came from higher income backgrounds, as Mays asked.

I know I'm just peeing into a multi-billion-dollar Walton-Gates-Broad-Hussman-Stephens-Murphy wind here. But that's the rest of the story.

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