Education Department responds to article about Texas charter operator | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Education Department responds to article about Texas charter operator

Posted By on Thu, Jan 16, 2014 at 5:07 PM

This story will bear far more checking, but I did ask State Education Director Tom Kimbrell today to review the article on the junk science, thinly disguised religion and fractured history that Slate reports is being taught in Texas charter schools operated by Responsive Education Solutions, which has a growing presence in Arkansas.

I got this response to a series of questions from department spokesman Kimberly Friedman:

ADE reviewed this article in response to your e-mail.

Responsive Ed has three open enrollment charters and one additional open enrollment charter that will open next year. The panel today approved four conversion charter school applications submitted by Arkansas traditional public schools. These are not Responsive Ed charter schools.

Like all public schools, charter schools must follow the state's curriculum frameworks (or standards), which are available on the ADE website: www.arkansased.org. The ADE monitors public schools' compliance with the curriculum frameworks. As part of their applications, charter schools attest that they are non-sectarian in their programs and operations.

For all public schools, decisions regarding curriculum and instructional materials are made at the local level by the school leadership as approved by the school board.

This is, first, a disingenuous response. Yes, today's charter review panel approved four conversion charters, but three of them — in Fountain LakePea Ridge and West Memphis — include management agreements with Responsive Education. In West Memphis, the conversion of the entire high school to a charter school was approved using Responsive Ed's consultation on "individualized curriculum plans as well as direct teaching, paper-based curriculum and computer-based instruction" ..... 

In Fountain Lake, Responsive Ed gets the greater of 10 percent of student funding or $60,000 for 30 days of comprehensive consulting services; $2,000 a day for 10 days for "discrete" consulting services; and $32 per paper based course (per student, presumably) and $100 per student for each online course, with a 125-student minimum. It might be nice to know what's in these courses. Pea Ridge similarly shows $60,000 for consulting and $70,000 for Responsive Ed "curriculum" plus another $20,000 for training to an unspecified contractor. Chuck Cook, CEO of Responsive Ed and a  former Christian home school curriculum marketer, personally signed the letter to Fountain Lake. West Memphis has a $60,000 consulting agreement with Responsive Ed.

The requirement that schools follow frameworks may exist, but I can't recall reading of an enforcement action in Arkansas. (Truth is, lots of schools aren't teaching evolution, though it's required.) The Texas charters run by Responsive Ed are supposed to be non-sectarian, too. The Slate article  details how they've scrubbed up offerings to appear non-sectarian.

As long as no parent complains and nobody sues, the state Education Department, the charter advisory panel and the state Board of Education, like the honey badger, don't care.

Then there's Gary Newton, the Walton-paid charter school lobbyist and chief backer for the Quest charter middle school in Chenal Valley that Responsive Ed will run. I asked his response to the Slate article and whether he had concerns about the curriculum to be taught there. His non-response:

Between your inferring that we're fomenting pro-Christian curriculum, and those fighting Common Core State Standards accusing us of being anti-Christian, we must be doing something right (or left).

Newton needs a logic brushup. A third option is that one of the critics might be right.   He did not respond to my direct questions about textbooks to be used at Quest. As a "public school" advocate, you'd hope he'd be more open. Parents will find out next fall, I guess.

Maybe those charter school pitbulls on the state Board, Vicki Saviers and Diane Zook, might take a break from their hand-wringing about those dangerous, failing, science-teaching Little Rock school district middle schools and get an answer on what Responsive Ed teaches in Arkansas. Accountability, anyone?

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