New York Times focuses on Walton fortune investment in charter, voucher schools; filling in some missing parts | Arkansas Blog

Saturday, April 26, 2014

New York Times focuses on Walton fortune investment in charter, voucher schools; filling in some missing parts

Posted By on Sat, Apr 26, 2014 at 7:27 AM

  • BIG MONEY: In education, the Walton billions exceed even the New York Times' grasp in chronicling.
The New York Times today attempts a comprehensive review of the billions being devoted by heirs of the Walton fortune to charter schools and school voucher programs. The spending is so vast, it's impossible to encyclopedically chronicle it all. Thus the article doesn't delve into some of the significant aspects of that spending in Arkansas. Or some of its negatives.

Readers of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, whose publisher has joined with the Walton family in charter school activities in Arkansas, know that the local newspaper picked up the New York Times account. But it didn't have room to run the entire article, which is available at the link above.

It's even-handed, with cheers and jeers for the Walton effort, all familiar to those who've followed coverage here of the topic. Among the comments:

“What they’re doing in terms of education is they’re trying to create an alternative system and destabilize what has been the anchor of American democracy,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the country’s second-largest teachers union.

Although the foundation’s leaders say they are focused on helping children in poverty or stuck in low-performing schools, some of their actions support concepts regardless of whether poor children benefit. In 2012, for example, Walton gave $300,000 to the Douglas County School District in Colorado to help it fight a lawsuit brought by opponents of a voucher program. The median income of families in the district, where the public schools are high performing, is more than $99,000, according to census data.

Walton supporters say the foundation is not blindly supporting the expansion of charters. Two years ago, Walton announced a $5.2 million grant to the National Association of Charter School Authorizers to support an initiative under which the group would push state and local regulators to close about 900 low-performing charter schools around the country, while opening another 2,000.

“Any foundation that invests the money has to ask themselves, is their money impacting the system as a whole?” said Dennis Van Roeckel, president of the National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers union.

Walton’s Mr. Sternberg, who started his career in Teach for America and founded the Bronx Lab School, a public school in New York City, does not apologize for Walton’s commitment to charter schools and vouchers. “What’s the argument there?” he said during an interview. “Don’t help anybody until you can help everybody?”

He said the foundation was focused not on ideology but on results, a word he repeated many times.

The article mentions the Walton-financed research arm at the Walton-subsidized University of Arkansas that serves as a cheerleader for Walton education strategies. But it doesn't mention specifically the Walton-funded political organizations in Arkansas — a nonprofit and a couple of lobby groups, including Arkansans for Education Reform and Arkansas Learns. The latter is headed by Board of Education member Diane Zook's nephew, Gary Newton. The groups work full-time on advancing charters, even those that imperil regular public schools. The article also didn't touch directly on scholarships awarded at Walton-subsidized UA just for KIPP charter school graduates, not for equally deserving and equally poor graduates of competing public school districts.

I have some quibble with Sternberg's insistence that the Waltons are solely concerned only with results, not ideology. Here in Arkansas, Walton millions have subsidized a Texas-based charter school operator, Responsive Education Solutions (now with roles in seven charter schools in the state), that has been faulted for performance of low-income kids in its schools; which has been criticized for teaching creationism and faulty history, and which has made material misrepresentations about its Quest charter middle school aimed at creaming upper-income middle school students from the most prosperous part of town out of the Little Rock School District. They could have mentioned, too, that an Arkansas state senator, Johnny Key, who's been an ally in Walton school efforts, including tearing down barriers to racially destabilizing school student transfers, is widely expected to be hired as the UA's next main lobbyist.

When you have billions to spend and university researchers, a vast foundation staff (one of whom once chaired the state Board of Education), lobbyists and subsidized politicians to spread your message, it's impossible for even the New York Times to mention all of it. Including something so small as a demonstrated animus, through actions and words of its hired lobbyist Newton, to do damage to the Little Rock School District. (It happens to have a teachers union.)

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