Favorite

Education by the numbers 

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette opened the new year with three Sunday newspaper pages devoted to a ranking of every school in Arkansas, more than 1,000, by a two-digit number based on the Iowa Test taken by more than 350,000 Arkansas students.

This ranking was close to valueless. What's far more interesting is a fuller accounting of the ranking, also devised by the University of Arkansas's Office of Education Policy. That office, please note, generally tends to support the "reform" agenda of the Waltons, UA financial patrons — pro-charter; anti-union.

Gary Ritter, who holds a Walton-endowed chair at UA, told the Democrat-Gazette that the simplified ranking is "darn close" to a ranking of Arkansas schools by the family income. Notable exception: A kindergarten in impoverished Helena-West Helena, now closed, finished No. 1 in the ranking. Go figure.

Ritter thus acknowledged, in an underplayed D-G sidebar, the core of our education dilemma. The best predictor of school failure is poverty. Race, because it's so often intertwined, is another good predictor. So when a charter school with a majority of middle income kids and a black minority touts its scores against a majority poor, majority black school district, it's a dishonest comparison.

Take Little Rock, where the eStem charter school — richly supported by the wealthiest businessmen in Arkansas — advertises its test scores against those of the Little Rock School District, which is much poorer.

If test scores have meaning, they must measure similarly situated students. The UA has made a stab at doing that, by computing a poverty index for each and then grouping the schools within three categories of family income. It then computes how each school's Iowa test average deviated from the average in its income group.

Take eStem, a downtown Little Rock showcase for the Billionaire Boys Club's charter movement. The school's Board chair and lawyer, Jess Askew, has led the legal fight to oppose the Little Rock School District's federal court argument that magnet and interdistrict programs have been damaged by the state's encouragement of open enrollment charter schools, which have taken better students. Askew pontificated after a recent ruling, "The charter schools seek to drive fundamental change that will enhance public education options and outcomes for children and to break away from failed and outmoded thinking."

Really? The eStem elementary school scored at 63 on the Iowa Test, against a 69 average by similarly low poverty elementary schools. Its middle school, at a 55 score, fell five points behind the state average in its group. Its high school, at 52, fell 8 points behind average.

The "failed and outmoded" Little Rock School District? eStem didn't look so hot by a number of comparisons. Among elementary schools with similar economic makeup, Williams, Gibbs, Jefferson, Fulbright, Forest Park and Don Roberts scored from 5 to 19 points higher on average than eStem.

The only Little Rock middle school in the low poverty category, Pulaski Heights, scored six points higher than eStem. Central High School, the only Little Rock high school in the low poverty category by the UA computation, scored one point higher than eStem. Parkview, in a poorer economic category, still matched eStem's 9th-grade scores.

If I had space, I'd detail the relatively minor differences between scores by the vaunted KIPP Academy in Helena-West Helena and those of several nearby public schools, even with KIPP's advantage of a self-selected (read motivated) student body that must meet rigorous standards or be booted.

Oh, and I meant to mention: In some cases, the Little Rock schools that outscored eStem had a smaller percentage of black students and higher family incomes. But I know that eStem's Jess Askew would never argue that test score differences could be explained by anything other than superior instruction and "fundamental change" to "outmoded" methods.

Favorite

Speaking of Gary Ritter, Jess Askew

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Readers also liked…

  • Double-talk

    A couple of instances of doublespeak cropped up in Little Rock over the weekend.
    • Jun 29, 2017
  • Along the civil rights trail

    A convergence of events in recent days signaled again how far we have come and how far we have yet to go in civil rights.
    • Jan 18, 2018
  • The Oval outhouse

    One thing all Americans finally can agree upon is that public discourse has coarsened irretrievably in the era of Donald Trump and largely at his instance.
    • Jan 18, 2018

Latest in Max Brantley

  • Targeting teachers

    The Hutchinson administration has riled the teachers union in the Little Rock School District.
    • Aug 16, 2018
  • People vs. corporations

    Signature counting and legal challenges aren't done, but the November ballot is shaping up as a rich opportunity to side with your choice of people or corporations.
    • Aug 9, 2018
  • Imagine if we had LeBron

    Basketball star LeBron James, in partnership with the Akron public school district, opened an I Promise school for third and fourth graders this week to serve at-risk kids such as he once was.
    • Aug 2, 2018
  • More »

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: People vs. corporations

    • Voting for the minimum wage is not an example of doing something "for the people."…

    • on August 15, 2018
 

© 2018 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation