The state Board of Education meets Friday and the agenda includes a couple of issues that bear on nothing less than further erosion of Brown v. Board of Education and the end of the public education system as we once knew it.
I’ve written a column for the Times this week on the board’s review of the performance of the 12-year-old Academics Plus charter school in Maumelle and the proposal for a new Quest charter middle school in Chenal Valley.
A-Plus was a charter pioneer, founded with the intention of reaching out to a diverse racial population and committed, they said, to reaching the minority children on the wrong side of the achievement gap in Pulaski County public schools. It’s seeking continued approval of its charter (and probably will get it), but the board is at least going to ask some probing questions. Many are presented by its own report. It remains a white-flight haven for predominantly white, middle-class Maumelle. Its enrollment of black and poor children remains small. But, what’s worse, the neighboring Maumelle schools — with much higher enrollments of poor and mionrity students — do a better job, particularly in the problematic middle school years. Where’s the innovation and performance that charter schools were supposed to deliver? After a dozen years, does accountability ever kick in?
Then there’s Quest, to be run by a Texas private organization faulted in a national study by a charter school-friendly research outfit at Stanford for its poor performance with lower-end students. Not that those kind of students are really anticipated in western Little Rock. There’ll be a lottery for admission if demand exceeds seats, but with a pittance budget for transportation it will be a miracle if it doesn’t reflect the higher incomes and lower black percentages of the neighborhood elementaries potential Quest parents now attend. They don’t want to go to majority black/poor nearby middle schools with lagging test scores. Some are improving, Forest Heights, particularly, and there are plans to make it an academic magnet, but it’s a risk the parents are reluctant to take. Too bad, because it’s project-oriented model sounds truly innovative.
Innovation? Look at Quest’s application. It’s full of meaningless education-speak gobbledygook. It promises to “feel like a private school,” but be free. I think you and I both know what “feels like a private school” means. The application also says bluntly that, since the Little Rock deseg case is over, neither they nor the state need worry one bit about whether the kids they draw from the Little Rock school district will add to segregation there or create a segregated publicly financed school surrounded by the dregs of truly public education.
Education reformer Diane Ravitch, a lonely voice against the Walton billions backing Quest and other charter schools to bust up the Little Rock School District, says it right. By intent or not, charter schools segregate by race, class and social status. The parents (black and white) don’t seem to mind, not even when resulting performance follows routinely along the same old depressing lines — schools with students from more advantaged backgrounds “succeed”; those with poor students often do not.. Separate and unequal public schools, 60 years after Brown, is now a marketing tool for the billionaires’ charter projects. In post-racial America, only the occasional sorehead like me objects.
I’ll change no minds. But before you set off on another tear about education-speak (educanto is the word often employed by the Walton’s press enablers at the DOG to deride real public schools), read Quest’s application for a textbook example.