Several sent me a link to a report on an effort by a wealthier portion of Baton Rouge, La., to seek to separate itself from the larger local school district — and from its poorer, blacker students. Backers would even like to create a separate city.
It’s a separatist movement underway in other cities, particularly in the South.
Little Rock is on the back end of the trend because city fathers years ago ceded Chenal Valley and other prosperous growth areas to what was then a prime white flight school district, the Pulaski County Special School District. As events happened, the flight leapfrogged to outlying suburban cities and Pulaski soon had its own problems.
But now we have “charter” schools, such as the new Quest middle and high school to be located in Chenal Valley. The publicly financed school — described by its own backers as just like a “private school” — is designed to pull students from the prosperous West Little Rock neighborhood who don’t want to attend the “failing” schools of the Little Rock School District.
The language in Baton Rouge is identical to that being used in Little Rock.
Backers of the split, whose website is called Local Schools for Local Children, say the district has been failing for at least a dozen years, with some schools performing so poorly that the state took them over. In the 2011-2012 school year, six of 10 students attended a school ranked failing or almost failing by the state and the drop-out rate was 20 percent, according to Baton Rouge Area Chamber, a business group.
“Baton Rouge is one of the best job markets around, and the middle class is moving out,” said Republican state Senator Mack “Bodi” White. “Those who stay have their kids in private schools.”
There are undoubtedly “failing” schools. Often, however, what you have are schools full of failing students — students inadequately nurtured from birth in desperately poor and often dysfunctional families with generations of educational, health and opportunity deficits. Despite sometimes admirable and herculean efforts, those students “fail,” meaning fall short of average performance on standardized tests. Can these children be educated? Yes, they can. Has anybody anywhere yet figured a way to do so in a reliably replicable, broad-scale way? No. We do know that the presence of middle class kids is one of the best indicators for achievement among at-risk students. Thus, the U.S. Supreme Court-sanctioned return to separate schools for racial and economic groups has a near certain negative outcome. Sixty years after Brown v. Board of Education it is still clear that separate will never be equal.
The abandonment of the once-shared effort by all in a community to make all children in the community succeed — in favor of a me-first approach to education — is short-sighted. The short-term winners, in time, will find themselves losers, too. They’ll be gated islands amid derelict, hopeless cities. In time, if charter schools can’t meet the demand for separatism in Little Rock, we’ll see school and city secession movements here, too. They are already underway in Maumelle, Sherwood and Jacksonville.
Will everyone be better off when that happens?
And thus endeth the morning sermon.