Chris Bauman, general counsel for Responsive Education Solutions, the Texas-based company that is operating the new Quest charter middle school in Chenal Valley, has compiled demographic data I requested on the new school’s enrollment. As expected, given high interest in the surrounding, predominantly white, middle- to upper-income neighborhoods nearby, it’s much whiter and better off economically than regular public school districts in the county.
Charter schools are publicly funded, but enrollments are open to all. When demand exceeds supply there is a lottery and sometimes an edge is given to children of school founders. But Quest had sufficient enrollment capacity for all students who applied.
In theory, charter schools are laboratories for education, freed of rules that bind conventional schools. National results have been mixed on charter school performance, though some individual schools have stood out, as do some some individual conventional public schools. Critics also contend that charter schools contribute to resegregation, with schools dominated by one race or another — black and white — being frequent occurrences.
As it turned out, Quest has a far smaller black enrollment percentage and smaller percentage of students who qualify for free- and reduced-price lunches than found in the Little Rock School District, whose perceived shortcomings at the middle school level were a particular factor in the drive to create the school. It is also lower than the Pulaski County School District, in which Quest sits, not far beyond the LRSD borders.
Gary Newton, a paid lobbyist for Walton-financed education organizations and a longtime critic of the Little Rock School District, was a lead organizer of Quest, which he promotes as steadily on social media as he denigrates the Little Rock School District. Walton Foundation funds have contributed to the startup, including a late infusion of cash when the school had to take a higher-priced building in Chenal Valley at the last minute.
Quest for a time considered a building close to the existing Henderson Middle School, but had to move farther west. Henderson was unacceptable to many Quest parents because of its low scores on standardized tests. It happens to have a predominantly black and poor student body, a demographic combination that tends to correlate nationally with lower test scores.
Here’s the data on Quest:
African American: 43
Hawaii/Pacific Islander: 1
Native American: 3
Resident School District
Pulaski County Special School District: 63
Little Rock School District: 96
North Little Rock School District: 10
Here are the key demographics comparing Quest with the same percentages in the three public school districts in Pulaski County in 2013-14
Little Rock 62.7%
North Little Rock 70.9%
Pulaski County 55.6%
Little Rock (in grades 6-8): 72.7%
North Little Rock (grades 6-8): 61.8%
Pulaski County (grades 6-8): 45.9%
Bauman also compiled at my request some figures on how students were doing in existing schools on standardized tests before moving to Quest this year. To avoid identifiable subgroups, the figures don’t account for all students.
Students Scoring “Proficient” or Better on 2013-14 State Academic Assessments (with subgroups of 3 or fewer students being excluded for privacy reasons)
School Math Literacy Science
Chenal Elementary 5 7 5
Roberts Elementary 27 26 28
No numbers could be supplied for Amboy Williams Magnet, Terry, Gibbs Magnet, Baker, Salem, Oakbrooke, Park Hill, Jefferson, Pulaski Heights, Robinson, Otter Creek or Bauxite schools. That could be either because of no students with proficient scores or a small number of proficient scorers that might allow students to be identifiable.
Of the 75 students who enrolled in Grade 6, 54 were proficient or better in math, 57 in literacy and 49 in science.
School Math Literacy
LISA 5 4
Horace Mann Magnet 4 4
No numbers were proved from these schools that contributed students: Forest Heights, Henderson Magnet, Lakewood, Maumelle, Robinson, Virtual Middle School, Pulaski Heights, Jacksonville Flight Line UA, Cloverdale, e-Stem
Of the 54 students who enrolled in Grade 7, 23 were proficient in math and 24 in literacy.
School Math Literacy Science
Robinson 4 4 1
Virtual Middle 3 4 3
No numbers from Pulaski Heights Middle, Horace Man, Lakewood, LISA, Maumelle, Cloverdale and Fuller.
Of the 40 students who enrolled in Grade 8, 15 were proficient in math, 17 in literacy and 10 in science.
In all, then, 92, or 54% of Quest student’s scored proficient or better at math last year and 98, or 58%, scored proficient at literacy.
We’ll check back at the end of the year on how things went.