Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin distributed a news release to announce he’d lobbied the state Board of Education in a letter to expand charter schools in Little Rock.
“As your lieutenant governor, and the father of two young children in the Little Rock public school system, I understand that parents are the best judge of where their children should be educated and want a choice in education. I am a proponent of school choice, and I believe variety and competition in education is a good thing. Choice leads to competition. Competition leads to innovation. Innovation leads to excellence.
“Charter schools empower parents by expanding their child’s educational options. They also provide students with a better chance to reach their potential. I encourage the State Board of Education to support the development and expansion of charter schools.”
The familiar sound bites will endear the Republican politician to the Billionaire Boys Club even further, no doubt.
They don’t have much bearing, however, on the specific issue at hand: Will the state Board require more review before allowing thousands more students into two publicly financed charter schools — eStem and LISA Academy — that are whiter and more advantaged economically than the Little Rock School District. If in time Pulaski County is to de facto privatize into privately operated but publicly financed schools, with a remnant school district for the hard cases, Little Rock will not be a better city.
Griffin presents no evidence that choice and charter schools produce better education because little evidence exists, except lots to the contrary. He doesn’t present evidence about the scarcity of children of deep poverty, profound medical and emotional needs and poor English skills in eStem and LISA against the many children in these categories in Little Rock. He presents none of the evidence that similar cohorts of students in Little Rock perform as well as students in these and other charter schools. He provides no proof of the accuracy of the supposed waiting lists of children yearning to flee “failing schools.” Are those lists regularly purged, for one thing? Even if they are, would he find that many students who leave Little Rock are succeeding students at schools judged proficient by state standards? We know he would. He might also find that the poorest families change phones and homes so often that more stable families effectively have a better chance at entry to charter schools when waiting lists are checked. It’s more of the built-in advantage charters enjoy — engaged parents.
Griffin looks not at charter operators like the Quest schools, which do quite well with middle school students (whiter and richer generally than Little Rock District students) who were succeeding at a Little Rock District elementary school and continued to succeed at the West Little Rock charter middle school. No stunning happening that. But where’s the charter school superiority in the Quest operation in Pine Bluff, long troubled by poor performance, its students a poor match for middle schools in Little Rock often used as whipping boys by the charter advocates?
Getting children born on third base to home plate is not “innovation,” no matter how often Griffin, the Waltons and their mouthpieces on the D-G editorial page utter the word.
There’s some hope a majority of the state Board will at least put off a final approval of the charter school expansion for more study. Some holdovers from Gov. Mike Beebe’s days are likely inclined to give it more thought. That doesn’t mean, ultimately, the seats won’t be approved. It would be nice if there is an interim, however, if the state Education Department did its duty. Instead of accepting bromides like those Griffin dishes as fact, it would dive into the data. This gubernatorial administration may not care, but a decision that further segregates Little Rock will be some powerful additional evidence for John Walker’s lawsuit over the state takeover of the district. Charter schools are supposed to be site-based laboratories of innovation, not just another multi-campus school district that thrives on account of the advantages of the students it receives.
Tim Griffin doesn’t even want these questions to be considered. Perhaps because he knows the answers might be inconvenient. I’ll believe Griffin is sincere in his belief in the superiority of charters when he agrees to the proposal I’ve long made: Let any charter operator take over one of Little Rock’s “failing” inner city schools and see what they can do with the same students. Bueller?