Add Jerry Guess, superintendent of the Pulaski County Special School District, to the voice of Baker Kurrus, outgoing Little Rock superintendent, in questioning the wisdom of creating duplicate school systems in Pulaski County in the form of ever-expanding charter schools.
I wrote earlier about Kurrus’ letter to the committee appointed to consider school collaboration and organization in Pulaski County. He questioned the worth of the so-called stakeholders group until the question of continuing expansion of parallel school systems is resolved. This was prompted by the recent 3,000-seat expansions of the eStem and LISA charter school systems, plus expansion of the Academics Plus charter in Maumelle to another campus in the eastern part of the county.
The stakeholder group meets Wednesday. You can find Kurrus’ and Guess’ letters on the agenda here. There’s also a wealth of data provided by a University of Arkansas researcher on school performance in the county. From Guess’ remarks:
I believe there are at present three major failings in school structure that prevent the State from fulfilling its responsibility.
The first is publically funded charter schools. I agree with Baker Kurrus. It is impossible for the State to fund two parallel school systems which by their nature will segregate students into two groups — one group with the most difficult to educate; the other with the students easiest to educate.
The second obstacle is that the State is presently delegating its constitutional responsibility to school boards that are not meeting, indeed that are incapable of meeting, that responsibility.
Third, there is a substantial shortage of competent and qualified school administrators. In a nutshell, Arkansas has more standard and charter districts than it has people qualified to lead those schools.
I believe it is of the utmost importance for this group to keep in mind another common failing in perception of quality in education. If for no other reason than the State’s basis for funding education, all public schools are size competitive. The single standard of performance that the public applies to standard and charter public schools is this: a school that’s growing in enrollment is successful; while a school that’s becoming smaller is failing. This is false.
The data provided by the UA researcher indeed shows a mixed bag of school results, particularly when you drill down for performance among low-income and minority students.
The first finding is clear: Schools with higher income students have higher scores.
But this plotting of performance attempting to show how students grew in performance against expectations based on poverty is highly interesting. See for yourself. Look in the poorer performing quadrants on Denise Airola’s statistics and you’ll find some of the highly lauded, recently expanded Little Rock charter schools on the wrong end of the scale against many Little Rock conventional public schools. In the simple bar charts, black students in public schools consistently outperform black students in charter schools. White students in charters tend to outperform white students in public schools as a whole — a piece of evidence to support the idea that they are “creaming” better situated white students.
The charter school lobby — financed by the Walton family — has asked for a delay in its presentation. It will have some re-spin ready, you may be sure.
You can go to the link to get a fuller explanation, but the data endeavors to group schools in quadrants and see how they perform in categories both in raw performance and improvement of test scores. Below is, first, a graphic explaining how the charts work, and then the results in the critical middle school grades on math and reading, where the Walton lobbyists keep telling us the public schools are abject failures. Data says: