JOHNNY KEY: Test proficiency a "must" in Little Rock. Charter schools? Maybe not so much.

A state Education Department panel gave its seal of approval yesterday to continuation of a charter school operation — the Jacksonville Lighthouse Academy, which serves 1,000 students.

I was drawn to the eighth paragraph of the article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.


Eric Saunders, the Education Department’s assistant commissioner for research and technology and a Charter Authorizing Panel member, noted that while the charter system generally outperformed nearby traditional public schools on state-required exams, the elementary charter school did not compare as well against the Little Rock, North Little Rock and Pulaski County Special district and statewide test results.

“To me there was a great concern in grades three through six , you were almost at the lowest … of all those grades,” he told Broadway and her staff. “Now from the seventh grade on, that was not the trend,” Saunders added.

To repeat: The school scored lower than Little Rock, but has been recommended for continuation. Contrast that with the Little Rock School District, which has been taken over by the state for a lack of “proficiency” in six schools out of four dozen, including one elementary school. Will Little Rock get leeway for return to local control if even one of those six falls short of the “proficiency” standard, determined now by the third different test in as many years?

Judge from this letter Education Commission Johnny Key , in response to a plea for a return to local control by a broad-based group of local clergy. Key is the “School Board” for Little Rock under the state takeover.


Deficiencies “must be corrected.” At charter schools — and an interesting renewal request is pending on a charter operation in Little Rock with even more abysmal test scores — the standard is not quite so fixed. They are trying hard, one Education reviewer noted.

And, remember, they ARE charter schools. The Walton charter school lobby has perpetuated the notion that charters must be better, even if the scores don’t indicate that. The D-G editorial page — in keeping with the publisher’s pro-charter philosophy — just the other day made the case for continuing approval of a low-scoring Little Rock charter school because, well, parents like it. What more accountability is necessary? That standard does not apply equally to the Little Rock School District .


I continue to believe the fix is in for privatization of the Little Rock district along the lines of a model pushed unsuccessfully by the Walton Family Foundation in the last regular legislative session. I hope to be forced to eat the words.

PS: The ad hoc group working to retain control of Little Rock schools will rally at the Capitol at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday. They hope to meet that day with Gov. Hutchinson.

UPDATE: More of the double standard today. Little Rock Preparatory Academy, which serves almost entirely poor, black students, was given approval by the Education Department charter advisory panel for a three-year extension of its charter permit despite low scores in reading and math at virtually every level. At the elementary level, only 17 percent of its students achieved proficiency in reading. That’s well below, for example, scores at Baseline Elementary in the Little Rock District, whose low scores led to the district takeover by the state. A well-intentioned charter school? It gets special consideration. Yes, the school has promised that personnel changes and new strategies will produce improvement. Yes, they have students with very special needs. Yes, you could say the same for the Little Rock School District. One was taken over by the state. One was not.

This decision will go before the state Board for final approval. Given its current membership, controlled by the Walton-friendly Hutchinson administration, approval will be routine.


The charter panel also approved a 13-year renewal for LISA Academy in Little Rock.