Pop quiz: Read this list of $7 million passed out by the state of Arkansas to schools based on academic performance and see if you can find a theme among the big winners.
Even the much maligned Little Rock had some schools that received money for achieving among the top 5 percent: Roberts, Forest Park and Jefferson Elementary. Pulaski County scored at Baker and Chenal in that category. Heard of Haas Hall, the charter schools up in Northwest Arkansas? They got around $100,000 for top 5 percent performance.
No need to pull out your slide rule. An analysis of last year’s rewards illustrates the pattern. The most reliable indicator of academic achievement is family income. It so happens this tends to disproportionately track race as well. So, though there are occasional outliers, the relatively rich districts get more money. The most impoverished (and majority-minority) schools don’t do so well.
That’s what the legislative fight over “National School Lunch money” was all about. It’s supposed to aid schools with the highest percentage of students who qualify for subsidized lunches. Poor, in other words. Some districts don’t spend it wisely. Some legislators resent it’s spent at all.
FYI on those 5 percenters I mentioned at top: In the almost 70 percent black Little Rock School District, the black percentages at winning schools ranged from 15 percent at Forest Park to 20 percent at Roberts. The winners in the Pulaski District are about 20 percent black, in a district that’s 43 percent black. Haas Hall’s various campuses combined enroll 27 black students among 1,360, or 2 percent. The state unfortunately doesn’t break down poverty percentages by school, but only by district. Haas Hall, for example, reports 91 qualifiers among 1,360 students, or about 7 percent. It’s almost 72 percent in the Little Rock School District.
The state rewards high scoring schools, growth in scores and high school graduation rates. There are some outliers in every category. I’d love to see an analysis that spotlights those, such as Turnbow Elementary in Springdale, with a majority Hispanic and Pacific islander enrollment. Or the LISA and eStem Charter school campuses in Pulaski County. They have significant minority enrollments and their “school lunch” student percentages are lower than those in the surrounding school districts but nonetheless around half of their student bodies.
Generally speaking, though, I don’t think the state grant program is tailored to addressing the education gaps experienced nationwide. It defines them.
Michael Mills wrote on this for us in great detail last November. It remains instructive.
And Glen Fenter, the superintendent in Marion, has written on the topic, too. He includes a graphic on the dramatic correlation of high grades for schools in the state rating system with smaller percentages of poor students
The item today is inspired by a Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce news release about a staged check presentation ceremony for the 15 schools in Pulaski County among the 203 schools that got money. A little ciphering will tell you that Pulaski County accounts for almost 400,000, or roughly 13 percent of the state’s just over 3 million population. Looks like we got 9.6 percent of the money.
For the last 10 years or so, the state of Arkansas has been running the Little Rock or Pulaski school districts, thanks in part to lobbying of the chamber, which supported the state takeover of Little Rock.