Short version of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article this morning on the latest standardized test results for the Little Rock School District: In its fifth year of control by the state Department of Education the district is worse off.
In January 2015, the state Board of Education fired the democratically elected Little Rock School Board because six of 48 district schools were judged a failure based on test scores. There are now 8 schools graded F and the latest scores suggest they will remain so after adjustments and allowances for improvement of students, not just bottom-line scores.
So is it time again to fire the School Board? Sorry, no. The “School Board” is Education Commissioner Johnny Key, much beloved by Gov. Asa Hutchinson and the Walton-financed “school reform” junta.
One other thing about the D-G story — it failed to include demographics in a comparison of Little Rock test scores with other districts. Demographics are, with rare exceptions, destiny in testing. There’s a test-score achievement gap in the city, state and United States based on race and poverty. Failure to acknowledge this is a failure to tell the whole story.
For example, let’s look at the overall reading scores reported by the D-G. This district-wide number includes English, reading and writing assessments. The percentage given reflects those achieving or exceeding academic readiness. Then I’ve given the percentage of black students and the percentage that qualify for free or reduced-price lunches on account of family income, the best measure available for poverty.
District % Ready % Black % Poor
Bentonville 65.4 3 23
Statewide 44.6 20 63
Little Rock 34.2 61 72
KIPP Delta 25.7 89 100
See a pattern there?
No, I’m not saying poor and black children can’t learn. I’m saying all the numbers at every level show they have a harder time. I’m also saying what the newspaper articles and the Walton lobbyists don’t like to talk about: Judging schools full of poor, minority children (the case with all of Little Rock’s “F” schools) by a single high-stakes test is unfair.
So let’s let Johnny Key share a little of this unfair pain today.
Come January, when the five-year state trusteeship is supposed to be up, the Little Rock School District’s voters will not get democracy back. Test scores are everything in the senseless A-F grading system to which Arkansas is now committed.
But the reality also bites Johnny Key. I’m guessing he won’t seek to continue full state control and thus his continuing responsibility for “failure.”
I predict the state will dump the district off on others — maybe the city (God help us) under one scenario going around. It certainly will turn still more of the district over to opaque private school management companies, of the sort so richly helped by Walton billions in the proliferation of charter schools. There might be a carve-out to preserve a white haven in the new schools in the western part of town.
National studies show little in the way of broad positive results for charter schools. It’s become so evident, in fact, that even charter advocates financed by the Waltons (see their university in Fayetteville) are now inventing metrics other than test scores to prove their worth. (Not college graduation rates, however. Those figures aren’t always so hot for charter schools either.)
There’s a solution to better education, simple in concept but hard to deliver. Close the equality gap in America. Create more stable homes with incomes sufficient to raise a family. Help the kids with education that starts long before first grade.
Heirs to billion-dollar fortunes might have to sacrifice exponential growth in their fortunes to pay for this. The state might have to provide truly adequate and equal schools rather than more income tax cuts for the rich. I can dream, can’t I?