Local control of schools won a small victory last week when Rep. Mark Lowery was forced to retreat with his white supremacist-inspired legislation to dictate what schools may and may not talk about.

But let’s see if the legislature is REALLY serious about local control of schools, particularly a school district with a majority Black student population and a majority Black school board.

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I refer to the Little Rock School District and to SB 314 by three senators and six representatives from Little Rock. It would restore autonomy to the Little Rock School District. It should have been restored more than a year ago. The District remains constricted by Hutchinson administration thumbs on the scales of school justice.

The bill says simply that districts that have been under state control for five years (six in the case of Little Rock) and have a Democratically elected school board shall be returned to full local control. As it stands, the district can’t set employee negotiating rules, choose its own superintendent, file lawsuits or do anything else the anti-Little Rock Board of Education decides is outside state “guardrails.”

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If somebody says this dispute won’t involve race, don’t believe them. It was precisely the majority Black school board and its, well, uppityness (along with hatred of civil rights lawyer John Walker, sadly no longer among us) that prompted the white business community drive to abolish it.

A good example of implicit racial bias can be found in a gob-smacking editorial in today’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, long an advocate for tearing apart public education in Little Rock in favor of charter schools, vouchers and beating up on the Little Rock Education Association. Pointing to incomplete reporting in the newspaper on the galloping expansion of charter schools in Little Rock, the editorial said it couldn’t possibly be “skimming” of better students by charter schools such as the growing Friendship Aspire charter school. Proof? Friendship is going to build a school at Baseline and Chico Roads.

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Baseline and Chicot Roads? That is another part of the city that most would consider challenging.

This is skimming?

In other words, nobody could ever say a black or brown poor student could be a skimming opportunity? Really? All Black people are the same? All of their family aspirations and practices are the same? It is only skimming when you enroll white students from the better parts of town? Really?

BRIAN CHILSON
BAKER KURRUS: He predicted the charter school damage to Little Rock schools.

The facts tell a different story, one told comprehensively by Baker Kurrus as Little Rock school superintendent. He was fired for fighting charter school expansion, precisely because of the skimming argument and precisely because of skimming in such neighborhoods as Baseline and Chicot Roads.

His studies showed that charter schools took students who were already “succeeding” — using the Walton-favored metric of test scores — and concentrating the underachievers in the Little Rock School District. One charter school devastated the math department at an inner-city junior high my kids attended. Another took a raft of high achieving students from a heavy minority elementary in Southwest Little Rock.

Charter schools, even all-minority charter schools, are favored by demographic and family factors, he wrote, effectively creating dual school systems. It is also a fact that the evidence of vast differences in education achievement by charter schools is scant. The D-G editorial asserts otherwise, but cites no supporting evidence.

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Southwest Little Rock is particularly interesting. Kurrus always said the developing Latino neighborhoods of Little Rock were “low-hanging fruit” for the school district. So many of these immigrant families had overcome huge obstacles to realize the American dream.  Even if initially hampered by language difficulties, their drive to succeed could be important in school success.

Kurrus covered the topic in his analysis. As we noted in describing it in 2016:

The charters and the Little Rock School District do well by affluent students, Kurrus notes. School “success” correlates with the economic situation of student bodies. The charter schools eStem and LISA have far fewer minority, poor, special ed and non-English-speaking students. When demographics are considered, the charters are “solid perfomers,” said Kurrus, but “not exemplary.” Little Rock actually does better by many students. Kurrus noted that the Henderson Middle School, a “failing” all-poor school, is often cited by charter backers as the reason for the need for new charters in western Little Rock. He notes that it far outperforms the Quest charter school in Pine Bluff, which unlike the majority white and economically advantaged Quest charter in West Little Rock, serves many poor and minority students.

He also has noted, which the D-G today does not, the failure of several charter schools that targeted low-income minority neighborhoods, one of them leaving a financial scandal in its wake.

The bad news is that the Billionaire Boys Club, including the D-G publisher, and their handmaidens in the Hutchinson administration are firmly in control. The charters will expand and the Little Rock School District population will continue to drop, with devastating economic impact.

Rumors are rife of huge staff cuts next year in the Little Rock School District because of the loss of students and state support. Expect cheers from the D-G at layoffs of LREA members. Expect a rough ride in the Arkansas legislature for Little Rock autonomy.

 

 

 

 

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