by Max Brantley
A: Because the Waltons instruct them to do so.
My ire is over news reported in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette this morning that the University of Arkansas, in the person of the Walton-financed charter school development arm, wants to establish a branch of the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Science and the Arts in Little Rock.
Why would you want to do this except to harm existing public schools in Little Rock? The lame justification is to provide "an option" for students here.
Charter schools were originally intended to fill gaps in education and options for kids who had none. That's demonstrably not the case in Little Rock. There are "options" aplenty, in public schools, as well as private.
Mills University Studies High School (not within the city limits, but a Little Rock high school by any definition) has regularly been judged one of the top high schools in the country. It's had huge success at attracting a diverse student body for college-oriented courses. The Parkviews Arts and Science Magnet has a similarly diverse student body with a rich curriculum. Its arts program, particularly, is mong the finest in the state. North Little Rock High is a fine comprehensive school with, many think, the best theater program in the state. Then there's Central High School. For all the noise about Central, I don't think even its harshest critics (over an alleged poor record with low-achieving students) would deny that it has an unparalleled course offerings for gifted students and a sparkling track record.
Any establishment of a new math and science school in Little Rock would inevitably skim the cream of local students for a separate school. Why would the state's university want to do this? Is it to advance the Waltons notion of a charterized public school system in Little Rock and the world? Is this the Walton's punishment of LRSD for its reluctance to adopt their merit pay scheme in the Little Rock schools? It's easy to harbor these suspicions, particularly since Luke Gordy, whose lobbying job is financed by Walton money, is chair of the ASMS Board of Visitors.
The charter high school idea also holds peril for ASMS, which hasn't always had an easy time of attracting students to its residential program in Hot Springs. It is, of course, a way to grab the Little Rock students who've been reluctant to trek off to a boarding school, particularly with so many ready options available in town. (Maybe even, if it's suitably cloistered in an acceptable part of town, the Walton Charter High School could skim some cream from expensive private schools in LR.)
If UALR really is a player in this plan, it should be ashamed of itself. As it should be if it truly is in partnership, as the D-G article indicates, with the LISA Academy people who are hoping to replicate their cream-skimming math and science LR junior high in North Little Rock.
Where is the demonstrated need for these schools? Why is the University of Arkansas lending its might to meddle in Little Rock schools? Where is the outrage? And, once more: When the Board of Education considers this proposal, Walton Foundation employee Naccamen Williams should recuse from voting on a proposal his money is financing.
The D-G story reveals one of the realities of charter schools, told by the charter school advocate writing the charter high schoolo application for Walton U. Many, if not most charters, are fly-by-night affairs. Credit the "heart" of the charter school operators if you will, but few have the business or education acumen and the financial backing to succeed. The Walton-financed operation at the UA is going to take control of the situation by focusing its might on plans it believes can succeed. We can guess that the UA-blessed operations will get whatever additional financial and technical support necessary from the discount store billions, in that the UA has already been lease-purchased by the Waltons.
Ask yourself why Little Rock is targeted for this high school instead of the Delta or, for that matter, Northwest Arkansas. Explain to me how this is anything but an attack on the Little Rock public schools as they are now constituted.
Here's a link to the D-G story. You'll have to copy and paste because of the block the newspaper has put on direct links from our site.