The state Board of Education yesterday approved a new KIPP charter school in Blytheville, but turned down or delayed other charter applications. It was a welcome bit of deliberation from a board that has often been too eager to rubberstamp charter school applications, particularly when they came from Pulaski County.
Board chairman Naccaman Williams, who is employed by the Walton Foundation and participates in its efforts to establish more charter schools, suggested that the Board might seek an attorney general's opinion on whether the Pulaski County desegregation lawsuit settlement requires the state to consider impact on resegregation in approving charter schools in the Little Rock area.
Attorney General Dustin McDaniel will undoubtedly give Williams the legal answer he wants -- no. But that doesn't mean the Board shouldn't consider the evidence of the impact of Board decisions on charter schools, particularly in Pulaski County but also in other areas of the state. It has in the past approved schools that demonstrated no offerings that would add to those already available in the school district. That was supposed to be a bedrock tenet of the charter school law.
It has approved some solidly backed charter schools. They have gone on to demonstrate acceptable test scores. But, in several notable cases in Pulaski County, their student bodies are composed of solid majorities of non-black, non-poor students -- versus the majority black, majority poor populations in Pulaski County public school districts. It proves little educationally that advantaged students score well on standardized tests versus disadvantaged students.
Figures compiled by Little Rock also show that most students taken from the Little Rock School District by schools such as eStem and LISA Academy were already scoring at proficient or advanced levels. They weren't being failed by the public schools, in other words.
There's a place for charter schools. Some have succeeded dramatically where others have failed (see the KIPP schools), though they enjoy the advantage of motivated parents who agree to rigorous rules for students and families and the schools also may dismiss students who fail to meet those standards. But they shouldn't be approved simply because somebody has the means to establish them and they should be created with great caution. The state of Arkansas has gotten itself in trouble for better than a half century by accommodating the wishes of parents who want children to attend schools with children only like themselves. That shouldn't be the motivating reason for charter school creation or approval.