by Max Brantley
Chris Heller, attorney for the Litttle School District, reports in a memo to the School Board that the state Board of Education today lifted restrictions it had placed on a new charter school in Little Rock targeting black males, the Urban Collegiate Public Charter School for Young Men.
According to Heller, the Board acted (5-0) at the behest of state Education Director Tom Kimbrell. He objected to limitations meant to insure the school mostly targeted underperforming students from poor backgrounds. A number of other charter schools have promised to serve kids in failing education situations, but the most successful in Pulaski County have drawn student bodies that, compared with the local school districts, are disproportionately white, non-poverty and made up of students who were already scoring at proficient levels on standardized tests. The Little Rock district says this has had a disproportionate impact on the district's ability to remain desegregated.
If Heller's account is accurate, the irony is rich. He says Gov. Beebe's new school boss was fearful of setting up a charter school limited to poor, low achieving students because the likelihood of failure would be great and it would be hard to get people to work at such schools. Duh.
This is precisely the dilemma facing schools in impoverished neighborhoods all over the country. Charter school proponents say their magic dust can solve all this, though national studies have suggested otherwise on the whole, with some notable outliers such as KIPP schools. (And KIPP, rather than skim cream, vigorously attempts to reach the kids who need it most.) Kimbrell's action here indicates allegiance with the movement to lay waste to Pulaski's urban school districts with unlimited charters, no matter their resources or game plans. Some students will be helped. Many will be hurt. Good and proven schools will be destroyed in the collateral damage.
The state Board of Education this morning voted to remove the conditions it imposed on the UCPC charter school last month. Those conditions were that UCPC enroll 80% free/reduced lunch students or basic and below basic students, exactly what the charter applicant had said it would do in its charter application.
Dr. Kimbrell advised the board that the conditions created "practical problems," but those were greatly exaggerated and no one asked LRSD for any help in addressing them. Targeted recruitment and cooperation with lrsd would have solved these "problems".
Dr. Kimbrell also expressed his concern that a school with such a high percentage of poverty or low achieving students would face great difficulties, including not being able to meet AYP [average yearly progress] and not being able to hire highly qualified staff.
This is exactly the argument we've made about why the continued unconditional approval of "magnet" charter schools hurts LRSD -- charters take the higher performing non-poverty students leaving concentrations of poverty and low achieving students in the LRSD schools they leave behind. Now a charter proposes to target those students who need the most help and to improve their achievement, and the SBE won't hold them accountable for doing that.
I asked ADE ten days ago what the reason was for reconsidering the conditions and was never told that Dr. Kimbrell had decided to oppose the conditions. I stood at the podium for about five minutes while the board discussed the issue, but I was not given an opportunity to speak. I have requested a transcript of sbe proceedings on this issue which I will have before our next board meeting and would like to discuss with you then. in the meantime, please call if you would like to talk about this issue.