by Max Brantley
More today from the Little Rock School District FOI request related to the University of Arkansas report intended to show that open enrollment charter schools don't cause resegregation in the public school districts in Pulaski County. It takes a stretch to make the case. White enrollment in the districts has been declining while white enrollment in the charter schools has been rising. The charters have also taken a disproportionate number of economically advantaged kids. The report didn't consider impact on magnet schools; it looked only at transfers from LRSD schools, not at whether the other charter students (a majority of the enrollment) might be in Pulaski schools absent the charter schools; it didn't consider changes in racial percentages going forward in schools from which students had been lost to charters. (Gluttons for charter school punishment will want to see yesterday's thread.)
Here's a chain of e-mails involving Democrat-Gazette publisher Walter Hussman; Luke Gordy, hired by the Hussman-Walton-Stephens-etc. combine to lobby for unlimited charter schools, and University of Arkansas researchers. The researchers work in the arm of the university that has long seemed to have an agenda, in the name of education policy and "reform," to advance the cause of charter schools and school vouchers and to diminish teacher organizations. You'll see that when Walter Hussman says frog, the UA jumps. (I suspect D-G editors respond likewise when data are delivered.)
And here's another from the UA referring to a "response" to LRSD work on challenging the charter schools. This certainly makes the UA appear as an adversary to the Little Rock School District and an advocate for the charter school movement/merit pay movement/etc. (When research doesn't produce perfect outcomes, you can often count on the UA "reformers" for explanations. See UA work to defend a D.C. voucher program after test scores failed to support its efficacy. The UA argued that a 12 percent graduation rate increase justified the program — never mind all that talk about the importance of standardized test scores in judging school performance.)
Players include Gary Ritter from the Office of Education Policy at UA, where the Walton influence is well known. Scott Smith, from a Walton-financed agency at UCA. Luke Gordy, hired hand for the pro-charter private foundation financed by the Waltons, Hussman and others. Note that, in one note, Kathy Smith of the Walton Family Foundation writes that she's had the UA "working on" a defense against LRSD. Note that State Board of Education Chairman Naccaman Williams is an employee of the Walton Foundation. Do you start to see how shots are called in Arkansas education? (Gov. Mike Beebe gets it. He'll be at the eStem high school expansion ceremony next week.)
Here's one note from lobbyist Luke Gordy to publisher Walter Hussman:
FYI and extremely important...
We have another report (a new report you have not yet seen) coming from the Office of Education Policy at the U of A that absolutely blows Heller's arguments out of the water. Scott Smith [UCA], Kathy Smith [Walton Foundation], Jess Askew [e-Stem charter school], Mike Wilson [Jacksonville charter school backer] and I met on this issue yesterday. We have all collectively decided the time has come to go on the offensive regarding Heller's ludicrous positions.
The report is in draft format with some current data inconsistancies that need to be cleaned up and resolved before it is released. We are trying to have it completed by the end of the day today. When it is finished, we want to get the report to you for hopeful significant coverage in the Democrat Gazette previous to the federal court hearing on the status report of the deseg issues surrounding LRSD, PCSSD and NLRSD before Judge Brian Miller on Wednesday, September 30th. I'll get it to you as soon as it's ready.
There's not a thing wrong with pushing your philosophy and spending your money to do it and using your newspaper to promote your beliefs. But questions are raised in this about the objectivity of publicly financed institutions that are involved in the campaign and whether some have readier access to that machinery than others. Questions are also raised about how Hussman's involvement influences the news coverage in his newspaper. Reporting on the UA report never mentioned the Hussman or Walton Foundation role in working with the UA.
Another important point: people who give money to universities often want to attach strings far more consequential than naming rights to a pile of concrete. The best universities don't allow it.
Also, a note from LRSD lawyer Clay Fendley to D-G reporter Cynthai Howell on reporting about the UA charter school impact report:
The authors state, “The aim of this report was to show what impacts — if any — these transfers were having on the desegregation efforts of the LRSD.” If this was the aim, the authors failed miserably. LRSD is unitary. LRSD ’s current desegregation efforts are designed to remedy interdistrict constitutional violations by the State, NLRSD and PCSSD. All four parties’ desegregation efforts are governed by a federal court order to which all the parties agreed. The authors’ complete failure to consider the requirements of that federal court order/agreement renders the report useless in assessing the impact of charter schools on the parties’ desegregation efforts. As with OEP’s last report, this report should be an embarrassment to the University of Arkansas and give rise to inquiry as to how a private foundation can use a public university to prepare and distribute pro-charter school propaganda (see attached emails obtained via the FOIA).
I sent Gary Ritter these questions today about favoring the Walton Foundation with early looks at reports and the appearances left by coooperation with special interest groups. No answer yet.