by Max Brantley
The dedication ceremony for the eStem charter school's new high school at Third and Louisiana was held today we hear. I don't think the school rang us up to attend.
As luck would have it, the event coincided with state release of end-of-course test results. I've had a little fun today looking at eStem and Little Rock School District results in a category touted by the state as highly important this year.
eStem is a fine school with a fine leader, John Bacon, lured away from the Little Rock School District's Hall High School and ready to step up when the eStem leadership dumped Roy Brooks (surprise!). As I've written before, the school has some advantages, in addition to the commitment required of parents and students at rigorous charter schools. Compared with conventional public schools in Little Rock, it has a smaller percentage of minority students, a larger percentage of students who aren"t impoverished and a healthy percentage of students who were already scoring at proficient levels before joining eStem.
The Southern Bancorp, a development bank, has chosen this relatively favored school population for financing assistance such as it has provided charter schools in the impoverished Delta. With people like the Walton family and D-G publisher Walter Hussman behind eStem, you can see where the school might need a little additional financial muscle.
I offer the following of proof only of the proposition that you can mine numbers for just about any argument you want to make. (See the joint effort of the University of Arkansas education "reformers" and Hussman, the Walton Foundation and a lobbyist for Hussman and the Waltons to attack the Little Rock School District argument that charter schools are decreasing the white enrollment in Pulaski County public schools and particularly harming magnet schools.)
As I noted earlier, the state today released end-of-course exams, the most important being algebra, the first high-stakes testing for ninth graders and younger.
eStem touted its algebra and geometry scores at the event today. Let us look solely at the middle school level, where the need for an alternative was said to be greatest for children wanting to flee the failing Little Rock School District and where transfers have particularly hit white magnet school enrollment. What follows are spring algebra exam results by school. The numbers are the 1) number taking the test, 2) the mean score and then the percentage of students scoring below basic, basic, proficient or advanced. Proficient is the desired minimum level.
eStem Middle School 98 216 7% 24% 48% 20%
Cloverdale Middle 53 242 0 2 55 43
Dunbar Magnet 66 248 0 3 55 42
Forest Heights 50 241 0 12 44 44
Mabelvale Middle 71 223 3 14 63 20
Pulaski Heights 93 284 0 0 13 87
Mann Magnet 98 263 8 2 11 79
Henderson Middle 98 209 0 32 64 4
In short, every LR middle school save one — and that was a tie — had a greater percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced in algebra than eStem middle schoolers on the spring test. Something must be wrong. Call the UA for an investigation.
Noted: There are additional high school comparisons, as well as scores in geometry and biology. Many are unfavorable to LRSD. There are also differences among LR school populations demographically in the group above. A greater percentage of eStem middle schoolers may be taking algebra. But I think it's a factoid worth remembering anytime somebody starts making sweeping pronouncements about charter schols and the LR School District.
Fact is, I think many parents have left LRSD for charter schools for reasons unrelated to academic performance. This isn't criticism. It is a fact the Little Rock School District fails to address (or continues to fail to address, I should say), at its peril.