Deja 1957 vu all over again. The Arkansas establishment, in the person of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, has organized to beat up on the Little Rock School District. The district's sin: Seeking to hold the state of Arkansas to its court promise not to contribute to desegregation in the Little Rock School District.
The Chamber has started an advocacy group, Speak up for Schools, to carry this message. Who's paying? Will they disclose? I'm guessing no. Citizens United will shield the corporate money, but you can figure where it's coming from.
Background: The state — under the thrall of Walton, Hussman, Murphy, Stephens and other big money influences — has decided that unlimited charter schools are the solution to education needs, particularly in the Little Rock School District, because, you see, it is one of the handful in the state with a unionized workforce. They don't care that not a single national study yet has proved the efficacy of charter schools over conventional public schooling. They don't care how underqualified the applicants for charters in Pulaski County might be. They just want charters dealt out like playing cards. The advocates of this strategy will rig and misrepresent test results, using the megaphone of the Democrat-Gazette editorial page, to get the job done. (Such as by having you believe a majority white/majority middle income charter school's test scores can somehow be compared straight up to a majority black, impoverished school population. Such as by having you believe majority white charter schools full of already achieving middle income middle school kids haven't contributed to the plummeting white population of magnet middle schools.)
The chamber talks mostly in code. It has characterized the Little Rock School District's filing over state charter practices as a grab for more money in the letter you'll see on the jump. That's a gross mischaracterization of the legal action, but the chamber knows its messaging and its audience. Its members will gladly believe any calumny about the majority black-populated, majority black-led LRSD, particularly since many of these leaders have never set foot in these public schools.
Chamber CEO Randy Zook's letter to "community leaders" and "education advocates" is on the jump. I consider myself an education advocate, but I wasn't on the mailing list. I bet the AEA wasn't either.
The Chamber's new advocacy group Speak Up for Schools, is nothing but a thinly disguised charter school advocacy group. Reads one headline:
Little Rock School District: A Wasted Investment.
As a parent of two successful LRSD graduates, you'll pardon me if I don't see it through quite the same prism. I suspect I can find a few tens of thousands of others who feel similarly, whatever the manifest needs for improvement in the district continue to be. (And you won't find anyone who's written more — including recently — about some of those shortcomings, including in leadership.)
The chamber has essentially declared war on the Little Rock School District. It will reap the whirlwind.
It is a crying shame when you read the propaganda site the chamber is touting. Badly flawed studies from the Walton-financed ideological conservative think tank at UA; D-G propaganda; it's all there. You won't find any of our reporting on the mixed results for charter schools; the unfulfilled promises on diversity in some Pulaski charters; the unmet benchmarks at some of the most highly touted charters. That would be off-message. And when the Chamber wins — and the money usually does — and Little Rock is left with a balkanized, inefficient system of multiple education fiefdoms (little tiny school districts; Weiner should sue), some favored by fatcat money and some not, and a remnant urban core district full of the hard cases that the charter schools quickly "counsel out" I can assure you we'll be left with a capital city that won't be inviting to outside investment. That's the real tragedy of the Chamber's co-option by the ruling elite, the disaster it's certain to produce.
I can't help but remember that the lead-footed meddling of Chamber of Commerce "community leaders" in Little Rock School Board elections several years ago set fire to the events that have the chamber so unhappy today. They liked having a stooge as school superintendent. People who actually lived and worked and sent kids to schools in the district didn't. It's worth remembering that a local charter school moved that same stooge out the first chance it had, along with some of his highly paid minions that were thought so highly of when they were serving masters Walton and Hussman as LRSD employees.
It would appear the group is getting ready to get involved in school elections. The only contest this year is between Micheal Daugherty, unsuccessfully targeted by the chamber forces three years ago, and Michael Nellums, who professes not to be a teacher union foe but isn't particularly convincing when he says so. Nellums would do well to tell Speak Up for Schools, the chamber's front group, and the Democrat-Gazette to let him do his own campaigning this time. Those groups weren't well-received in the district three years ago. Hard to see Hussman/Walton back Nellums too enthusiastically since his key community backer is John Walker, the devil incarnate in the eyes of the Chamber.
One final rant: The gap between white and black students is real — in Little Rock and everywhere else in the country. But it's ironic to find the Chamber noting how high white scores are in the Little Rock school district on the new group's website (to illustrate the gap with blacks) at the same time it is talking about population growth (of white people) in Benton, Bryant, Cabot and Conway. If it's really top-notch education results those folks are seeking in the suburbs, even the Chamber's own information shows white folks are getting it — and much more — in the LRSD. Maybe there's another factor in suburban growth beyond AP classes and National Merit scholars (which, last I checked, were dominated by LRSD). Bigger lots? Cheaper housing? Farm living? Better catfish restaurants? Something?
It will be interesting to see if it was hand-fed to the Democrat-Gazette for appropriate news treatment in Wednesday's paper. The triple flutterblast of editorial adoration will take up at least two columns in the Sunday editorial section for starters and many more reprises.
WEDNESDAY UPDATE: D-G had the story, on page one naturally. Unless I miss my guess, they followed up this post. It is more unbelievable still in the morning light that the state Chamber of Commerce (shilling for Walton, Hussman, Murphy, Stephens) would send this blunt message to the world of business:
The largest school district in our state sucks. It does nothing — nothing — worthwhile for children. Not a single one of them.
Really makes you want to settle in LR don't it?
LETTER FROM STATE CHAMBER
Business Leaders/Education Advocates
Good afternoon. I’m sure you’re aware that recently the Little Rock School District followed through on its threat to file a lawsuit against the state of Arkansas related to the 1989 desegregation settlement agreement. After careful review of the legal brief, it is clear that the purpose of this action is to attempt to obtain substantial additional funding for their school district from the state of Arkansas.
To help counter the consequences of the lawsuit and to give parents and teachers a voice in education choice, a grassroots coalition has recently been formed. The coalition, “Speak Up For Schools — Better Schools For A Better Little Rock,” goal is to educate and keep people informed about the lawsuit and any action surrounding it. The coalition is new, has recently started its outreach and could use your support. Its mission is to bring parents, business leaders and concerned citizens together to help create a better and more productive learning environment for our children in order to create a better, more equipped generation of leaders for Little Rock.
Because of your involvement as a community leader and an advocate for equal education for all, I’m asking you to please visit http://www.speakuplittlerock.com/
Please join today. As the lawsuit continues to gain momentum, it’s important that we have the support of leaders such as yourself. If you have any questions please contact me.
President & CEO
1200 W. Capitol
Little Rock, AR 72201
PS FROM MAX: "Grass roots"? Right. But the roots are green.