by Max Brantley
The University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform, the Walton-financed effort to advance the family's education views, has scheduled a program Thursday on a favorite cause — charter schools.
At 6 p.m. Thursday at the Union Theater, the department will screen the charter school propaganda documentary, "Waiting for Superman," and follow it with a discussion featuring Howard Fuller of Marquette University, an advocate of so-called school choice, and Chris Heller, attorney for the Little Rock School District, who's arguing before federal courts that the state of Arkansas has abandoned its promise not to promote segregation in Pulaski County by encouraging establishment of open-enrollment charter schools.
Fuller is a former superintendent of the Milwaukee schools, site of an extensive charter school experiment. Results there showed no significant benefit against conventional public schools from the charter school option. Speaking of "Waiting for Superman," Diane Ravitch deconstructs it and the charter school myth here.
The UA reformers say, by the way, that they can't afford Diane Ravitch as a speaker. This is a favorite national "reformer" meme to rap Ravitch, a persistent and informed critic who turned coat on the reformer ranks some years ago. She sometimes, but not always, charges to give speeches. Only the Waltons, whose legendary penny-pinching helped make them billionaires, and their luggage carriers — many of their salaries enriched by Walton money — would arch an eyebrow at someone else profiting from her knowledge and expertise. I think the UA department has sufficient ties with a place with a checkbook fat enough to meet Ravitch's fee. Bringing her into the mothership of the Billionaire Boys Club education initiative for robust debate would be a real headline-producer. Meanwhile, I think Chris Heller can hold his own.