Demographics are destiny, eStem charter school leader says. No kidding. | Arkansas Blog

Demographics are destiny, eStem charter school leader says. No kidding.

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GOOD DEMOGRAPHICS: The leader of eStem, its new high school shown at ribbon-cutting with Mayor Mark Stodola and a chamber of commerce official, says one secret to school success is good demographics. Do tell.
  • GOOD DEMOGRAPHICS: The leader of eStem, its new high school shown at ribbon-cutting with Mayor Mark Stodola and a chamber of commerce official, says one secret to school success is good demographics. Do tell.

eStem, the privately operated, taxpayer-financed charter school district that hopes to have 5,000 students in Little Rock by 2025, opens a new high school this year with signifcant help from UA-Little Rock and a new building constructed with Walton Family Foundation money.

John Bacon, who leads the school, wrote an op-ed about the wonders of eStem today in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He wrote of a recent report on the need for collaboration between charter schools and real public school districts, as a committee recently urged to the state Board of Education. He didn't dwell on the committee's warning that the Little Rock School District was nearing a tipping point and collapse from incursions by charter schools. As Baker Kurrus' analysis has shown, the charter schools have siphoned achieving students from the Little Rock School District, not always for improved performance.

Bacon shared the secret of eStem's success in a notable fashion.

Our model yields student achievement, is replicable and can be implemented across the district and beyond. It starts with eStem demographics, which are comparable to those in the city of Little Rock.

Regardless of race, religion or socioeconomic status, eStem students attend school each day with a desire to learn. Representative demographics yield higher student achievement: in testing scores, in graduation rates and in college acceptance. 

Got it? Demographics are the key to eStem's success — demographics being, among others, family income and race. In short: poverty is destiny.

Ask any student of education and you'll find an agreement that a blend of income backgrounds — particularly exposure of poor kids to middle-class kids — is a ticket to education success.

Compare and contrast:

* According to the most recent state figures, eStem's black enrollment was 682 of 1,462 students, or 46 percent The Little Rock School District counted 14,603 black students among 22,759, or 64 percent.

* How about the more critical economic factor, as measured by the number of students qualifying for free and reduced price lunches. At eStem the percentage was 30.4 percent. In the Little Rock School District, it was 70.8 percent.

So, it's simple, right? Get more middle-class kids in Little Rock schools. Some think the racial mix, with the disproportionate poverty among blacks, is something of a disincentive — a 35 percent poverty rate among black children and 6 percent among white children, according to a 2003 study of Little Rock population that's likely worse today in the Little Rock School District. The Little Rock School District school-age population is majority black in part because city fathers years ago allowed westward expansion areas (Chenal Valley, particularly) to enter the city without joining the Little Rock School District. When John Bacon says eStem demographics are similar to those of the city of Little Rock, who is comparing apples and oranges. The better comparison is to the population and student demographics of the much smaller Little Rock School District.

Who has an easier time figuring out the enrollment process for charter schools and getting them to schools that don't provide school bus transportation, among other broader offerings of the public school district? Parents with higher incomes and also a higher motivation about schools.

When John Bacon says it would be easy to replicate eStem with "representative demographics," he might apply some simple arithmetic first. There are only so many kids from the good end of the demographic scale to go around. And the more they are concentrated in eStem or LISA, the more concentrated the reverse demographics will be present in the real public schools.

PS: Plenty of kids enter LRSD with a desire to learn. Little Rock schools with "representative demographics" often outscore eStem. Some of those with unrepresentative demographics do exceedingly well against expectations. The district, in fact, just closed one of them, Wilson Elementary, because of the drain on student population caused by the rise of charter schools.  Those charter schools that don't have "representative demography," by the way, have often struggled academically.


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