Little Rock, State Education Boards on Wrong Side of History

In a 6 – 0 vote, the Little Rock School Board again demonstrated its tone deafness and myopic perspective on the issue of choice by going on record in opposition to three proposed independently run charter schools for the 2013-14 school year.

Charter schools are free, public schools run independently of the district.

Approval or denial of the charters rests solely with the Arkansas State Board of Education, which will hear the district’s opposition at its November meeting.

One of the opposed applications was presented by Responsive Education Solutions, one of the nation’s leading charter management organizations. The proposed 9 through 12 Premier High School, modeled after 24 similar schools in Texas, would be constructed on the campus of Arkansas Baptist College, where Dr. Fitz Hill is innovatively improving lives, families, and the surrounding community.

The Little Rock School District continues to fight charters in federal court, arguing that they compete with district magnet schools.

Of course they do! When three of the 48 lowest performing schools in Arkansas (out of 1,080) are Little Rock School District magnets (Henderson Middle, McClellan High, and J.A. Fair High), parents and students deserve an alternative.

The word “magnet” implies attraction. What’s attractive about being among the lowest of the low?

Fully 16.6% of the state’s lowest performing 48 schools are in Little Rock, including three of its five high schools (McClellan, Fair and Hall). Two of its seven middle schools are also on the list – Henderson and the district-run charter, Cloverdale.

Three of its elementary schools are on the list, including Baseline Elementary, which was cited by district officials as reason to oppose the application of KidsSmart Cultural Arts Charter School, which would also be located on Baseline.

Lest you think hope remains alive at the state board, this gubernatorial-appointed body rejected Responsive Education’s application for Texarkana, termed by many to be the best charter school application ever presented in Arkansas, even though the district’s Arkansas High School is also one of the 48 lowest performing schools in Arkansas.

What’s next? For years, the Little Rock School Board has denied parents in Zones 4, 5 and 6 a middle school. When a public school district refuses to provide proximate public education for 3/7 of its population, giving its parents no public choice but to seek an open enrollment charter, what justification could possibly be given to oppose it? The board’s default competition argument won’t work when it won’t even field a team.

Monopolies have no incentive to change. Justifying every action or inaction with 23-year old desegregation remedies which haven’t worked has taken precedence over excellence. If the district can’t or won’t provide it, it should not obstruct those that will.

Fifty-five years ago, heroic teenagers didn’t fight and overcome the state’s insistence on “separate but equal” so subsequent generations could become protectionists of “together but failed.” Choice then (integration) was, as choice today (competition) is, all about excellence, not sameness. When the means became prioritized over the ends, eyes left the prize.

But once again, choice is coming. Parents and history demand it. The Little Rock and State Boards should either lead, follow or get out of the way, as simply opposing is not doing the jobs they were elected or appointed to do and will relegate them to the wrong side of another historic struggle to educate all of our children.

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