Leader Blues

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

EDITORIALS>>Charters flop

Charter schools, like vouchers, are a typical educational panacea. It is bold, appealing and it doesn’t work.
That generalization is not quite accurate. There are very good charter programs, like the KIPP Delta College Preparatory School at Helena, a truly innovative and rigorous program that produces results. Charter schools, which are funded by public school money, are supposed to offer innovative programs that reach disadvantaged children in ways that conventional K-12 schools do not.

But they too often have become merely a ruse for vouchers to enable advantaged children to go to what essentially are private academies with public tax support. Arkansas charter schools have been struggling. Because they do not have the fiscal controls of public schools, they often run into fiscal trouble and have to be abandoned. More often, they just fail to show any difference in achievement. Nationally, the record of charter school students is no better than that of comparable students in the public schools and frequently worse.

But the idea is hard to surrender. Most members of the state Board of Education, appointed by Gov. Mike Huckabee, are committed charter schoolers. Their anti-public-school ideology is why they are on the board. One is the program officer for the Walton Family Foundation, which puts tens of millions of dollars a year into voucher programs and other alternatives to public schools.

Tuesday, the board voted to give a charter school at Rogers in Benton County a license to operate for another five years, although the standardized test scores of students in two grades actually have been declining from one year to the next and the overall performance of students is essentially no better than the public schools.

To make the picture worse, the charter school is nearly all-white and its students are not typically disadvantaged. Thirty-seven percent of the children in the city’s public schools are Hispanic, but only 3 percent in the charter school. The director of the school said it took whoever enrolled and the children just happened to be white.

Never mind. It may work some day, a majority of the state board decided. That is accountability in the board that regulates education.
—Ernie Dumas