If we could turn our gaze back toward Arkansas for a day, which might be hard to do with what's going on in the world, we notice that the Charter Authorizing Panel has met this week, along with the Education Board, and a handful of charter schools have been pre-approved, post-approved, and/or generally approved of. The story made the front page, as it should have.
Those who oppose charter schools as a matter of principle usually rely on the argument that charter schools "cherry-pick" students from the public schools. Those of us who know better would make the counter-argument that charter schools are public schools, thank you, and that most use a lottery system to pick students if there is a waiting list. And point to the number of charter schools operating in the most challenging ZIP codes. Fact is, the cherry-picking argument is weak.
Except for this week.
On Tuesday the state's charter panel authorized the Premier High School folks to open another school in Fort Smith, and OK'd a second campus for the Graduate Arkansas operation. Both these schools cherry-pick students. They seek those who have been unsuccessful in traditional schools--kids who are considered "second chance" students.
Cynthia Howell's story said a Premier High School in Fort Smith (to open in 2022) would be the fourth Premier campus in the state. A couple hundred kids have earned diplomas in the Premier schools in this state already. They're open to most students but "target in particular those who have dropped out or are on the verge of dropping out of high school."
Graduate Arkansas is a similar kind of school, targeting at-risk kids. The outfit was also given "tentative" approval to provide an online curriculum to as many as 925 teens who are on probation, parole or in some sort of court-ordered diversion program in lieu of jail.
Premier's website says its organization provides a path to graduation depending on the student--they can move faster in one subject, and perhaps get more help in another. Unlike a traditional school in which teachers have to push, pull and drag dozens of kids at once. Cynthia Howell's article said Graduate Arkansas will work with a vocational program to provide technical training, too.
"We refer to our students as 'at promise' rather than 'at risk,'" one of the charter managers was quoted as saying.
Of course he would. Educators have their own language, and charter-school educators have their particular accents and deliveries. The rest of us, however, know that these kids really are at risk--of not graduating from high school, of not becoming productive members of society, of not achieving their part of the American dream. And yet these schools, and other charters, seek them out.
Let's all remember this the next time the anti-charter bloc complains about cherry-picking.