Paul Greenberg

It's not the oldest libel against charter schools. The oldest may be the one about how charter schools are just the latest version of seg academies - that they siphon away white kids from public schools. (Never mind that charter schools are pubic schools, too, just differently organized.)

Charter schools as some kind of racist plot? That's not true across the country: Many charter schools turn out to have large numbers of black or Hispanic kids whose families want to free them from failing public schools so they'll become all they can be.

Many charter schools are all-black or close to it. See the KIPP school at Helena, Ark., now officially Helena-West Helena. Nor does this accusation against charter schools hold up here in Little Rock. The majority of the students attending its three public charter schools here aren't white. (Last time I checked, white kids make up 47 percent of those schools' students.)

Perhaps the second oldest charge against charter schools was echoed the other day by a lawyer for the Little Rock School District before the state's Board of Education, which was considering granting three additional charters for new schools in Little Rock.

According to the lawyer, Khayyam Eddings, these charter schools - which would offer an advanced curriculum in a number of disciplines, from math to Latin - would just "cherry-pick" the highest-achieving students, leaving the other public schools bereft of their best students.

How selfish of these students to want to learn as much as they can in the academic environment best suited for them, rather than raise the average test scores back in their regular schools! Have they no social conscience?

Kids who apply to charter schools don't seem to realize it's their solemn duty to hold themselves back for the sake of the common good, or the school district, or the collective welfare of all, or some such glittering generality or other.

It's never been clear what good purpose is served by holding onto these kids in the regular public schools. The educantists/social engineers have produced various justifications for the practice, which always wind up sounding like only rationalizations for this crime against young intellect, talent, or just true grit.

Who knows whether the students who would apply for this latest charter school are high, low or medium achieving? It's clear only that they're ready to better themselves - much like the nine black kids who had the gumption to apply for entrance to once white-only Central High School in Little Rock back in 1957 - and found themselves in the middle of a national crisis.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.