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Summary of HB1733
HB1733 would establish the “Achievement School District” (ASD) to place any school in Academic Distress under the direct control of the Commissioner of Education and whoever he appoints to run the ASD. HERE’S WHAT WOULD HAPPEN NEXT:
- Any school the Commissioner chooses can be bid out to charter operators.
- Schools have to stay in the ASD for at least 3 years and up to 5.
- All resources of the school district will be turned over to the ASD and the charters.
- None of these schools would have school boards or any other democratic representation.
- Teachers and other staff would become “at will” employees, subject to dismissal without notice or justification.
- Other state laws would be waived.
- If schools aren’t “successful” after being run by the state for 5 years, the state can keep them in the ASD for unlimited amount of time.
- When a school is deemed “successful,” if a charter entity wants it, it is TURNED OVER TO THE CHARTER OPERATOR, NOTreturned to the community.
- There is no mechanism for EVER requiring that school to be returned to the community, no accountability ever again to the taxpayers of the district for how THEIR money is spent, how THEIR school is operated, or how THEIR children are educated.
Facts About the NOLA Recovery School District and the Memphis Achievement School District on Which 1733 Is Based
In Louisiana, the state RAISED the standard in order to declare many more schools “in distress” and then LOWERED it again after they had been taken over by charters. The Recovery School District has been mostly operated by charters since 2005. In 2014 all except 5 of the district’s 89 schools were run by charters.
- Louisiana assigns schools letter grades. It was only by inflation of the 2013 school performance scores that the RSD was able to move from a D to a C. Of the 37 RSD-NO schools with complete data, 26 schools increased a letter grade by means of the inflated scoring system.
- In 2012 many of the RSD high schools had graduation rates in the 40-60% range.
- After 10 years only 57% of students in the RSD performed at grade level in math and reading.
- In the spring of 2014, 9 years after its formation, the Louisiana Dept. of Education ranked the Recovery School District at the 17th %ile among all Louisiana school districts. 83% of Louisiana’s school districts were better than the RSD.
- In 2014 the average ACT score in the Recovery School District was 16.4, lower than the national average of 21, the Louisiana average of 19.2, and the Arkansas average of 20.4.
- In 2014 three RSD high schools had NOT ONE student eligible for the TOPS two-year tech scholarship (based
on 17 composite ACT and 2.5 GPA) and four more RSD high schools had NO GRADUATES ELIGIBLE for the four-year TOPS scholarship (based on 20 ACT and 2.5 GPA).
- According to RSD Superintendent Patrick Dobard: “The Recovery School District closed failing traditional schools or turned them over to charter operators, never intending to reconstruct a traditional school system.”
In Memphis, 5 years into their experiment…
- The Achievement School District has been much subsidized by Race to the Top and Gates Foundation grants.Voters have refused to pass a tax to support it.
- In July 2013, the six incorporated suburbs in Shelby County overwhelmingly voted in favor of their own municipal schools and withdrew from the Achievement School District.
- Achievement data shows ASD test scores flat or barely rising and still much lower than the state and Shelby County averages.
- ACT performance has gone downin the ASD while ACT scores rose in the state as a whole and in Shelby County.
- A Tennessee resident commented: “The ASD is strangling the public schools but the ASD results are dismal…. Excellent teachers are being abolished while TFA temp teachers are guaranteed spots. It is too, too sad.”
- By farthe majority of charter operators are from out of state: Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Texas, California, Illinois, New York, and Washington, DC.
- In 2013 Hanley Elementary was taken over and split into 2 charters. Test scores before the takeover: 22.7% proficient in math and 10.4 proficient in reading. After the takeover, scores at one school were 9.9 (math) and 5.2 (reading) while at the other scores were 6.3 (math) and 4.7 (reading).
- In one Memphis charter, Cornerstone Academy, parents and advocates claimed that teachers lacked “cultural competency” and claimed of abuse such as refusing to allow a child to go to the bathroom and taking away a child’s shoes when she couldn’t tie them.
RE Inflation of scores that makes RSD look better than it is:
Written by education blogger Mercedes Schneider, a trained statistician and teacher in a Louisiana school
Of the 37 RSD-NO schools with complete 2012 and 2013 SPS/letter grade information, 26 increased a letter grade as an artifact of John White’s changes to the scoring system. One of these 26 schools (SciTech Academy) actually increased two letter grades (“F” to “C”). In other words, had the same rules applied in 2013 as were applied in 2012 to grading RSD schools, then 15 schools would have received a “D” instead of a “C”; 5 would have received an “F” instead of a “D”, and 5 would have received a “C” instead of a “B.”
Had consistent criteria been used in grading RSD-NO from 2012 to 2013, its district letter grade would have remained a “D.”
Change the rules: Inflate most RSD-NO scores.
Two RSD scores did decrease based upon White’s replacing the 2012 scoring with the 2013. RSD-NO lost what could have been its first and only “A” (Sci Academy remained a “B”), and KIPP Renaissance was a “D” but could have been a “C” had the scoring not changed.
Nevertheless, based upon the obviously less rigorous 2013 scoring, RSD-NO has artificially “risen” to a “C” district.
As was true last year, White insists upon averaging the Orleans Parish Schools with RSD-NO. Orleans Parish had an “A” based upon 2012 scoring and continues to have an “A” using the “new” 2013 scoring. (Two of Orleans Parish’s 18 schools listed on the 2013 spreadsheet had drops in scores. The rest remained the same.) Interestingly, the 2012 “average” of Orleans and RSD-NO, with Orleans’ “A” and RSD-NO’s “D,” yielded a “C.” This year, Orleans has its “A” and RSD-NO, its artificially raised “C”– and the “average” it still a “C”– an indication that White’s “new” formula is biased towards scoring schools toward the middle–a “C.”
If artificially scoring a “C” is rigor, then RSD-NO is rigorous.
The data tables below come from another article in the Times Picayune, this time by a staff writer. Full link, then tables of ACT scores for New Orleans and Baton Rouge area high schools. RSD schools are the lowest in both cities, showing actual % eligible for the TOPS scholarships, not the percentage of growth. Note: This is after 8 years of schools being in the RSD!
|New Orleans area ACT results, 2013-14|
|District||Percent of seniors scoring 18+, 13-14||Percent of seniors scoring 20+, 13-14|
|St. Bernard Parish||66.6%||43.7%|
|St. Charles Parish||68.4%||49.7%|
|St. Tammany Parish||77.2%||63.7%|
|St. John the Baptist||51.9%||33.6%|
|Recovery School District-NO||33.5%||18.8%|
|Orleans Parish + RSD-NO||49.3%||33.0%|
|Source: Louisiana Department of Education. Note: Schools run by the Recovery School District in New Orleans and Baton Rouge are both listed separately and combined with traditional systems. When calculating percentages, we counted RSD’s schools separately and didn’t include parish totals.|
|Baton Rouge area ACT results, 2013-14|
|District||Percent of seniors scoring 18+, 13-14||Percent of seniors scoring 20+, 13-14|
|East Baton Rouge Parish||50.9%||36.4%|
|Recovery School District-Baton Rouge||17.5%||?5%|
|St. James Parish||60.0%||38.5%|
|West Baton Rouge Parish||69.8%||48.5%|
|Zachary Community School District||74.4%||52.2%|
|City of Baker School District||22.6%||9.6%|
|Central Community School District||78.1%||65.6%|
|East Baton Rouge Parish + RSD BR||48.1%||33.9%|
|Source: Louisiana Department|
Inflated graduation rates and performance rates:
Here is a quote from a cheerleading piece by the Washington Post.
Before the storm, the city’s high school graduation rate was 54.4 percent. In 2013, the rate for the Recovery School District was 77.6 percent. On average, 57 percent of students performed at grade level in math and reading in 2013, up from 23?percent in 2007, according to the state.
However, Mercedes Schneider deconstructs the claim in her blog:
As is stands the 17 OPSB (Orleans Parish School Board) schools that were not taken over by the state– the magnet schools– were converted into selective admission charters and are often used to boost RSD scores by combining and calling such scores “New Orleans” scores.
Such “score padding” allows for statistics such as graduation rate to appear higher than they are. This takes us to another Layton mis-report:
Before the storm, the city’s high school graduation rate was 54.4 percent. In 2013, the rate for the Recovery School District was 77.6 percent.
Graduation rates for RSD high schools are not so rosy. In this January 2013 reporting of “New Orleans” school statistics, Leslie Jacobs plays a game with reporting a “New Orleans” graduation rate” of 76.5% when the OPSB graduation rate was 93.5%. Remove that 93.5% boost from RSD, and the reality that a number of RSD high schools had embarrassingly low graduation rates (in the 40-60% range) shows all too clearly to sell the idea of RSD “success.”
Even if the 57% figure were not artificially inflated, getting only 57% of students to proficient after 9 years is nothing to brag about!!
New Orleans RSD ranked 17th %ile in state, worse than 83% of districts
As Louisiana teacher Mike Deshotels recently reported on his blog (louisianaeducator.blogspot.com) the Louisiana Department of education has just released the results of the state accountability testing called LEAP and ILEAP for the Spring of 2014. The report includes a percentile ranking of each of the public school systems in the state according to the performance of their students in math, and English language arts. Deshotels, who taught Chemistry and Physics at Zachary High School near Baton Rouge and served as Research Director for the Louisiana Association of Educators, noted, “This official LDOE report now ranks the New Orleans Recovery District at the 17thpercentile among all Louisiana public school districts in student performance … this means that 83 percent of the state’s school districts provide their students a better opportunity for learning than do the schools in New Orleans…This 17th percentile ranking places the New Orleans takeover schools just about where they were before the takeover.”
RE inflation of scores…
As Deshotels pointed out, “Dramatic improvements in the LEAP measure of grade level performance for math and ELA” has coincided with “very little improvement for Louisiana students” on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAPE). He concluded, “This discrepancy is a strong indication of score inflation for the state’s accountability testing. Either the tests got easier or students learned how to perform better on the state tests without significantly improving their English and math skills.”
As Louisiana Weekly recently reported, the whole intentions behind creation of RSD-NO have been murky from the beginning. As the analysis stated, “Before Hurricane Katrina, the RSD (created in 2003) could only take over a school with a performance score less than 60, and which had already gone through four years of corrective action. To legally justify taking the majority of New Orleans schools and then privatizing them, the state changed the failing benchmark from 60 to just under the state average of 87.4. The constant changing of grading scales and benchmarks has continued since, and has become an often scoffed at trademark of Superintendent John White’s dissemination of annual data.”
ACT scores low in the RSD 7 years after takeover:
This blogger’s data came from a Louisiana DOE spreadsheet: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1XEbszZ3uezCEnOKzNDGsTIlFBRQUvh6zd9iwaUTcz7g/edit#gid=0
The following is a summary comparison of state run RSD schools with local school board schools:
The New Orleans Recovery District schools produced an average ACT score of 16.3 for the 2012-13 school year even though an analysis of the eligible students based on student enrollment data indicates that only about 80% of those eligible actually took the test. This average score of 16.3 by New Orleans RSD schools would not be high enough to allow a student to enroll in any Louisiana 4 year college. This is ironic since many of the New Orleans Recovery District schools advertise themselves as college prep schools. Just look at some of the names of the schools scoring near the bottom of the state rankings:
Renew Accelerated High school: ACT average – 13.7
Joseph S. Clark Preparatory High School : ACT average – 15.2
Lake Area Early College ACT average – 16.4
RSD students not able to make cut scores for TOPS scholarships
Also, on February 9, 2015, I challenged Jacobs’ “enormously improved” portrayal of New Orleans RSD in this post.
Among the issues I challenged were the low rates of RSD graduates eligible for scholarships through the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS), as concerns scholarships to both four-year colleges/universities and two-year, community colleges.
Four-year TOPS requires a minimum GPA of 2.5 in core subjects and an ACT composite score at the state average, which by current TOPS standards is 20.
Two-year TOPS tech requires a minimum GPA of 2.5 in core subjects and a minimum ACT composite of 17.
In my February 9, 2015, post, I noted that three RSD high schools had not even one graduate eligible for even TOPS two-year tech. I also noted that four additional RSD high schools had no graduates eligible for four-year TOPS.
A long, bumpy, and unfinished road: Education reform in Memphis, TN
Cornerstone audit says child abuse allegations at Memphis school unfounded
7:40 PM, Jan 9, 2013
12:10 AM, Jan 10, 2013
An investigation of practices at Cornerstone Preparatory School by an outside auditor finds no ground to substantiate numerous allegations of child abuse at the Binghamton campus.
Parents and community leaders are incensed, saying the audit is meaningless because Cornerstone hired the investigator and then excluded them from participating.
“How independent is it when you are the one that hired them?” asked Chan Douglas, one of several community supporters organizing neighborhood meetings and acting as intermediaries between parents and Cornerstone, which is operating the school as part of the state’s Achievement School District for low-performing schools.
“If it was a true investigation, they should have reached out to the community. They have not spoken with the parents that complained. If you are not doing that, what are you basing your findings on?”….
…Anger first boiled over in a meeting Dec. 19 at the Lester Community Center. One little girl told the crowd of 120-plus people in a three-hour meeting that her teacher refused to let her use the restroom or get her fresh clothes when she wet her pants. She also said the teacher took her shoes, apparently because she was slow tying her laces. Other parents said teachers twisted their children’s arms or took their shoes as punishment.
Memphis parents lash out against Achievement School District leaders
10:40 PM, Dec 19, 2012
The Lester Community Center bristled with anger Wednesday as Binghamton leaders demanded Achievement School District leaders explain why they were not part of decisions regarding Lester School.
One mother brought her small daughter to the microphone to tell ASD Supt. Chris Barbic that she wet her pants twice because teachers would not let her use the restroom and then had to wear the same clothes until school was out. The child also said teachers took her shoes and made her walk barefoot, apparently because she failed to ask permission to tie her shoes.
Barbic promised he would look into it. “We’ll take appropriate action. I am sorry that happened.”
“The teachers in this school are causing the kids to do one of three things,” said Chan Douglas, community leader. “Fear the teachers, hate the teachers or kill the teachers.”
Last winter, Barbic and his team selected Cornerstone as the charter that would take over Lester under the authority of ASD. This year, Cornerstone is in charge of prekindergarten through grade 3. Next year, it will add three more grades.
The goal of the Achievement School District is to move the bottom 5% of schools to the top 25% in 5 years. See below for how well that is working.
Memphis Makes the Nation’s Most Ambitious Effort to Fix Failed Schools
What happens in Memphis will reveal the power — and limits — of education reform.
BY JOHN BUNTIN | OCTOBER 2014
This is Barbic’s third year as the head of the Achievement School District. Today, the ASD runs or oversees 23 schools. All but one are located in Memphis, in poor, predominantly African-American neighborhoods such as Frayser. To date, the ASD has shown little evidence of dramatic improvements. Most of the schools the ASD took over began with low levels of proficiency in reading and math. Although the ASD has made some improvements in raising the math proficiency of African-American students, English/language arts proficiency has barely moved. This is the year, Barbic acknowledges, when the dial has to jump.
The goal of the ASD is to take the bottom 5% of schools in Tennessee and in five years transform them into schools that are in the top 25% of schools in Tennessee. As Tennessee schools are supposedly all improving at record rates, this would require that the ASD school progress at much faster rates to get from the bottom to near the top.
Last year I wrote my first annual report on the status of the ASD in a post called The Underachievement School District. At that time, they boasted that they got the highest growth score possible, a 5 out of 5, but also revealed that their reading scores dropped from 18.1% proficient in 2012 to 13.6% proficient in 2013 while the rest of the state rose from 49.9% proficient to 50.3% proficient. I questioned the validity of the five point growth scale based on these numbers.
Early July 2014, I wrote about how the state released a summary of the TCAP scores. It was revealed that 3-8 math increased by less than 1% while 3-8 reading went down by less than 1%. Nothing to celebrate there. Instead they focused on supposed high school ‘gains.’ This was ironic to me since Tennessee was so proud of their grade 4 and grade 8 NAEP gains yet when the 12th grade NAEP showed that Tennessee didn’t do so well there, they said that they can’t be held responsible for high schoolers since those students had most of their academic careers before the reforms set it. So they can’t take blame when high schoolers do poorly, but they will take the credit when they do well.
With the release of the district data, there are the Louisiana style invented statistics like this one:
From 2011 to 2014, the percentage of districts with the majority of their students proficient or advanced in 3-8 math increased from 18 percent to 57 percent. Keep in mind that for the whole state of Tennessee, the percent of students passing 3-8 math rose about 10% from 41% to 51% between 2011 and 2014. How this translated from 18% of districts having half the students pass to 57% having half the students pass is something that can very well happen when everyone is hovering near 50%. It is a made up stat since there was so little to celebrate with the flat math and reading, including reading going down by about 1%.
So I was interested to see how the ASD fared. Looking over their scores, 21.8% passing 3-8 math and 17% passing 3-8 reading, the first thing I looked for is what sort of progress they are making in going from the bottom 5% to the top 25% in five years. Two years in and they are still in the bottom 5%, dead last with the second to last district not even close to them. They will surely have to pick up the pace on their growth.
Tennessee Achievement School District in search of high performing students
March 2, 2015
Tennessee Achievement School District (ASD) Superintendent Chris Barbic, like other reformers, often talks about creating opportunities for students “trapped in failing schools.” But this week Barbic is pushing legislation that would allow Barbic to recruit students from high-performing schools INTO schools the state has identified as “failing.” Barbic told Tennessee legislators on Wednesday that parents are beating down his door to get into ASD charter schools that are some of the worst performing schools in the state, according to the state’s highly touted accountability measures.
However, Barbic failed to mention that parents have submitted a petition with 78 pages of signatures to the Memphis school board asking them to remove their school from Barbic’s expanding charter school empire. Parents aren’t “voting with their feet” to attend charter schools after all.
Parents are smart to avoid ASD-operated charter schools. ASD schools are underperforming district-run schools in Memphis (http://www.bluffcityed.com/2014/09/just-facts-asd-vs-izone-performance/). Even the ASD’s most touted school in Nashville, Brick Church Middle, is underperforming its district-run counterpart, and it’s clear from an independent report that the ASD takeover of Brick Church created a terrible environment for the students and staff alike. (http://www.tennessean.com/story/opinion/contributors/2014/12/22/asd-riles-parents-community-school-takeover/20648199/) Furthermore, a recent audit shows that the ASD has been mismanaging public funds, including federal money. (https://norinrad10.wordpress.com/2015/02/23/time-to-end-the-asd-fiasco/) But the ASD continues to expand over parent protest, most recently by cherry-picking the highest performing priority school in Nashville to help boost its own miserable test scores.
Six suburban cities near Memphis are in the process of creating their own new school districts, which will be carved out of the merged Shelby County school system. The cities, also known as “municipalities,” are Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland, and Millington. The municipalities were previously part of the legacy Shelby County district, but decided to spin off after Memphis City Schools surrendered its charter, beginning a merger with Shelby County.
Supporters make three main arguments for the new municipal districts: (1) they will allow more local control for parents and citizens of the town; (2) they will increase efficiency because of their smaller size; and (3) they will bring more employers to Shelby County by raising the quality of the local schools.
Detroit’s Education Achievement System
A recent incident where a teacher used a broom to break up a violent fight between students has put a renewed focus on safety conditions in Detroit’s lowest-performing schools.
The Pershing High School teacher was fired this week after a cell phone video surfaced of her hitting students with a broom in an attempt to stop their classroom brawl. According to Detroit outlet WJBK-TV, teachers are instructed to call for help on a walkie-talkie during such incidents, but the teacher’s walkie-talkie device reportedly was not working at the time.
Pershing High School is part of the Education Achievement Authority, Michigan’s statewide district for the lowest-performing schools. Teachers in the EAA are not unionized.
The educator shown in the video was fired for violating the district’s corporal punishment provision, but she will be given an opportunity to appeal her termination before the EAA Board of Directors, reports WJBK. The students involved in the fight were each given a 10-day suspension.
Controversy has plagued EAA schools since the district’s inception in 2011. Documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act and subsequently posted on the website Inside The EAA, show that the district has a declining enrollment rate, numerous student safety issues and a chaotic financial situation. According to the site, “within seven months, the EAA has reported over 5,000 discipline-related infractions, including 63 drug possessions, 33 gun possessions, and 22 physical assaults against staff.”
In a conversation with WWJ Newsradio 950, Detroit teacher Jenna Slack described the district’s schools as “unsafe.”
“The EAA has been so poorly managed from day one,” said Slack, who teaches at Law Middle School, “that they not only don’t have the resources to educate these children, they don’t have the resources to keep them safe.”
The EAA responded to the interview, saying that the district “seeks to promote a safe environment for its students and staff, and accordingly, does not, and will not tolerate any inappropriate conduct.”
Some parents have come to the defense of the terminated Pershing teacher, saying she had no choice but to break up the fight with the broom.
“I feel like if I was there, I would have done the same thing trying to break them up. … I don’t think she should lose her job or have charges brought against her,” said Natalie Tyson, according to the Detroit Free Press. “What else could she do?
Michigan State Senator representing 8th District
The Crumbling of Public Education in Michigan
Posted: 07/26/2013 3:37 pm EDT Updated: 09/25/2013 5:12 am EDT
In the meantime, the Education Achievement Authority has been touted as a so-called “solution” for the lowest-performing school districts in our state. The State House has put forward legislation to expand the Authority statewide, despite the fact that the Authority has proven to be completely flawed and incapable of maintaining the schools currently under its jurisdiction. Legislation to expand the Authority is nothing more than a bureaucratic attempt to shuffle schools into for-profit corporations. Instead of answering to the issue of low-performing schools, all that the legislation does is create a new and even greater problem.
Detroit Education Achievement Authority veers out of control
Slipping away By Curt Guyette
It’s an experience many of us have had: We’re driving in winter and hit an icy patch of road. As that stomach-dropping feeling of sliding out of control hits, time, for an instant, lapses into slow motion, and the whole scene turns slightly surreal.
Something akin to that occurred during last week’s meeting of the board overseeing Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority. An experiment being carried out on the students enrolled at 15 low-performing schools (three of which are operated by charters) that were formally part of the Detroit Public Schools system, the EAA is Gov. Rick Snyder’s attempt to re-invent public education.
“A different system, for a different outcome” is the district’s motto.
Begun amid a swirl of controversy and bold promises, the EAA has been hitting patches of serious ice since it began operating schools in the fall of 2012. Long-held concerns by some that the district was veering out of control hit a new level last week, when Chancellor John Covington unexpectedly resigned with one year remaining on his $1.6 million contract. When someone relinquishes hundreds of thousands of dollars in order to attend to family issues and pursue a career in consultancy, which has been Covington’s explanation for quitting, there is usually much more to the story. And rarely is it good.
Although he didn’t leave to become a consultant, Covington’s departure from his previous job as superintendent of Kansas City Public Schools — after assuring the board there that he wasn’t interviewing anywhere else — is instructive. Two week’s after Covington’s arrival in Detroit, the KC schools were taken over by the state of Missouri because of their exceedingly low performance.
There’s going to be no such announcement following his exit from Detroit, of course, since the EAA is already under direct state control. In fact, Covington was supposed to be the fix, the guy to show how things can be done when given both a blank slate in terms of approach, and the complete absence of any responsibility to a democratically elected board of public education.
The 11-member board Covington answers to — or at least was supposed to answer to when still employed by the district — is dominated by gubernatorial appointees. Snyder directly selects seven members, and DPS — which is under state control — appoints two. The other two are appointed by officials at Eastern Michigan University, which continued to partner in the project despite protests from faculty and students unhappy with the course the EAA has taken.
When it comes to the EAA, the bad news just keeps piling up
More recently, the Detroit News caused a considerable stir last month when it reported about the high credit card tabs Covington and crew were racking up — to the tune of $178,000 — flying around the country to attend academic conferences. And Bridge Magazine, a respected online publication produced by the nonprofit Center for Michigan, has just posted a story detailing how record-keeping snafus are preventing some students from getting the transcripts needed for college, among other problems. The headline for that story — “F is for frustrated — disorganization at Detroit EAA schools leaves students scrambling to graduate” — says a lot, but not enough to generate any public questions from board members.
Wilmot Elementary is part of the Arkansas Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and making sure parents, teachers, and students know to Make Every Day Count at school!
This opinion piece by Danielle Brown of Kirby says it well…
(Reprinted from Arkansas Democrat Gazette – April 18, 2014 publication date)
Our schools in peril
Act 60 hurts rural communities
SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE
Another rural school district was dealt the death blow last Thursday.
The State Board of Education was tasked with complying with Act 60 and determining the fate of Stephens School District. The Ouachita County school’s K-12 enrollment had fallen below 350 students in two consecutive years. The state board voted to split the district among three adjacent districts, removing virtually all hope that the school campus will remain open.
Earlier in the day, the state board approved the closure of Cotton Plant K-3 School, which will result in busing its youngest to Augusta, 28 miles away. Cotton Plant (Woodruff County) had a K-12 school prior to Act 60 consolidation with Augusta School District in 2004.
A lawyer for the three receiving school districts who presented the plan for starbursting the Stephens School District stated that closing Stephens would have the positive effect of removing a “racially identifiable” school.
If the goal of Act 60 was closing racially identifiable schools, it has been successful beyond measure. Gone are most predominantly black schools across southern Arkansas and in the Delta. Yet throughout the region are towns and communities that are racially identifiable. Why shouldn’t these and all communities have the right to keep the schools that have served their children for generations?
A report done by The Rural School and Community Trust in 2005, just one year after Act 60 took place, found that the number of black superintendents in Arkansas fell by 23 percent, and black board representation fell by 55 percent immediately after enactment of Act 60.
With many more subsequent school closures, these losses have likely increased over the intervening nine years.
Though especially onerous to majority black schools, Act 60 has resulted in closure of majority white schools as well. Most Arkansans have heard of the heroic efforts by Friends of Weiner in Poinsett County to save their school, yet the last Weiner School District diplomas were awarded in 2013.
School campuses with almost new buildings, including Fourche Valley in Yell County and Delaplaine in Greene County, are among many that were shuttered. The empty buildings are a painful reminder of Act 60’s impact.
Stephens’ attorney, Clay Fendley, raised the issue of excessive bus rides and that the Legislature has asked three times that a study be done on the impact on children. Yet to date, such a study has not been done.
With advances in technology, a quality education can be had at any location, especially in rural places. An act funded in the 2014 session will bring more broadband capabilities to rural schools. State Sen. Joyce Elliott’s Schools of Innovation Act provides an avenue for schools to develop creative and innovative ways to educate students, another good development for rural schools.
In the 2013 legislative session, Rep. Randy Alexander sponsored a bill to place a two-year moratorium on school closures until the impact on students could be studied. The bill came just two votes short of passing on the House floor and was referred to an interim study which will be completed before the 2015 legislative session.
Ten years after enactment of Act 60, the damage to rural Arkansas, its youngest residents and their families cannot be denied.
Gone are 41 elementary schools and 52 high schools, and left behind are decimated communities.
A new Facebook page memorializing the schools closed due to Act 60, and supporting Arkansas’ remaining rural schools and the repeal of Act 60, can be found at www.facebook.com/ arkansasruralschools.
It’s time, Arkansas. Let’s stop the self-imposed bludgeoning of rural Arkansas.
It’s time to repeal Act 60.
Renee Carr is executive director of the Rural Community Alliance.
RCA President Lavina Grandon was the keynote speaker at the First Annual Searcy County Chamber of Commerce banquet and awards ceremony on February 27. The theme of the banquet was “175 Years….Looking Back….Moving Forward.” Grandon shared with the group of about 130 Chamber members and guests her vision for a thriving and prosperous rural Arkansas, and commended the Chamber for its visionary, proactive, inclusive approach to economic development in the county. Marshall, the county seat of Searcy County, is RCA’s latest chapter and the latest member of the Ozark Byways revitalization network. Other Searcy County communities Leslie and St. Joe have been working with RCA since 2008 and 2009, respectively.
The Fish Hook Theater is taking the show on the road to Brinkley Convention Center on March 15. You get a dinner and a play for only $7. Dinner starts at 4pm with play immediately following. Click below for ticket information.
Now businesses can become members of Rural Community Alliance and support the work we do in revitalizing rural communities, supporting rural schools, and state-wide policy work. A business member form is available at the bottom of our home page. Business dues are $75 every two years. Here are two of the latest business/civic groups who’ve joined RCA.
PBS characters Clifford, Cat in the Hat, and Arthur were on hand to get the students revved up for Eudora Reads! Former Eudora student Tony Washington emceed the event and Cathy Nash welcomed the visitors and described the cool things in store for Eudora’s students and preschoolers. Eudora is proud to be part of the Arkansas Campaign for Grade-Level Reading!
Parent Engagement is one of four targets of the Arkansas Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. The following list of 68 ideas is a wonderful guide and even a great starting point for having discussions about parent engagement and then moving on to action!