Our Community Our Schools has posted a powerful letter by Dr. Michael Mills in response to Education Commissioner Johnny Key and Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s position that the inability to summarily fire teachers is the reason the Little Rock School District has 22 D and F schools (and not, say, the leadership for almost four years of “Little Rock School Board” Johnny Key.) It outlines in specific detail the racial and economic issues at the root of kids’ scores, which I mentioned most recently in lamenting how state bonus money goes mostly to schools with more favorable demographics.
The facts are so important — statewide, not just in Little Rock — I’m reprinting the whole thing. I hope the state Board of Education reads it before its meeting next Thursday to approve the waiver Key has requested from state law so he can fire teachers at will. It won’t matter. They are nearly all tools of the Hutchinson/Key/Walton education “reform” movement intent on destroying the Arkansas Education Association and public education as we know it in Little Rock. UPDATE: I understand Key has pulled the waiver proposal from next week’s meeting, set before the end of the contract extension.
His letter, which you can also see at his Facebook post:
Governor Hutchinson and Commissioner Key,
With the recent announcement that Commissioner Key intends to ask the state to grant principals the ability to fire teachers in what are considered failing schools (by the state’s definition) without due process, I thought it would be prudent, as a parent of a LRSD student, to share my analysis of the data provided by the Arkansas Department of Education (myschoolinfo.arkansas.gov) as we rightly consider the effect of race and poverty in our public schools. What I found is not surprising but is unsettling.
This is critical because Commissioner Key’s proposal, I believe, does not consider the full range of issues that has burdened our students and those who support them. Helping our students excel does not require a waiver for principals to fire ineffective or bad teachers. Principals can do that now, and it does not take the two years Commissioner Key recently cited. It can be done within a semester, as long as principals do their job and document the dismissal process.
The issue is so much deeper, and the problem goes well beyond Little Rock.
According to the most recent ADE data, there are no A-rated Arkansas schools, none, with a majority of black students and with a majority of students classified as low-income. As for B-rated schools, there are only three (3) in the entire state with a majority of black students and a majority of low-income students. Two of those three schools are in Little Rock School District (Gibbs and Williams).
In the three years since the state has taken over the LRSD, did it not occur to anyone to go to Gibbs and Williams to see what is working there and reflect on what could be implemented elsewhere in the district?
We certainly have to consider, in light of the desire to waive Arkansas Teacher Fair Dismissal for low-performing schools, what
The state was directly involved in the failing schools before 2015, yet these schools still underperformed. Three years under state control, the number of failing schools in LRSD has more than tripled. It’s unclear exactly what the state has done in those three years to effect change, but most would agree the end result is unacceptable.
Commissioner Key noted a recent statewide initiative to improve early literacy, and while that focus is warranted and appreciated, it is a broad brush that does not touch on the core issues facing our struggling schools.
If we are to get serious about improving our schools, the state should look to addressing the poverty and race problems that have existed in Arkansas for decades.
School demographic and performance data paint a clear picture. For example, did you know the average minority population of all A-rated schools in Arkansas is 19%, while the white population of these schools is 77%? On the other hand, the average minority population of F-rated schools is 87%, while these same schools have 12% white populations.
One can also see a direct correlation between letter grades and the percentage of low-income students in the population. Arkansas schools receiving an A-rating had, on average, a 42.35% low-income population, while F-rated schools had low-income populations, on average, of 87.10%.
Here’s the full breakdown for all public schools:
19.05% – Non-white population
77.13% – White population
42.35% – Low income population
23.72% – Non-white population
74.23% – White population
57.16% – Low income population
31.93% – Non-white population
66.35% – White population
68.84% – Low income population
64.52% – Non-white population
34.3% – White population
77.73% – Low income population
87.32% – Non-white population
12.09% – White population
87.10% – Low income population
Something else I noted from the data was that there are no A or B-rated high schools in the state with a majority low-income and majority black population, and only four (4) in the entire state of Arkansas received a C rating. All others received a D or F rating.
One major change in Little Rock since the state takeover has been the increased number of charter schools in the area. Take that for what it is, but one thing is for certain, charter schools are not the panacea you may have thought they were, at least not for black and low-income students.
There are 16 charter schools in Arkansas that have a majority low-income and majority black population. None of these schools received an A or B rating. Two (Kipp Delta and Little Rock Prep) received a C rating. The remaining 14 charter schools received a D or F.
If we flipped that to look at only the charter schools with less diversity and more affluence (fewer than 50% black population and fewer than 50% low-income), there were nine (9) charter schools to receive an A-rating, three (3) with a B-rating, one (1) with a C-rating, and one (1) with a D rating.
Notably, the school receiving the highest rating was Haas Hall Academy in Fayetteville, which received an almost perfect score on the state’s rating scale. This school, which purports to have a randomized lottery admission system, has a black population of only 1.1% and a Latino population of 6.61%. This school also has no ELL students and no special education students. This is supposed to be an open-enrollment charter school with a randomized lottery admission, and it has no special education students, no ELL students, and black students comprising 1% of the school population.
About those teacher licensure waivers. Did you know there are 28 schools in Arkansas that have been allowed to hire more than five (5) unlicensed teachers to teach in their schools (Act 1240)? Some of these schools have as many as 22 unlicensed teachers! Twenty (20) of these schools received a D or F-rating from the state. All but four (4) of these schools have a majority of non-white students.
The demand for these license waivers has been from school superintendents who say they can’t get quality teachers to teach in their high-poverty or large-minority districts. If I were inclined to get political, I would suggest that we quit cutting taxes to the very rich and start diverting that money, as well as focused support, to these districts that have a hard time attracting good teachers. Instead, it seems as though we get half-hearted measures and a wringing of hands. Sorry, I’m letting my passion get the better of me. Let me continue.
The answer is simple in general terms: provide a more than decent wage for teachers, fix the dilapidated schools that our kids have to attend, and give schools, as well as local universities and community partners, the resources they need to help lift these students out of inadequate educational opportunity. Beyond a moral imperative, this is also the legal onus placed on the state by the Lakeview decision in the 90s.
The hard part is commitment and focus. Do we want to lift our students out of poverty? Do we want to correct the evils of segregation? Well, it starts with us, as a community, to support our public schools by our presence, our investment of energy, and a commitment to holding our state government accountable.
That is why I am writing to you today, to ask that you join us in refocusing our efforts in the state to prioritize solutions addressing inequities caused by race and poverty rather than continue a campaign of scapegoating teachers.
Dr. Michael S. Mills
MY PS: Dr. Mills is an associate professor in education at UCA and holds a doctorate in education leadership. He’s worked in Benton, Sheridan and Brinkley schools. He emphasizes that he wrote this is a parent of a Little Rock student, not as a UCA faculty member, but I think his credentials are worth knoing.