Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, the state’s major public interest group for children’s issues, has issued a statement today about the future of the Little Rock School District, with specific ideas for helping children who need assistance in more places than the classroom.

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The group makes recommendations for a specific school district, it says, because Little Rock is not just another school district, either historically or in the present day as a marker for what the state can and should do for all children.

The Advocates expect, as most do, that the district will fall short of meeting standardized test-driven standards to “exit” state control. So, it must be “reconstituted” come January. Now comes the good (and hard) part:

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AACF hopes that reconstitution will be guided by the evidence from a long line of educational research regarding the practices that work to positively transform low-performing schools.

 

These evidence-based interventions include:

  • Providing as many children as possible access to high-quality early childhood learning opportunities before arriving in kindergarten;
  • Providing physical, mental, and dental health programs in schools to ensure that students are physically and emotionally prepared to tackle learning;
  • Creating high-quality afterschool and summer learning programs that are linked to academic standards and promote students’ creativity;
  • Ensuring that a high-quality and culturally responsive teacher is in front of every classroom in the district;
  • Particularly in the earliest grades, shrinking the size of classrooms to make the provision of one-on-one attention to students feasible;
  • Finally, fully engaging parents and families in students’ learning and providing parents and guardians skills they need to become true partners in teaching their young people.

Such evidence-based approaches to school improvement will benefit every student in the LRSD, but they will especially benefit students attending schools that were low performing at the time of the state takeover and continue to be low performing today.

 

The embrace of such interventions will cost money, and we must not forget that the State has the ultimate responsibility for ensuring that all public schools, including those in the LRSD, are adequately funded. However, the success of these interventions will depend on forming strong partnerships with community partners — including the city government, nonprofits, and the business community — that can be harnessed and carefully coordinated to the benefit of each school. The biggest bang for the buck occurs when the “community schools model” is embraced. In this model the schools become the true hubs of a community, with school buildings as a de facto community center where students and parents alike can gain skills across the entire year. We know that for parents and community partners to make such investments of resources and time in their schools that they must trust the leadership of the district. The absence of local control has eroded that trust. The first step in rebuilding that trust is a return to local control through the reestablishment of an elected school board with the full array of powers laid out in Arkansas law.

 

There’s more. But hear, hear.