Rep. Andrew Collins of Little Rock has been one of the voices of reason on what the state Board of Education should do regarding return of local control to the Little Rock School District and he’s really nailed it with a post on Facebook today.
It’s a mistake to judge schools by test scores, he says. A fully functioning school board is needed, not segregated neighborhoods of haves and have nots. And maybe the special attention to “F” schools need means a broader effort encompassing more than classroom attention. Yes, he has a plan.
Heck, why not just reprint it here:
September has been a month of contrasts. As I visited schools during “Take Your Legislator to School Month,” I was repeatedly inspired by the brilliant students and dedicated teachers of LRSD.
But in countless public and private meetings regarding LRSD’s future, I have been disappointed, not inspired, by state leaders’ errors of diagnosis, thoughtlessness in execution, and lack of imagination in crafting a transition to local control. We wouldn’t accept this level of performance from the students in our district, nor should we from its leaders.
A good solution starts with precise diagnosis of the problem. But the state board of education’s framework for a partial return to local control for non-F schools rests on letter grades, a poor measurement of how well a school is doing. The grades are based largely on ACT Aspire, a test that the manufacturer warns is not to be used in the way Arkansas is using it, and tend to reflect the longstanding imbalance of opportunity and equity in neighborhoods south of 630. At best, F grades could be used to show which communities may need supplemental services and resources. But F grades should never be interpreted to indicate ineffective teaching, bad students or families, or an unfitness to self-govern. And yet, the framework denies families a meaningful voice in their children’s schools on the basis of F grades, an outcome that manages to be both inept and insulting.
The framework’s rollout has been marred by unforced errors which have shaken public trust. Community meetings were a good idea, but the formats were problematic, veering between limiting public comments to a few slanted questions and a small-group format that left people feeling unheard. The sparse, vague framework was unveiled at a meeting with only 16 hours’ notice, with possible FOIA violations, causing consternation and a sense of unfair dealing. At that same meeting, the state board unnecessarily ignited a simmering situation by attempting to cease recognition of the teacher’s union. In separating the district and withholding local control for predominantly black schools, the substance of the framework is clearly divisive, but it’s also a confounding tactical error. The city is intensely united in favor of local control for the whole district, and it is hard to imagine the state getting public support for other aspects of its agenda until it delivers this.
What is needed now from the state board is an imaginative solution that responds to the clear will of the people without undercutting state leaders’ valid and constructive goals. Fortunately, such a solution exists. It’s really nothing new or novel, and it has many authors, but I want to lend my support for it publicly, as I have privately. The state board should modify the framework to return the entire district to a fully empowered local board while continuing supplemental intensive support to the F schools, probably via a memorandum of understanding as Jay Barth has proposed. No “different leadership” for some schools. Modifying the framework in this way would not hinder state leaders’ professed goals of putting students first and continuing programs that they believe are helping F schools. And I hope it would allow us to pivot from today’s mistrust and anger to a more positive relationship between the state board and the people served by LRSD.
September has been challenging. But it’s not too late for a revamped framework that could earn broad support and allow us to focus on providing a world-class education for all of the students of this district, including those I got to meet this month. If you have been fortunate enough to visit an LRSD school recently, or if you know students or teachers in the district, or if you believe that public education is critical to our city and state, then you know that their future is worth fighting for. And, yes, it’s worth correcting course for. Let’s get this framework fixed and move forward. We have a lot to do together, and no time to waste.
UPDATE: Late in the day comes a tweet unearthing a wild document from Diane Zook, longtime LRSD antagnoist and a proponent of giving people of the school district as little clout as possible.
State Board of Education Chair @DianeZook directed ADE staff to give 33 “suggestions” for #LRSD that she collected from nameless, faceless, unverifiable sources equal weight to public feedback. More dirty, disingenuous process from @AsaHutchinson’s SBE. #SaveLRSD pic.twitter.com/ory8nVIoI5
— Tim Jackson (@Tenofee) September 30, 2019
33 anonymous complaints. They come from “more than one” person, Zook assures all. How many fewer than 33? She doesn’t say. Surprise: They don’t like the teachers union and Superintendent Mike Poore, who’s resisted segregating the district and tossing the union without some thought, comes in for some bad words, too.
This is opposed to a broad and continuing outpouring of people who work in, support and send their children to Little Rock schools. All willing to attach their names to their beliefs. Diane Zook — aunt to a Walton-paid lobbyist and wife of lobbyist for the big business community from which LRSD takeover grew — is a piece of work. The pitiful list, given the tens of thousands the Waltons have shipped over the years to a putative grassroots organizer (astroturf is more like it) is a telling commentary of its own.