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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

El Dorado Promise a winner for city schools; no charters needed

Posted By on Tue, Apr 29, 2014 at 2:17 PM

click to enlarge BRIGHT FUTURES: El Dorado Superintendent Bob Watson celebrates a high school gym full of college scholarship winners. - W.I. BELL
  • W.I. Bell
  • BRIGHT FUTURES: El Dorado Superintendent Bob Watson celebrates a high school gym full of college scholarship winners.

El Dorado
had "signing day" Monday for some 300 El Dorado High graduates who'll be heading to college in the fall with scholarships thanks to the El Dorado Promise scholarship underwritten by Murphy Oil for all district graduates. A new study from the University of Arkansas confirms the positive impact the program has had on the district and students. I think it illustrates the antidote to school reformers' single-minded pursuit of charter schools and vouchers.

I was encouraged to mention the Office of Education Policy report by a UA faculty member with whom I've jousted over the years about the UA's Walton-funded effort to push their benefactors' vision of education reform into Arkansas — and national — law and practice. I'm happy to do so because El Dorado refutes the notion that you must start over with charters or private schools to solve school problems. You can also fix what you've got. Throwing money at schools — that catch phrase derisively uttered so often by school "reformers" — indeed can work if thrown smartly. In El Dorado, they threw Murphy Oil money at scholarships (the cost of an Arkansas college annual tuition, now up to about $7,800, to every graduate and renewable); at specialists in math and other subjects; at summer camps for minority students; at cash rewards for good test scores. They threw money from a tax increase at a glorious new high school. They should throw a big retirement gift at Bob Watson, retiring this summer after a remarkable and effective 29 years as superintendent.

Results: Flight from El Dorado to whiter neighboring districts has been reversed. Test scores beat those of peers, particularly among black and poorer students. Three cheers for El Dorado. Three cheers for OEP for data on the success. 

Imagine: What if the Waltons, rather than underwriting yet another charter school to siphon better-situated students from the Little Rock School District to charter schools, threw some money at a Little Rock Promise?

That's how I concluded a column I wrote for this week about this scholarship program. It can, by the way, be added to other scholarships to cover added costs. Henderson University, for one, matches all Promise scholarships. 116 members of this year's class also received Arkansas Challenge scholarships.
   You can read it here.

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