On eve of state takeover decision, more voices for and against; former LRSD board member Jody Carreiro in latter camp | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

On eve of state takeover decision, more voices for and against; former LRSD board member Jody Carreiro in latter camp

Posted By on Wed, Jan 28, 2015 at 12:21 AM

click to enlarge GRACIOUS IN DEFEAT: Although he recently lost his seat on the LRSD board, Jody Carreiro tells the state to resist calls to take over the Little Rock district. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • BRIAN CHILSON
  • GRACIOUS IN DEFEAT: Although he recently lost his seat on the LRSD board, Jody Carreiro tells the state to resist calls to take over the Little Rock district.
Tomorrow is the Little Rock School District's big day before the State Board of Education. I expect to be there at the Department of Education all day myself, and Max will undoubtedly jump in as well from time to time.

As he put it earlier, this is high drama for anyone anywhere who cares about public schools. It's hugely important not just for Little Rock schools or Arkansas schools, but American schools. Public education in the U.S. is facing huge changes, for better or worse, and its basic governance is being transformed by powerful actors both in the business world (not least Arkansas's own Walton family, who've given tens of millions to the cause of school reform) and in national politics. Not only does the fate of the LRSD have obvious symbolic significance because of its history in the annals of civil rights and integration, it also reflects contemporary battles over education reform, democracy and equity that have played out over the past decade in New Orleans, in Newark, in Washington, D.C. and in other American cities. 

Say this, at least — the state takeover question has gotten residents of Little Rock engaged in their public schools again. State Board members have told me they're being flooded with calls and emails from all sides of the issue, from all sorts of people. That's significant, especially considering fewer than 1,500 people cast ballots in last fall's Little Rock school board election in two zones of the city.

As many people mentioned at last night's forum sponsored by Arkansas Community Organizations — let's hope this public energy can be sustained, regardless of what the state board does tomorrow.

I thought I'd add links to a few other voices out there. First, there are the two online petitions that have been circulating. One, spearheaded by parent and activist Barclay Key, urges the state to avoid takeover; it currently has around 650 signatures. The second, started by Aristotle CEO Marla Johnson, has over 1,200 signatures but is more nebulous: Although it asks the state board for "IMMEDIATE change," it never actually calls for takeover. (Johnson, who endorsed takeover at a previous state board meeting, told me the petition was agitating against inaction, not for a particular course of action. She said it would not be presented to the State Board as evidence of public support for takeover. "It is not a petition for takeover, and I would never present it as such," she wrote.)

This evening, Jody Carreiro, the former LRSD board member from Zone 5 in West Little Rock, posted a letter to Facebook making some important points against takeover. Carreiro, who was defeated by Jim Ross in the fall election, had a few sharp words for the district and the current board, but he ultimately called for a state-district partnership. Despite the LRSD's problems, it's also made gains, he argued:

In general, in the past several years that we can compare, LRSD third grade literacy proficiency percentage has improved 7 out of 8 years.  This has occurred while the district as a whole has went from high 50%’s to just over 70% FRL [students receiving free and reduced lunch].  So that to me is a pretty solid path of improvement while the incoming students are arguably further behind from the beginning.  That doesn’t happen in a distressed district;  this is improvement and should be noted.  By no means do you substitute that success for all of the other problems, but it should be considered.

Carreiro also noted the correlation seen everywhere between poverty and low scores. He noted that concentrating poverty exacerbates the problem: "A second leading contributor is density of FRL. That is, the “prediction line” is not straight, once you pass 80% or so FRL, the results are even worse."

He also said that the below-50 percent scores at the LRSD's six academically distressed schools don't seem that unusual when you consider that the vast majority of their students are kids in the free and reduced lunch population: "I looked at the TAG (Targeted Achievement Group which includes FRL, English Learners and Special Ed) results at the state level for the 11th grade Literacy exam. It is about 55% and has been the past few years. Therefore, it would appear the state as a whole has only about a 10% better pass ratio in Literacy than the three [academically distressed Little Rock] high schools."

Carreiro also includes a list of recommendations for the district regardless of whether the state takes over.  Here's his full letter:

For a counterpoint, look at the numbers assembled by education reformist Gary Newton on the Arkansas Learns blog. While he notes that literacy scores at Central and Parkview are high, he questions the assumption that even these schools are performing as well as widely assumed: "Since 2011, Central has been designated by the Arkansas Department of Education as a Needs Improvement - Focus school, among the 122 lowest performing schools in Arkansas. While it is a top 20% performer in Literacy, it is bottom 34% in Algebra, bottom 24% in Geometry, and bottom 49% in Biology."

"The highest performing middle school, Pulaski Heights, is also a Needs Improvement - Focus school (bottom 122 in Arkansas), ranking in the bottom 34% in Math and bottom 38% in Literacy," he writes. Newton also has his own "no matter what happens with the state board" list of action items for the district to consider.

OK — now let's see what does happens.

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