State Education Department shows its bias; and 'report card' shows its flaws | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, April 16, 2015

State Education Department shows its bias; and 'report card' shows its flaws

Posted By on Thu, Apr 16, 2015 at 6:46 AM

An article in today's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette illustrated again the bias in the state Education Department toward charter schools (and against the Little Rock School District.)

In business now for seven years, the Covenant Keepers charter school in Southwest Little Rock has never achieved proficiency as measured by standardized test scores. Yet a department reviewing panel decided yesterday to take no action against the school. It will continue to operate.

Similar lack of proficiency among six of the 48 Little Rock School District Schools prompted declaration of an emergency takeover of the entire school district by the state. Some of its schools had achieved improvement and there were documented efforts underway to address problems. These same rationales were offered and accepted to allow Covenant Keepers to keep operating.

I particularly noted this quote:

Scott Smith, executive director of the Arkansas Public School Research Center that serves as a school improvement consultant, said it is unacceptable for any school, particularly an independently operated charter school, to be in academic distress.

"The issue for you today is how are they responding to their academic distress scenario and what evidence they are putting before you that they are moving out of academic distress and performing well," Smith said. "It doesn't make sense to close a school if it might be a good model of making good progress with a concerning population and is showing evidence of things that could be helpful to this school and other schools."

APSRC is a richly funded private operation (underwritten by the Walton Family Foundation) that works tirelessly for charter schools and against the interests of the Little Rock School District. Smith is effectively a paid charter school lobbyist and antagonist to the Little Rock public schools. His quote could have been applied verbatim to the Little Rock School District (not that Smith would ever do such a thing). In fact it was said by advocates for Little Rock schools in their opposition to a takeover. But it elicited no sympathy from the state Department of Education for the Little Rock district.

When you are a charter school and backed by Walton money, it means never having to say you are sorry in Arkansas, particularly with former key Walton enabler Johnny Key now in charge of the Education Department. See the refusal to hold such outfits as Academics Plus charter in Maumelle to account for failure to deliver on its founding principles.

But I repeat myself.

I'm still waiting for a response from Key on whether he cares that Blue Hog Report has presented a strong case for a review of whether the man he's kept in charge of the Little Rock School District, Dexter Suggs, had plagiarized his doctoral dissertation.

Plagiarism aside, Suggs has mucked up multiple matters since "freed" from that awful School Board. He has mounted a witch hunt against proven teachers at a top-rated school; moved to reorganize schools without talking to staff and parents first; proposed to screw up a successful elementary (Rockefeller) and ruin its historic early childhood program; messed with a popular pre-K program at one of the district's best elementary schools (Forest Park), and made an appearance of trimming administrators while reportedly telling many of them not to worry, that they'll just be rebranded into different jobs. There's an emergency meeting of Forest Park parents at noon today to dissuade Suggs from screwing with their school.

PS — Yes, if you're scoring, Covenant Keepers got an F on the state's new school report card. I join with those not ready to make sweeping declarations based on such scores. It does address an at-risk community of kids. It's hard to do this job. And, speaking of hard work, the Democrat-Gazette's veteran education reporter, Cynthia Howell, in addition to covering the charter school pane,l provided, along with Jeannie Roberts, a deep, nuanced and comprehensive report on the new school report cards. In the words of many school people, including leaders of schools that are NOT failing by any measure, you get a broader understanding of the pitfalls in trying to reduce a district or school to a single letter grade based on a test given a year ago. This is not intended as an excuse for anyone. But that letter grade doesn't tell the whole story. Every school should get the kind of sympathetic review that Covenant Keepers got yesterday. Politics and Walton money dictates they won't, not if they are in the LRSD.

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