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Thursday, May 12, 2016

Now is the time for all good men....



     Having been an English teacher for 32 years, I often think in quotations. A number of them have been running through my mind in recent days as I follow the events unfolding in Little Rock, where citizen-activists are trying to take back their school district from the jaws of the leviathan, aka the State Board of Education.
      First was the saying that I typed over and over again as a high school junior learning to use a keyboard:  "Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country." (emphasis mine) Yes, the time is now; the call to action is for all. There are some things that, if they are lost, you can never regain. If we don't act now to stop the encroachment of unelected state bureaucrats and political appointees on our rights to educate our children in our communities in schools overseen by our democratically elected representatives, we may soon be too late to stop the government steamroller.
      Remember, "All it takes for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing." Americans (and Arkansans) are not powerless victims of our government. We are not sheep. Our history and our national DNA empower us to resist evil, resist tyranny, be unaccepting of the attitude that "Big Brother" knows best. We need to stand up for our rights and the rights of others who are also fighting this battle.
      That brings me to the last quotation that has been ringing through my consciousness, by the 16th century poet and theologian John Donne:  "No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main." Even though I live 130 miles from Little Rock and my school district is a different as can be from LRSD, it still behooves me to #StandUp4LR too, because we are all one state, because our education budget comes from the same pot of money, because the same treatment that is meted out to them today can be meted out to me and my school tomorrow, because they are fighting on the front lines of the battle against charter schools (that educate some) draining funding from traditional public schools (that educate all), because it is the right thing to do.

     To all of you who love public schools, who feel that public education is the great equalizer in our country, who know that traditional public schools provide the best opportunity for the most students--gird up your loins, polish your weapons and your armor, get ready for action, for there's a battle coming and it's for the future of our children and our communities. We can no longer accept the narrative (lie) that public schools are failing; that "government" schools exist only to brainwash children with a liberal agenda; that "choice" is the magic formula that will send every child to Harvard, or at least deliver him from an evil system. We have been inactive too long and now the wolf is at the door. Wake up! Get involved! Join the fight! 

      This hasn't been the most polished post, but it is heartfelt. I'll leave you with the words (from a press release responding to the State Board of Education's lackluster response to appeals from a large number of LRSD patrons to deal more fairly with them and the district) of Bill Kopsky, a Little Rock Public Schools parent who is in the thick of the fight to return that district to local control:
Concerned citizens flooded the state board of education meeting today to #StandUp4LR and voice their concerns to the board and Commissioner Johnny Key about school closures, privatization, improving academic achievement and the lack of community engagement on destabilizing decisions that continue to rock our schools and our city.  
This meeting came just after Commissioner Key granted a waiver to a low performing charter school that missed the deadline to request approval to expand and relocate in Little Rock. It is also the same week that LISA Academy sent an enrollment mailer that excluded low income neighborhoods and neighborhoods with high minority populations.
The Arkansas Board of Education’s response to the citizen outcry was tepid. They passed two motions. One creating a Civic Advisory Board and the other hastening a review of academic progress, but it is simply not enough.
The State Department of Education neglected the Civic Advisory Council, and residents have little reason to have faith that the new Civic Advisory Board will be treated with any more respect. Board member Chambers stated that we should have community forums, which we should, but the Civic Advisory Council has already had a series of forums which Commissioner Key and the State Board ignored. The process of state control of any school district has been made illegitimate by the bungling of the situation in Little Rock in a rush toward an agenda of school privatization and segregation.
Reforms the State Board could enact which would have real meaning moving forward would be:
  • Implementing a moratorium on charter schools in Arkansas until there is greater evidence of their value, until their problems with segregation can be addressed by creating more transparent and accountable enrollment processes, and until there is a comprehensive plan on how they will integrate with existing public school structures without wasting taxpayer dollars by duplicating services in some areas, while ignoring the parts of our city with the most need.
  • The State Board of Education should hold monthly hearings on enrolment at LISA Academy, eStem and other charter schools about the demographics of their enrolment and their outreach strategies.
  • The State Board should insist that the staff at ADE and the LRSD create a process on how they will handle school closures that are likely due to budget cuts. How will those decisions be made? How will the community be able to inform those decisions? How can those decisions be made that ensure the principle of quality and equitable educational opportunities for ALL students in the district? The expansion of charter schools will only accelerate the drive to close more schools in Little Rock -- the State Board and Commissioner Key need to hold community meetings where they meet directly with impacted students, families, staff and neighborhoods.
  • The State Board should create a clear, transparent, and accelerated path back to the local control of an elected school board. The State Department and Board of Education’s actions have proven the state is either unable or unwilling to making decisions in our children’s best interests.   
  • The State Board should convene a committee to look the existing consensus on research proven strategies that improve student outcomes.The Department's attention should be focused on those areas instead of divisive battles on discredited privatization. There are research based reforms we already know will work. Student achievement would start rising tomorrow if we implemented them today. PreK, nutrition and afterschool programs are just a few of the things we should be investing in, rather than polarizing and segregating experiments.  
  • Finally it is time for Commissioner Key to resign or be replaced. He has rigged the process to favor an ideological agenda of privatizing public schools despite a mountain of evidence of the harm it would do to Little Rock’s students and community. He has made unaccountable and non-transparent decisions about our Superintendent, about approving charter school expansions, about hiring unlicensed novice teachers to serve in the neediest schools and more. He has broken the public’s trust and simply has no remaining credibility to lead the Department.