Paragould, Arkansas   - Northeast Arkansas School District 21st Century Experiment

(See article below the links)

It takes several seconds for each of these links to come up.  They are scans and take longer than one would think to come up If it comes up with colored bock in left top  hand corner, it will come up if you wait on it. After you pull it up once, it will come up quickly the next time.

Scan 1  Superintendent of  Northeast Arkansas School District (NEA) - Schools of the 21st Century White House Mission

Scan 2 Ridgcrest High School Named Break the Mold and Diamond School

Scan 3 Ridgecrest High School Principal recognized as a top educator in the US and receives  $25,000 Milken Award

Scan 4 Sparks Fly at Community Meeting newspaper article on Ridgecrest program

Scan 5 Principal Admits Low Scores But Says His Students Gain More Valuable Skills

Scan 6 Superintendent and principal both resign/lowest scores in county

Scan 7 New Superintendent returns school to basics/low test scores had sent up red flags

Scan 8 Students Detail Problems with School Methods


Northeast Arkansas Failed Experiment

With School of the 21st Century


Paragould, Arkansas School Becomes School of the 21st Century


There is another school district in Northeast Arkansas (the Northeast Arkansas School District in Paragould, Arkansas) that implemented reforms in the early 90's very similar to Fayetteville school district's plan in 2009. .   In fact, in 1995 the superintendent, Lee Vent was invited to go to Washington D.C. to speak on his school's experiences, " in developing its School of the 21st Century."  Superintendent Vent is quoted as saying, "I spoke on how the School of the 21st Century came in being, the steps that went in to implementing it, where we're at now and where we plan to go with it." 1  


School Begins To Receive Awards in 1993


            In 1993 this school district's high school, Ridgecrest High School began to receive great honors for their innovative programs. Jonesboro Sun reported in April, 1993, that "Ridgecrest High School in Paragould has become one of a handful of school districts across the United States working with an educational reform consortium on a project to 'Break the Mold' of today's outdated education system. . . RHS [Ridgecrest High School of the Northeast Arkansas School District ] is now one of only 21 school districts in the entire nation participating in the Break the Mold program.  Northeast Arkansas School district Supt. Lee Vent said he was "ecstatic." Three Northeast Arkansas papers carried stories about these events. 2.  


            The paper reported Vent as saying, "the Northeast district has been a forerunner of many educational changes-such as the district becoming a School of the 21st Century and was ready for the Break the Mold program...Vent said the basic tenants of the way teaching takes place in schools is in the process of being changed."


            The article went on to say that the roots of the program lie with Hillary Rodham Clinton and the National Alliance for Restructuring Education and the Economy.  "Literature from the alliance states it was organized "to redesign and rebuild all of the important features of the education system and the way in which that system relates to the health and other human services systems that vitally affect the development of children and youth in our system."


            The article further states, "The Break the Mold program involves developing non-traditional innovative programs and methods of teaching and sharing the information among pilot schools.  An example would be offering classes during non-traditional times [block scheduling] such as Texarkana's proposal for a 12 month  school year. (Obama is now calling for longer school days, etc.)


            "Vent said one of the greatest advantages of the Break the Mold and Diamond School programs [Diamond School designation is another so called honor and is part of the School of the 21st Century] is that it frees the district from the constraints of most regulations and  bureaucracy."


            The test scores for Ridgecrest High School in the Northeast Arkansas School District, began to drop almost immediately and soon fell to the lowest scores in the county.  However, the school district and the high school principal, continued to receive accolades and awards.  The principal,  John Shewmaker, received a $25,000 Milken Foundation award.  The Daily Press newspaper story October, 1995 headline read, "Milken Foundation selects Ridgecrest principal as a top educator in the US."  "Gene Wilhoit, director of the Arkansas Department of Education, paid Shewmaker a surprise visit during a morning assembly in the Ridgecrest High School and presented the principal with the award." 3  


The Northeast Arkansas School Districts in April 1995 also received the 1995 Pinnacle Award from "The American School Board Journal magazine and its sister publication, The Executive Educator."


Another Jonesboro headline in March, 1996  read, "Ridgecrest keeps winning honors."  "The latest award RHS was being selected by Redbook magazine as one of 'America's Best High Schools.'"  These awards kept coming despite the low achievement scores for the high school. (More about the low scores later.)


Community Meetings As Test Scores Drop & Methods Revealed


People in the community began to wake up as the scores dropped; and complaints came from teachers, parents, and students themselves.  There were several community meetings discussing the methods being used in their school. The Northeast Arkansas Tribune in May, 1995,  used this headline for article "Sparks fly at local COE meeting, Educators, parents verbally spar over goals of controversial program."    Some of the students even gave presentations about the ineffectiveness of methods being used.  


Following is a list from the previous newspaper article of some of the methods to which the community objected.  4  



Shewmaker, the high school principal, was quoted as saying, "RHS [Ridgefield High School] scores on standardized test – which DeClerk had pointed to as evidence achievement declines as reforms take over – are down and will go down again, but he argued students at his school gain more valuable skills. "  4


Supt. & Principal Resign As Test Scores Drop to Lowest In The County and


The controversy escalated as the Ridgecrest scores, once among the highest in the county, dropped to the lowest in the county; and in February, 1996, Ridgecrest Principal   John Shewmaker resigned - only about six months after receiving his prestigious Milken award, and without having another job position. 5


In May of same year the Superintendent resigned with three years left on his contract.   

The community believed both these administrators were forced out because of the low test scores and the controversy in the community.  With so much acclaim, why else would these administrators leave such  prestigious positions?   They both came to the school in 1990-91 and both left in 1996.  Actions taken to return to traditional education (see more on this later)  is also proof that these administrators' actions weren't pleasing to the Board. 6


New Superintendent and School Board Move School Back to Basics


On December 16, 1997 the Jonesboro Sun reported that the new superintendent, "Tom Kimbrell reported to the Paragould Board, 'We're pleased that we're moving in the right direction, but we're not satisfied.'  Low test scores in several areas sent up red flags in the district a few years ago." 


"Director Dr. John Honeycutt noted that with the change in administration last year, the district has undergone a 'philosophical change of back to the basics.  Honeycutt added,  'For the last 10 years or so we've gotten out of the mainstream…we need to get back into the mainstream'…Honeycutt noted that "in the past we've been too quick to embrace a new program."  7


(This part is not in sequence but I wanted to give the main details first.)

Students Detail Problems With Teaching Techniques

Cooperative Learning, Block Scheduling, Multiculturalism, Outcome Based Learning, and Portfolios


At one of the community meetings, three students gave presentations about the problems they encountered with the innovative teaching techniques.  The two biggest problems the students, teachers, and community complained about consistently were the cooperative learning, block scheduling, and multiculturalism.


One student said in reference to an American History class, "She put us in groups, and we tried to learn, and we would get graded in groups; we wouldn't get graded as individuals. She would write down one grade for all of us, and we would all get that one grade.  I guess it was hard to learn like that because she didn't teach us herself.  She let us find the answers, and sometimes they weren't right or wrong.  In Algebra II we did our homework in groups.  We just went around with people who we knew and just did our homework with them.  The teacher didn't seem t teach all that much.


Another student said about cooperative learning, "I am the one that cares about my grade so I do the work; the rest sit back and talk and they get my grade.   I took the work home one Friday night and worked on it all weekend and made a 100 on it, and four other people shared my 100.  The others that don't do the work; it doesn't do anything for them, but they sit back and have some fun and they get a good grade."


In answer to the question, "What was the teacher control like in group learning?" one student said, "You are usually goofing off….About once a week she [teacher] would lecture and that usually would get out of control too.  All you would do is talk.  She wouldn't get us under control at all….I am sure the other classrooms around us could hear us talking, even me;  I was waving at other people across the room too, but I mean there is no control."


This student also talked about block scheduling.  "There is also the 80-minute block courses.  It is an eighty minute course, that is, you know, that takes half as much time to complete  a year.  You usually get in groups."  This student mentioned how hard this schedule was on the normal student because there was so much material to process at one time.  This student, who was an A student said he goofed around during the group time and did his homework at home.


Outcome based learning was another topic this student discussed.  He said, "Then they have a couple of one hundred sixty minute courses…they had algebra and physical science combined.  You stayed in that class the whole one hundred and sixty minutes.  ..They had those tests that if you made bad on them the first time, you take it over and if you don't like your grade that time, you can take it over again.  My best friend was in that.  She really liked it.  She raised her grades from a C to an A, and she said the tests were exactly the same. They didn't change the questions or anything."  [But what does she do while the students are working on the next segment of work, or does the entire class hold up until the slowest learners pass the test?]


One student addressed the multi-culturalism aspect.  She said, "I think that as a Christian we need to know what the occult teaches, but we don't need to know that more than we know about our own religion.  The same thing is true about our country.  We need to be taught more American history than we are taught say something of another country; but at Ridgecrest that is stressed  -  a lot of multiculturalism."


On the subject of portfolios, one of the students said, "The teacher told us they would follow us the rest of our lives.  She said, 'What you put in this will stay with you even after you graduate.  My teacher told us what was going to be included in the portfolios.  Do your best."


 In answer to a question, "How would you feel if you knew portfolios were going to do away with grades and just use portfolios,"  another student answered.  " I would say, Lord, help us.  It's a bunch of garbage"!        


Fayetteville, as well as other school districts and the state, would do well to heed this  warning and experience in the Northeast Arkansas School District in Paragould, Arkansas in the 1990's.  8




Newspaper article on the cost of the school: (This figure is also documented on the school website


1.  Aug 1, 1995 in article entitled "White House mission slated." 


2.  "Ridgecrest has a unique status 'Break the Mold' project."  April 12, 1993.


3.  Ridgecrest High School Principal recognized as a top educator in the US and receives  $25,000 Milken Award


4.  "Sparks fly at community meeting")


5.  Principle Admits Low Scores But Says His Students Learn Something More Valuable")


6. Supt. and Principal Both Resign – Lowest Scores in County)


7.  New Superintendent Returns School to Basics – Low Test Scores Had Sent Up Red Flags


8. Students Detail Problems with School Methods