Postcards on Educational Reform

    The following educational summaries on various educational reform topics  were sent to all legislators in Arkansas  and state school board members  on a weekly basis on 1/2 page size postcards. More summaries  will be added later.   Legislators want summary form information, and they want it short. They can write 50 page laws but don't have time to read but a half a page.  Seriously, we have learned that legislators have so much on their plate that their time is very limited.  We still think they should police themselves and limit the amount of  legislation written and presented;  but at this point,  we are dealing with reality as it is now.

#1 NRT -Nationally Normed Test vs. CRT -Benchmark Tests

Dr. Lawrence Picus indicated some years ago that Kentucky’s state benchmark test cost $848 to $1,792.00 per pupil. Testing with nationally-normed standardized achievement tests runs about $5 per student. Source: KERA UPDATE brochure by Richard G. Innes, a long term education researcher from Kentucky. Phone: 859-344-0406,

Studies conclude multiple choice tests (nationally normed tests -NRT) offer better results at less cost and time than constructed response criterion or benchmark tests (CRT) George K. Cunningham, University of Louisville said. He goes on to say the natural conclusion from these studies is that the CRT tests take more examinee time and resources to measure essentially the same thing more poorly than the multiple choice NRT. He says CRT (benchmark type test) costs about 300 times more to score than an NRT. (Taken from, "Studies Conclude Perf-Based Tests More Expensive and Do Worse Job" by George K. Cunningham. )

Act 1467 de-emphasizes the NRT by requiring it only in 5th & 9th grade and only in reading and math and placing all the sanctions on the benchmark (CRT) tests. See Rules & Regs. for ACT 1467 of 2003. In a recent survey of Arkansas teachers from several schools, 93% of the teachers said the benchmark tests in Arkansas were not designed well for lower achieving students.

 

# 2 Two Versions of Simon's Explanation of Omnibus Bill

Ray Simon’s explanation to the State Board on the Omnibus Bill was quite different from his explanation to both Educational Committees. In his presentation to the committees, he never mentioned that the State Board could use all the sanctions, including consolidation, the first year a school is put in academic distress or on probation. In his presentation to the State Board Simon said:

· "Page 18, Section 11…The second statement is really important for you. The Board MAY at any time take enforcement action on any district in academic distress. Then 11.03, if a public school district fails to be removed from distress within a two (2) year time period, the Board SHALL annex, consolidate or reconstitute the district. MAY the first year, and you SHALL the second."

· Simon stressed these words "May the first year and Shall the second" and used this term seven times in his presentation to the board. In presenting this law to the Educational Committees before Act 14767 was passed Simon never once mentioned the "May the first year" terminology.

· At the adequacy committee meeting, July 26, a ball park figure of twenty plus schools (one legislator mentioned 50) was mentioned as a possible number of schools that may be in academic distress in the coming weeks - schools which would be subject to the State Board's takeover the first year. One big discussion at that meeting was how many new state dept employees and how much money would it take to oversee all these schools.

· Probabtionary status - failure to meet one requirement by the ADE - also allows a takeover by the board the first year. [14 probationary violations are listed in the Regs.]

Approval of the Rules and Regs. For the Omnibus Bill will be voted on by the State Board on August 11, 03. Ten pages of Simon's presentation of the draft to the State Board on June 9, 03, is posted on www.afaar.org From home page click Educational Issues and then look under Legislative Session 2003 and click Omnibus Bill Act 1467 - Transcript of Ray Simon's Explanation to State Board June 9, 03. We have highlighted in red some of the things that concern us most.

 

#3 Can Arkansas Afford To Take Over Half Our Schools?

 

Ray Simon said the number of schools cited or put on probation this year is consistent with numbers from years past - 530 schools were given accreditation citations and 80 schools were placed on probation. The Omnibus bill allows the State Department to consolidate or reconstitute any school as soon as it is put on probation. If this number is consistent next year, 80 schools could be placed on probation and taken over by the State Department as early as May, 04. After two years the Board must consolidate, reconstitute, or take other serious action.

The ballpark figure of 20 schools was mentioned recently at a legislative meeting as the possible number of schools that may be placed on academic distress this year. There will also be other schools placed on fiscal distress. The same rule of allowing consolidation or reconstitution the first year also applies to schools placed in academic or fiscal distress. Again, after two years the Board must. take serious action.

There were 530 schools which were given accreditation citations. A citation two years in a row, even in different areas, will count as a probation against the school which allows the State Board to consolidate or reconstitute the school the first year. Is anyone else becoming alarmed at how many new state department employees and how much money may be required to take over almost half the schools in Arkansas? (There are 1,116 public schools in Arkansas) Is this the reason Governor Huckabee needed 800 new state employees in those service centers he proposed in his original bill, and could this be the backdoor approach to get them?

The large schools also had numerous citations, so no community will go unscathed. Did the legislators consider the backlash of Act 1467 when citizens have their schools taken over, or how the state will afford the lawsuits filed by communities to keep their schools? Is Arkansas treading where no other state has tread? We are afraid they may be.

 

#4 Evidence-Based Problems With Consolidation

Governor Huckabee has proposed consolidating many school districts. See evidence below to show this would be a tragic mistake. This is exactly the type of study citizens deserved from the administration prior to proposing consolidation.

Compared to the 76 large districts, the 234 small districts:

Have a smaller percentage of students scoring below the basic achievement level on the state’s academic tests.

Graduate a higher percentage of students.

Spend less per student. Nearly 2/3 of small districts spend less per student than state average.

Large districts are more likely to be academically low performing than are small districts. More students-both in number and proportion-attend large districts that either spend above the state average or perform academically below the state average than attend small districts that spend above average or perform below average. These results are essentially the same whether a "small" district is defined as one with fewer than 1,500 students or one with fewer than 700 students.

If low academic performance is used to target districts for consolidation, the impacts will be concentrated on the poorest communities with the highest percentage of African American students. Such a strategy flies in the face of scientific research that shows children from impoverished communities do their best in small schools and small districts.

Information taken from "School District Consolidation in Arkansas" by Marty Strange. This article posted on www.ruraledu.org. (Click Focus on Arkansas at the right and then arrow down to PDF Format and look for title.

 

#5 A Hundred Studies Say Consolidation is Wrong

In her review of more than 100 studies on school size, Mary Raywid of Hofstra University writes that the relationship between small schools and positive education has been "confirmed with a clarity and at a level of confidence rare in education research." A US Department of Education study said "students at all socioeconomic levels are successful when they are a part of smaller more intimate learning communities," and that "security improves and violence decreases." Bill Gates is contributing $31 million for a small school initiative based on their success.

The dominant and undisputed theme in these studies is that minority and poor students do better in all areas in small schools, and these are the schools that would most likely be consolidated under Governor Huckabee’s plan. These studies have been done in Alaska, California, Georgia, Montana, Ohio, Texas, West Virginia, and in Arkansas with the same results. Studies have also shown that small school districts accomplish more with less money in more difficult situations.

If you go to the doctor for an ailment and he prescribes a treatment that all research shows will make the problem worse, you have a good case for a malpractice suit. Despite the evidence, Governor Huckabee is still pushing for consolidation. Arkansas just paid $ 300, 000 for an evidenced based adequacy study. If evidence is so important, why isn’t he looking at the evidence concerning consolidation.

We challenge the governor, legislators, and media to promote real solutions based on evidence rather than an agenda, and on quality and not quantity.

See <http://www.afaar.org/Consolidation%20Studies.htm> for about 40 summaries of these studies.

# 6 TAX BURDENS

Accounts receivable tax, building permit tax, capital gains tax, CDL license tax, cigarette tax, corporate income tax, court fines (indirect taxes), dog license tax, federal income tax, federal unemployment tax (FUTA), fishing license tax, food license tax, fuel permit tax, gasoline tax (42 cents per gallon), hunting license tax, inheritance tax, interest expense (tax on the money), inventory tax, IRS interest charges (tax on top of tax), IRS penalties (tax on top of tax), liquor tax, local income tax, luxury taxes, marriage license tax, Medicare tax, property tax, real estate tax, septic permit tax, service charge taxes, Social Security tax, road use taxes (truckers), sales taxes, recreational vehicle tax, road toll booth taxes, school tax, state income tax, state unemployment tax (SUTA), telephone federal excise tax, telephone federal universal service fee tax, telephone federal, state and local surcharge taxes, telephone minimum use surcharge tax, telephone recurring and non-recurring charges tax, telephone state and local tax, telephone use charge tax, toll, bridge taxes, toll tunnel taxes, traffic fines (indirect taxation), trailer registration tax, utility taxes, vehicle license registration tax, vehicle sales tax, watercraft registration tax, well permit tax, workers' compensation tax."

COMMENT: Not one of these taxes existed 100 years ago and our nation was the most prosperous in the world, had absolutely no national debt, had the largest middle class in the world and Mom stayed home to raise the kids. What do you think changed?"

Legislators should find a way to cut waste instead of adding to the tax burden–– even for education!

Taken from an e-mail. Author Unknown

#7 YOUR TAX DOLLARS AT WORK

According to an Eagle Forum board member who is a former Arkansas State Representative, voters must hold their elected representatives accountable at every level.

This former representative reports that state government continues to grow with over 50,024 state employees, the largest employer in Arkansas. Oklahoma has over 800,000 more residents and 14,000+ fewer state employees. Tennessee has nearly double our population and 6,000 fewer state employees. Texas has 9 times the population but only 275,000 total state employees. As you can see, we are still a "good ole boy" state taking care of political patronage - something that, unfortunately, has not changed with a Republican administration. Governor Huckabee has increased state employment roles by nearly 7,000 since entering office in 1996.

With the increased tax burden on Arkansas at both the state and local level, we as a state are quickly slipping into the abyss of being a permanent welfare state. Over 25% of the residents receive some type of entitlement from DHS. ArKids First will truly be the downfall of this state due to the spiraling cost of this program and the continued expansion of those who can qualify.

The Arkansas Policy Foundation’s Murphy Commission studies made recommendations for streamlining departments of state government in the late 1990's (Unfortunately, our state’s leadership has chosen to continue "business as usual.") Check out their web site at Executive Director, Greg Kaza, does an excellent job keeping up-to-date data available.

# 8 ACT Scores Higher in Small Districts With High Poverty

Battle over school size and achievement continues

Recently the Arkansas Department of Education released an analysis showing ACT scores are better in large districts than in small districts. Within days the national Rural School and Community Trust shot back with data showing that ACT scores are higher in the 130 smaller school districts where there are high poverty levels than in the large schools with high poverty levels.

The Rural Trust in their study, District Size and ACT Scores in Arkansas, divided districts into 4 poverty quartiles: (1) Very Low Poverty (2) Below Average Poverty (3) Above Average Poverty (4) Very High Poverty. The mean ACT was given for each group. In Very high Poverty Quartile, large districts had ACT score of 17.7 and small districts an average of 18.4. In the Above Average Poverty Quartile, large districts had a 19.2 average and small schools a 19.8.

State and national educational reforms emphasize narrowing the gap between higher and lower achieving students. Senate Education Committee Chair Senator Argue stated on TV that "Not a single state does a poorer job educating minority students in America than we do –– not a single state." Consolidation would worsen this problem.

ADE said their data show that larger districts expose students to a more challenging variety of courses and better prepare them for the rigors of college. Another divisive line may have been drawn in this consolidation battle. Whom will the reforms favor, the affluent or the poor?

# 9 Arkansas Standards Earn Low Grades (F & D) on Two Evaluations

Arkansas standards around which our benchmark tests are built were rated by three national organizations in a 50-state study. One organization gave them an F, one a D, and one a B-. On the B- score, there were only 8 states that received anything lower (grade inflation?). Recently Arkansas was given an F on its history standards, earning only 2 points on a 30 point scale.

 

In 1998, in a 50-state study, Fordham Foundation gave Arkansas an F on its standards, American Federation of teachers gave Arkansas a D, and the Council for Basic Education (CBE) a B- . That is an overall grade point average of 1.3. In other words, ADE definitely would score below basic on the evaluation of its standards. Remember that 95% of teachers and superintendents on surveys said they had nothing to do with developing these standards. Arkansas still earned an overall grade of F on all subjects combined on Fordham's evaluation in 2000.

Arkansas did get a B- from CBE. Rep. Mahoney and ADE Director Ray Simon have used that grade to defend our standards, but they did not mention that only 8 states out of 50 received a lower score than that. CBE rated the math standards based on National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). Simon said in a letter that Arkansas standards were based on NCTM standards and also said Arkansas math benchmark tests were evaluated by the NCTM. CBE’s evaluation then would be a little like evaluating one’s own work

 

Shouldn’t we start our educational reforms with the priorities, curriculum and standards and first correct things that don’t cost money before asking taxpayers for billions of dollars for reforms that are just smokescreens used by the ADE to cover up the real problems?

# 10 Vermont Decided to Fund Small Schools Rather Than Close Them

Vermont did a study of small schools in 1997 when it adopted a new system of funding education with the majority of legislators intending to close them (small being fewer than 100 students). The department’s report came to a surprising conclusion. These extremely small schools in Vermont cost more to operate than larger schools, but they are worth the investment because of the value they add to student learning and community cohesion. Academically, small school students do as well or better than large school students, despite living in communities with higher rates of poverty and lower education levels. Instead of consolidating the schools, they provided additional funding to cover the higher costs of the state’s smallest school districts.

This study was ordered under Act 60, the Equal Educational Opportunity Act of 1997 which was passed as a response to the Vermont Supreme Court ruling that the state’s foundation formula was unconstitutional, very similar to the Lakeview case.

How differenct their response was to Governor Huckabee’s. They actually did the study before making the decision. That would be an evidence based decision rather than agenda based. For this study and links to the law and the actual results of the study see: <http://www.newrules.org/equity/versmall.html>. The article is entitled "Vermont’s funding of small schools."

# 11 Scores Worse After ADE Takeover

Dr. Charity Smith gave a glowing, power-point, graph presentation to the State Board on Monday, October 13, about how scores had improved steadily statewide and how ADE’s intervention had improved scores in all academic distressed schools. On a closer examination of her presentation on paper, her graphs of scores were extremely deceptive. For example, while the state increased from 31% to 67% on the number of students scoring Proficient on the math benchmark exam since 1998, Altheimer’s scores decreased from 19% Proficient to 13% Proficient. The ADE intervened at Altheimer in 1997.

First, Dr. Smith used 4th grade benchmark scores only on her graphs. That is the grade in which there was great improvement - 12% statewide on the benchmark tests this last year. Altheimer improved, but only 5%.

Second, for the state scores and for several of the schools, Smith included all years from 1998 through 2003. However, on the graphs of scores for Altheimer and Elaine, which have been under the control of the ADE since 1997 and under their total control this last year, she included only the scores for the last three years. In a quick power point presentation no one would notice this.

In 1998 and in 2000 (two of the years left off Smith’s graphs) Altheimer had 19% scoring Proficient in Math compared to 13% Proficient in Math in 2003 The state increased from 31% to 67% on the number of students scoring Proficient on the 4th grade math benchmark exam since 1998, but Altheimer’s scores decreased from 19% Proficient to 13% Proficient. No wonder Dr. Smith left these years off her graphs. On the 6th grade and 8th grade math scores, not included on the graphs, there were ZERO students who scored Proficient at Altheimer in 8th grade math or literacy and only 3% in 6th Grade Math and in Literacy. (ADE Website - Report Card)

For some of us teachers, these results are no surprise. It is typical of government control. How many examples like this will it take for the legislature to realize how devastating it will be when the ADE takes over half our schools under the Omnibus bill? Look for other deceptive scores on future postcards.

#12 ADE Presents Deceptive Scores on Elaine

In the last postcard we informed you that Dr. Charity Smith, Assistant Director of Accountability, gave a glowing, power-point, graph presentation to the State Board on Monday, October 13, about how scores had improved steadily statewide and how ADE’s intervention had improved scores in all academic distressed schools. However, her presentation of scores was extremely deceptive. While the state increased from 31% to 67% on the number of students scoring Proficient on the math benchmark exam from 1998 to 2003, Elaine’s scores decreased from 33% to 24%.

First, Dr. Smith used 4th grade benchmark scores only on her graphs. That is the grade in which there was great improvement - 12% statewide on the benchmark tests this last year.

Second, for the state scores and for several of the schools, Smith included 6 years, from 1998 through 2003. However, on the graphs of scores for Altheimer and Elaine, which have been under the control of the ADE since 1997 and under their total control this last year, she included only the scores for the last three years. In a quick power point presentation no one would notice this.

In 1998 (one of the years left off Smith’s graphs) Elaine had 33% of students scoring Proficient or Above in 4th grade Math compared to 24% Proficient in Math in 2003. The state increased from 31% to 67% on the number of students scoring Proficient on the 4th grade math benchmark exam from 1998 to 2003, but Elaine’s scores decreased from 33% Proficient in math to 24 % during those years. No wonder Dr. Smith left these years off her graphs. In 2002 there were still ZERO students scoring proficient in Math in 6th & 8th Grade at Elaine. On the SAT-9 tests 10th graders were scoring at 34th percentile in 1997 & 32nd percentile in 1996, but there has been a consistent decline to the 23rd percentile in 2003. (6th & 8th grades were not included on Smith’s graphs nor were the SAT-9 scores - these would not have shown improvement like the benchmarks.

For some of us, these results are no surprise. It is typical of government control. When the government controls the educational system, there will be no real accountability because the government will have the power to deceive the people just like in the situation above. They can make their own test and manipulate the results.

 

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