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A Tale of Two Performances

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Thursday, October 18, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 18, 2012

"It was the best of times (Top Schools in Arkansas), it was the worst of times (Bottom Schools in Arkansas), it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way." - Charles Dickens

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Teachers' Right to Work

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2013

I strongly support the Arkansas Constitution when it says that everyone, regardless of their membership or non-membership in a union, has the right to work in our state. I also believe that when it comes to joining or quitting a union, the playing field should be even.

In the LREA Membership Application, it clearly states that " order to resign my membership, I must submit certified letters of resignation to the Little Rock Education Association office and the Little Rock School District Financial Services/Business Office dated no earlier than June 15 and no later than July 15. I also understand that although I have elected to pay in installments, I am responsible for the entire dues amount."

In other words, you may join the union at any time by simply completing and submitting the application, but you may only resign by certified letter delivered to two different locations within the prescribed one month window or be forced to pay another year's annual dues through monthly payroll deductions collected by the district.

Reads like one of those bad fitness club agreements from the '90s.

There is an alternative in order to keep more money in the pockets of new and veteran teachers. For 25% of the annual $701 LREA/AEA/NEA membership, teachers may join the professional, non-union Arkanas State Teachers Association for $180 annually and receive benefits comparable to or exceeding those of union membership.

Unfortunately, the LREA collective bargaining agreement bars the Little Rock School District from sharing this, or any other alternative professional group, information with its teachers and staff.

Further, the district's collectively bargained certified contract pays the heads of both the LREA and the Arkansas Education Association/National Education Association (AEA/NEA), then is reimbursed by the respective unions. For the record, ASTA pays its own management directly.

When a district prohibits employees from quitting a union at any time, allows any group to hold a monopoly on professional group choice, collects - through monthly payroll deduction - over $1,000,000 in annual dues, and hands it over to the union with no administrative fee, someone - administrative or elected - was either asleep or complicit across the bargaining table.

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The Teacher Salary Gap

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The 2011-12 Teacher Salary Analysis by the Arkansas Department of Education clearly demonstrates the priorities of the state's 238 public school districts when it comes to the recruitment, retention and rewarding of teachers.

Despite all the talk about performance, teacher salaries are generally based on two factors: 1) Degree(s)/Additional Hours and 2) Longevity.

The state's top salaries for both new and top of the scale veteran teachers are in Springdale, with salaries ranging from $43,320 (BA - 0 Years) to $71,820 (MA - Top of Scale).

Little Rock, the state's largest and richest district, is firmly in the top ten for veteran teachers, ranking fifth (BA - 15 Years), seventh (BA - Top of Scale), sixth (MA - 15 Years), and ninth (MA - Top of Scale).

Little Rock is a union-certified (Little Rock Education Association) collective bargaining district. Springdale, along with most every other public school district in the state, is not. 

Glaringly, starting salaries in Little Rock rank 71st in the state for those with a BA ($33,285) and 42nd for those with a Masters ($38,309). That's a 95% ($31,556) difference between the bottom and top of the scale ($64,841). By contrast, Springdale has a 66% ($28,500) difference.

Factor in payroll-deducted, district-collected union dues of $701 annually, and Little Rock starting teachers who join the union rank 91st in Arkansas. 

My household is a member of three unions, and our dues are based on income. In the LREA/AEA/NEA, every teacher pays the same. For first year teachers, that's over 2% of his/her income. For top of the scale teachers, it's 1%. Talk about a regressive tax.

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Little Rock, State Education Boards on Wrong Side of History

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Tuesday, October 9, 2012

In a 6 - 0 vote, the Little Rock School Board again demonstrated its tone deafness and myopic perspective on the issue of choice by going on record in opposition to three proposed independently run charter schools for the 2013-14 school year.

Charter schools are free, public schools run independently of the district.

Approval or denial of the charters rests solely with the Arkansas State Board of Education, which will hear the district's opposition at its November meeting.

One of the opposed applications was presented by Responsive Education Solutions, one of the nation's leading charter management organizations. The proposed 9 through 12 Premier High School, modeled after 24 similar schools in Texas, would be constructed on the campus of Arkansas Baptist College, where Dr. Fitz Hill is innovatively improving lives, families, and the surrounding community.

The Little Rock School District continues to fight charters in federal court, arguing that they compete with district magnet schools.

Of course they do! When three of the 48 lowest performing schools in Arkansas (out of 1,080) are Little Rock School District magnets (Henderson Middle, McClellan High, and J.A. Fair High), parents and students deserve an alternative.

The word "magnet" implies attraction. What's attractive about being among the lowest of the low?

Fully 16.6% of the state's lowest performing 48 schools are in Little Rock, including three of its five high schools (McClellan, Fair and Hall). Two of its seven middle schools are also on the list - Henderson and the district-run charter, Cloverdale.

Three of its elementary schools are on the list, including Baseline Elementary, which was cited by district officials as reason to oppose the application of KidsSmart Cultural Arts Charter School, which would also be located on Baseline.

Lest you think hope remains alive at the state board, this gubernatorial-appointed body rejected Responsive Education's application for Texarkana, termed by many to be the best charter school application ever presented in Arkansas, even though the district's Arkansas High School is also one of the 48 lowest performing schools in Arkansas.

What's next? For years, the Little Rock School Board has denied parents in Zones 4, 5 and 6 a middle school. When a public school district refuses to provide proximate public education for 3/7 of its population, giving its parents no public choice but to seek an open enrollment charter, what justification could possibly be given to oppose it? The board's default competition argument won't work when it won't even field a team.

Monopolies have no incentive to change. Justifying every action or inaction with 23-year old desegregation remedies which haven't worked has taken precedence over excellence. If the district can't or won't provide it, it should not obstruct those that will.

Fifty-five years ago, heroic teenagers didn't fight and overcome the state's insistence on "separate but equal" so subsequent generations could become protectionists of "together but failed." Choice then (integration) was, as choice today (competition) is, all about excellence, not sameness. When the means became prioritized over the ends, eyes left the prize.

But once again, choice is coming. Parents and history demand it. The Little Rock and State Boards should either lead, follow or get out of the way, as simply opposing is not doing the jobs they were elected or appointed to do and will relegate them to the wrong side of another historic struggle to educate all of our children.

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Common Core for Smarties

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Thursday, September 27, 2012

Arkansas is one of 45 states and three territories implementing the Common Core Standards Initiative, which supports the development of a unified, comprehensive and consistent assessment system. All public schools in the state are on the following timeframe:

  • Kindergarten - 2nd grades: last school year
  • 3rd - 8th grade: this school year
  • 9th - 12th grades: 2013-2014 school year
  • Common Assessment: 2014-2015 school year

For the what, why and how of Common Core, watch the video and/or visit

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Again, Abysmal Voter Turnout Proves Need to Change School Election Date

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Wednesday, September 19, 2012

One need only look to voter turnout in two hotly contested races in the largest school district in Arkansas to be reminded of the inanity of September School Elections.

With the results still unofficial, in Zone 6, without an incumbent, Michael (Pete) Peterson defeated Laveta Wills-Hale 260 to 172. That's 432 total votes, meaning it only took 217 to win the election.

In Zone 7, incumbent Dianne Curry received 217 votes to Tanya Dixon's 193. Ms. Curry, who is two votes away from an outright victory, will avoid a runoff if the 13 Outstanding Military and Overseas ballots are returned in her majority favor. At present, 435 votes were cast in Zone 7. If a run-off is required, it too will be held by itself.

The only candidate not supported by Representative John Walker or the Little Rock Education Association was the spoiler in Zone 7 - Frances Johnson, a bilingual mother of three honors students who, because of work and personal commitments, was unable to mount a traditional campaign.

Mr. Walker backed Wills-Hale and Dixon, while the LREA supported Peterson and Curry.

Leslie Fisken, who ran unopposed in Zone 3, managed 70 votes.

Legislators around the state and their respective superintendents who prefer these insider elections just the way the are, should stop complaining about Little Rock's dysfunction and drain on the state's coffers. This is what happens when parents, employers, and property tax paying citizens are, by design, disenfranchised from the governance of their public schools.

867 votes have decided how Little Rock will spend state funding and challenge the State of Arkansas in court. In other words, we continue to get what everybody's paying for.

Tags:  Date  Election  Governance  School 

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Educational Success or Failure - Either Way, We're Paying for It

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Thursday, September 13, 2012

Of the State of Arkansas's $4,747,500,000 annual general revenue, $3,038,400,000 (64%) is spent on education.

General Education (K - 12) and its 468,066 students receive $2,183,850,000 (46%) of general revenue, while the state's Higher Education institutions and their 155,201 students receive $854,550,000 (18%).

The success or failure of General and Higher Education directly impact the other major areas of the state budget - Health & Human Services' $1,091,925 (23%) and Criminal Justice's $427,275,000 (9%).

There are currently 468,066 students being taught by 33,983 teachers in 1,080 public schools in 239 school districts in Arkansas. Our cumulative graduation rate is 80.7%. If that were a grade, we're less than a point away from a C+.

Education excellence, or lack thereof, directly affects us all. Let's make sure our elected, appointed and administrative officials, at all levels, maximize our investment. Otherwise, Health & Human Services and Criminal Justice will one day be the new 64%.

Tags:  budget  department of finance and administration  education  spending  state  state representative  state senator  students 

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