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Support HB 1422 - Move School Elections to General

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Tuesday, February 24, 2015
Updated: Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Quick, what is the date of the School Election?

If you don't know, that's because those who benefit most from obscure, low turnout elections like it that way. They prefer their low turnout "informed voters" over the people's high turnout "uninformed voters." And whom do they consider "uninformed voters?" Easy. Those who can't correctly answer the question above (i.e. most of us).

But, just because that's the way it's been doesn't mean that's how it has to be. Here are just some of the reasons we support HB 1422, sponsored Representative Nate Bell and Senator Jane English, which would, among other things, move school elections to the general election.

  • The local school boards of Arkansas’s 237 school districts govern the largest local government entities in Arkansas, spending over $5 billion annually in local (2/3 of real, personal property taxes), state (46% of General Revenue), and federal funds for PreK-12 education.
  • And yet, board member elections have the lowest voter participation of any elective offices in the state.
  • Arkansas school elections are held the third Tuesday of September, seven weeks before the General Election (first Tuesday after first Monday in November).
  • Each school district is required to reimburse their respective county(ies) for the costs of the School Election.
  • Cumulative school election results are not compiled by the Secretary of State’s Office, but here are samples from the State’s largest three counties’ most recent elections:

    • Pulaski
      • School Election Turnout – 2.8% (239,347 Registered Voters; 6,655 Voted)
      • General Election Turnout – 52.56% (243,861 Registered Voters; 128,162 Voted)
    • Benton
      • School Election Turnout – 3.49% (121,211 Registered Voters; 4,234 Voted)
      • General Election Turnout – 49.26% (127,008 Registered Voters; 62,568 Voted
    • Washington
      • School Election Turnout – .54% (112,113 Registered Voters; 608 Voted)
      • General Election Turnout – 47.65% (114,901 Registered Voters; 54,754 Voted)

  • According to the National School Boards Association, 53% of superintendents reported that their districts’ school board elections were always held on the same date as state and national elections.
  • 27 states hold all or most of their school board elections on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

And here's why the Arkanas School Boards Association (ASBA), an affiliate of the aforementioned National School Boards Association, asks its members (incumbent school board members) to oppose this bill:

  • The education of our children is important enough to justify a separate election.
  • It is critical that the individuals voting in a school election have a good understanding of the issues in their school.
  • It is very possible that if the school election is held with the general election in November the outcome may be based largely on uninformed voters.
  • We fear that the school election will become lost in the process and that issues may become much more partisan.

By this logic, the ASBA believes a majority of those who elect the President, Vice President, U.S. Senator, U.S. Congressman, Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, Treasurer, Auditor, Land Commissioner, Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, State Senator, State Representative, Circuit Judge, District Attorney, County Judge, Sheriff, County Clerk, Circuit Clerk, Treasurer, Assessor, Quorum Court, Constable, Mayor and City Council may be uninformed.

We trust that the Representatives, Senators and Governor who were elected by those whom the Arkansas School Boards Association considers to be "uninformed voters" will finally entrust our public schools to those who put them into office, instead of those precious few "informed voters" preferred by incumbent school board members and their advocates.

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No Matter the Vote on January 28th, On January 29th...

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Sunday, January 25, 2015
Updated: Sunday, January 25, 2015

Regardless of how the State Board of Education votes on January 28th, here's what could begin January 29th to immediately turn around the Little Rock School District...


  1. Empower teachers and staff to report and be accountable to their principal, principals to report and be accountable to their superintendent, and only the superintendent to report and be accountable to the board or Commissioner of Education.
  2. Become consistently collaborative with the Mayor of the City of Little Rock, County Judge, and President & CEO of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce.
  3. Ensure consistent classroom and building management, with consequences for actions. 
  4. Contract with Northwest Education Association (NWEA) for use of its Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test to determine the academic level of every student in the district.
  5. Once test is administered and results received, ensure every student and his/her family has/understands student's MAP goals and individual plan for success.
  6. Reallocate district financial and human resources to ensure each student performing below grade level has the assistance he/she needs to catch up.
  7. Thereafter, MAP test every student entering the district. 
  8. If at end of school year, student is not performing at grade level, require summer school.
  9. If at end of summer school, student is not performing at grade level, do not promote to next grade.
  10. If not under State takeover, have board zones redrawn by independent demographer, and board structure of five zones, seven zones or five zones/two at-large, all permissible by State law for districts over 10% minority, determined by a vote of the people.


  1. To prepare for eventual loss of $37 Million Desegregation Settlement Agreement payment, reduce operational budget $18.5 Million; leverage $74 Million in current/future Desegregation Settlement Agreement payments for upgrade, conversion, construction of facilities.
  2. Close, consolidate proximate schools which are significantly under capacity.
  3. Sell, lease excess property.
  4. Convert, construct secondary schools where none exist to retain, attract students back to district. 
  5. Redraw attendance zones of each school, correlating proximity equity and capacity of the school.
  6. For schools with capacity, provide intra-district school choice with transportation.
  7. Retain, recruit effective principals at each school and empower each to retain, recruit their teachers and staff, then hold them accountable for results.
  8. Create building-centric budgets, empowering principals to allocate financial resources, and hold them accountable for performance and gains of students.
  9. Empower teachers as leaders of their respective classrooms, and hold them accountable for performance and gains of students.
  10. Invite Teach for America to partner with district.
  11. Nationally recruit talent into the district. 
  12. Only allow intra-district transfers at semester.
  13. Negotiate, implement intra-local agreement with North Little Rock and Pulaski County Special School Districts and open-enrollment charters (in exchange for their per-pupil transportation funding) for county-wide bus services to all public schools.
  14. Negotiate, implement intra-local agreement with City of Little Rock and Pulaski County for common use facilities, playgrounds, playing fields, etc.
  15. Fully implement robust digital learning.
  16. Partner with University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Pulaski Technical College to offer robust concurrent credit courses at all high schools.
  17. Partner with University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Pulaski Technical College and regional industries to offer concurrent credit, career-ready workforce development training leading to certification and employment.
  18. Partner with University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Pulaski Technical College and Charter Management Organization(s) for district conversion charters. 
  19. Shift learning from grade level progression to student-centric mastery, ensuring that every student is challenged to reach his/her full potential.
  20. Once Pulaski County Special School District is declared unitary, seek consolidation into Little Rock School District south of the Arkansas River to the Pulaski County line, ceding current PCSSD footprint extending into contiguous counties to adjacent school districts in those counties.


  1. To prepare for eventual loss of $37 Million Desegregation Settlement Agreement payment, reduce operational budget $18.5 Million.


  1. Complete upgrade, conversion, construction of facilities on leverage of $74 Million in Desegregation Settlement Agreement payments.


  1. If under State takeover, operating autonomously, without State of Arkansas Desegregation Settlement Agreement payments, seek return to local governance, with board zones redrawn by independent demographer, and board structure of five zones, seven zones or five zones/two at-large, all permissible by State law for districts over 10% minority, determined by a vote of the people.

...or not.


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LRSD Academic Distress Begins, Ends with Student Pipeline

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Saturday, January 24, 2015
Updated: Sunday, January 25, 2015

It is often repeated, sometimes by journalists and bloggers, that Little Rock Central is one of the best high schools in the state, if not the country. This declaration is uninformed at best and propaganda at worst, seemingly based on AP (Advanced Placement) performance and number of National Merit scholars. 

Since 2011, Central has been designated by the Arkansas Department of Education as a Needs Improvement - Focus school, among the 122 lowest performing schools in Arkansas. While it is a top 20% performer in Literacy, it is bottom 34% in Algebra, bottom 24% in Geometry, and bottom 49% in Biology. Central has had three opportunities to emerge from this designation, but has yet to do so.

The silos of excellence in Little Rock School District secondary schools in Benchmark and End of Course exam performance are in Literacy at Central and Parkview High Schools. In every other category, LRSD secondary schools rank among the bottom 51% to bottom 3% in the state.

Therefore, on the four End of Course exams, the highest performing high school in the LRSD is not Central, but Parkview, which beats Central in three (Algebra, Geometry, Literacy) of four categories. Central only exceeds Parkview's performance in Biology.

Benchmark exam performance is comparatively worse in middle schools, where performance ranges from bottom 38% (highest) to bottom 3%. And again, that's among schools not designated in Academic Distress.

The highest performing middle school, Pulaski Heights, is also a Needs Improvement - Focus school (bottom 122 in Arkansas), ranking in the bottom 34% in Math and bottom 38% in Literacy.

The silos of excellence at LRSD elementary schools are at Forest Park, Roberts and Williams for Math, and Forest Park, Gibbs and Williams for Literacy. The highest performing school in all of LRSD? Forest Park, which ranked 43rd in Arkansas in Math and 4th in Literacy.

Otherwise, only eight elementary schools in Math, and six in Literacy are in the top 50% in Arkansas. The remaining 22 are in the bottom 48% (highest) to the bottom 2% of all schools in Arkansas.

It is unfair to blame Academic Distress solely on the receiving middle or high schools. Equally, it would be folly to address it in Academic Distress school isolation. Below proficient academic performance is a systemic, district-wide issue, which requires triage at every stage of the student learning pipeline.

Ultimately, all Benchmark and End of Course exams show is how Arkansas students compare to other Arkansas students. When the difference between what passes for proficient in Arkansas and what the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) considers proficient is 30, 40, 50 points different, Little Rock, and all of Arkansas, are in for a rude awakening with the results of this spring's apples-to-apples, nationally norm-referenced, Common Core-aligned PARCC assessments. (Source:

Below are the data on all LRSD schools not designated in Academic Distress. Note that the two lowest performing schools in the Little Rock School District, not in Academic Distress, were Geyer Springs Elementary and Forest Heights Middle. It was a new superintendent, Dr. Dexter Suggs, who proposed, collaborated, and implemented the schools' transitions to a K-8 STEM and Gifted and Talented Academies, respectively, over the objections of some on the board who now oppose State intervention. He has proposed a comparable reboot for Hall, an Academic Distress school, but the board has yet to act.

LRSD High Schools (Compared to End of Course Exam Schools)

*Needs Improvement - Priority School (Lowest 37 in Arkansas)
**Needs Improvement - Focus School (Lowest 122 in Arkansas)

**Central (2,519 Students)

  • Algebra (238th of 360, 68% Proficient)
  • Geometry (241st of 319, 63% Proficient)
  • Literacy (53rd of 276, 81% Proficient)
  • Biology (148th of 290, 44% Proficient)

Parkview (1,024 Students)

  • Algebra (232nd of 360; 69% Proficient)
  • Geometry (175th of 319, 73% Proficient)
  • Literacy (32nd of 276, 83% Proficient)
  • Biology (183rd of 290, 37% Proficient)

LRSD Middle Schools (Compared to Benchmark Exams of 861 Schools)

**Dunbar (669 Students)

  • Math (773rd; 53% Proficient)
  • Literacy (732nd; 66% Proficient)

Forest Heights (580 Students)

  • Math (840th; 39% Proficient)
  • Literacy (847th; 46% Proficient)

Mabelvale (649 Students)

  • Math (761st; 54% Proficient)
  • Literacy (688th; 69% Proficient)

Mann (759 Students)

  • Math (571st; 67% Proficient)
  • Literacy (644th; 72% Proficient)

**Pulaski Heights (831 Students)

  • Math (571st; 67% Proficient)
  • Literacy (535th; 76% Proficient)

LRSD Elementary Schools (Compared to Benchmark Exams of 861 Schools)

**Bale (307 Students)

  • Math (696th; 60% Proficient)
  • Literacy (749th; 65% Proficient)

Booker (515 Students)

  • Math (718th; 58% Proficient)
  • Literacy (688th; 69% Proficient)

Brady (363 Students)

  • Math (748th; 55% Proficient)
  • Literacy (614th; 73% Proficient)

Carver (322 Students)

  • Math (303rd; 78% Proficient)
  • Literacy (463rd; 78% Proficient)

Dodd (287 Students)

  • Math (633rd; 64% Proficient)
  • Literacy (688th; 69% Proficient)

Forrest Park (407 Students)

  • Math (43rd; 91% Proficient)
  • Literacy (4th; 97% Proficient)

**Franklin (323 Students)

  • Math (844th; 38% Proficient)
  • Literacy (791st; 61% Proficient)

Fulbright (564 Students)

  • Math (151st; 84% Proficient)
  • Literacy (95th; 89% Proficient)

*Geyer Springs (224 Students)

  • Math (815th; 46% Proficient
  • Literacy (838th; 49% Proficient

Gibbs (262 Students)

  • Math (151st; 84% Proficient)
  • Literacy (75th; 90% Proficient)

Jefferson (412 Students)

  • Math (81st; 88% Proficient)
  • Literacy (121st; 88% Proficient)

**King (471 Students)

  • Math (696th; 60% Proficient)
  • Literacy (784th; 62% Proficient)

Mabelvale (527 Students)

  • Math (760th; 54% Proficient)
  • Literacy (688th; 69% Proficient)

McDermott (363 Students)

  • Math (724th; 57% Proficient)
  • Literacy (764th; 64% Proficient)

Meadowcliff (337 Students)

  • Math (651st; 63% Proficient)
  • Literacy (732nd; 66% Proficient)

Otter Creek (593 Students)

  • Math (444th; 73% Proficient)
  • Literacy (588th; 74% Proficient)

Pulaski Heights (369 Students)

  • Math (427th; 74% Proficient)
  • Literacy (535th; 76% Proficient)

Roberts (904 Students)

  • Math (43rd; 91% Proficient)
  • Literacy (95th; 89% Proficient)

Rockefeller (296 Students)

  • Math (762nd; 54% Proficient)
  • Literacy (764th; 64% Proficient)

**Romine (316 Students)

  • Math (815th; 46% Proficient)
  • Literacy (825th; 54% Proficient)

**Stephens (157 Students)

  • Math (684th; 45% Proficient)
  • Literacy (679th; 68% Proficient)

Terry (376 Students)

  • Math (187th; 82% Proficient)
  • Literacy (462nd; 78% Proficient)

**Wakefield (552 Students)

  • Math (669th; 62% Proficient)
  • Literacy (778th; 63% Proficient)

Washington (433 Students)

  • Math (748th; 55% Proficient)
  • Literacy (808th; 58% Proficient)

Watson (383 Students)

  • Math (773rd; 54% Proficient)
  • Literacy (834th; 50% Proficient)

Western Hills (239 Students)

  • Math (661st; 54% Proficient)
  • Literacy (778th; 63% Proficient)

Williams (407 Students)

  • Math (56th; 90% Proficient)
  • Literacy (75th; 90% Proficient)

Wilson (261 Students)

  • Math (724th; 57% Proficient)
  • Literacy (813th; 56% Proficient)

When 20 of 29 elementary and 5 of 5 middle schools not in Academic Distress rank in the 500s, 600s, 700s and 800s of the 861 Benchmark Exam schools in Arkansas, it's obvious where triage should be immediately administered. However, that does not mean moving performing teachers from performing schools to low-performing schools. Rather, it means bolstering performing teachers in low performing schools, and removing (not reassigning) low-performing teachers from classrooms altogether. Student learning can no longer be sacrificed while a teacher gets coached up for the job he/she was hired to do.

Achievement gaps are not just among demographic groups, but may also be seen in the learning of individual students. Throughout the state and in every region, Literacy scores exceed Math by an average of six points. In those LRSD schools where Literacy outscores Math by ten or more points (Central, Parkview, Dunbar, Mabelvale Middle, Booker, Brady, Franklin, Mabelvale Elementary, Stephens), those responsible for Math learning, from the classroom to the building to the district, should step up or step out.

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The State of Little Rock School District

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Friday, January 23, 2015
Updated: Friday, January 23, 2015

The Arkansas Constitution, Article 14 states: “Intelligence and virtue being the safeguards of liberty and the bulwark of a free and good government, the State shall ever maintain a general, suitable and efficient system of free public schools and shall adopt all suitable means to secure to the people the advantages and opportunities of education.”

  • Three of five high, and three of six middle schools are in Academic Distress
  • In 171 opportunities over past ten years, Academic Distress schools only performed above 50% of students proficient in Math or Literacy twice
  • Sixteen of 44 LRSD schools (36%; 4 of 5 high schools, 4 of 6 middle schools, 8 of 32 elementary schools) are among lowest performing 122 schools in Arkansas (bottom 11%)
  • Of 255 public school districts and charters in Arkansas, LRSD is:
  • 226th – Benchmark Math (59% Proficient or Advanced in Elementary, Middle Schools)
  • 227th – Benchmark Literacy (65% Proficient or Advanced in Elementary, Middle Schools)
  • 198th – End of Course Algebra (59% Proficient or Advanced in High School)
  • 196th – End of Course Geometry (54% Proficient or Advanced in High School)
  • 180th – End of Course Literacy (62% Proficient or Advanced in High School)
  • 194th – End of Course Biology (28% Proficient or Advanced in High School)
  • In 2010 superintendent search, despite heavy community engagement, the board only brought in one candidate for interview, but chose to hire Dr. Morris Holmes as interim superintendent. In 2013, board chose to use same search firm from the previously unsuccessful search
  • 2014 – Two of Seven (Springer 485 Votes, Ross 379 Votes)
  • 2013 – Two of Seven (McAdoo 383 Votes, Shephard 249 Votes)
  • 2012 – Two of Seven (Peterson 260 Votes, Unopposed Fisken 70 Votes, Branch Appointed Upon Peterson’s Death)
  • 2011 – One of Seven (Johnson 254 Votes)
  • 2010 – Two of Seven (Nellums 371 Votes, Unopposed Adams 57 Votes)
  • 2009 – Zero of Seven
  • 2008 – One of Seven (Carreiro 481 Votes)
  • 2007 – One of Seven (Daugherty 811 Votes)
  • 2006 – Two of Seven (Fox 1,811 Votes, Armstrong 236 Votes)

NOTE: Diane Curry (Zone 6) was first elected in 2003 with 221 Votes. She was re-elected with 334 votes in 2012, along with Greg Adams (Zone 4) who has been unopposed in both of his races, receiving 57 and 36 votes, respectively.

  • In past 17 years, LRSD has had 50% personnel increase (2,600 to 3,900), while enrollment has been flat or declining
    Source: Dr. Dexter Suggs
  • In past twenty years, LRSD board has dismissed/fired one teacher for poor performance
    Source: Dr. Dexter Suggs
  • Biggest loss of LRSD students is between the fifth and sixth grades
    Source: Little Rock School District
  • 24.4% (446 of 1,824) of 2013-14 fifth graders are not in District as 2014-15 sixth graders
  • At LRSD’s largest elementary school (Roberts), 71% (89 of 117) are not in the District as sixth graders (2014-15)
  • The annual loss of State Foundation Funding in the LRSD from fifth to sixth grade alone is $2,854,400
  • Loss of White students – 1,599
  • Loss of Black students – 1,226
  • Gain of Hispanic students – 1,620
  • Gain of Other students – 459
  • LRSD – 24,880*
    *737 students are magnet transfers from other districts. 196 are majority-to-minority transfers from other districts.
  • Open-enrollment Public Charter Schools – 3,385
  • Home Schools – 566
  • Private Schools (only ten largest reported) – 7,728
  • School Choice Transfers to Other Districts – 63
  • Academic Distress Transfers to Other Districts – 48
  • Because of enrollment caps, over 5,600 students are on wait lists of two largest open-enrollment public charter schools in the LRSD footprint, eStem Public Charter Schools and Lisa Academy – West. Both schools, like 8 of 9 charter school campuses in LRSD footprint, are majority minority schools.
  • Jim Argue and Terence Bolden, Co-Chairmen
  • H. Baker Kurrus, Board Representative
  • Ken Richardson, City Board of Directors & New Futures for Youth
  • Joel Anderson, Chancellor, UALR
  • Walter Kimbrough, President, Philander Smith College
  • John Walker, Attorney, Joshua Intervenors
  • Jay Chesshir, Director, Greater Little Rock Chamber of Commerce
  • Patty Barker, President, Little Rock Parent Teachers Association
  • Senator Joyce Elliott, Legislative Representative
  • Cathy Koehler, President, Little Rock Classroom Teachers Association
  • Bishop Steven Arnold, St. Mark Baptist Church
  • Andre Guerrero, Arkansas Department of Education
  • Wayne Burt, Parent / Community Representative

Targeted for 2015, through five school boards, the plan has yet to be implemented.

"...the State shall ever maintain a general, suitable and efficient system of free public schools and shall adopt all suitable means to secure to the people the advantages and opportunities of education.”

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Academic Distress Now, Economic Distress Later

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Friday, December 5, 2014
Updated: Monday, December 8, 2014

This past summer marked the first time in Arkansas history that public schools have been designated in Academic Distress for having three-year averages of less than 50% of students proficient in Math and Literacy.

As a result, 26 schools (of 1,066) in 14 districts (of 238) and one charter (of 21) were declared in Academic Distress.

Having just one Academic Distress school can thrust an entire district into Academic Distress upon a vote by the State Board of Education. Once that happens, the State Board may implement any, all or none of the following:

  1. Require superintendent to relinquish all authority with respect to district and appoint an individual to administratively operate district under supervision of Commissioner of Education;
  2. Suspend or remove some or all of current board;
  3. Allow district to operate without local board under supervision of district administration or administration chosen by Commissioner;
  4. Call for election of a new board;
  5. Waive application of Arkansas law, with exception of Teacher Fair Dismissal Act and Public School Employee Fair Hearing Act, and/or Department of Education rules and regulations;
  6. Require annexation, consolidation, or reconstitution of district; and/or
  7. Take any other necessary and proper action, as determined by State Board, allowed by law.

Based on past three-year averages, six of the Little Rock School District's schools, including three of its five high schools, are in Academic Distress. However, the schools' lack of performance did not begin four years ago, but actually extends back at least ten years. That means there are current juniors and seniors in the Little Rock School District who have never had the opportunity to attend a school where over 50% of its students were proficient.

SchoolMathLiteracyAlgebraGeometry LiteracyBiology
Baseline Elementary46%43%    
Cloverdale Middle35%42%    
Henderson Middle39%44%    
Fair High  47%28%39%4%
Hall High  38%31%39%10%
McClellan High  45%42%40%20%


Baseline Elementary40%44%
Cloverdale Middle33%43%
Henderson Middle36%45%
Fair High36%36%36%2%
Hall High42%27%41%12%
McClellan High49%24%39%12%


Baseline Elementary47%51%
Cloverdale Middle41%45%
Henderson Middle41%54%
Fair High44%44%38%8%
Hall High34%39%40%6%
McClellan High33%29%33%11%


Baseline Elementary50%43%
Cloverdale Middle41%35%
Henderson Middle37%43%
Fair High38%34%42%4%
Hall High37%25%42%9%
McClellan High36%37%28%5%


Baseline Elementary48%46%
Cloverdale Middle41%37%
Henderson Middle34%45%
Fair High25%18%26%2%
Hall High38%25%46%8%
McClellan High36%31%39%1%


Baseline Elementary46%29%
Cloverdale Middle35%30%
Henderson Middle37%40%
Fair High15%25%30%8%
Hall High27%27%30%15%
McClellan High21%19%16%5%


Baseline Elementary41%27%
Cloverdale Middle25%27%
Henderson Middle27%37%
Fair High21%19%11%2%
Hall High27%27%24%5%
McClellan High21%13%16%0%


Baseline Elementary44%34%
Cloverdale Middle18%28%
Henderson Middle26%39%
Fair High24%29%22%NA
Hall High27%26%30%NA
McClellan High13%12%22%NA


Baseline Elementary31%31%
Cloverdale Middle22%33%
Henderson Middle30%45%
Fair High19%21%24%NA
Hall High40%29%25%NA
McClellan High9%11%15%NA


Baseline Elementary26%20%
Cloverdale Middle50%41%
Henderson Middle16%37%
Fair High18%13%22%NA
Hall High28%23%30%NA
McClellan High13%16%19%NA


In 171 opportunities over the past ten years, the six Little Rock School District schools currently in Academic Distress have performed above 50% proficient only twice - in 2011-12 Literacy - Baseline Elementary (51%) and Henderson Middle (54%). Two schools hit 50% in Math, Baseline Elementary in 2010-11 and Cloverdale Middle in 2004-05.

Originally, the Little Rock School District had seven of 32 schools in Academic Distress, but when the Department of Education excepted Alternative Learning Environment (ALE) schools, Hamilton Learning Academy was removed. However, those students' scores remain and would make their originally assigned schools' cumulative scores even lower.

What's frequently left out of the recent Academic Distress discussions is the fact that, since 2011, the Little Rock School District has had:


That means that 16 of the Districts’ 44 Schools (36%) are among the lowest performing 122 schools in Arkansas (13%). And before 2011's change in designation, most of these same schools were deemed Needs Improvement - Year 1, 2, 3...

These percentages did not suddenly appear. Over the past decade, they have been readily available to anyone who cared to look. 

Whose fault is it? The answer is obvious. The adults. The Community. The District. The State. All of us are culpable for allowing this to not only happen, but continue.

Whose fault is it not? Easy. The students, who have been systematically failed by the adults charged with providing excellent and accessible public education for all students, no matter their culture, economic status or Zip Code.

But forget the blame. The only relevant questions at this point are: "Who's going to fix it, and when?" If the answers are not "all of us," and "now," then Academic Distress will continue to beget economic distress, which is steadily and certainly consuming our community and our people.

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An Open Letter to Central Arkansas Teachers

Posted By Michele Linch, PhD, Thursday, July 3, 2014

To:  Central Arkansas Teachers

From:  Arkansas State Teachers Association

Date: June 25, 2014

RE:  Benefits of ASTA Membership


As a classroom teacher, you have an opportunity be a part of the fastest growing education association in Arkansas. If you are a union member, this opportunity includes increasing your take-home pay anywhere from $400 to over $600 per year as well as double the amount of your liability insurance from $1 million to $2 million. This can be accomplished by joining the Arkansas State Teachers Association (ASTA) and, if applicable, resigning from the teachers union.  

Currently, union dues range from $600 to $800 per year depending on the district. By contrast, ASTA dues are just $16.50 per month or $198 per year. That’s a large savings for three main reasons:

  1. ASTA has no unified dues structure. Your dues go exclusively to your benefits and services, not a national union.
  2. ASTA does not endorse candidates or spend money on partisan campaigns. We are proudly nonpartisan.
  3.  ASTA is a member-driven organization. We do not support or oppose issues unrelated to education.

In addition to a $2 million dollar liability insurance policy in your own name, other ASTA benefits include:

  • Support from a local professional staff
  • Access to supplemental insurance programs, including a complementary life insurance policy
  • A members only discount program for shopping, dining, and entertainment
  • Professional development resources
  • Teacher scholarship and classroom grant program

If you want to support the teachers union by paying an extra $400 to $600 a year, we respect your choice. However, if you want to save money and reap the benefits of a true professional association for educators, you must act NOW.

LRSD and NLRSD union members have a 4 week opt-out window that begins June 15 and ends July 15. PCSSD union members have a 2 week window beginning July 1 and ending July 15.  If you miss the opt-out window, you will be required to pay union dues for the year. Union members must send letters (LRSD requires certified letters) to the union and district payroll office during the window.   

All school employees are welcome to join ASTA on our website or request a payroll deduction application by emailing info@astapro.orgOut of professional respect for those we serve, an ASTA member may drop his or her membership at any time. More information can be found at

If you have any questions or need assistance, please call us at 877-742-ASTA (2782). While we honor and respect the choices you make, we simply want to ensure you know your options. We appreciate your consideration.

Michele Ballentine-Linch, PhD

Executive Director

Arkansas State Teachers Association

6301 Park Plaza Drive, Suite 1

Little Rock, AR  72205

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Presentation of Arkansas State Teachers Association to Little Rock School Board, May 29, 2014

Posted By Michele Linch, PhD, Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Good evening. I'm Michele Linch, executive director of the Arkansas State Teachers Association or ASTA. I'm here tonight for a couple of reasons. First, we want you to know more about ASTA because, as the fastest growing education association in Arkansas, we are naturally serving a growing number of Little Rock School District teachers and other staff.

ASTA is a non-union, non-partisan professional association and a state affiliate of the non-union Association of American Educators. For only $16.50/month or $198/year, members receive a $2 million liability/legal insurance policy in their own names, access to support services from local professional and legal staff, professional development opportunities, advocacy based on member feedback, access to a huge discount program for goods and services, supplemental insurance policies, and more. Additionally, our members can join at any time and, out of respect for whom we serve, a member can leave at any time.   

Another benefit ASTA provides is a grant and scholarship program. It is available to both members and non-members. Applications are blind scored, and just last week I received the scores with the names and districts revealed. This leads to the second reason I'm here.  Two Chicot Elementary teachers have received $500 scholarships to apply toward their graduate work this summer. We were excited to see that!

We look forward to supporting LRSD’s vision and mission as we serve teachers and other employees of the District. Rest assured, we have the local and national professional staff to support them.

I hold a PhD focused on adolescent curriculum and learning and was a science teacher in one of the highest performing middle schools in Texas. Our student population was 85% FRL and 98% minority. We had amazing leadership who aligned resources in terms of money, space, people and time in order to put students first. Our academic PLCs, or teams, started meeting every single day as we moved to the middle level concept. We had roles, agendas, minutes and amazing professional development. You see, we didn't have parental involvement, and too many kids were falling through the cracks. That’s why we had to meet every day. We understood we could not afford to wait around for the perfect conditions.

That traditional public school, in the Oakcliff community of Dallas, with over 2,300 7th and 8th graders, eventually excelled to where over 90% of students were passing their benchmark exams, and students being served through special education outscored the district's regular education kids in some areas. One thing I learned from teaching in high expectations, no excuses school is that I didn't need someone making excuses for me. I needed support and great leadership whose hands weren't tied.

That is what we offer ASTA members - support through a lens of excellence and high expectations. Thank you for your time, congratulations on your scholarship recipients, and let me know how ASTA can serve LRSD or if you have any other questions.

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Quest Middle School of West Little Rock: An Arkansas Public School Without a Location

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Monday, April 14, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, May 13, 2014
I don't speak for Responsive Education Solutions (ResponsiveEd), nor do I have any pecuniary interest in the nonprofit organization.

I am a father of public school students who initiated an open-enrollment public charter secondary school in West Little Rock, who joined other parent leaders in choosing ResponsiveEd of Lewisville, Texas as the school's charter management organization, and who has remained one its parent advocates.

On May 8, 2014, the Arkansas State Board of Education will hear the Little Rock and Pulaski County Special School Districts' appeal of the Charter Authorizing Panel's unanimous decision to allow Quest Middle School of Little Rock to change locations from 1815 Rahling Road to 400 Hardin Road.

Here are the facts:
  • In the summer of 2013, in advance of the completion of the application of Quest Middle School of West Little Rock, I recommended consideration of the property at 1815 Rahling Road as a potential location.
  • The Open-enrollment Public Charter School Application for Quest Middle School of West Little Rock was submitted in advance of the September 3, 2013 deadline and included 1815 Rahling Road as the proposed location.
  • Section C. 16 (p. 30) of the 93-page application asked about the proposed facility, which was listed as 1815 Rahling Road.
  • Attachment 7 (p. 81), the one-page Open-Enrollment Public Charter School Facilities Utilization Agreement, described 1815 Rahling Road as 22,563 square feet, with a proposed lease rate of $496,386 per year for ten years.
  • On November 14, 2013, the Charter Authorizing Panel unanimously approved the application.
  • On December 16, 2013, the State Board of Education, in a 5-2 vote, agreed to hear the Little Rock and Pulaski County Special School Districts' appeal of the Panel's decision. Both districts objected to the school's proposed location on Rahling Road.
  • On January 10, 2014, the State Board of Education, in a 6-2 vote, affirmed the decision of the Panel. That final decision created the charter (contract) between the school and the State of Arkansas.
  • On January 20, 2014, I first learned that the owner of the property at 1815 Rahling Road had increased the proposed lease rate by approximately 25%, an amount greatly exceeding the charter's annual budget as submitted in its approved application.
  • On January 20, 2014, I first learned of the possibility of purchasing 400 Hardin Road (51,000 square feet) as an alternate location.
  • On January 21, 2014, I first joined ResponsiveEd officials in a tour of the alternate location.
  • On March 21st, the Charter Authorizing Panel unanimously approved the change in location to 400 Hardin Road, a potential savings of approximately $250,000 per year over the originally proposed location lease rate.
  • On April 10th, the State Board of Education, in a 6-1 vote, agreed to hear the Little Rock and Pulaski County Special School Districts' appeal of the Panel's unanimous decision to approve the change in location. Both districts objected to the change from Rahling Road, a location they had also opposed.
  • On May 8th, the State Board of Education will hear the appeal, a little over 90 days before classes must begin.
  • At present, over 180 students have registered to begin classes at Quest in August 2014.
  • Locating at Rahling, if still even possible, would exhaust the approximately $6,300 per-pupil State foundation funding for 97 students. With current enrollment at just over 180, that's 54% of all State funding just for facilities. In a best case scenario, if the school reaches its cap of 220 students, that's 44% of all State funding.
  • Since Quest's approval, the Pulaski County Special School District has again exempted from the Public School Choice Act, denying residents outside the district the opportunity attend its schools, though many are closer to PCSSD schools than those in their resident district.
  • Since Quest's approval, the Little Rock School District has rezoned West Little Rock students for Henderson Middle School, since 2011, a Needs Improvement Priority School, one of the 42 lowest performing schools in Arkansas.
ResponsiveEd cannot help that the owner of the originally proposed location increased the lease rate by approximately 25% beyond its proposed budget. That's what happens when a potential public charter school is required to identify a proposed location in its application nearly one year before any revenue may be generated. It puts the school at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to negotiating and/or finalizing a lease rate and/or purchase price.

ResponsiveEd, as responsible stewards of public dollars, did its due diligence, found appropriate, affordable space in another location, and proposed the location change to the Charter Authorizing Panel, which unanimously approved the change.

ResponsiveEd cannot help that the Little Rock and Pulaski County Special School Districts, which also opposed the school's originally proposed location on Rahling, requested that their appeal be heard on the approved change in location. ResponsiveEd also cannot help that the State Board chose to hear it.

The open-enrollment public charter for Quest Middle School of West Little Rock was created on January 10, 2014. The newest Arkansas public school exists. In the over 90 days since approval, it has registered over 180 students and hired employees, including a campus director, who is relocating his family from Texas. Much remains to be done, including finish out of the facility, recruiting/hiring/training of faculty and staff, preparation of the school and classrooms, and contracting of vendors.

The law requires that Quest open for the 2014-15 school year. Hopefully, the Arkansas State Board of Education will see through the Little Rock and Pulaski County Special School Districts' cynical attempt to deny by delay.

Quest Middle School of West Little Rock may be the only public school in Arkansas, past or present, without a location. Hopefully, that will be corrected on May 8th.

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LRSD, State-Controlled PCSSD Continue Quixotic Crusade Against Quest

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Tuesday, April 8, 2014
Updated: Thursday, April 10, 2014
Update (April 10, 2014)

In a 6-1 vote, the State Board of Education approved the Little Rock and Pulaski County Special School Districts' request for appeal of the unanimous Charter Authorizing Panel decision approving the location change for Quest Middle School of West Little Rock. That hearing will take place at the next meeting of the State Board of Education, currently scheduled for May 8th. If the Board approves the change, the decision is final. If it does not, the location process begins anew at the next meeting of the Charter Authorizing Panel.

Original Post

They lost. Badly. Three out of four times. 6-0, 2-5, 6-2, 6-0. But that hasn't stopped the bill-by-the hour attorneys for the Little Rock and State-controlled Pulaski County Special School Districts, and the latter's State-appointed superintendent from continuing their Quixotic fight against Quest Middle School of West Little Rock.

The first unanimous approval of Quest, an open-enrollment public charter school, came November 14, 2013. On December 16, 2013, the attorneys and superintendent convinced the State Board of Education (SBE), in a 5-2 vote, to hear their appeal. The appeal was heard on January 10, 2014, and the original decision of the Authorizing Panel was affirmed 6-2. That decision was final and created the charter (contract) between Responsive Education Solutions and the State of Arkansas to open Quest for the 2014-15 school year.

After that approval, when it became apparent that the owner of the originally proposed location at 1815 Rahling Road would not budge on increasing the lease rate by 25% annually over a seven-year lease, Responsive Ed was forced to search for another location. Charters are required to submit a one-page Open-enrollment Public Charter School Facilities Utilization Agreement (p. 81) in their applications, contingent upon final State approval. Unfortunately, because the time between application (September 2013) and revenue (August 2014) is essentially one year, these agreements are unduly burdensome to both the lessee/purchaser and lessor/owner, and obviously not ironclad.

Unlike traditional schools, charters have no access to facilities funding. Every dollar that goes into a lease and/or purchase and/or upgrade of a facility must come from the approximately $6,300 per pupil in State foundation funding.

With precious little, if any, appropriate (approximately 25,000 - 60,00 square feet) and affordable space available for lease or purchase in West Little Rock, the Rahling owner must have thought he had the charter over a barrel. Fortunately, appropriate space for purchase came available at 400 Hardin Road which was not only within the charter's budget, but would provide a quarter of a million dollar annual savings which could be used for academics. Further, with Responsive Ed's purchasing the building, then leasing back to Quest, the future facility needs of the school as it adds grades 9, 10, 11 and 12 would have more flexibility - to stay and expand, to expand the high school elsewhere, to sell and buy/build an entirely new campus in another location.

So as required by law, Responsive Ed returned to the Charter Authorizing Panel on March 21st seeking approval for its proposed change in location. Even though the proposed location is properly zoned for a public school, Quest's location was strongly opposed by David Freiwald, Director of the United States Geological Survey Arkansas Water Science Center (attachment below), tenant of neighboring 401 Hardin. Mr. Freiwald was joined by Jeff Hathaway of Coldwell Banker Commercial Hathaway Group (attachment below), which represents the owner, Jess Woods.

The tenant, commercial realtor and owner took what should have been a Little Rock City Planing Commission issue to the inappropriate forum of the State Charter Authorizing Panel to share their projected Not-in-My-Backyard complaints. Appropriately, their "get-off-my-lawn" objections were rejected, and the location change was unanimously approved by the Panel.

Smelling potential blood in the water, the LRSD attorney also showed up to speak, not armed with the law or rules, but spewing an argument to delay, without legal basis, the opening of Quest by one year because of what he had read in the Arkansas Times. As with his previous unanimous defeat, the attorney chose to appeal to the State Board of Education (letter attached below), noting that he was joined by the Pulaski County Special School District.

For the past two years, the State-appointed superintendent has chosen to exempt the State-controlled Pulaski County School District from the Public School Choice Act of 2013. It is now one of only 13 districts of 238 in Arkansas to do so. So, while the superintendent fights the location of an open-enrollment public charter school outside of his district, he denies entry to those Little Rock and North Little Rock School District parents who live closer to PCSSD schools than to those in their resident districts. Further, by exempting from choice, he also denies LRSD and NLRSD minority students entry to his majority white schools.

As an open-enrollment public school of choice, Quest is open to all, no matter the student's resident district (register here).

The  latest request for appeal comes Thursday, April 10th at 10:00 am in the Auditorium of the Arkansas Department of Education, as the attorneys and unaccountable superintendent ask the latter's employer, the State Board of Education, to review the Charter Authorizing Panel's unanimous decision to allow a Quest location change.

The bottom line: LRSD and PCSSD were against Quest when it was on Rahling. Now, they're against Quest because it's not on Rahling. If I were on the State Board, my single question to Mr. Heller and Dr. Guess would be: Where would you propose Quest locate?

If the SBE denies the appeal, the location is final, and Quest leaders, faculty, students and families may finally begin preparing for the 2014-15 school year with certainty. If the SBE hears the appeal, it will be its May meeting before the location could be finalized, less than 90 days before classes are scheduled to begin. If the SBE hears the appeal then denies the change, Quest will have to start the process all over again with a new location, if one may be found.

Get the picture? LRSD's and PCSSD's only hope to stop Quest is to deny in order to delay in order to then say Quest did not fulfill its charter by not opening in 2014-15. In the private sector, that would be called tortious interference with a contract.

Hopefully, the State Board will see through the districts' continued opposition as just another frivolous attempt to interfere with a duly executed contract between Responsive Ed and the State. The charter/contract exists. It requires that Quest open for the 2014-15 school year. If the State does not allow it to have a location, it is violating terms of its own contract.

The fight is different this time. Instead of fighting a proposed charter, these protectionists of failed public education delivery systems are fighting approximately 200 real students and families which have enrolled at Quest for the 2014-15 school year.

If LRSD and PCSSD had fought as hard to provide public secondary education where none exists as they have against Quest, perhaps Quest would have been unnecessary. But they didn't. So it does. Move on.

 Attached Files:

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On Arkansas's Standards, Consider the Sources. Please.

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Sunday, April 6, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Over the past twenty months, the organizations I am privileged to serve - Arkansans for Education Reform Foundation (AERF) and Arkansas Learns - have championed initiatives which have directly and positively impacted the public education of Arkansas students. Those initiatives include, but are not limited to:

89th General Assembly (2013)

  • Act 696, To Clarify for Parents the Public School Rating System on Annual School Report Cards.
  • Act 509, To Designate Department of Education as the Primary Charter School Authorizer
  • Act 1227, To Establish the Public School Choice Act of 2013; and to Declare an Emergency.
  • Act 703, An Act for the Department of Education - Arkansas School Recognition Program General Improvement
  • Act 1280, To Provide Digital Learning Opportunities in Public Schools
  • Act 1255, To Establish the Open-Enrollment Public Charter School Facilities Loan Fund
  • Act 1429, To Amend Provisions of Arkansas Law Concerning the Arkansas School Recognition and Reward Program

Fiscal Session (2014)

  • Act 292, $5 Million Funding for Arkansas Open-enrollment Public Charter School Facilities Loan Fund
  • Act 293, $7 Million Funding of Arkansas School Recognition and Reward Program
  • Act 298, $5 Million Funding for Broadband Facilities Matching Grant Program

Charter Authorizing Panel, State Board of Education

  • Approval of Open-enrollment Public Charter School - Quest Middle School of West Little Rock


  • Reduced number of school districts exempting from Public School Choice Act of 2013 from 23 of 238 (2013-14) to 13 of 238 (2014-15)

These initiatives required that we fight and win against opponents including, but not limited to:

  • Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families
  • Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators
  • Arkansas School Boards Association
  • Arkansas Citizens First Congress
  • Arkansas Education Association
  • Arkansas Opportunity to Learn Campaign
  • Arkansas Rural Ed Association
  • Arkansas Telecom Industry Lobbyists
  • Little Rock School District
  • Pulaski County Special School District
  • Rural Community Alliance

And that's just in the past twenty months. For years before that, my predecessor, Luke Gordy, his board and partner organizations worked tirelessly and selflessly for public education accountability, transparency, choice and rewards, all in the best interests of students over the self interests of adults.

In the most recently ended Fiscal Session, we successfully helped defeat HR1007, To Delay Implementation of Arkansas's Common Core State Standards, which failed for lack of a second in the House Rules Committee.

That position in support and defense of Arkansas's Standards puts us squarely at odds with the latest Arkansas education lobby, Arkansas Against Common Core (AACC). While we applaud the organization's passion and activism on behalf of what it perceives to be in the best interests of students, we vehemently disagree with, and are vigorously opposing its attempts to do away with Arkansas's implemented Standards.

Still, we have repeatedly and respectfully requested the opportunity to speak to AACC's board, while offering reciprocal opportunities for the group to present to groups supportive of, or neutral on, Arkansas's Standards. Our invitations, which have been shared in person and in writing, have yet to be accepted.

Unfortunately, rather than debating the issue on its merits, members of the group's leadership have chosen to follow the precedent of the Arkansas Blogger on the opposite end of the political spectrum, and demonize our and our fellow supporters' intentions. Rather than attempt to restate or paraphrase, I'll let the AACC leadership speak (write) for themselves. What follows are just the latest comments on our Facebook posts from one of the six AACC board members:

Gary Newton/Arkansas Learns
Bentonville, Fort Smith education officials support Common Core #ARStandards

Hunter Ray (1:19 am)
Yes Bentonville & Fort Smith - those same education officials believe it's their right to obtain information about whether you keep guns in your home too! Time to exercise your voice and kick those communists out of your schools and hire some real Americans who know those questions are against the very fabric this country was built upon. Wake the Heck Up!

Gary Newton/Arkansas Learns
Both opponents and proponents believe link below supports their positions of AR's Standards. You? #ARStandards

Hunter Ray (1:39 am)
Yep. Nationalized Standards & Curriculum worked wonders in the 1930's & 1940's for the Germans, Russians, Italians...and JEWS. Grab a history book people. It often repeats itself.

Even though Mr. Ray's accusations and assertions are not supported by facts, reasonable people reasonably disagree every day. At the very least, we believe that we have earned the right to not have our and our partners' support of a single issue equated to that of Communists, Nazis and Facists.

Our encouragement would be for every Arkansan to fully consider the sources and facts on Arkansas's Standards before taking a position for or against.

To help you with that, visit or Arkansas's Standards, Like us on, and/or follow us on Twitter @RaiseOurGrade#ARStandards.

Conversely, in the true spirit of transparency and accountability, we also encourage you to attend an Arkansas Against Common Core presentation near you at your earliest opportunity. We have, and will again. Reasonably and respectfully.

Though it's of vital importance, this is still just one issue. There is much more to be done, on multiple fronts. If you are dedicated to excellent education for all students, and to that end, are willing to go toe-to-toe or stand shoulder-to-shoulder when necessary, join us at

Tags:  Arkansas's Common Core State Standards  Arkansas's Standards  ARStandards 

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