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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Education plan 'more than likely' misguided

Thursday, August 14, 2003

Schools under 1,500 total enrollment in Arkansas are indeed concerned about being forced to close under a reform plan outlined by Gov. Mike Huckabee and supported by a minority of members of the Arkansas General Assembly.

A recent editorial in the statewide newspaper more or less ridiculed (not the first time, by any means) those small schools for fearing the plan.

The editorial indicated the better small schools "more than likely" won't be closed down under the Huckabee plan.

That all sounds fine except for this question -- what does "more than likely" mean?

An example might be when someone says, "I am going to draw a line in the sand here, and 'more than likely' I won't hit you if you step over it." Well, common sense tells us what is indeed likely to happen when one steps over the line.

The "more than likely" concept is just one small example of the generalities, fuzzy math and confusion related to school reform proposals in Arkansas.

Administrators and patrons in small schools across Arkansas, at this point, just want to know specific changes that must be made to meet the requirements of the court order. Then the real process can begin of meeting those challenges or, in some cases, being forced to merge with neighboring districts.

School reformers recently were touting an upcoming report from a group of consultants concerning the needs of Arkansas schools.

Unfortunately for them, the report surprisingly recommended not massive additions of new course offerings -- instead, what is suggested is to do a much better job of teaching the existing curriculum. Of course, the report immediately was dismissed by the "rich curriculum" supporters, but common sense tells us one of the main problems today is the graduation of students who have inadequate basic skills in reading, writing and mathematics.

Having those skills when one finishes high school theoretically should allow the students to progress in a variety of areas, including university studies, technical training or assimilation into the workforce.

What is needed in the current debate is a commitment to facts, rather than pre-conceived agendas. For example, West Virginia is a state that has, in effect, undergone the transformation the "consolidationists" in our own midst are promoting. The results -- more busing, higher administrative costs and lower test scores.

We firmly believe that, contrary to what one reads in the columns of many of our statewide writers, many small school patrons are highly committed to providing better educational opportunities for their children.

To say opponents of massive consolidation merely are concerned about protecting the jobs of small school administrators and retaining the school mascot is a real disservice to thousands of Arkansans.

We are, in effect, observing a cultural clash here -- urban vs. rural. What many of the columnists and editorial writers are missing is that people live in rural Arkansas largely because they want to do so -- not because they are too ignorant or lazy to make it in the "big city." The small town way of life has been ridiculed over and over again in editorials in the statewide newspaper. One would think the publication would have a better handle on the state it is covering -- a key component that makes Arkansas great is indeed the rural way of life that has been preserved and promoted in small towns and small schools for decades.

Leave it to Arkansas always to be behind the times -- just when other states are starting to realize the benefits of smaller schools, we are pushing for bigger ones.

We all know that some consolidation is necessary -- and it naturally will happen -- but please use facts and concrete concepts in the promotion of so-called reform. Don't just attack people out in the "burgs" for being too stupid to understand what is best for their children.

We do indeed have a lot of work ahead in making education better in Arkansas. But how we got to a place so quickly in which the consolidation tail started wagging the educational dog is beyond our understanding.

Ron Kemp is mayor of Rector and regional manager for Rust Communication's Arkansas newspapers, including The News.