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NCLB Outrages

Arkansas Business Leaders Bring Hoover Flak In to Promote State Version of NCLB

Note: You doubt there's a business connection to NCLB? Take a look at who paid Hanushek's trip to Arkansas. We know the Walton Family Foundation family attitude about public education. For a look at their targeted focus on establishing charter schools, see

Arkansas would establish the nationís premier school accountability system with legislation pending in a House committee, experts in education policy told lawmakers Thursday.

Eric Hanushek, senior fellow at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University, said adoption of House Bill 2528 would revolutionize assessment of student and school performance and help put Arkansas in the forefront of education reform.

"I have found this to be one of the most exciting bills introduced anyplace in the country," Hanushek said.

But some members of the Education Committee were skeptical that the changes would help fix the stateís education problems, especially in the poorest districts.

Along with establishing a method to track studentsí progress year by year throughout their schooling, HB2528 would allow parents to take their children out of failing schools. The money the state provides for their educations would go with them to the nearest school the state deemed adequate.

Rep. Linda Pondexter Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, said taking away that money ó and the billís requirement that the failing school pay the transportation costs to the new one ó would "leave those kids who need it most with the least."

But Hanushek said the system would be geared toward serving students, not schools.

"Itís the students whoíve been hurt," he said. "Youíve identified students that are in a school thatís not serving them well, and you donít have time to fix the school because those kids will be gone. You have to fix the kids that are in there."

The committee discussed HB2528 without taking action. Its sponsor, Rep. Horace Hardwick, R-Bentonville, said he will discuss issues of concern with committee members and hopes to have the bill approved before the end of the legislative session.

Hardwick said thereís no sense in waiting for other priorities to be set, such as the educational adequacy study to be completed later this year, because HB2528 would act as a companion to the overall education-reform effort.

The legislation would: Have the state grade schools much the way students are graded: Aís for the best and Fís for the worst with B, C and D in between. The Department of Education would arrive at those grades by annually analyzing individual studentsí progress, using standardized test results that can be compared with students achievement nationwide. Require schools to administer and students to take nationally standardized tests, which would be "augmented" with tests that measure studentsí knowledge of what the state has decided they need to know.

Require the state to assess a schoolís performance on the tests and studentsí progress from one year to the next. A grade would be set for each. A grade of C would represent a school that is providing an adequate education or providing adequate yearly progress for its students.

Because there are two aspects being tested, schools could end up with one grade for performance but another for helping students make individual progress.

A school could get a D or F for performance, for example, but get a higher score for helping their students make individual progress.

Allow parents to transfer children to the nearest C school when the childrenís school received a D or F for academic performance for two consecutive years.

Reward A and B schools with $100 per student for performance, progress, or both. Asked where the money would come from, proponents of the bill said they donít know yet.

Vicki Saviers, a lobbyist working to get the bill passed, said the rewards under a similar system in Florida cost only $450,000, so Arkansasí should be considerably less. If not, "itís a good problem to have," she said.

End "social promotion." Under the bill, schools would identify students in need of remediation and require that they receive additional instruction to perform at their grade level before being promoted to the next grade.

Mary Lyn Bourque, director of Mid-Atlantic Psychometric Services Inc. of Leesburg, Va., told the committee that the legislation would put Arkansas in full compliance with the federal No Child Left Behind law.

"More importantly, I think what you have in this bill is an opportunity for the children of Arkansas to meet their potential, and thatís the part that impresses me most," Bourque said. Chambers of commerce and some of Arkansasí biggest companies have come out in favor of the bill.

Lobbyists for Jim Walton of Bentonville, chairman and chief executive officer of Arvest Group Inc., helped craft the bill with advice from national experts on testing and educational accountability.

Hanushek said no one is paying him for his testimony and that he traveled to Arkansas because he believes the proposed legislation is groundbreaking. "I think it would be very important to institute in California, where Iím from," Hanushek said. "Iíd like to see you take the lead."

Rep. Paul Weaver, D-Violet Hill, noted that itís a long way from California to Arkansas and asked Hanushek who paid his way.

Hanushek said Walter Hussman, publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, offered to pay his airfare.

Hussman said later in a telephone interview that he told Hanushek that his expenses would be paid, but Hussman said heís not the one paying them.

He said Hanushekís expenses will be paid by a group of business leaders who have been working on the bill behind the scenes.

Chesterfield, a former teachers union president and school board president, said the bill seems to treat schools as businesses.

"Most businesses, when they have a failing subsidiary, they send the brightest and the best there to fix the problem," she said.

Nothing in the bill addresses the problem that schools that perform the worst are usually the ones that canít pay enough to attract the brightest and best teachers, she said.

David Hausam, a former representative who now lobbies for Walton, said the state canít force the best teachers to go to the poorest schools.

"Itís a freedom issue," he said.

— Larua Kellams
School bill Ďexciting,í expert says
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
March 28, 2003


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