July 23, 2003 - Posted at: 4:42 p.m. CDT
POCAHONTAS, Ark. -- The author of an alternative to Governor Huckabee's school reform proposal sat down Wednesday with rural educators in hope of resolving the statewide dispute over how to improve Arkansas' public schools.
Representative Harmon Seawel distributed an outline that did not include exact numbers on required course offerings or on consolidation. Those two aspects figure prominently into the governor's proposal and have prompted criticism from small school districts.
But, like Huckabee, Seawel proposed consolidation of high schools in districts that can't meet higher standards and he said he would leave kindergarten through eighth grades intact in those districts.
He disagreed with Huckabee's approach in setting a number for consolidation purposes and with the expanded curriculum that the governor would require all schools to provide.
In his outline, Seawel proposed raising academic standards. He also wants to have state education officials to enforce the standards. Other parts of his proposal include raising teacher salaries, restructuring the state Education Department, mandatory summer school for students with inadequate reading, communication and math skills and limits on athletic spending from state funds. Seawel also wants to expand preschool and enhance teacher training.
Here is the "Public School Reform Plan" offered by Seawel in Pocahontas:
- Raise academic standards significantly.
- Force, by legislation, the Arkansas Department of Education to enforce the higher standards.
- Raise teacher salaries dramatically or all else is irrelevant.
- Give all districts a chance to meet the standards in a relatively short time frame.
- Consolidate all districts that cannot or will not meet standards.
- The Arkansas Department of Education needs to be reconstituted so that this, or any governor, cannot control it politically.
- Each district will be given a minimum allowable figure that can be used for athletics out of state funds. Anything expended above this level must be funded by local effort.
- While we probably cannot raise the revenue to do so in the Special Session, we must commit to establishing the availability of pre-school education. We must first target the areas of greatest need, especially in the Delta.
- Teacher in-service needs desperately to be restructured. A panel of veteran Arkansas educators with experience in their fields, knowledge of Arkansas culture and mores, and good credibility needs to do the job. This could be done far better than by the current proactive of using out of state "experts" and save millions of dollars.
- Especially in the K-3 foundation building grades, and at higher levels if I have the votes, I propose that we mandate summer school for those whose reading, communications and mathematics skills are determined to be inadequate. If summer school does not result in sufficient remediation, retention must be employed to salvage the hopes of so many of our children.
- The Benchmark Test is inadequate to provide the academic performance information and accountability that is so desperately needed in Arkansas public education. It is too subjective to be a definite measure of academic performance and progress and is easily subject to manipulation. We need nationally normed testing to compare ourselves with other states, the nation and to extent globally as we compete in the increasingly complex and rapidly changing global economy of the Age of Information and Technology. Longitudinal testing is essential to establish student, teacher, administrative and school accountability and for analysis of areas of programmic strength and weakness. This should not be viewed as punitive, but as a way to help teachers and schools understand the instructional content and approaches that the date dictates must be changed.
- I agree with Governor Mike Huckabee that nay school that are consolidated because of inability to meet the state's increased performance standards should be permitted to keep grades K-8 in their community.
- Unless the Arkansas legislature enacts real, measurable reform I will neither support the plan nor vote for the taxes to maintain the present inadequate system of public education.
- Pre-Kindergarten education is essential to any long term, sustainable plan for educational reform, especially in high poverty areas such as the Delta.
- A comprehensive dialogue needs to result in a comprehensive pre-K through four-year college education plan for Arkansas. We cannot realistically achieve what must be done unless all levels of education interact. Sadly, in many cases, they are not even talking to each other.