Thursday, February 16, 2023

AR: Governor Sanders Has A Very Bad Plan For Education

Arkansas Governor Sanders has compiled a Greatest Hits album of ideas to disrupt, defund and dismantle public education in her new Arkansas LEARNS plan. Here are the highlights.

Early childhood ed

Early childhood ed will now come under the Department of Education, which will have the job of managing all federal grant money for ECE, licensing, and maintaining a website for families with pertinent information. That will include "accountability" scores that will be based on "ratings indicative of child outcomes" and God Only Knows what the heck that means. But there will be a bunch of locally controlled "early childhood lead organizations" (GOKWTHTM) that are going to "create alignment among the community's public and private providers and agencies." So local control, but not, or something.

Early literacy

Everybody has to get on the Science of Reading bus. Do I think the Sanders administration has a deep, full understanding of SOR? I do not. But plenty of folks on the right have found SOR as one more cudgel with which to club public education. Also, phonics are conservative?

The state will be hiring 120 literacy coaches for low-performing schools. The schools will, clearly, be judged on performance, but the coaches will be judged on student growth. 

Students who don't pass the 3rd grade reading test are eligible for up to $500 to hire a tutor. If that doesn't work and they still fail the test, they don't pass 3rd grade. This is a terrible, abusive policy, and it doesn't even do any good (except for politicians who are promising to get tough with those slacker eight year olds. Also, they'll be sure to loop parents in on how things are going, because parents' rights are super-important and parents know their kids best, except for third graders who don't pass the standardized reading test--those parents don't know jack and they get no say in this.


If a third grader "falls behind on math" (GOKWTHTM), there will be an intervention plan. And parents will be notified.


Arkansas is going to have a High-Impact Tutoring Pilot Program, "which will fund high-impact tutoring services and providers. Because everyone agrees that High Impact Tutoring is awesome, even if they aren't sure what it is exactly. But if you claim the folks at your company do know, you can make some money on it.

Career Readiness

This has several facets. One is that schools will ask businesses what kind of meat widgets they'd like to have and set up programs to train meat widgets for them, identified by special career-ready diplomas. The Arkansas Workforce Development Board will collect a ton of data on "student outcomes" so the programs can be tweaked. As you work through the rest of the plan parts which involve a clown car full of alternate education systems, ask yourself how anyone can possibly track it all.

Eighth graders will have to pick a diploma pathway; in other words, declare their major. They can change it later, but only with parental approval.

Also, 75 hours of community service, which always sounds like a great idea until you're the community service organization dealing with "volunteer" workers who don't want to be there.

Transforming Schools

Must be a misprint, because what they actually mean is literally privatizing schools. Any local school board can just hand a school over to a private company or charter school (I know--redundant). The state might even throw some money in to sweeten the pot. That's right--not money to help the district improve the school, but money to help convince a company to take it over, aka to pay someone to privatize the school.

School Facilities and Transportation

Cops, everywhere, in every school. And somebody playing the part of School Safety Expert gets to make consulting money every time a new school is built.

School Safety--Training and Support

Schools will "establish a behavioral threat assessment team," so, a future crimes bureau (GOKWTHTM). This is one of those areas where the right falls all over itself because A) there should not be intrusive surveillance by the state and B) there should be total all-seeing surveillance by the state in order to stop Bad People. 

The other piece of this is that it's a Harden The Target approach to school safety, as opposed to making any sort of attempt to reduce the threats or, God forbid, touch anyone's precious guns.

Sexual Abuse Prevention and Education

Sigh. There will be absolutely no discussion of any sex stuff before fifth grade, but there will be a K-12 program incorporating "age-appropriate curriculum materials on the detection, intervention, prevention and treatment of child sexual abuse." There will be ways to make sure that "any substantiated allegation, arrest, or charge, involving a teacher" is reported to the state, and teachers will be trained to deal with abuse. 

Educator Workforce--Teacher Pay

Minimum teacher salary will be moved from $36,000 to $50,000. Does $50K sound like a good starting salary? Does it sound like a good salary to make for the rest of your entire teaching career? Because with that $50K salary comes the end of all steps for years of experience or a Masters Degree. Arkansas teacher pay is so lousy that a $50K salary might actually represent an increase in career earnings, even though inflation will steadily whittle it away. Also, three more days in the school year.

And no mention of where the money for this is going to come from in a state with an administration bent on cutting taxation to bathtub-drowning proportions.

Surely that can't be the whole thing, you say. Well...

Educator Workforce--Teacher Incentive Pay

"Eligible teachers" (GOKWTHTM) might get an annual bonus of up to $10K. Maybe for extra duties or mentoring. It'll be measured with the Value Added Model, aka That Thing That Has Been Widely and Thoroughly Debunked. A Texas court rejected it. Even reformy Oklahoma booted it. VAM only provides direct scores for Reading and Math, so other teachers get rated based on scores of students they never taught. VAM systems are an absolute nightmare, a scam that evaluates teachers no better than reading warts under a full moon. 

The section refers to "this fund" which suggests that the available money for teacher bonuses in any given year will be finite, meaning that teachers get to fight each other for a limited slice of a limited pie. There will also be a program for some loan forgiveness for teachers in "critical shortage" areas (but not the "ineffective" ones). 

Also--and this is not nothing for a young teacher starting a family--bonuses don't count when you're applying for things like mortgages.

Paid Maternity Leave

Credit where credit is due. Up to 12 weeks of paid maternity leave. That's not perfect, but it's far better than our embarrassing national standard of nothing.

Teacher Academy Scholarship Program

Study to teach in a subject area or geographic area that really needs you and get a scholarship. 

School Board Authority

Yeah, there's going to be less of that. Superintendent contracts must be submitted to the state. Personnel, including teachers, will be hired based on "performance, effectiveness, and qualifications." Principals get to hire and fire.

Teacher Fair Dismissal Act

It takes balls to eliminate something calling for fair dismissal, but Sanders has got them. "This will allow schools and districts to make personnel decisions that are best for children and eliminate unnecessary red tape." Well, sure. It will also allow schools and districts to make personnel decisions based on petty, political and personal reasons.

AR Children's Education Freedom Account

Here comes the education savings account voucher system. All the usual features for funneling public tax dollars to private vendors, phased in over three years. Shockingly, she actually proposes that a vendor could lose eligibility if it "demonstrates a lack of academic competence," which is pretty tough talk compared to most voucher programs. But the program still appears to demonstrate the usual lack of accountability or oversight that distinguishes these voucher boondoggles.

Charter Schools

No cap. No local to approve or not. State will speed up renewals. And the taxpayers will be pumping money into a fund created to help charters buy or build facilities.

Indoctrination and CRT

The Secretary of Education will review Department of Education regulations, policies, materials, and communications to ensure they do not indoctrinate students with ideologies that conflict with the principle of equal protection under the law.

Cool. Since CRT does not conflict with that principle, there should be no problem. Ha. Just kidding. Arkansas will continue to work hard to keep that Race Stuff out of schools.

Course Choice

Remember unbundling, that beloved idea of choicers in which students would get their various courses from various vendors. Arkansas wants that. The state will keep track of all the available courses, and students can get whatever courses from wherever, somehow. GOKWTHTM.

Good Lord

It's all the hits. Teachers get no job security at all, and no raises, ever, either. Any kind of choice is okay, and taxpayers will fund it. Meat widgets for business. Total accountability to monitor for Bad Things, but total freedom for Folks On Our Side. 

It's a disaster, an attempt to run the 3D playbook (disrupt, defund, and dismantle) all at once. It's as if whoever wrote this for her originally handed it in saying "Okay, here's a plan to roll out in stages over the next several years" and she just said, "Nah, let's let 'er rip all at once." 

This plan would be a disaster for public education in Arkansas, a state that is not exactly at the top of the heap to start with. Here's hoping folks in Arkansas can beat it back. 


  1. Remember, the paid maternity leave is an optional 50/50 match. If you work in a district that can’t afford it you’re out of luck. But you’re welcome to go work for a district with more money.