The state Board of Education today approved a partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation and Walton Family Foundation aimed at developing a plan to strengthen education by targeting academically distressed schools and districts.
Advocates tout the savings that would come from turning out prepared students in avoided remediation costs.
The so-called ForwARd initiative first plans a fall report of data on Arkansas education performance. Then they plan a convocation of educators, parents, lawmakers and others to arrive at a plan of action by summer 2015.
Sherece West of the Rockefeller Foundation told the Board that the foundations are taking responsibility for the project in “dollars, talent and time.” The Education Department will provide staff to help with data and work with districts on planning.
The project was generally hailed, but Board member Alice Mahony of El Dorado injected a cautionary note: “It bothers me that instead of three entities working together…we have two entities telling the third entity what to do.” She wondered about the success of similar efforts in other states.
Sam Ledbetter of Little Rock, a state Board member who has pushed back at times on specifically flawed proposals backed by Walton Foundation money, was among those cheering the project. Said a news release on the effort quoting him: “The time is now to develop an actionable plan that will involve multiple stakeholders in communities with schools or districts in academic distress to push our state forward to ensure high-quality educational opportunities for all Arkansans.”
Sure. But I hope this doesn’t prove a back door way to give the Walton Foundation carte blanche in making its agenda state policy. Its agenda: Crippling teacher unions; school vouchers; unlimited school transfers among districts; unlimited charter school creation, particularly in Pulaski County; reliance on standardized tests as measures of students and teachers; the Common Core curriculum. Some doses of these things can be beneficial. But democratically controlled local school districts — open equally to all and denying no one, no matter how difficult to serve — remains the ideal school delivery system. The strongest effort should be devoted to making them work — not to creating flight havens for favored groups of students.