The state Board of Education meets today on broad changes in school accreditation standards and the Arkansas Press Association is objecting to high school curriculum changes that would eliminate a number of required specific courses, particularly journalism. The group is not alone with concerns that purported stream-lining could water down course offerings.

The Association distributed this alert yesterday:

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The Arkansas Board of Education will meet at 3 p.m. Wednesday to consider a revised set of state standards for accrediting schools and school districts that removes some of the existing specifics on course offerings and graduation requirements, among other things.

In an effort to simplify rules, the new course requirements would be broad in nature, mandating only the teaching of English, math and social studies. They do not specify that schools must offer courses such as world history, drama, journalism or other specific studies. This is problematic, particularly in the case of journalism classes, in that it discounts the lasting positive impact journalism has on students through the fostering of critical thinking skills as well as instilling in students the importance of civic engagement.

We are urging you to reach out to the Arkansas State Board of Education today, to stress the importance of journalism education. Good journalists are the cornerstone of democracy and a free press, and Arkansas has always been a leader in offering journalism studies to high school students.

I have heard from others who see removal of specific courses as a blow to the schools. It certainly should make life easier for small school districts that would prefer to offer fewer courses. One man’s “flexibility” is another man’s watered-down education. Physics is no longer specifically required, to name one interesting change in this STEM-focused times. Also gone as a requirement: instrumental music. How can you play football without a band? Cynthia Howell previewed the changes in a recent article in the Democrat-Gazette. A loosening of class size standards seems to be in the cards, too. Even more problematic is an apparent avenue, objected to by several school groups, that provide a pathway for takeover of public schools by non-public entities.

The state Board has tended to be a rubber stamp for administration policies and these are not good times for Arkansas education in several respects. We are moving away from accountability (none at all for home-schooled students; an insufficient amount for charter schools; abundant waivers for regular school districts) with the exception of keeping the Little Rock School District under the state’s thumb until the Walton lobby can finally privatize the district.  These rules would seem to provide a helping hand.

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Update: yes, the Board approved the rules, 7-0.  Board chair Jay Barth didn’t vote.  The board received some assurances that courses like world history and physics would be preserved in process setting 38 units required for graduation. Journalism stil dies. And the opening for privatization apparently remains.