Local schools take a beating


In 1819, Lord Byron’s “Don Juan” Canto the Second reads in part, “O ye! who teach the ingenuous youth of nations, Holland, France, England, Germany, or Spain, I pray ye flog them upon all occasions, It mends their morals, never mind the pain.”

In this passage the speaker admonishes us to literally beat morality into children. While administrators of the Pine Bluff School District don’t practice that kind of punishment, the managerial path they’ve chosen is no less painful.

As reported in The Commercial, the majority of schools in the PBSD were placed on probation by the Arkansas State Board of Education on Monday for violations of state standards. This sad tally includes all six of the district’s elementary schools. They made the list because an instructor who provided gifted and talented services failed to meet state licensure requirements, according to the state board.

Pine Bluff High School also was placed on probationary status after an instructor teaching a survey course failed to meet licensing requirements.

To her credit, PBSD Superintendent Linda Watson indicated the gross ignominy had found purchase with her, “I am making sure that this August before classes start all of those people who are supposed to be teaching classes have licenses that line up with what they are teaching ahead of time. If you’re supposed to be in classes required for a particular certification, then you’d better be in those classes.”

We applaud Watson’s understanding of the impending doom should she and her staff fail. We would suggest her no-nonsense, no-excuses policy be adopted by other institutions of education.

Those who choose teaching as a profession have sworn a sacred oath to the future. Far too many in our midst have forsaken that oath or, at the least, not been able to deliver. As Watson indicated, it’s time for some of those people to go.

Relatedly, two other schools need to have the same kinds of introspective moment. UAPB has announced intentions to reconstitute its nursing program yet again. Surely that will mean a fresh start under new leadership. If not, we’ll know that the school’s commitment to change was only superficial.

And what to make of the men’s basketball program at the school that looks to be barred from post-season play — for a second year? The athletic department continues to refute the NCAA determination that the team’s academic performance falls below a minimum threshold. But that didn’t change the outcome last year and may not again this year. Question: How long will the university allow the condition to exist?

The grievous sins of the Dollarway School District are almost too numerous to enumerate. While state control is no guarantee of improvement, they’d be hard-pressed to do much worse.

With all this misfortune, what’s a community to do? With regard to the K-12 schools, the National Center for Public Education notes several successful approaches.

First, they cite several studies that indicate more school time produces more learning — when the time is focused on academic activities. In other words, schools need to “maximize the time during which students are actively and appropriately engaged in learning,” or what is often simply called ‘time on task.”’

Second, professional development is key, “Teachers trained in traditional modes of instruction, including the reliance on lecture, will likely need appropriate professional development to make the best use of class time and keep students actively engaged.”

Third, students in full-day kindergarten post more gains than their peers in half-day programs. Younger students seem to benefit from more school time regardless of other factors.

While these are just three suggestions, it’s clear we need change; and we need it now — and at all levels.