Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Rural Trust Organization on Paron and the Press

By Marty Strange

It’s a diatribe far more embarrassing than they claim the state’s small schools are.

But maybe relief is in sight. In the most recent of his increasingly inane rants about the battle to keep Paron High School open, Paul Greenberg, the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, and the top bully on the beat, finally got one thing right.

But the thing he got right is buried under a Pinnacle-Mountain sized pile of nonsense, right along with all the common sense dumped there by the state and local education officials presiding over this melodrama. Sometimes Greenberg’s rush to taunt the afflicted gets him more than a little confused.

(continued- click WEDNESDAY below and scroll down for rest of article, or if sent straight here just scroll down)


Blogger Mark Moore (Moderator) said...

Consider this gem. First, Greenberg ridicules Paron parents for being concerned that 90 minute one-way bus rides might keep their children from participating in extracurricular activities, like sporting events. Care more about sports than education, he says. Only faking commitment to their kids.

Then he chortles that Paron didn’t even have a football team. Hmmmm…

Am I missing something here? If Paron parents are guilty of caring more about sports than schooling, why in blue blazes are they fighting to keep open a school that can’t field a football team?

Maybe it’s because they are worried that their kids will be perpetual outsiders in a school so remote from their homes that participation in any extra-curricular activities will be next to impossible. Carpool, he advises. That’s what parents did when he was in school. Let’s see, that was in Shreveport wasn’t it? Must have been a fifteen minute ride, if you didn’t hit the traffic lights right.

Never let logic get in the way of a good argument.

Not when you’ve got sarcasm, ridicule, mockery, and a rusting Pulitzer Prize for hyperbole going for you instead.

Unlike their parents, of course, Greenberg only wants what is best for the Paron kids. He wants them to have choices of the 160 courses offered at Bryant. Guess he hasn’t read the research that shows that kids in big schools offering a “rich” curriculum are actually more likely to take fewer courses – because in big schools, kids are not needed to fill courses, and teachers don’t want the strugglers and the poor test takers. Kids hide in big schools, and teachers don’t go looking for them. Paron parents understand. So did the state’s consultants when they recommended against the requirement that every high school teach 38 courses every year.

But Greenberg runs with the conventional wisdom of Little Rock – the only good small school is a closed small school. So he wants kids to have lots of curricular choices. Unless, of course, they choose to take courses by distance learning. He cites as disturbing one Paron student who chose to take Spanish courses from the Bryant District via distance learning. Must be better to put her on a bus to and from Bryant for 3 hours a day than to let her tune into broadcast Spanish for 50 minutes.

It’s also no good if students choose to use the state’s highly touted virtual high school to take some other exotic courses every high school in the state is now required to teach each year, like journalism, for example.

No, whether it comes from your home district or your state education department, you can’t meet the 38-cours requirement using courses taught by distance learning. Put her on a bus. Close the small school close to home.

And teach a lesson to these backward people who want to use the latest education technology. In Arkansas, you are only modern if you want to close small schools. Otherwise, you are an “Arkie,” as Greenberg is fond of calling rural Arkansans.

Those Paron Arkies are especially reprehensible. Why, only 35 percent of the parents attended parent conferences last year, lowest rate in the Bryant District according to its superintendent. Could be parents in Paron don’t need to schedule conferences with teachers. Maybe they just walk in the door of their small…er, excuse me, the Greenberg standard for belittling “small” is “tiny” -- school anytime they want and talk to their kids’ teachers. Maybe their kids are doing well, so they don’t feel they need a conference. Maybe they are getting a good education.

But of course, that can’t be so. If that were so, Greenberg’s incessant rant about Paron offering a bad education -- always on “double-secret probation,” whatever that is – wouldn’t hold water. And since that is the entire foundation of his argument, his argument would be, well, underwater.

Re-enter John Adams and his stubborn facts for the defense.

In 2005, Paron High School had a higher percentage of its students score proficient or better on every grade 7, 8, and eleven Arkansas Benchmark test in literacy and math than the average for all high schools in the state. Same thing with the end of course tests for Algebra I and Geometry. And on each and every one of these tests, Paron had a smaller percentage of students scoring below basic, the lowest score, than the average for the rest of the state.

On every state mandated test in every high school grade, Paron outscored the state average.

In head-to-head matchup with the Bryant district, Paron performed better on some tests and not as well on others. But it had far fewer kids scoring below basic than Bryant. On 3 of 7 Benchmark and end of course exams, not a single Paron student scored below basic. This despite the fact that the poverty rate among students in Paron is 52% higher than for the Bryant district as a whole.

Well, how did Paron do against the nation? On the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, a nationally norm-referenced test that ranks kids against their peers nationwide, Paron outscored the national average. And it outscored the Arkansas average, usually by 5-10 percentile points.

Ah ha, but when Paron students head for college, that weak curriculum will show up in the way they perform. They won’t do well on entrance exams and they will require remedial courses before they can begin their college work.

Their composite score on the ACT college entrance exam was 21. The state average was 20.5. Bryant district was 19.8. Go figure.

Remediation rate for the state is 51.6 – over half Arkansans who get to college require some remedial coursework. For Bryant, the “rich” curriculum district, the rate was 66.7%. Paron didn’t contribute to that problem, however. Its rate was 0. As in “zero.” Nothing. Nada. Go figure again.

Maybe they just aren’t graduating kids – only the very best make it out of Paron, the rest dropout and are lost in the swirling winds of time, unprepared for life, a drag on the Arkansas economy and culture. Paron’s dropout rate is 1.7%. Graduation rate is 89.6%. Bryant drops out 3% a year, and graduates 84.5%.

Stubborn facts.

Will 1.7% of Paron students dropout when they are on a bus 3 hours a day headed to a school that already loses nearly twice that number? You don’t need a course in journalism to get that one right.

But that does bring us to the one stubborn fact Paul Greenberg did get right. He says that Paron was on probation last year because it couldn’t get a licensed teacher to teach journalism, one of the 38 magical courses that every Arkansas school must teach (not offer, but actually teach, even if no one wants to take it).

Does anyone else see the irony here? Maybe Arkansas needs fewer high school courses in journalism and more journalists who care about the facts. After all, even a stopped watch gets it right twice a day.

5:11 AM, August 30, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe Greenberg was going to enroll in that Paron journalism class and has never forgiven them for not starting it up.

6:45 AM, August 30, 2006  

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