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The perfect cannot be the enemy of the good. What happened at the state Board of Education meeting on Thursday was as good as could be expected in this environment. The state's education leadership should be (1) applauded and (2) reminded of their still-remaining charges.

Oh, sure, if there were such things as magic wands, and education reformers chanced upon one, there'd be more changes in the offing in Little Rock's school district. But J.K. Rowling lives elsewhere. The rest of us are going to have to live in the real world.

Splitting the district into parts--and giving the most challenging schools to the state for intensive care and handling--might have been the best idea, especially for those students in the most challenging schools. But apparently the best idea couldn't fly. There were too many folks with their own agendas yelling "segregation!" into a couple of local echo chambers. Once the debate goes down that path, and into the ditch, the mud might cover everything soon enough.

As far as those who'd take Little Rock down that path, maybe even knowing what it could do to kids in the community, don't get us started. Public discourse is coarse enough as it is.

The best news might be that the Board of Education directed the education secretary, Johnny Key, to end the teachers' union's exclusive bargaining contract. This will make it more possible to focus on educating students, instead of jumping through union hoops.

No matter what you might hear chanted at a board meeting, the union's priorities are rarely students, but instead teachers. All teachers. Even the ones that don't teach. After all, even poor-performing teachers--or those who are poor performing when they show up--pay union dues, too. (The fact that certain representatives of the teachers' union have threatened a strike, or a "collective action" to use their euphemism, proves the point.)

But about that reminder of the still-remaining charges: The state has work to do even now. A lot of work. For it will be a full year until a new school board is elected. The state cannot simply let another generation slide away into the streets while locals campaign for board positions over the next 13 months.

There are still eight schools with F grades in the Little Rock School District. We the People--and the state's leadership that represent us--cannot shrug in this matter. Until an official handover is complete--not this November but after the election next November--the state is still responsible for Little Rock's schools. And the students therein.

The state means all of us.

The state, the Board of Education, Johnny Key, the governor, and citizens of the capital city must keep our eyes on the North Star. That is, we must do something immediate and dramatic to improve our schools. Just as we should have done yesterday. Just as we should do tomorrow. The news from Thursday changes that not one iota.

The state could still attract new and enthusiastic teachers with pay scales outside the norm. And even offer merit pay, or bonus pay, for those who'd take on schools in the most challenging of ZIP codes.

The state could access student improvement (or lack thereof) every 90 days, instead of once a year. The state could still offer jobs to those who understand the subject matter best--a banker in an econ class, for example, or a French native with a degree in literature to teach a French class. There are hundreds of reforms being tried around the country. Arkansas' leadership can't stop now, just because a school board election is on the horizon--the far horizon.

If such moves prove successful today, then there's a starting point for the new school board! And the generation in Little Rock's schools right now won't be tossed aside just so a new school board can start from scratch. That wouldn't just be a disappointment. That'd be a disgrace.

Ah, but are state leaders listening? The next few months will tell.

Now is no time to slack. As a particular coach likes to say, now's the time to hammer down. Fewer things are more important.

Editorial on 10/13/2019

Print Headline: Left lane, hammer down

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