Nearly two weeks ago, Conway School District’s K.K. Bradshaw, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, received news that a course request the district had made was no longer to be approved by the state.
The alteration regards Act 480, or the Personal Finance and Job Readiness Act, that the Arkansas General Assembly passed during recent legislation requiring students, starting with the freshman class of 2017-18, to complete a course that includes specific personal finance standards in grades 10th-12th.
Bradshaw discussed the change she had been made aware of during the Conway Board of Education’s regular meeting Tuesday.
She said when the law was passed, districts had three options: to embed the standards in a current, credit-bearing course in the district, realign social studies — the standards are already taught in ninth grade economics which falls outside of the 10-12 grades — or add a graduation requirement bringing a student’s hours to 23.5 from 23.
“After a lot of conversation, we decided that embedding the standards in a credit-bearing course would be the very best option in grades 10-12,” Bradshaw said, noting flipping the courses would be too disruptive.
She said, following the Arkansas Department of Education and its guidance, Conway submitted a course-approval document to the state that embedded the standards in geometry, after the completion of ACT Aspire testing where teachers struggle with “good things to do with the kids.”
From there, Bradshaw said, ADE submitted it to the state board of education — as they do with any embedded courses.
“All went well,” she said. “Actually began implementing and then we got a call.”
Bradshaw said the ADE said the state board expressed a “great deal of reluctance,” in approving that, but the year school, and the process, had already started.
“I think that ADE beseeched the board to please give us this year to grant the waiver, which they did, but they made it very clear to ADE that they would not grant districts a waiver to embed these standards after this year,” she told board members.
Ultimately, that decision, Bradshaw said, forced Conway to go back to the drawing board and discuss the other two options.
She said the district began having conversations and took the issue to the social studies departments at the high school and junior high and explained what was happening.
“We talked through all the pros and cons, we showed the, the law, we talked about all the different options and the teachers said, ‘K.K., the best decision for kids, is not adding an additional graduation requirement,’” Bradshaw said. “I have to tell you, I got chill bumps because the decision that would have been the easier decision on the adults in that room was just to say, ‘Hey, let’s add an elective,’ but that’s not the decision they made.”
The chosen alternative was to realign.
She said typically, ninth grade students would take civics and economics, 10th grade world history and 11th grade American history; now, they will teach American history to 1870 in the eighth, American history in the ninth, leave word history in the 10th and do civics and economics in the 11th grade.
“That way, we don’t have kids having to have additional graduation requirements but we will be in compliance,” Bradshaw said.
Board member Diane Robinson said with the upcoming legislative session in January, she wonders about the potential opportunity to talk to local legislators about a bill that would specify that this subject be allowed to be taught in the ninth grade as well instead of forcing the 10-12th grade requirement.
“I had that same conversation back some months ago with Stacy Smith, who’s the [director of curriculum and instruction with] ADE and she did not give me any hope to get that changed,” Bradshaw replied. “Now, I’m not saying it couldn’t be or wouldn’t be, but that, I went there as well.”
Superintendent Greg Murry also addressed Robinson’s hope and said that from what he understands the sponsor of the bill is adamant that it not be a ninth grade course.
“I really think this is the best of our less than great options,” Bradshaw said.