Academic Gaps Remain Despite Record Progress in State Education Efforts
LITTLE ROCK - If Arkansas doesn't make changes in education policy, students will continue to fall behind. A new report says that Arkansas' children are receiving a much better education today because of reforms implemented following the now-famous Lake View case. But low income and minority students in Arkansas are not receiving an equal opportunity to learn.
The report, “Education in the Post Lake View Era,” looks at the steps the state has taken to reduce the achievement gap since 2003.
The GREAT news of this report is that in the past 10 years we made incredible improvements to our education system because we had the bipartisan political will to make smart investments in reforms that were proven to work.
We CAN make a world class education system in Arkansas!
But the past ten years also show Arkansas is not providing an equal opportunity to all of our students. Low income and minority students, who make up more than half of our student body, still lag behind at alarming rates.
Some school districts simply do not have the resources to keep up and provide their students with the best teachers, facilities and programs that wealthier districts provide. No one’s educational opportunity should be defined by the zip code where they happen to live.
Some students have to overcome more personal barriers to achieve in school because their family is overstretched just trying to get by. No one’s educational opportunity should be limited just because they were born into a family of limited means.
Arkansas cannot succeed without these students. Our conscious and our constitution demands that we take action.
NOW we need to build the same kind of bipartisan consensus to FOCUS on the NEXT wave of reforms and investments PROVEN to close the opportunity gaps that prevent many of our students from realizing their dreams. Every student in Arkansas will benefit as a result.
We have to focus on strategies to overcome the barriers that family and community poverty create for our students.
But there’s good news for our schools again, there ARE proven solutions to help overcome these challenges:
- First, we must maintain our commitments to the investments and programs that are working. Some lawmakers have pushed a retreat from the decade of progress Arkansas schools have had and it would be devastating to our future. Arkansans have worked hard to build our education system to where it is and we can see the results -- now is no time to retreat.
- We need to create more opportunities for students to get ahead with:
- New investments into the Arkansas Better Chance pre-K program. We need $16 million of new funding just to keep up with where we were in 2008, much less get ahead. We hope the Governor and the Legislature will prioritize pre-k in the budget.
- Fund afterschool and Summer programs to implement the Positive Youth Development Act passed in 2011. We are currently seeking $5 million to create a demonstration project to prove the programs’ value.
- Expand school based health and nutrition programs. Kids who are sick or hungry don’t do as well, but we have effective solutions.
- Reform discipline policies to make sure they are effective and fairly administered.
- Technology and facilities must be improved in low-income school districts to reduce the disparities between the haves and the have nots.
- We need to increase parental and community involvement. We will be supporting legislation this session to ask the Department of Education to take a harder look at community involvement when they perform a school district’s accreditation review.
- We need to improve teacher quality and raise the minimum teacher salary to reduce disparities between rich and poor districts. We need to develop more home-grown teachers in rural communities who are anchored to the community and understand the culture of their students.
- We need to reform the way that districts spend the National School Lunch Act (NSLA) poverty funds they receive to boost opportunities for low income students. Many districts do not spend their NSLA money on effective and proven reforms and there is not enough accountability for making sure this funding is effectively used.
- Schools cannot do everything to improve a student’s performance alone. We need more community support for quality education with things like the Close the Word Gap program, parental supports and other efforts to help families provide nurturing and learning environments at home that prepare them for success.