A TALE OF TWO ARKANSAS
Summary: Two reports on student performance underscore the problem: the state Department of Education has failed to acknowledge there is a problem.
(January 2012) A new student performance report by the Univ. of Arkansas-Fayetteville’s Office for Education Policy (OEP), following surveys from the state Department of Education (2011) and the Policy Foundation (2005-2008) underscore a problem: the department’s failure to admit there is a problem.
The OEP1 report lists Arkansas public schools in the order of their Iowa Tests of Basic Skills results. The survey found 38 schools in Pulaski County, including 23 in the Little Rock School District2 scored less than the 40th percentile. The 50th percentile is the U.S. average on the national test.
Education Department Report Highlights Problem
The OEP report is welcome news to those who support performance measures for Arkansas K-12 public education. Schools whose students consistently score low on national standardized tests clearly have a problem.
Yet only four3 of the 23 Little Rock Schools failed to meet or exceed standards in a 2011 report compiled for the department of Education by the National Office for Research, Measurement and Evaluation Systems at the Univ. of Arkansas-Fayetteville. The report found that 97% of Arkansas public schools, including the other 19 in Little Rock whose students scored less than the 40th percentile are “meeting” or “exceeding” standards.
The problem is that the state Department of Education does not recognize there is a problem with Arkansas K-12 public education. Instead, the department attempts to advance the idea that virtually every public school, including those with low test scores are “meeting” or “exceeding” standards.
There is a better way than denial to address this problem: high expectations.
“For too long,” the Policy Foundation noted in a 1998 report4, “Arkansans have bought the myth that children's social, ethnic, economic, or cultural backgrounds have impaired their ability to effectively learn in our public schools. The excuses, especially among educators, are rampant: They point to minorities, blame single parent homes, and cite low socio-economic backgrounds. Some say rural children are disadvantaged, others comment on inner-city conditions and gangs. These are factors to be sure, but these same educators often overlook that public education has weakened its standards, dumbed down the curriculum, and socially promoted children.” One example: the state Department of Education’s reliance on Arkansas benchmark exams to the exclusion of national standardized tests like the ITBS.
Dr. Thaddeus Lott, a Texas charter school official told Foundation researchers, “It's a myth that if you're born in a poor community and your skin is a certain color that you can't achieve on a higher level.” The truth is that all children can learn when challenged by high expectations.
Markets Aren’t Fooled
Market participants, including businesses and entrepreneurs that make hiring decisions are not fooled by the department’s failure to acknowledge there is a problem. A skilled labor force is a factor of economic production. Enterprises that cannot find skilled workers in Arkansas will seek them in other markets.
Arkansas payroll employment was 1,177,700 (November 2011, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics), a decline of 23,500 jobs since January 2007, despite a national economic expansion that has entered its third year (National Bureau of Economic Research.
1 The OEP findings by Dr. Gary Ritter were published in The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (Jan. 1, 2012).
2 The Little Rock schools that scored less than the U.S. average and their percentile ranks are (elementary) Meadowcliff and Mabelvale (38); David O Dodd and Franklin Incentive (37); Stephens (36); Baseline and Wilson (34); Bale (33), Washington Magnet (32); Romine Interdistrict (31); Wakefield (30); Geyer Springs (29); and Watson (27); (middle) Forest Heights (35); Mabelvale (32); Henderson (30); Cloverdale Aerospace (26); (high schools) Hall (27); McClellan (26); J.A. Fair (24); and (non-traditional schools) Hamilton Learning Academy (18) and Felder Alternative Academy (9).
3 The four Little Rock schools were Wilson, J.A. Fair, Hamilton, and Felder.
4 “Restoring Public Education’s Academic Mission,” Arkansas Policy Foundation, September 1998.