University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

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Save the Date for the OEP Conference: June 10

In The View from the OEP on April 29, 2015 at 12:22 pm

save the date

Mark your calendars for the 2015 OEP Conference on Wednesday, June 10, 2015 at Heifer International in Little Rock! We are very excited about partnering with the Office of Innovation for Education on this year’s theme of Student Learning and  Assessment. The final agenda is still under wraps, but we will have speakers and panels that focus on understanding current landscape and policies relevant to student learning and assessment.  In addition, you will find perspectives regarding where learning and assessment may be headed next!

The conference will be divided into morning and afternoon sessions targeted toward specific audiences: policymakers in the morning and educators (school administrators, principals and teachers) in the afternoon. Lunch will be provided for those who would like to enjoy cross-audience discussion and education speaker!

Help us spread the word! Also, please let us know if you have topics that you are interested in learning more about. Hope to see you there!

Arkansas Teachers on Common Core: Should It Stay or Should It Go?

In The View from the OEP on April 29, 2015 at 12:10 pm

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Listen to your Teacher!

Arkansas teachers share their knowledge and expertise daily with students throughout the state – and this week we at the OEP are pleased to share their opinions about Common Core State Standards with you!

OEP fielded a survey over the past two months asking Arkansas teachers to share their opinions about the impact of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) on student learning and on their attitudes toward their work. In addition, teachers were asked questions regarding the implementation of CCSS and the associated assessment. Over 975 teachers from 60 randomly selected Arkansas districts have shared their thoughts. 

The Governor’s Council on Common Core Review has begun considering recommendations it will make regarding the future of CCSS in Arkansas, and we feel it is critical that teacher voices are included in the conversation. Last week we had the opportunity to share preliminary results of this survey with the Council and are excited to share the results with you.

Findings from the Teacher Survey on Common Core State Standards

Today’s policy brief examines the results more thoroughly, but we present the highlights here:

Student Learning:  The majority of teachers responded positively regarding the Common Core Standards. Teachers reported that:

  • CCSS are more rigorous than the previous standards (92%)
  • CCSS are more helpful than previous standards in preparing students academically (62%)
  • Given the choice, teachers would keep the CCSS in their school curriculum (61%)

Teachers reported that they feel CCSS will lead to improved student learning for the majority of their students, although they are concerned that students who are working below grade level, are special education and/or English language learners will not benefit from CCSS.

Teacher Attitudes:  Teachers indicated that the work they had done to implement CCSS had made them better teachers (63%), but they report that teaching is more stressful than in prior years (74%).

Implementation: Teachers reported that they have read the Common Core standards for their grade level/ content area (99%), have attended professional development about CCSS (95%), and felt that CCSS was implemented well at their school (72%).

Assessment: Teachers reported disliking the assessment associated with CCS implementation (87%) but were not unified in their perceptions regarding what type of assessment, if any, they would recommend.

Some teachers were less supportive of CCSS than others. Do you think more experienced teachers were more or less supportive of Common Core? Were teachers from larger districts more or less supportive than teachers from smaller districts? Read the brief to find out!

Although the preliminary results indicate the majority of teachers support CCSS, this is a controversial topic. It is critically important that policy makers listen to the opinions of teachers in the classrooms throughout our state. We hope this Teacher Survey on Common Core has allowed their voices to be heard and that they will continue to be involved in this important conversation.

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About the Survey

Beginning on February 26, 2015, the Office for Education Policy sent an electronic survey invitation to Arkansas teachers to gather information on their perceptions about the Common Core Standards. The survey consisted of 40 questions addressing the impact of CCSS on student learning and teacher attitudes toward their work, as well as CCSS implementation and the associated testing.

The sample of 2,795 teachers selected to receive the survey invitation teach English language arts and/or mathematics in grade three through high school in one of 60 selected public school districts in Arkansas. Districts were identified through a stratified, random sampling procedure. Stratification was based on 2013-14 assessment results and district size. Each region of the state was represented in the sample roughly in proportion to its student enrollment. Details about the respondents can be found in the policy brief.

Teachers were contacted directly through an email that included a link to the survey. Teachers could enter to win one of three $100 gift cards upon completion of the survey. As of April 28, 2015, 975 teachers had responded to the survey resulting in a response rate of 34.9%.

While we would prefer a higher response rate from teachers so we could ensure that the opinions are representative of Arkansas teachers, 35% is higher than other published teacher surveys on Common Core.

 

Legislative Summary: Education Policy in the 2015 General Session

In AR Legislature, The View from the OEP on April 17, 2015 at 2:43 pm

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The 2015 legislative session will formally adjourn next week, but most of the hard work wrapped up on April 9. The policy brief that OEP published today highlights the major pieces of K-12 legislation that passed through the House and Senate education committees in the past few weeks. In reflecting on the conversations from these meetings and the issues described in the brief, we thought about at least three dynamics working beneath the surface of education policy: its personal nature, its connection between our past and future, and its role in the larger scheme.

Personal nature. The formalities of policymaking can seem cold and impersonal. Bills are written according to strict standards to pass legal muster. Floor debates and committee discussions follow formal, orderly procedures. Sitting (or standing) in the audience, though, brings to mind that education policy is intensely personal.

Education policy is about us and the people we love. We remember learning to write our names in cursive, memorizing important dates in history, and penciling in the bubble sheet of a standardized test. Our lives revolve around our children’s daily achievements and struggles, sometimes taking place in the same classrooms where we sat back in the day. Education policy is personal to the legislator who recalls her mother teaching 3rd grade and taking tickets at ballgames, her father coaching and driving the bus. It’s personal to the parent who goes to the school each day to personally give medication to his child.

Connecting past and future. Education policy ties together where we’ve been and where we’re going. Students today need to be able to read the original Declaration of Independence penned in cursive and have proficient keyboarding skills to take tests electronically. School nurses still put Band-Aids® on scraped knees, but they also administer life-saving medications, suction feeding tubes, and monitor students with eating disorders. Students who learn to weld in shop class may well put the skill to use in a high-paying job that’s part of the global economy. These examples and more came up in recent education committee meetings.

The larger scheme. Like many parts of our lives, policy content is divided into categories and examined in isolation. We couldn’t help but notice in the policy brief, though, how many education bills pertain to health, community prosperity, and job creation and preparation. Education, economic development, and public health are interwoven systems that we tend to address separately and expect to work in synchrony.

As you read the 2015 Legislative Summary, consider education policy for its personal nature, its connection of past to future, and its place in the larger scheme, along with your own observations.

School Grades Are In!

In The View from the OEP on April 15, 2015 at 2:06 pm

Report Card

Today the School Performance Reports for 2014 were released by the Arkansas Department of Education.  For the first time schools received A-F letter grades just like their students.  How did our schools do?

As it turns out, most Arkansas schools are doing pretty well! The chart below shows the number of schools receiving each letter grade.

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Fifteen percent of Arkansas schools received an “A”, but the majority of Arkansas schools (66%) received a grade of  “B”  or  “C”.  Only fifteen percent of schools received a “D” and four percent received an “F.”

Similarly to the letter grades that a student receives from their teacher, school letter grades are an overview of several different performance measures.  Letter grades for schools represent four main indicators of school performance, and each component is explained in today’s policy brief.

Unlike ESEA accountability measures, letter grades represent a broader spectrum of information and are more equitable to schools. The information is also a lot more helpful to parents.  Compare the two pie charts: on the left is letter grades and on the right is ESEA labels.  When 94% of Arkansas schools are identified as Needs Improvement, the label becomes relatively meaningless.

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Although more meaningful than Needs Improvement, interpreting the letter grades can still be challenging to stakeholders. What kind of grade should parents expect?  We all know that an “A” is better than an “F”, but what about all the grades in between?

We at the OEP find it helpful to think about school grades just like we think about student grades.  We (try to) always interpret our own kids’ grades by asking three questions:

  • Is the grade better or worse than we expected given what we know about our kid and the context of the grade? Maybe science just isn’t his strength- but he is doing great in reading.
  • If it is worse- what exactly is the problem area? Not turning in homework is different than not understanding the material on a test.
  • What can we do to help?

Got an “A”: The High Achievers!

The highest performing schools in the state received an “A” grade, even though they may have missed some points for achivement gap or not meeting all performance tagets. This can be likened to a high performing student who may get “A”s even without completing all homework or being awarded extra credit. “A” schools are doing very well but should stay motivated, so their students continue to improve.

“B”s and “C”s: On Track but could improve…

Schools receiving “B”s or “C”s should carefully examine their data to identify specific areas for improvement. Each component of the letter grade system can significantly raise or lower the overall score for schools where students are performing well but are not in the “A” range.  Just like “B” and “C” students, every score is important to maintain passing grades for these schools.  Meeting performance targets is very important and the achievement gap/ graduation gap adjustments can have a substantial impact on the overall grade. Schools receiving “B”s or “C”s should carefully examine their data to identify specific areas for improvement.  Communicating successes and growth areas will help the community support the continued improvement for the school.

“D”s and “F”s: Time for A Parent/Teacher Conference

Schools receiving “D”s or “F”s are facing many challenges in terms of student performance.  These schools are in the bottom 20% of schools in the state.  Schools should take immediate measures to ensure improvement. Collaboration with supporters based on identified areas of need and continuous evaluation of progress are critical interventions.

Policy Recommendations

While we applaud the intent of Act 696 to make school performance easier for parents to understand, the OEP has several recommendations to improve its use.

Make it easier to access letter grades and the data. The letter grades are buried deep in the Arkansas School Performance Report Cards, which are anything but user-friendly. We appreciate the parent handout and video, but without easy access to letter grades and the detailed values used in their determination, parents will continue to be left wondering what the label means about their school’s performance.

Move toward national comparisons. Letter grades are relevant only within the state and are not comparable across the county. Arkansas needs to think more broadly about measuring student achievement, and Common Core State Standards and PARCC assessments are a step in the right direction.

Address the achievement gap. The magnitude of the average achievement gap between at-risk and not at-risk students is staggering at nearly 20 percentage points. We hope these previously unreported data serve as a wake up call to school leaders and stakeholders. Arkansas needs to focus on the success of all Arkansas students.

Most importantly, let’s not get too caught up in the grades.  Just like we do as parents we need to instead focus on the individual student in the classrooms.  Our goal is not for everyone to get an “A”, but for every student to experience the most effective learning environment every day.

 

 

Broadband Access in Arkansas

In The View from the OEP on April 8, 2015 at 11:49 am

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Today’s blog and policy brief is about Internet connections for K-12 schools in Arkansas. Here at the OEP we use the Internet a lot for communication, research, and to keep up with events throughout the country. Our Internet connection is fast and reliable, invisibly supporting our work.

For many K-12 schools throughout Arkansas, however, Internet connections are slow, unreliable and expensive.  Arkansas’ schools need access to improved broadband connectivity. The Digital Learning Act, upcoming computer science curriculum expansion and computer-based assessments depend on quality internet connections for student success. While more Arkansas districts meet the standard for internet connections recommended by the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) than the national average (58% of Arkansas districts vs. 37% nationally), this still leaves 230,000 students without adequate access.

Six weeks ago, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reclassified the Internet as a public utility, setting the stage for greater competition and access throughout the country.  Last month, Arkansas’ Department of Information Services opened bidding for High Bandwidth Transport and Internet, opening the door to the competition for providing broadband access to K-12 schools thoughout the state.  Work is scheduled to begin in July, with all K-12 schools having sufficient internet access by June, 2017.

While most of us use the Internet regularly, we don’t necessarily understand the details of how it works, what costs are associated with providing it to schools, and all the implications of specific policies. According to a letter sent to district superintendents, under the new RFP, the state will cover the cost of providing Internet access to district hubs, and school districts would be responsible for the costs associated with connecting individual buildings from those hubs.

The research studies conducted so far (QDLS, ESH and CT&T) provide lots of details about current internet connections in Arkansas districts and costs associated with student access. While it is a complicated issue, it seems to us that Arkansas needs to invest some money in ensuring fast, reliable internet access to its students. Due to the research of broadband, testimonials, and recommendations form the studies conducted, fiber optic Internet seems to be the best way to provide the needed connection to schools and students. Arkansas has a fiber optic network already connecting the state’s colleges, health centers, and emergency centers.  This network, called Arkansas Research and Education Optical Network (ARE-ON), is currently off-limits to K-12 schools, but could serve as a backbone for broadband access across the state if the current exclusion in Act 1050 was lifted.

To us here at the OEP, there still seems to be many moving pieces in this process. A thoughtful step forward might be trial implementations in sample districts of varying sizes and locations.  The information gained from these trial districts could provide valuable tips to successful statewide implementation of broadband.

Even when broadband access is expanded, challenges lie ahead. First, internet is useless if schools do not have the infrastucture within the schools to connect to the state provided district hubs.  Second, students and staff need devices to connect to the Internet. Third, teachers, administrators, and support staff need to be able to make use of fast broadband access and up-to-date devices. In addition, districts will need to revamp their acceptable use policies and ensure that schools have effective firewalls that prevent students from accessing inappropriate content or illegally downloaded media.

Arkansas educators are working hard every day to prepare students for success in college and careers, and schools need fast, consistent Internet connections to support student learning. The Digital Learning Act and computer-based assessments require improved broadband for students to participate. While there will be some significant investment required by the state and local districts as well, connecting all K-12 schools through fiber optic Internet would set Arkansas up to be a leader in available technology and connectivity for K-12 students. Providing fast, consistent Internet connections to all Arkansas students is an investment that can’t wait.

And Now, For Some Good News

In The View from the OEP on April 1, 2015 at 12:03 pm

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In the midst of all of the education-related controversy (and hyperbole) in early March about HB 1733, HB 1377, and PARCC testing (HB 1241: The Fate of PARCC in Arkansas and Testing in Progress: Please Do Not Disturb!), some very good news for Arkansas was quietly shared in the March 12th edition of the Washington Post. The Post reporter dug into some tables generated by the National Center for Education Statistics and came up with the unhappy conclusion that “In 23 states, richer school districts get more local funding than poorer districts”.

In Arkansas, however, the poorest students receive MORE dollars per pupil than do students of our state’s most affluent districts.  This is true for either type of per pupil expenditure (just state and local funding, or state, local and federal funding combined). To learn more about the actual data, here is a link to one of the key spreadsheets documenting our state’s success at improving funding equity for low-income students.

What this table highlights is that, in Arkansas in 2011-12, the current expenditures per pupil for ALL students was $9,215 (cell C9 of worksheet).  However, specifically for students in high-poverty districts in Arkansas, the current expenditures per pupil was $9,737.  This funding level exceeds the funding allocated to students in the least-poverty-stricken districts by more than 11%.  This funding disparity, in favor of the state’s poorest students, places Arkansas well above the national average and in a better position than 30 other states!

If you have followed OEP reports in the past, you may know that we’ve written about school funding equity in the past several times.  Here are some of our reports:

School funding equity is particularly important in Arkansas because of the longstanding and important Lake View school funding lawsuit.  In our analyses of funding equity seven long years ago, after several years of funding under the new school finance model, we wrote:

“Arkansas policymakers have achieved a great deal over the past few years, increasing overall funding substantially statewide, particularly in districts with high percentages of disadvantaged students… Moreover, policymakers have enacted policies to enhance the equity of our system through dramatic funding increases to small school districts, districts serving our most disadvantaged students, districts serving high percentages of minority students, and districts whose students are struggling academically… Arkansas lawmakers have spent the last several years increasing the resources allocated to K-12 education, eliminating gaps in resources between rich and poor students.”

In that context, the results presented recently by the National Center for Education Statistics provide further evidence that our new state funding formula has succeeded not only in equalizing spending between rich and poor, but actually in allocating additional resources toward our state’s poorest students.  This is GREAT NEWS!

Unfortunately, the news is not all good.  As we noted in our study of achievement gaps just this past year, stubborn achievement gaps persist between our state’s affluent and economically disadvantaged students.   We have made great headway in equalizing resources; now our educational leaders need to redouble their efforts to devise innovative strategies to improve outcomes for the students we have been under-serving for years.

Northwest Arkansas Report Card: 2014

In The View from the OEP on March 23, 2015 at 8:15 am

As testing season hits full stride in Arkansas’ public schools, we at the Office for Education Policy are summarizing the 2013-14 results for Northwest Arkansas districts and charter schools. In partnership with the Northwest Arkansas Council, we are proud to release the 2014 Northwest Arkansas Report Card, our annual look into standardized test performance, graduation rates, and all things K-12 in our region.NWARC

How are Northwest Arkansas Districts Doing?

Over the past decade, the region has made significant gains on the Benchmark exam.  In 2004, only 55% of 3rd-8th grade students in Northwest Arkansas were proficient on math and literacy assessments.  In 2014, 80% of students were proficient in math, and 83% were proficient in literacy.

High school assessments show similar increases for Northwest Arkansas students.  There has been a 26 percentage point increase in 11th grade literacy proficiency, a 25% increase in biology proficiency, and double digit increases have resulted in over 83% and 84% of NWA students scoring proficient or above on Algebra and Geometry exams, respectively.Rpage

What’s in the Report Card?

This year the Report Card presents a ‘district dashboard’ format that makes it easier for educators, school administrators, parents, and state lawmakers to see how regional school district are performing.  Information includes key metrics about assessment results, graduation rates, student demographics, and financial indicators.

District Highlights:

  • Bentonville was one of the highest performing traditional school districts on all assessments, and has the lowest percentage of At Risk students.
  • Rogers had the highest proficiency rates for At Risk students.   Proficiency rates for all students in 3rd-8th grade literacy was higher than overall beat the “Big 5” average, even though Rogers serves a higher percentage of students receiving Free/Reduced Lunch and Limited English Proficiency services.
  • Gravette tied for the highest performing traditional school district in biology.
  • Elkins graduated 99% of seniors in 2012-13-  the highest traditional school graduation rate.
  • Haas Hall had near 100% proficiency and graduation rates, and reported no At Risk students.

In addition to the ‘district dashboards’, we also included spotlights about programs regional districts are implementing to better prepare students for life after high school.  Ranging from the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics to the Pea Ridge Manufacturing and Business Academy, these programs and their partners deserve to be applauded for their work, and we hope you are able to learn a little bit more about them.

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What’s next?

At the moment, there is a lot of discussion about how Arkansas education should move forward.  Sometimes you need learn from the past to see how to move forward.  If districts had not been required to give the Benchmark and End-of-Course assessments over the past 10 years, we would have no way to measure and celebrate the growth our students have made.  When students began taking the Benchmark exams, there was a similar gnashing of teeth and concerns about lost instructional time, but Arkansas students are now performing much better in reading, math and science than they were 10 years ago. Examining the performance of our students allows us to celebrate, and recognize that we can still do better. For more information about current education issues, check out OEP’s Policy Briefs and Blog.  The more we can share the good news and look for ways to improve, the better Arkansas and Northwest Arkansas will be.

We invite you to share this report card with anyone who might be curious about the state of education in our region.  If you want more information on schools in Northwest Arkansas or the state as a whole, head on over to our website, where you can dive into all of the publicly-available data on school demographics, test scores, and finances.

House Bill 1733 On Hold

In The View from the OEP on March 18, 2015 at 1:26 pm

on-hold-031Last week, the OEP published a policy brief and blog post providing background on House Bill 1733.  As of yesterday, HB 1733 will be deferred and will not be considered in this legislative session.

In an article yesterday, sponsor of HB 1733, Republican Bruce Cozart, said his bill was too broad, and that he had concerns about it when he filed it. He said he wanted to help children in under-served areas but couldn’t get enough input from proponents about how the move would help them.  “Nobody would tell me it’s about the kids; it was all about teachers,” Cozart said. “We’ve got to start thinking about our kids.”

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We at the OEP observed this from afar; if you read our policy brief on this topic, you will know that we are ambivalent on whether the “Achievement District” strategy was the right move and whether or not it would have led to positive outcomes for kids. However, watching the rallies and the actions from afar, it was hard not to be left with the feeling that this “victory” for public education and local control feels a bit hollow.

While the crowd of supporters at the Capitol had a rally that turned into a victory party, we can’t help but wonder how many of those revelers were students or parents from the struggling schools in Little Rock in which around half of the students cannot meet minimum levels of proficiency. Are these families celebrating now that their schools get to remain exactly as they were before?

Moreover, after reading the comments and news coverage of the opposition to HB 1733, we found a great deal of discussion about which adults controlled which schools and how we could ensure that adult teachers remained in their preferred positions. We found very little discussion about how defeating this bill would improve school experiences, educational achievement, and life outcomes for kids.

Perhaps we can begin to talk about these issues soon??

HB 1241: The Fate of PARCC in Arkansas

In The View from the OEP on March 18, 2015 at 12:09 pm

It was staar legislaturending room only today in the Senate Education Committee; many individuals were present to hear or provide testimony in support of or against House Bill 1241.  The Office for Education Policy’s Executive Director, Sarah McKenzie, attended to present prepared testimony against HB 1241.  OEP believes, as expressed in an opinion editorial earlier this year, that eliminating PARCC is premature at the current time.

The following is the prepared text for the OEP testimony:

Testimony before the Arkansas Senate Education Committee
Sarah McKenzie and Gary Ritter, University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Chairman English, Vice Chair Lindsey, committee members: Thank you for the opportunity to give testimony on HB 1241 today.

My name is Sarah McKenzie, and I will be delivering comments on behalf of myself and Professor Gary Ritter. Professor Ritter is the Faculty Director and founder of the Office for Education Policy at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. I am the Executive Director of the Office. The objective of the Office for Education Policy (OEP) is to conduct research so as to provide evidence that can support state lawmakers and educators in thoughtful decision-making in PK-12 education in the State of Arkansas.

Prior to my work at the OEP, I spent the past ten years working with Arkansas school districts in a variety of capacities; my PhD training is in educational statistics, and I worked with student assessment in Arkansas schools.

We have developed a handout summarizing our key points that has been distributed. A litChalktle note about the picture on the handout. This chalk quote by a student “loving PARCC” does not suggest that all kids love testing … of course not. But it is a reminder that many kids may and do indeed find this type of test a better experience than the prior pencil and paper tests. And the stories of students filled with anxiety near test day are mostly overblown and sometimes made up. In my experience in schools, students have far greater anxiety about teacher developed tests that lead to actual grades and affect GPA!

Nevertheless, why am I here to discuss PARCC?

I am here today because, like you, we at the OEP believe that all of Arkansas’ students deserve a world class education. But our state cannot ensure that our students are receiving the instruction and attention they need without administering high-quality assessments that measure their learning and provide accurate information on student achievement to parents, teachers and policymakers.

Arkansas joined the Partnership for the Assessment of College and Career Readiness, or PARCC, in 2010 because many in the state believed that our existing standards and tests were not rigorous enough to prepare our students for success in college and career. In those five years, our state has spent millions of dollars and tapped the talent of our best and brightest educators to design the PARCC assessments. From writing questions to reviewing the final items and standard-setting, Arkansas teachers have always had a place at the PARCC table. Their invaluable contributions – and our considerable investments – are for nothing if House Bill 1241 is passed.

PARCC tests are good tests. They may not be the perfect, but there is no doubt that these new tests are an enormous improvement over the previous Arkansas Benchmark and End-of-Course exams, which no longer match the standards being taught in our schools – standards that have been present in our classrooms since 2011. I oppose House Bill 1241 because our students should be given a chance to show what they know and can do against these higher standards, and we need to give the PARCC exams more time to prove that they can provide value to our students, parents, educators and policymakers.

The eleventh-hour changes proposed in House Bill 1241 would eliminate any hope of receiving meaningful feedback on the achievement and growth of our students this year. That might placate the Common Core opposition in the short term, but it won’t improve our schools. It won’t provide students with a learning environment that best meets their individual needs. It won’t provide accountability, and it won’t facilitate comparison with other states. The only outcome that House Bill 1241 will yield is chaos and confusion – especially for our students and teachers.

Our students, who face a great deal of uncertainty in how their learning and advancement will be measured, deserve thoughtful deliberation on this matter. And our educators, who have spent thousands of hours preparing and contributing to PARCC development, deserve a chance to see the fruits of their labor.

Indeed, many Arkansas educators have valued the professional development work related to the Common Core and do see the standards as setting higher expectations for our students. In a recent debate in Bentonville, Arkansas, school leader Michael Poore indicated that the teachers he interacted with hoped that the Common Core would be around for a while and stated: “You’re going to have to fight to take it away from them“.

A year (or not even a full year!) is simply not enough to get a full picture of the progress we’re making, and there is no reason to rush. Under the PARCC assessment, Arkansas can continue to seek input from parents, teachers and superintendents on its implementation and the use of its results. That’s all the more reason for our policymakers to engage in an unhurried evaluation of the assessments given in our schools.

For these reasons, we at the UA Office for Education Policy are convinced that eliminating the PARCC tests after this year would be a step backward for Arkansas. Our educators have been seeing progress with our students since implementing the new standards, and we need modern assessment tools to measure this progress. PARCC is the assessment that has been developed, in partnership with our state leaders, to do just that. Shouldn’t we at least wait until our students actually take the exam before we declare it a failure!!??

HB 1377: Freeing Up Traditional Schools?

In The View from the OEP on March 12, 2015 at 12:41 pm

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Who signed on to HB1377?

The House Education Committee discussed a surprisingly controversial bill last week. Why surprising? Well, House Bill 1377, sponsored by Representative Reginald Murdock (D) of Marianna, boasts a very long list of Democrat and Republican co-sponsors.  The list included: Rep. Charles Armstrong (D) Little Rock, Rep. Charles Blake (D) Little Rock, Rep. Mary Broadaway (D) Paragould, Rep. Charlotte Douglas (R) Alma, Rep. Ken Ferguson (D) Pine Bluff, Rep.  Michael John Gray (D) Augusta, Rep. Kim Hendren (R) Gravette, Rep. Greg Leding (D) Fayetteville, Rep. Fredrick Love (D) Little Rock, Rep. George McGill (D) Ft. Smith, Rep. Milton Nicks (D) Marion, Rep. Chris Richey (D) Helena, Rep. Dan Sullivan (R) Jonesboro, Rep. John Walker (D) Little Rock, Rep. David Whitaker (D) Fayetteville and Rep. Marshall Wright (D) Forrest City.

What does  HB1377 say?

As currently written, HB1377 would allow school districts the same waivers granted to open-enrollment charter schools that draw from their districts. Representative Murdock, several superintendents, and a school board president from eastern Arkansas testified that some of the same policies waived for charter schools have limited the ability of nearby traditional schools districts to successfully serve the students in their schools.

During the lengthy and often animated discussion on Wednesday, March 4, proponents and opponents agreed the depth of the public conversation was important and overdue. Indeed, some of the same lawmakers signed on as sponsors of the bill no longer seemed in favor of it!  In the end, the bill received a Do Pass recommendation in a close vote.

The key theme of Representative Murdock’s testimony was the need for flexibility for school leaders. Claiming that “one size does not fit all”, Murdock argued that “There has to be an affirmation that flexibility and innovation and ingenuity has a place“.  Essentially, he and his fellow advocates of the bill argued that the same waivers that allow charter schools to, for example, hire award winning journalist John Brummett to teach a journalism class, should be afforded to nearby traditional schools.

What can OEP’s research say about  HB1377?

As we at the OEP observed this hubbub, we thought back to our recent state-commissioned evaluation of Arkansas’ public charter schools. One of the questions we examined was: What waivers do charter schools seek?  In our view, lawmakers making a decision on this bill — that would allow traditional public schools to seek the same waivers as public charter schools — might want to know the answer to this question.  Thus, we hope that our policy brief published today adds useful information to the discussion that will soon head to the House Floor and also to the Senate.

What did we find? Well, charter schools across the state sought the following five waivers:

Top 5 Waiver Areas for Open Enrollment Charters:

  1. Teacher licensure
  2. Teacher and employee fair dismissal act, contract requirements, and hiring mandates (such as library media specialist)
  3. Gifted and talented programming
  4. Teacher salary and schedule
  5. Principal qualifications and responsibilities

Top 5 Waiver Areas for All Types of Charters (Conversion and Open Enrollment):

  1. Teacher licensure
  2. School year and school day length
  3. Gifted and talented
  4. Class size and teaching load
  5. Duty limits

Our count of waiver requests indicates that nearly all (92%) of the state’s charters requested waivers related to teacher licensure — school leaders have voiced the need to consider hiring teachers who are qualified but not traditionally licensed. While school leaders seek this flexibility, and do take advantage of it to fill many teaching needs, it is also true that the majority of teachers working at charter schools are traditionally licensed.

Most open enrollment charter school leaders also wanted waivers related to flexibility with teacher and employee contracts, teacher salary structure, and principal qualifications.  Our newest OEP Policy Brief takes a more in-depth look at the types of flexibility these school leaders want and why they want this flexibility.

Where will this discussion lead?

This bill has certainly encouraged reactions among the key stakeholders in Arkansas.  The primary teacher group in the state, the Arkansas Education Association (AEA) has referred to HB1377 as a “particularly dangerous bill”.

On the other side of the argument, the editorial board at the Arkansas Democrat Gazette has come out in favor of the proposed legislation, making the following argument:

If, say, Michael Jordan wanted to coach the basketball team at your local public school, would you want him to? Sure, you’d want him to.  But in this state, he might not be considered qualified–what with no official certificate to teach in the public schools.

The Dem Gaz supports HB1377 in that it would free up all schools, public charter or traditional public, to hire someone like Mr. Jordan.

Strangely, at first glance, it seems that Max Brantley and the folks at the Arkansas Times are thinking along the same lines as the Dem Gaz! The March 3 entry in the Arkansas Times Blog, on HB1377, ended with the following question:  But what, really, is the rationale for unleashing charter schools and not everybody else?

Representative Murdock ended his testimony on March 3 with the following hopeful sentiment and plea: “I believe that on both sides of the aisle we have compassionate people. Can we work together?”

Who knows?  If the Dem Gaz and the Ark Times agree, perhaps anything can happen!!

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