University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

An Arkansas Perspective: National Thoughts on School Reform

In The View from the OEP on August 16, 2017 at 1:00 pm


This week, the education journal, Education Next, released its annual poll examining attitudes toward major issues in K-12 education.  The poll surveyed more than 4,200 respondents (a nationally-representative sample), covered 10 main topics, and compared the results with those of prior years. There is a lot to examine in the survey results, but we wanted to give you a quick overview and put the results in an Arkansas context.

EdNext Asked: How good are schools and teachers?

  • The majority of respondents would give the public schools in their community a grade of “A” (14%) or “B” (40%). Respondents were less positive regarding public schools in the nation as a whole, however, only 2% would give schools an “A” and 21% would assign them a “B”. A small percentage of respondents felt that schools were failing, with only 5% grading local schools with an “F” and only 6% assigning an “F” to schools nationally.
  • The majority of respondents think more than half of the teachers in their local schools are “Excellent” (25%) or “Good” (33%). Twenty-eight percent of teacher were perceived as “Satisfactory” and 15% were seen as “Unsatisfactory”.  Interestingly, even respondents who were teachers reported 11% of teachers in the local schools were “Unsatisfactory”.

Arkansas perspective: A-F grades for schools in Arkansas haven’t been assigned since 2015, when 1% of schools received an “A” grade and 21% received a “B”.  School grades will be assigned again this spring and (of course!) OEP will keep you updated! Arkansas has implemented a teacher evaluation system called the TESS system, which has a focus of teacher improvement.  We were unable to locate any information on the percentage of Arkansas teachers who were rated Unsatisfactory based on TESS (hopefully this sort of information will be made available in the future).


EdNext Asked: Are we spending the right amount on schools and teachers?

  • Respondents underestimated annual per-pupil funding in their local district by over $4,000 (30% less than actual funding of $12,899) and 62% reported being unsure about their answer.  A majority (54%) felt that funding for public schools should increase, but once informed about actual spending in their district, only 39% supported increasing funding, while 49% felt that is should stay the same.
  • Respondents also underestimated annual average teacher salaries in their local district by over $17,000 (30% less than actual salary of $58,258) and 48% reported being unsure about their answer.  A majority (61%) felt that teacher salaries should increase, but once informed about actual teacher salaries in their state, only 36% supported increasing salaries, while 56% felt teacher salaries should stay about the same.

Arkansas perspective: Arkansas per pupil funding from all sources was $11,334 in 2015-16, and has increased consistently since 2001.  A recent report by OEP shows that school funding has increased to near the national average (adjusted for cost of living) and surpasses the average of the other states in this region.  Annual average teacher salaries in Arkansas are $48,752, (you can check for your district here). Furthermore, OEP will soon be releasing a new report on how Arkansas teacher salaries salaries compare to other states and differ throughout the state and compare to other states and the nation (this is an update to our 2010 Arkansas Education Report on this same topic).


EdNext Asked: Should schools have common standards and required assessments?

  • Although 38% of respondents oppose the use of ‘Common Core’ standards, 61% support the idea of standards that are the same across the states (ha!). The level of support for consistent standards nationwide is up 5 percentage points from the 2016 results and 20% of respondents neither supported or opposed common standards.
  • Almost two-thirds (63%) of respondents support annual testing of students in grade 3-8 and high school in reading and math and oppose letting parents “opt-out” of testing requirements. Support for testing holds even for younger students: over half of the respondents supported testing of early reading and math skills in publicly funded pre-kindergarten programs.

Arkansas perspective: Arkansas has developed Arkansas standards for learning based on reviewing and improving the Common Core State Standards. In a 2015 survey of Arkansas teachers, 61% reported that they would keep the Common Core standards and 92% felt that they were more rigorous than Arkansas’ previous standards. Arkansas requires that all students attending public school participate in the statewide assessment program.


EdNext Asked: Do parents want their children to go to college?

  • Only 11% of respondents would not want their child to earn a degree after high school.  Twenty-two percent would prefer a two-year degree from community college, and 67% want a four-year degree from a university.  This percentage remains consistent when earnings and cost information are provided.

Arkansas perspective: While we don’t know what percentage of Arkansas families want their student to attend college, we do know that only 50% of high school graduates attend college in state.  Our recent blog highlights how many students go, how many need to be remediated because they don’t have the skills to succeed, and how many will actually graduate based on trends.


EdNext Asked: Are opinions about school choice changing?

  • Charter schools are public schools that are not managed by local school boards, are expected to meet promised objectives, held to the same accountability requirements as all public schools, but are exempt from many state regulations. Support for charter schools dropped by 12 percentage points between 2016 and 2017. In 2016, 51% of respondents said they supported “the formation of charter schools” while in 2017 only 39% of respondents indicated support.  Overall, 25% of respondents neither supported or opposed the formation of charter schools.
  • Questions regarding tuition support for families choosing to send their student to private school reflected declining opposition.  More than half of the respondents (54%) supported tax-credit funded scholarships that allow low-income students to attend private schools. Support is somewhat lower (45%) for ‘voucher’ programs, which allow families to use government funds to help pay private school tuition.  The level of support for these programs is consistent with the 2016 results, but the percentage opposed declined. Overall, 21% of respondents neither supported or opposed the use of a tax credit to support low-income student tuition at a private school, and 18% neither supported or opposed vouchers programs.
  • Allowing parents to homeschool their children was supported by 45% of respondents. Over half (53%) supported requiring districts to give approval, and 72% support the requirement that families notify their local district of their decision.

Arkansas perspective: Charter schools remain a contentious issue in Arkansas, especially in the Little Rock Area. Arkansas has fewer charter schools than many states, with only  24 open-enrollment charter schools currently or charter school systems in operation. Arkansas Code Annotated 6-23-304 sets a loose cap on the the number of open-enrollment charter schools resulting in a state cap of no more than 29 total charter schools for the 2018-19 school year.  A proposal to allow parents to open tax-exempt savings accounts to defray private education tuition, as well as give tax credits for donations to nonprofits managing the accounts was defeated in the Arkansas House in 2017. Arkansas now has a tuition voucher program for students in special education to use at authorized private schools.  In Arkansas, parents or legal guardians who choose to provide a home school for their children are required by law to notify the superintendent of their local school district each year. According to the Arkansas Department of Education, 3.9% of Arkansas’ public school population were homeschooled in 2015-16.

National perspectives on education like those presented in the EdNext poll are interesting, but education policy is generally set at the state or local level.  We thought it was helpful to compare the national results to what is happening in Arkansas. If you would like to read more about the national perspectives, you can go here, and if you would like to know more about what is happening in education in Arkansas- you are already where you need to be!

School Supply List: Bring Your Own TP?

In The View from the OEP on August 9, 2017 at 10:47 am


Across the country and throughout Arkansas, parents and their students are wandering through school supply aisles looking for items listed on the school supply lists shared by their local public schools. What are parents expected to purchase and how much will these supplies cost?

School supply lists have been around for a long time.  As a child, picking out new folders, freshly sharpened pencils, a new box of crayons, and a backpack to put them in whispered promises of an exciting year full of learning and fun. As a teacher, tweaking the supply list from the prior year meant re-imagining how well the colored-folder system would work and how those index cards were finally going to be put to good use. Parents, however, might view this task quite differently.

Hunting through crowded aisles for the specified “one red folder with 3 prongs, one purple folder with 2 pockets, one orange folder with 3 prongs AND two pockets…” is not fun, efficient, or equitable for students and their families.


So this got us thinking- what is the deal with these school supply lists? Most schools in the state have the school supply lists for grades K-8 posted somewhere on their website, so we took a look at a sample, and here’s that we found.

Some schools don’t ask for anything.  We found a handful of schools and districts that do not request anything.  These schools stated that the school will provide what students need to learn. Way to go!!

The school supplies listed will cost between $40 and $160.   We found no consistent pattern by grade level: Kindergarten wasn’t more expensive than junior high, and no direct relationship with the level of poverty of students in the school. In some districts, like Bentonville, the lists are consistent by grade level for all schools across the district but in the majority of districts, the items listed for second grade at one school are different from those for second grade at another school.

School lists can be maddeningly specific.  Five folders with specific colors and specific numbers of pockets/ prongs. In one grade mechanical pencils are listed, while other times they are specifically banned. Many school lists were VERY specific about even the BRAND of supplies.  Schools requested “2 packages of Ticonderoga #2 pencils and one pair of Friskars scissors”.  Ticonderoga pencils are great, but they are also WAY more expensive than non-Ticonderoga pencils.  For example: Ticonderoga pencils are $2.24 a dozen, while the store brand is $0.75 for a dozen. Five bucks for a couple dozen pencils may not seem like too big an ask for a year of learning, but surely there are families attending your school who don’t have the extra money to spend on brand-name pencils, particularly if the pencils are, as noted on many lists, going into the ‘community supplies’ for the classroom.

“Please do not put names on any of the supplies. All supplies will be collected by the teacher to be used by the class as needed.”


The listed quantities aren’t available.  You can’t buy just one Dry Erase Marker or the requested one pack of post-it-notes, and glue sticks come in packs of 2 or 4, not 7. So we end up getting a four-pack of dry erase markers, a six pack of post-it-notes, an extra glue stick.  Maybe you are buying supplies for more than one student and the other list also includes a dry erase marker.  Lucky you!  In isolation, this may seem like not a big deal, but it adds up!

The variety of ‘needed’ items is expanding. In addition to the standard pencils, paper, crayons, and folders, many lists include some new ‘Tech’ items.  Headphones, earbuds and flashdrives are listed often, and while we support schools using technology to support student learning, these items are among the priciest items on the lists at $6 or $7 dollars each!  Graphing calculators often appear on the supply lists at middle school and higher, and at $100 each, these are a significant cost for families.

Most school supply lists include some non-instructional items as well: boxes of Kleenex ($1.50), bottles of hand sanitizer ($2), Clorox wipes ($4), and Ziploc bags ($5) are the most common.

Why are schools so specific about the supplies?  It seems to us that many of the items listed may make the classroom easier to manage.  Ticonderoga pencils break less frequently, leading to less disruptions when students need to sharpen them. It is easier to see if everyone has their “red folder” out than their “Math Folder.” And each teacher has his/her own ideas about what students will need to learn best.

While we support teachers having what they need to teach and run their classes smoothly, we think there may be better ways to reach this goal.

Most importantly, the current school supply lists aren’t good for kids.  Think about how quickly the school supply list identifies the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ in our schools.  If a student’s family can’t afford to get the supplies requested by the school, he or she walks in the first day of school without the variety of colored folders and Ticonderoga pencils and immediately feels identified.  Even if the student was able to get one of the backpacks generously filled with school supplies by the community, they may not be the “right’ supplies for his/her classroom. This is not the way to start a school year.

But wait! If parents don’t provide these, then teachers have to buy them out of their own pocket- right?


This should not be the case.  In Arkansas, schools spend between $7,000 and $16,000 thousand dollars per student per year!  This is money provided to the districts by taxpayer dollars to support public education.  Districts should make providing the resources that students need, including Kleenex, a basic fiscal commitment.  Teachers, do you think your Superintendent buys supplies for his/her office out of pocket?

We didn’t find any school supply lists asking students to bring toilet paper, but it seems like that may be coming soon if we don’t change the expectation.


School Leaders:

We have some suggestions for options other than parents, individually, buying the 15 or so items on the schools supply list (and driving from one store to another looking for that purple folder with one pocket!).


  1. Think ahead and buy in bulk: It is ridiculous for parents/ guardians to be out trying to find the magic orange folder with three prongs and two pockets- if this is so important- order it for all the kids!  Ordering in bulk costs less, but schools should order the same quality supplies that teachers are requesting.
  2. Make Class Packs: These can be packed with the pre-ordered specifics for each class (maybe including a welcome note from the teacher) and purchased from the school.  Parents who still want to go to the store and get their own supplies can.  Students who qualify for Free/Reduced Lunch can be provided a pack free of charge.
  3. If you are going to ask, be general, have a short list and don’t dictate the brand.  And keep it to things the student is going to use themselves! The lists often indicate that the supplies parents are purchasing will be be put into a communal pool. We think it is fine to have communal supplies, but the school should buy them in bulk.
  4. Do not ask for non-instructional items.  Part of the tax dollars that the school gets goes to supplies and maintenance.  If the school district can’t figure out how to purchase tissue for the students, then they need to take a long hard look at where the money for supplies is going.  Maybe that instructional program that only one teacher uses and hasn’t shown any results for student learning can be non-renewed and the money can go toward supplies.
  5. Request a donation for school supplies for the year- we liked how eStem requested a relatively minimal  ($45) school supply fee.  Parents could pay this optional fee through an online portal or in person at open house. This allows the school to order in bulk and keeps it from impacting the kids in the classroom,  Seriously.  If you are the kid coming in the first day without any supplies- that STINKS.  Don’t put kids in that situation.  Be sensitive.
  6. Partner with your community.  Businesses and community organizations might be willing to provide materials for students to use throughout the year.  You need 100,000 pencils?  Maybe someone in your community can help.


In sum, if your school is requesting supplies, you may be creating a barrier to learning before school even begins.  Think this through, there has to be a better way for students to have the materials they need for a successful school year.  In the meantime, when classroom doors open next week, be sensitive to those students who don’t have a backpack full of listed supplies. They are coming to learn too.



FYI: Less than 50% of AR high school grads head to college, and less than half of those that do will get a degree

In The View from the OEP on August 2, 2017 at 12:36 pm

Students throughout the state are preparing for a new school year, and some students are experiencing two of the biggest changes: entering kindergarten or entering the first year of college!

Students entering Arkansas public school kindergarten classrooms this fall become the Graduating Class of 2030.  The parents of these young students will be dropping them off or loading them on buses in a few weeks and will be filled with tears and worries and hopes and dreams. Some parents might see this as the first step toward college, but given Arkansas’ current educational pipeline, it is unlikely that their student will receive a college degree.



Similar students entered kindergarten in the fall of 2003 becoming the Class of 2016, and a new report from the Arkansas Department of Higher Education allows us to consider the longer-term outcomes for these recent graduates. Last fall, 49.7% of the Class of 2016 entered a two- or four- year college in Arkansas.

Let’s follow the progress of the Class of 2016, given what we know about the educational pipeline in Arkansas.  Average class size in Arkansas is 16 students K-12, but kindergarten classes are limited to 20 students with one teacher.  This is a lower ratio than some surrounding states; Texas has a limit of 22 and Missouri is 25.

K class

In 2016, 87% of the expected Class of 2016 graduated from high school! Over 30,000 students received their high school diploma within four years of entering high school. For our illustrative kindergarten class- that means 17 of the initial 20 graduated!


This is great! Graduation rates differ somewhat by student demographics, but even if all the kindergarten students were academically at risk, 17 would still graduate on time given current rates.

According to the new report, 49.7% of those students enrolled in a two- or four-year college the following fall. Most go to a four-year college, but 1/3 go to two-year colleges.

For our kindergarten class- that is 8 students.

College Going

But these 8 students who have successfully graduated high school AND applied AND been accepted into college are not yet home free! According to data from Arkansas Department of Education, 57% of the college-going graduates needed to take a remedial course once they arrived at college because they did not meet the minimum score of 19 on the ACT math and/or reading.

For our kindergarten class – that is 4.6 out the 8 college-going students that would require remediation.

Remediation  rem2

Having to complete a remedial course is associated with decreased chances of graduating. Maybe because they are not free and no credit is awarded. Five of our 8 students are facing these increased challenges because they did not demonstrate being ‘college ready’ before leaving high school. Given current trends, half of remediated students will not return for a second year.

We see this when we apply the graduation rates from Arkansas colleges:  41% of incoming freshman graduate in 6 years from 4-year institutions and 27% of those who enter 2-year colleges graduates within 3 years.


These numbers indicate that  ONE in TEN Arkansas’ kindergarteners will successfully complete a four-year university in six years.

Essentially, 3 kids from each kindergarten classroom of 20 students (14.5% of our kindergarteners) will complete a college degree by the time they are 24.


That is depressing…. Are these data accurate?

Looking over the lists of Arkansas’ National Merit Scholars or Academic All Stars, we see that  many of out “best and brightest” high school graduates are headed out-of–state for college.  These students are not included in the ADHE college-going rate which only tracks graduates who attend in-state institutions.   Many other graduates may be going to school out-of-state as well, especially those from areas close to a bordering state. How many do that?  WE HAVE NO IDEA! 

But there is a way to find out!  National Student Clearinghouse Research Center is a non-profit that partners with colleges and universities that enroll over 98% of all higher education students in the country. Using this information, we could find out the ACTUAL percentage of Arkansas graduates attending college- including those who attend school outside of our borders. In addition, we can learn where our students are going and if they are graduating successfully.  While better data won’t directly help students graduate from college, they can help identify problem areas.

Something that MAY help Arkansas students graduate from college is the new method for funding colleges and universities. The change will start next July, and will be based on a school’s “productivity index”, which will reward schools for the number of degrees/credentials awarded.  In addition, high demand and STEM degrees earn more points for an institution, and additional points are earned for at-risk students such as those who are enrolled in a remedial course or are Hispanic or Black, or received federal student aid due to financial need.   While some are concerned that this change in funding might lead to a lowering of the bar for degrees, we are optimistic that it will help institutions become more student-focused and remove unnecessary barriers to success.

The K-12 system needs to focus on student success as well.  High school graduation rates in Arkansas are above the national average, but many of our students are still not prepared for success in post-secondary education. Over 57% of Arkansas students will need remediation to be successful in college English or math courses.  Hopefully the ACT Aspire assessments and statewide ACT exams for high school juniors will provide more opportunities for students, parents, and teachers to identify the level of readiness for college and careers, and enough information to provide needed instruction prior to college entrance.

Arkansas is nearly last in the nation in the percentage of adults with college degrees.  Arkansas’ 20.8% of adults with an Associate’s or a Bachelor’s degree is lower than that of all other states except West Virginia.  We need to do more to ensure that the Class of 2030 who are entering kindergarten this month will have a greater likelihood of obtaining a degree.