University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Keeping the Promise in El Dorado

In The View from the OEP on April 25, 2014 at 10:10 am

On Monday, April 28, the El Dorado School District will hold its eighth annual Academic Signing Day, in which almost 300 graduating seniors receiving El Dorado Promise scholarships will sign letters of intent to attend 34 different colleges and universities in Arkansas and across the nation. Gov. Mike Beebe will be this year’s keynote speaker.

The El Dorado Promise program is a $50 million scholarship program established and funded by the Murphy Oil Corp. in January 2007 and modeled after the Kalamazoo Promise. The El Dorado Promise provides every high school graduate of El Dorado High School who has been enrolled in the El Dorado Public School district since at least ninth grade with a college scholarship to any accredited two-year or four-year, public or private educational institution in the U.S. The maximum amount payable is up to the highest annual resident tuition and mandatory fees at an Arkansas public university, currently $7,818 per year.

Fortunately, unlike The Office’s Michael Scott, Murphy Oil and the El Dorado Promise staff do indeed have the money available to foot the college tuition bills for the Wildcats who graduate from El Dorado and head to College anywhere across the United States!!

While we know the Promise is paying for hundreds of El Dorado grads to attend University, we haven’t really known much about its impact on the community and the school district overall — until now!  A new study,  released April 24 by the University of Arkansas’ Office for Education Policy, found positive impacts of the Promise on district enrollment and academic achievement. After the Promise was announced in 2007, El Dorado Public Schools’ enrollment increased after a decades-long decline in numbers, while enrollment in other Union County districts and comparable districts throughout the southern region of Arkansas continued to decline.

The study also found positive results in both math and reading. More than 2,300 students who were in grades 4-8 when the program was announced outperformed similar peers in similar districts on the Arkansas Benchmark Exam by 7 percentile points in literacy and 6 percentile points in math.  With regard to student achievement, the overall effects are significant but somewhat modest. However, the most interesting and compelling story occurs in our subgroup analyses. When examining the scores for both Low-income students and African-American students in the upper half of the El Dorado ability distribution, we found a 10 percentile point impact in math and a 10-12 percentile point impact in literacy. In both areas, El Dorado’s students started at a high level and were able to maintain and even improve their scores throughout the tough middle school years.

The fact that the largest impacts are seen for high-achieving students from traditionally disadvantaged groups comes as no surprise. Interviews with teachers, administrators, and counselors in the El Dorado school district yielded story after story about how all parties have worked to make sure that all students, regardless of background, are prepared to benefit from the Promise.

The best illustration of the expansion of high expectations to all students came from a high school teacher, who wryly made the following observation: “After the introduction of the El Dorado Promise, our AP classes went from country club to parks and rec.”

Whether it is seen in the diverse enrollment in AP classes or in the numbers displayed in this report, the evidence is mounting that El Dorado is living up to its “Promise.”


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