University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Recap of Last Week’s Joint House and Senate Education Committee Meeting

In The View from the OEP on August 20, 2014 at 12:06 pm

On Monday, August 11th and Tuesday, August 12th, the Joint House and Senate Education Committees met to discuss a range of topics, including school safety, science standards, and broadband access to schools. Here’s a quick recap of what was discussed.

Distributed Leadership

crossleyJonathan Crossley, an English Language Arts teacher at Palestine-Wheatley High School and the 2014 Arkansas Teacher of the Year, spoke passionately to the joint committees about encouraging Arkansas teachers to stay in the profession. He discussed “distributed leadership” as one approach to preventing the feelings of lack of respect and influence that lead to the classroom exit within the first five years. Distributed leadership involves teachers in such key initiatives as leading professional development, coaching other teachers and mentoring staff, and participating in data analysis. According to Crossley, the approach is linked to teacher satisfaction and retention and student achievement.

School Violence Report

Mandy Gillip of the Bureau of Legislative Research (BLR) presented a preliminary report of Arkansas public schools’ readiness and capacity to prevent and respond to school violence. Among the report’s key features are resources available to schools for developing anti-bullying policies and emergency preparedness plans, data comparing Arkansas to national rates of violence and bullying, and trends in school disciplinary infractions.  Several legislators complained about the study’s heavy focus on bullying, having expected the study to focus more on preventing violence and outside attacks. The reports’ authors said that the final version of the report, which will be released in late October or early November, will include more information on school violence preparedness, such as emergency plans and positive discipline models.

Next Generation Science Standardsngss

For Arkansas students to graduate high school prepared to succeed in college and careers in STEM fields, we must approach science education in a new way, according to Dr. Debbie Jones of the Arkansas Department of Education. Arkansas is a lead state in developing and implementing the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) that integrate science and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts at all grade levels. The standards focus on students’ abilities to apply knowledge in practical contexts, rather than on memorizing facts. The State Board of Education has not yet officially adopted the standards, but has endorsed the NGSS implementation plan. Keep an eye out for the OEP’s policy brief on the Next Generation Science Standards, which we will be releasing later this Fall.

E-Rate and Broadband                          

Arkansas is one of two states selected by the national non-profit EducationSuperHighway to pilot an in-depth project to increase schools’ access to broadband and Wi-Fi networks, achieving cost savings in the process. The organization’s founder and CEO, Evan Marwell, told legislators he selected Arkansas because of leaders’ commitment to the issue and his impression that the state’s schools are in the worst shape for Internet connectivity. Marwell was surprised to learn that 51% of Arkansas school districts meet current standards for broadband capacity compared to 37% nationally. EducationSuperHighway is assessing the current state of schools’ Internet access and plans to share findings ahead of the next cycle of Internet service procurement.

One of the most newsworthy findings that Marwell shared is that the state is currently spending $15 million (including E-Rate reimbursement) providing internet to schools through outdated copper wires, funds that can be reallocated to supporting the building of or use of a much more effective fiber-optic network. Marwell believes a strategy to improve efficiency in current expenditures spending and to take advantage of new funding recently announced by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will have every Arkansas classroom connected to Wi-Fi in less than five years. For more information on Arkansas’ broadband landscape, see this story from Education Week.

education super highway

Time on the Bus

On school days in Arkansas, 5,360 route buses each carry an average of 48 students to and from school, about a 49-minute ride each way. These data were among the findings of the “Time on the Bus” study required by Act 1228 of 2013 and reported by Richard Wilson of BLR. School districts reported that limiting student time on the bus would impose a financial burden, including the need to purchase more buses and hire additional personnel.

Wilson also reported on the bureau’s work to develop an evidence-based funding model that aligns more closely with actual expenditures than the current model based on Average Daily Membership (ADM). Testing a variety of factors, BLS found that a weighted formula of ADM, actual riders, and daily route miles explained 98% of transportation costs, compared to ADM alone which explained 79% of costs.

Isolated Funding

Nell Smith (BLS) presented a review of isolated funding, which is provided to school districts that have higher costs because of such geographic challenges as rugged bus routes or low student density. Originally, isolated funding was limited to those districts that met specific criteria and had fewer than 350 students. With school consolidation, “special needs isolated funding” was created to address higher costs for those schools districts that consolidated or were annexed but for which operating from one campus was not feasible. Along with the review of how the two types of isolated funding are distributed and spent, BLS reported that students from the 44 isolated schools scored slightly lower in literacy and math proficiency, but the 15 isolated high schools had a higher graduation rate compared to an all school average.

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