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!

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