University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

November Education Committee Meeting — Little Rock, AR

In The View from the OEP on November 22, 2017 at 12:05 pm

ar legislature

The educational sub-committee met on November 20th to discuss current issues in Arkansas education.  The bipartisan group meets regularly to create discussion, study research, and pass legislation to help the educational system in Arkansas grow stronger to support the diverse needs of the youth.  The agenda for the meeting showcases the wide array of topics discussed in the open session.

Prior to the approval of the minutes from the previous meeting, the floor was open for Senators and Representatives to discuss trips or conferences attended that recently occurred to learn more about education.  A recent trip to Germany was discussed in which their “apprenticeship” programs were studied in order to gain better understanding of their success.  While no specific programs or practices were discussed in this forum, it was clear that “business is the driving force of their educational system.”  The needs of the community, work force, and business at-large guides the decisions made for the development youth.

Too Much Paperwork? 

Senator Chesterfield submitted a request for an ISP (Interim Study Proposal) to study the correlation between excessive paperwork for teachers and teachers leaving the profession.  She had heard from administrators in her district about quality teachers that are leaving the profession due to large amounts of energy spent on routine administrative tasks that are distracting from their role in education.  Other comments and questions asked about other leading factors that are currently cited as causes of teacher attrition led the committee to make sure the language of the ISP was broad enough to find other data points.  There is strong evidence nationally from exit surveys regarding student behavior, lack of administrative support, and overall behavioral health being leading causes of attrition as well, according to comments from committee members.  The ISP was approved with no votes in opposition.

Learning from the “Top 10”

Senator Joyce Elliott shared her findings from the NCSL International study group. (National Conference of State Legislatures) in which they observed the activities, protocols, and patterns of the “Top 10” academic countries in the world.  She stressed the importance of every individual state in America needs to focus on steps to joining nations on that list.  The bipartisan study group was designed to find solutions to shared problems specific to education.  She gave a brief overview of the history of the NCSL and its mission.  She also discussed the history of education pitting nations against nations (i.e. “The Space Race”), rather than working together and with collaboration.  The nations studied were Ontario, Alberta, Estonia, Finland, Hong Kong, Japan, Poland, Shanghai, Singapore, and Taiwan.)

Comparison of Arkansas as well as the USA against educational outcomes in any of those 10 countries indicates a vast discrepancy.  Senator Elliott’s presentation cites the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) findings that America is showing little to no progress within key educational objectives.  The presentation debunked myths that are circulated as to why this might be occurring, like the argument that other countries only educate/assess their “best students.”  Senator Elliott indicated that no matter which population group America is compared to, the findings are the same (i.e. America’s best students vs. other countries’ best students, poorest students vs. poorest students, etc.).   Senator Elliott also spoke to the myth of America serving more immigrants that most countries while other countries in the Top 10 have higher numbers of immigrant populations.

The key lessons shared in the learning from other countries was that there was a laser focus on “where they wanted to be” as a country.  They made decisions, funding, and legislation with this focus in mind.  Initiatives and projects outside of this focus simply did not proceed.  Senator Elliott shared how this focus along with aligned assessment towards achievement of these goals led countries to increased success.

Senator Elliott also discussed that most countries do not view “career tech” as a lesser form of higher education.  She indicated that it is a viable pathway for learners that is held in high regard in the educational systems.

Senator Elliott shared that “If American did not compete in the Olympics, we would lose our minds.  What would happen if we had the same view of education.”   She spoke of the findings that other countries embrace diversity and practice equity.  They do not treat each student or organization equally, but they give each what is needed to support them.  There is also a strong belief among educators in high-performing countries that “equity” starts at birth, not the first day of school.

She closed with questions and comments supporting the finding of the study.  She gave the example of each component of the educational system that is a focused part of the study’s findings being like vital organs in the human body.  They must work together and have different jobs, but they are all equally important and impossible to function without one.

Full findings of the “No Time to Lose” study can be read here.

The “Indifference” Project

The committee heard from an Arkansas English teacher, Michael Hensley, on his annual class project at Alma High School.  This served as an example and highlighted the higher-level instructional practices around the state.   Representative Douglas spoke in favor of the teacher as she has worked with his class on this project.  He served students in her district, and he spoke highly of the support she has shown him.

Michael Hensley sought an activity that would engage his students in real-world challenges while still following the pace and content objectives within Arkansas curriculum.  He developed an open-ended project that allowed students to “choose something that is so important to them, that they cannot be indifferent about it.”  Then, through the project, the students are able to research, plan, and put into action a plan to create awareness.   While the project is still on-going, Hensley reports seeing strong levels of participation on a wide array of topics and interests.

This project was first highlighted with a student’s idea becoming a bill signed into law in April 2017.

Discussion of the Annual Report from the School Leadership Coordinating Council

Mr. David Cook, the Chair of the School Leadership Coordinating Council and the Director of the Arkansas Leadership Academy opened the session by introducing the annual report process.  (Download PowerPoint).

Program Lead Blaine Alexander and Research Specialist Jennifer Medeiros led the findings from the past year regarding their “Theory of Change” and “Strategic Plan Cycle”.  They seek to use a 4-point assessment scale to find the “current reality” of a school organization, and then they can develop a specific plan.  They understand the importance of creating systems changes, not just trainings for one part of the educational system.  They train superintendents, teachers, principals, and other educational stakeholders.

Superintendents Thelma Forte (Mineral Springs) and Jerrod Williams (Sheridan) spoke about their experiences and learnings in the Academy.  They felt that their success now as leaders can be attributed to the education and coaching they received in their past attendance in the Academy.

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