University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

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Treadmills, Assessments and Teacher Preparation.

In The View from the OEP on October 12, 2016 at 12:24 pm

When working with students, parents, teachers, and policy makers, we find that assessments and treadmills have a lot in common.

Folks have a tendency to lose sight of the appropriate use of assessments, and use them in ways that don’t fit.  This can lead to unintended consequences like focusing too much on proficiency or imagining that one test score is all we need to understand a successful school. Taylor Swift portrays this perfectly here when she loses focus on the treadmill and face plants!

Some people forget to use assessments at all.  Like the expensive treadmill sitting in the corner of the room with clothes hanging on it, educators invest valuable time in assessing students, but then may neglect to use the information collected to inform their teaching and support student learning.

Assessments are also like treadmills in that if you use them appropriately, they can have a big impact. A balanced assessment system can be like a whole home gym for a district, where frequent formative assessments, interim benchmark assessments, and summative assessments all focus on and strengthen different areas. In order for schools to ensure the success of all students, every school needs teachers who can interpret assessment results and take action based on accurate data.

man_on_treadmill-253x300.jpgYou can think of these teachers like ‘personal trainers’ who know how to use the assessments effectively and appropriately, and can help students, teachers and school leaders set goals and meet them.  Unfortunately, few colleges of education or K-12 school districts provide adequate hands-on training on the use of assessments in teaching.  We simply aren’t preparing teachers to use assessments effectively for student learning.

As states and districts begin to construct new, coherent assessment systems under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) incorporating multiple measures of student learning, it is crucial that educators at all levels understand how to appropriately select, use, analyze, and communicate about the results of those assessments. In the teacher preparation regulations released today the US Department of Education, assessment of student learning is included as a required part of rigorous teacher candidate exit qualifications. In short, educators will need to be assessment literate.

What is Assessment Literacy?

The National Task Force on Assessment Education today released a foundational definition of Assessment Literacy. It can be used to guide development of systems that use assessments appropriately and equitably to support teaching and learning.

The definition states:

“Assessment is the process of gathering information about student learning to inform education- related decisions. One becomes Assessment Literate by mastering basic principles of sound assessment practice, coming to believe strongly in their consistent, high-quality application in order to meet the diverse needs of all students, and acting assertively based on those values.”

Further, the definition identifies traits of an assessment literate person. He or she:

  • Understands the purpose of the assessment and how the results will be used
  • Uses the learning targets to dictate the appropriate assessments
  • Recognizes that valid results only come from quality assessments
  • Communicates clearly about assessment results to parents, students, and others
  • Creates an assessment process that motivates students and supports learning

“Those who face the challenges of developing and implementing state, local or classroom assessment systems are far better prepared to succeed if they bring to the task a foundation of understanding of the basic principles of sound assessment practice; that is, if they are assessment literate,” said Rick Stiggins, advisor to the Task Force and retired founder and CEO of the Assessment Training Institute. “Our Task Force has defined this to mean that they always are clear about why and what they will assess, how to assess it well, how to share results effectively, and how to use assessment to support and promote student learning success.”

Is it Truthful?  Is it Useful?

Assessments of student learning are important for tracking success and ensuring equity among student groups.  Students, parents, teachers, and policy makers need to be assessment literate so they can advocate for  valid and reliable assessments that provide truthful and useful information.  Teachers need to be assessment literate so they can model quality assessment practices in their own classrooms, and modify their instruction based on student needs.  Parents and policymakers are open to new and innovative ways to measure and report educational success, and assessment literate educators can advocating for quality assessments and demonstrate that using assessments appropriately makes a difference for students. Students, parents , educators and policy makers need to learn more about quality assessment and assessment literacy development so we don’t find ourselves with just a more advanced version of the treadmill sitting in the corner covered in laundry.


A Catastrophic Amount of Money

In The View from the OEP on October 5, 2016 at 12:57 pm

LakeView2House and Senate education committees recently recommended a $20 million increase in funding for special education.  The money would go to the “catastrophic” fund, which provides reimbursement to districts that are educating special needs students with extraordinarily high-cost services.  In Arkansas, after subtracting Medicaid, federal funding through the Individuals with Disabilities in Education (IDEA), and other 3rd party funds, districts can receive 100% reimbursement for up to $15,000, 80% for costs between $15,000 and $50,000, and 50% for costs between $50,000 and $100,000.  The number of students for whom districts request reimbursement has more than doubled in the past four years. Under 500 reimbursement requests were submitted in 2010-11, and over 1,100 were submitted in 2014-15. Districts are committing funds to educate their students, and increasingly requesting reimbursement from the state.  Although requests and expenditures have increased dramatically, state funding for reimbursement has remained stagnant, and only about a third of eligible expenses are currently reimbursed.  The recommendation by the House and Senate education committees provides additional funding to reimburse districts.

Special education advocates commonly call on the federal government to fully fund the program. The initial passage of special education legislation, The Education for All Handicapped Children Act, in 1975, stated that the federal government would fund 40% of the state’s “excess costs” for students with disabilities.  The Council for Exceptional Children estimates that, in 2008, the funded amount is closer to 17%.  The unfunded cost of special education does not disappear, but is instead borne by the state and local districts.  The reauthorization of IDEA, in 2004, allowed the use of federal IDEA funds to be allocated to state catastrophic or extraordinary aid pools, such as the one in Arkansas.

Here at OEP, we applaud the recommendation to increase funding for special education students in Arkansas. It is clear that providing necessary funds for students with disabilities is important. The students receiving “catastrophic” funds are those with the most severe disabilities who require the most intensive services.  For policy purposes, however, we suggest thinking more strategically about how the state’s funding mechanism for special education can more effectively allocate money to so fewer districts need to request reimbursement in the first place.

Funding for Arkansas’ special education students is currently embedded in the funding matrix, which assumes all schools have the same special education demands. Data show wide variation, however, between in the number and severity of special education students being served in Arkansas school districts.  Instead of providing funding through a model that assumes, incorrectly, all needs are the same, we suggest funding based on the needs of the students actually enrolled in the school.  Such a differentiated student-based allocation would ensure that special education funds are spent on the students for whom they were intended, and decrease the need for reimbursement though catastrophic funding.

Although additional money may soon be available if approved by the Legislature, the reimbursement-based nature of the catastrophic funding may work against small, rural, and poor schools. The financial burden of providing extensive resources (hoping they may be reimbursed) combined with the amount of time, effort, and expertise needed to submit the paperwork to receive the reimbursement may be more difficult for these schools.  Creating a funding model for special education based on the actual data about student needs would more effectively provide schools with the resources they need, and reduce the need for the state to further increase catastrophic funding.

Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is…Academic Guarantees and College Remediation

In The View from the OEP on September 28, 2016 at 12:58 pm


In our latest policy brief, summarized below, we examine options for reducing college remediation rates, including a public school district’s offering of an Academic Guarantee.

Last October, the Arkansas Department of Higher Education released Closing the Gap 2020, the state’s plan to increase the percentage of Arkansans earning a post-secondary credential or degree by 50% over the number earned in the 2013-14 academic year. Part of this plan includes reducing the percentage of students taking remedial courses at the college level.

Since 1988, Arkansas has required placement tests for all college-bound students in math, English, and reading. The most common placement test in Arkansas is the ACT. Students taking the ACT can score anywhere between 0 and 36. The national average ACT score in 2015 was a 21 and the average for Arkansas was a 20. Arkansas students must score a 19 to avoid remedial coursework.

College Remediation Needed

For the 2014-15 academic year, over 22,000 students enrolled for the first time at one of Arkansas’s post-secondary institutions. Just over 40% of these students were assigned to at least one remedial course (compared with 33% nationally). Remedial courses are often high school-level courses, yet the cost for students is the same as a typical college-level course.

Remediation not only hits students in their wallets, but also hinders their achievement and attainment. The ADHE states in Closing the Gap 2020, “Students requiring remediation pay more in tuition and are less likely to complete a credential…typically only 25-30% [of remediated students] successfully enroll in and pass the college-level course required upon completion of remediation.” With this in mind, it comes as no surprise Arkansas would like to reduce college remediation. However, decreasing the number of students who qualify for remediation is not just a post-secondary issue. It will take a devoted effort at the K12 and post-secondary levels.

An Academic Guarantee

There are a variety of policies Arkansas’s schools could implement, but Rogers Public Schools has implemented an “Academic Guarantee” since 2004. Rogers’ policy guarantees all of its graduates are academically prepared for college-level coursework. If a graduate is required to enroll in remedial courses after being admitted to college, the district will reimburse the full cost of tuition for said courses, pending students meet a list of requirements. No students have taken advantage of the policy yet.

According to the ADHE’s remediation report, Rogers Schools graduated 1,048 students in the class of 2014, with 457 enrolling in college in Arkansas, and 178 students enrolling in at least one remedial course. Using the average cost of tuition at the state’s 2- and 4-year institutions, we calculated the range of the potential cost of reimbursement to Rogers Schools, finding the district would have paid between $42,389 if all remediated students attended 2-year institutions and $88,645 if all attended 4-year institutions. In the brief, we also include the hypothetical cost of remediation reimbursement for 16 other districts in the state along with a projection of potential costs over the next five years. We show that a policy like Rogers’ implemented in other districts could come at a pretty high cost and these costs would vary quite a bit across the state. Because of this, it seems like a difficult policy to implement statewide.

However, would we even a want a statewide “Academic Guarantee”? Recognizing the potential costs could lead districts to council potentially remediated students away from post-secondary education or to less expensive schools. Also, with Arkansas’s new policy of paying for all juniors to take the ACT, schools could start encouraging students to attempt the ACT multiple times to avoid remediation by improving their scores above the remedial cutoff. Research from the ACT suggests students who take the test multiple times are likely to see higher scores, which is improved test-taking skills rather than academic preparation.

Need Multiple Measures

Districts could try to find ways to avoid paying for remedial courses if a statewide academic guarantee were to be implemented, but the real issue lies at the heart of the remediation policy itself. Currently, test performance is the only tool used to determine course placement and potential future success. This is a decision the ACT itself does not support, instead suggesting a multi-dimensional approach that goes beyond test scores. Research from Columbia University’s Community College Research Center, shows that using multiple measures such as high school GPA alongside standardized test scores could reduce incorrectly placing students in remedial courses by 15 percent.

Arkansas has too many students entering college unprepared for the rigors of college-level coursework, but some of them may be incorrectly placed into remedial coursework. This forces students who could be successful in college to clear unnecessary hurdles and decreases their chances of earning a college degree. Simply using a more holistic evaluation of students’ skills could help Arkansas reach its post-secondary achievement goals. We could ask other districts to emulate Rogers, but we should start by revisiting the college course placement policy.

OEP Conference Roundup

In The View from the OEP on September 21, 2016 at 8:40 am

Thanks to everyone who attended our OEP conference! We loved hearing a variety of perspectives throughout the day. We hope these conversations continue, as they are necessary for improving the Arkansas education system. Here are a few thoughts we’re still marinating on a week after the conference:

1. Pre-kindergarten programs lead to significant gains, but face implementation challenges.

Our keynote speaker for the day was Dr. William Gormley, who presented a review of the research on pre-K programs. In general, pre-K programs are associated with large, immediate gains—and smaller long-term gains— fpre-kor students. Here in Arkansas, our ABC pre-K program has been applauded nationally, but it faces challenges in serving the state’s children. In a panel discussion on Arkansas’ pre-K program, pre-K administrators discussed funding and staffing challenges facing pre-K providers across the state.

2. When it comes to rural education, we need both collaboration and autonomy.

We had many discussions about rural education at our conference, from how to make rural-roadsprofessional development meaningful for teachers, to recruiting and retaining teachers in rural areas, to the impacts of state policies on rural schools. A common theme throughout the day was the need to facilitate collaboration across districts, while still giving rural districts enough autonomy to make decisions rooted in their local context. Our rural districts face significant challenges, and there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to their unique needs

3. Serving diverse learners requires systems that are responsive to individuals.

At our conference, we discussed how schools and systems are (or are not) meeting diverse-learnersstudents’ needs. This included a retrospective look at how KIPP Delta has improved over the years, an examination of research on how funding mechanisms may prevent students with disabilities from being identified, and a review of the research on how to best serve English Language Learners. Through all of this,  we were able to think deeply how best to meet the needs of ALL students in Arkansas.

Thanks again to everyone who came out to the conference! We were truly inspired by hearing  all your thoughts, ideas, and actions in our communities, and can’t wait for next year!

Begin with the End in Mind

In The View from the OEP on September 7, 2016 at 1:15 pm


Beginning the school year with the end in mind, we are pleased to release our newest Arkansas Education Report: Graduation Rates in Arkansas, an Updated Descriptive Analysis! This report examines trends in Arkansas’ graduation rates overall and for at risk students over the past four years. We consider the relationship between graduation rate and several district- and school- level factors including district size, cohort (grade-level) enrollment, school poverty rates, and school location (rural, town, suburb, or city).

High school graduation is an increasingly important metric of school performance, and research finds that students who fail to graduate face a variety of negative consequences including lower lifetime earning and poorer health.  The good news is that Arkansas graduation rates are increasing and our students graduate at higher rates than the national average.   Compared to bordering states, we are high performing even though we have a greater percentage of students eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch (a proxy for poverty).

You should check out the report for yourself, but here’s some of what we found:

Smaller districts:  Smaller districts had higher graduation rates in general, and districts with fewer than 500 students are reporting 90% graduation rates for at risk students.

Smaller cohorts: Grade-level enrollment between 50 and  150 was related to higher graduation rates for students.

More rural: Rural school reported higher graduation rates overall and for at risk students.

Like our earlier report, we found that school poverty rates are related to high school graduation rates.  An interesting aspect of this finding, however, was that higher poverty schools have higher graduation rates for at risk students, while lower poverty schools are more likely to graduate students who are not at risk. 

This finding should spur school leaders to analyze their own graduation rate data and consider what more they can do to support graduation for those students in the minority at their schools.

Data used for the report are available here, and  graduation rate data for all schools and all years are available here.

Although examined individually in this report, these district- and school-level characteristics are interrelated. For example, 63% of Arkansas high schools are located in Rural areas, 72% of the Rural schools are either in the Upper Middle or High Poverty categories and 83% of these rural and higher poverty schools are Very Small or Small districts. All three of these characteristics are positively related to graduation rate, but which is actually driving differences in graduation rate?

In a subsequent paper multivariate analyses will be conducted on a student level, allowing for a more in-depth look into the variations that positively or negatively impact graduation rate. In addition, we will also examine the relationships between graduation rate and other important academic outcomes such as student performance on the ACT and college remediation rates, because although we are pleased to report on Arkansas’ increasing high school graduation rate, we need to ensue that the graduates are truly prepared for life after high school.





Changes Seen for Youngest Students

In Mark Your Calendar, The View from the OEP on August 31, 2016 at 11:52 am


This week, two research articles that focused on the youngest students were in the national news.  Prekindergarten will be one of three main topics at our upcoming conference Unlocking Key Challenges Facing Arkansas’ Schools.  The conference is in Little Rock on September 14th, just TWO WEEKS AWAY!

The first study reported that students who had attended Tulsa’s universal preschool had higher test scores on the state’s eighth grade math tests, were less likely to be retained and less likely to display chronic absenteeism compared to students who did not attend pre-K.

Earlier studies found evidence of positive impact from the program as these students headed into kindergarten 3 to 5 months “ahead” of their peers who did not attend preschool. Follow-up research conducted when the students were in elementary school, however, found mixed evidence of a positive effect as measured by third grade reading and math achievement tests, leading to concerns about the ‘fade out’ of any early positive impact of pre-K.

The positive results of the new middle school study, however are highly consequential outcomes that are predictive of future success including high school graduation, college enrollment, even future earnings.

If you want to learn more about the research behind the findings, and what makes Tulsa’s pre-K program high-quality, register for the upcoming OEP conference. William Gormley, PhD, one of the key researchers of the Tulsa prekindergarten program, will be addressing the research and its implications in greater detail.

The other research that we found fascinating was Recent Trends in Income, Racial, and Ethnic School Readiness Gaps at Kindergarten Entry from Stanford’s Center for Education Policy Analysis.  The researchers found that the skills gap between high- and low-income students at kindergarten entry has declined since 1998.  Researchers suggest, “The most obvious candidate explanation for this decline is perhaps the changes in preschool enrollment patterns over this period.” Other research reported that low-income students are enrolling in preschool at rates more similar to their higher income peers since the 1990s. Although the correlation between the declining skills gap and the increasing preschool enrollment has not been identified as causal in the research, the finding is suggestive.

There are wonderful examples of high-quality prekindergarten programs throughout Arkansas. Come to our conference and and learn from practitioners and researchers about the research and practice of pre-K. There is no cost to attend and in addition to information about prekindergarten, you can learn from researchers and practitioners about effective practices in rural education and teaching diverse learners. If you haven’t already, you can register here.



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House and Senate Education Committees Meet

In AR Legislature, The View from the OEP on August 24, 2016 at 1:22 pm



Arkansas House and Senate education committees met jointly this week and discussed reports on teacher supply, special education, and academic distress.

Teacher supply

“Greening and graying” are just two of the trends that Arkansas has to address in building and maintaining a diverse and experienced teacher workforce that is appropriately distributed among all schools, according to ADE Assistant Commissioner Ivy Pfeffer. Teachers with the most experience are nearing retirement age, and younger teachers are more likely to leave the profession. Types of shortages vary by region, but the rate of teacher turnover is higher in high poverty and high minority schools. Students in those schools are also more likely to have teachers with less experience or teaching out of field. Pfeffer said ADE is developing a strategic plan that includes a “coming back” campaign to recruit teachers back to the classroom, among other efforts. Pfeffer also noted several areas where ADE is conducting more in-depth examinations of data to better understand and respond to workforce issues.

Special education

A special education task force has completed its work, and Sen. Uvalde Lindsey of Fayetteville presented the group’s draft report. The task force reached consensus on 30 recommendations related to early diagnosis of disabilities; improved coordination among stakeholders; additional support for parents, teachers, and schools; and increased funding. The report was dedicated to the late Rep. Sheilla Lampkin of Monticello, a former special education teacher and diligent advocate who sponsored the enabling legislation and worked on the task force, but passed away before the report was completed.

Academic distress

Arkansas law mandates that the legislature’s ongoing study of educational adequacy must include an examination of the academic distress program for schools or school districts where academic achievement has not met a required standard for several years. The written report from the Bureau of Legislative Research gives a concise explanation of various aspects of the academic distress designation, feedback from superintendents of affected districts, and similar policies in other states. Some committee members expressed concern about the academic distress label and encouraged their peers to look at policy solutions to help schools before the designation becomes necessary and is made public.



Revamping Higher Education Funding in the Natural State

In The View from the OEP on August 10, 2016 at 11:31 am


Late last month, Gov. Hutchinson supported the Arkansas Department of Higher Education (ADHE) Coordinating Board’s unanimously approve proposal to change the funding formula for Arkansas’s public post-secondary institutions. The proposed funding model uses an outcomes-based approach, placing a higher priority on college completion than the current model. Right now, the main consideration in funding Arkansas colleges and universities is enrollment, a policy that does little to reward success.

While the proposed funding formula is still in the early stages of the legislative process, it is designed to spend money more effectively and support universities’ efforts to get students through rather than to college. The proposal goes to the Legislature during the 2017 session and would—if passed—make Arkansas’s higher education funding formula similar to other states with outcomes-based funding formulas. But what exactly is this proposed plan and is it good for students?

Higher Education Funding in Arkansas

Currently, the state’s higher education funding formula has a 90-10 split, based on need (enrollment, infrastructure, etc.) and performance (graduation, credit completion, etc.), respectively. Under the new plan, 100% of funding is tied to outcomes like program completion, number of graduates getting jobs/other degrees, and on-time graduation rates. A press release from the governor’s office expressed strong support for the proposal as a way to incentivize institutional leaders to emphasize educating students by putting money into resources, like academic support services, that are directly related to student learning.

Former ADHE director Bret Powell described the potential switch as a move that “would change the conversation from, ‘We have students, so give us funding,’ to ‘We have achieved these results, and the funding should follow those results.’” Though it is still unclear in these early stages, it is unlikely the new funding formula would lead to decreases in funding. In addition, the new formula may lead to fewer increases in charged tuition and fees, lessening the financial barriers to college and potential student loan debt faced by many Arkansas families.

Outcomes-Based Funding Elsewhere

Although this change to Arkansas’s higher education funding formula is still in the proposal stages, if Arkansas lawmakers approve the change we will join several other states in funding postsecondary education based on outcomes. For a complete description of funding allocation in the other states, please visit the National Conference of State Legislatures.


Similar to Arkansas’s current model, Indiana has used a two-part funding system based on enrollment changes and performance of students. A majority of Indiana’s funding is based on the change in enrollment from year-to-year, but a gradually increasing percentage of funding is tied to student performance (6% of funding in 2014-15). An important aspect that Arkansas legislators should consider is the seven clearly stated outcomes in Indiana’s formula, including degree completion, student persistence, and remediation success. Degree completion has the most weight in this formula.


Under the leadership of Gov. John Kasich, Ohio restructured their higher education funding formula in fiscal year 2014-15. Much like Arkansas’s proposed plan, Ohio ties 100% of institutional funding to performance. At Ohio’s public 2-year and 4-year institutions, funding is tied 100% to undergraduate students’ course completion and graduation rates. At the moment, it is still a bit too early to know what the impact of this change has been in Ohio.


Tennessee passed the Complete College Tennessee Act of 2010 to improve the state’s college completion rate. Each institution receives a base fund to support operations, but 100% of funds on top of this base are a result of a points system based entirely on student outcomes. Tennessee includes credits accumulated, degrees completed, and 6-year graduation rates at 4-year institutions in the model. Community colleges have similar outcomes with additional outcomes including dual enrollment at a 4-year institution and graduates who were placed in jobs.

Promise and Pitfalls of Changes

There is something to be said for focusing on outcomes. Tying institutional funding to student success will likely hold institutions more accountable for educating students, rather than focusing on increasing enrollment numbers and potentially enrolling higher numbers of academically unprepared students who may dropout after accruing some student loan debt. The most likely outcomes will focus on degree completion and credits earned.

Improving college outcomes is admirable and important to the state, but goals will need to be very clearly stated (like those in Indiana) and implemented with controls to ensure the value of a college degree does not get “watered down”. A legitimate concern with an outcomes-based formula is the appeal of more money leading institutions to become “degree factories” rather than preparing students for their future careers.

At the moment, we do not know all of the details of the proposed changes to Arkansas’s higher education funding formula. The only sure thing is the ADHE wants to change the funding formula to be based entirely on student outcomes and having little to do with enrollment numbers. The Legislature has a tall task ahead of them in 2017, one that could profoundly change the way Arkansas’s postsecondary institutions are funded.

2016 OEP Conference Registration Is Open!

In The View from the OEP on August 3, 2016 at 11:47 am

Register now for the 2016 OEP Conference Wednesday, September 14, 2016 at Heifer International in Little Rock!


OEP Logo JPEG-2rel logo


We are very excited about partnering with Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Southwest on this year’s theme of Unlocking Key Challenges Facing Arkansas’ Schools.

Dr. William Gormley from the Center for Research on Children in the U.S. will present the Keynote on Oklahoma’s Universal Prekindergarten Program and Cory Biggs, Associate Director of ForwARd Arkansas, will discuss opportunities for systemic change in Arkansas.

Breakout sessions will feature speakers and panels discussing research, practice and policy surrounding Prekindergarten, Rural Education and Diverse Learners. You can find out more details below.

There is no cost to attend but space is limited, so please don’t delay! Register now

Can’t wait to see you there!


Checkout some of the sessions that will be at the conference:

Diverse Learners: KIPP Delta- 15 Years- A Retrospective  (Lessons taught and lessons learned) Scott Shirey, founder and executive director, KIPP Delta Public Schools

Rural PD: What does the literature say and how can it be implemented in Arkansas?   Haidee Williams, REL Southwest and Erin Haynes, REL Southwest

Prekindergarten: Research-to-Practice: Current Research Influencing the Field   Janice Keizer, REL Southwest and Sarah Caverly, REL Southwest

Diverse Learners: Facilitating a PLC to Support English Learners  Jackie Burniske, REL Southwest   Kathleen Theodore, Southeast Comprehensive Center

Prekindergarten: Designing and Sustaining Accessible Prekindergarten Programming in Arkansas   Tonya Williams, Department of Child Care and Early Childhood Education, DHS  Jody Veit-Edrington, Coordinator of Early Childhood Programs, NLR Public Schools  Jenny Barber, Supervisor of Federal Programs and Preschool Education, Russellville Public Schools

Rural Education: Rural Teacher Recruitment and Retention Practices Identified in the Literature    Haidee Williams, REL Southwest  Bobby Hart, Superintendent, Hope Public Schools Chintan Desai, KIPP Delta



House and Senate Education Committees Meet

In The View from the OEP on July 20, 2016 at 11:29 am



The Arkansas House and Senate education committees met this week to hear presentations and discuss progress on broadband upgrades and career/technical education planning.  A report on isolated funding took a side trip to broader transportation issues and ended with a request for an attorney general’s opinion.

Broadband Upgrades

We’re about halfway through the two-year project timeline to provide all Arkansas public schools with better and more cost effective high speed broadband access, and Chief Technology Officer Mark Myers reported more districts are connected and connections are faster than planned. Security and content filtering safeguards are in place, and performance monitoring is such that DIS will know immediately if a district’s email goes down. Issues with vendor deadline commitments and previously-existing contracts have been resolved thus far. DIS is on track to finish all the APSCN upgrades by July 2017, and you can track progress with this linked map.

CTE Emphasis in Education and Employment

A common thread through several presenters was improving the employability and earning power of Arkansans through coursework and credentialing that align with labor market demands and job growth. Outgoing ADHE Director Brett Powell said new jobs are going to applicants who have at least some college education, and while more Arkansans need to earn all kinds of degrees, the most growth is expected in jobs requiring a CTE certificate.¹ Department of Career Education (ACE) leaders reported their work with high schools and secondary technical centers to assess career and technical programs and enrollment in light of employer needs and future economic impact for students and communities.²  Bureau of Legislative Research (BLR) staff also reported extensively on CTE program offerings and student enrollment and achievement data.³

Isolated and Transportation Funding

Reporting on the distribution and expenditures of “isolated funding” intended to help districts with geographic challenges, BLR Assistant Director Richard Wilson said the majority of those funds are spent on instruction-related expenses and transportation.  Committee members’ discussion veered to the broader topic of inequity in transportation funding as allocated through the budget matrix. Lawmakers have repeatedly expressed frustration that distributing transportation dollars on a per-student basis results in a profit for some school districts while others must supplement transportation costs with money meant for student learning. Ultimately, the committees voted to request an attorney general’s opinion on how the courts might view changes to the transportation funding mechanism in light of educational adequacy.