(Photo Credit: https://www.arkansasessa.org)

 

If you have not already, we’d like to encourage each of our valuable education stakeholders to take the time to review the state’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan, available here. Within, we’re happy to highlight some of the recommendations we’ve made alongside the department to help ensure the best opportunities for Arkansas students. Among these are:

1) Encouraging district participation in teacher career preparation programs such as Teacher Cadets. In Arkansas, significantly fewer college students are pursuing teaching as a profession; since 2010 enrollment is down by 50 percent. Programs like this provide opportunities for reaching students early in their career consideration and grow local community capacity to support education. Schools can “grow their own” teachers by investing in such programs (ESSA: Title II, Part A: Supporting Effective Instruction).

  • In our ForwARd Communities, we’ve seen Teacher Cadet programs have especially positive impacts on the teacher pipeline in Crossett and Lee County. Read more about Crossett’s program from Meghan Ables, 2016 Arkansas Teacher of the Year.

2) Continuing to refine and integrate opportunities from the existing work of the Teacher Excellence and Support System (TESS) and the Leader Excellence and Development System (LEADS) by helping districts offer integrated and aligned professional development (especially for topics such as social and emotional learning, personal competencies, school quality indicators and supporting both postsecondary education and dual-enrollment courses in secondary school) (ESSA: Title II, Part A: Supporting Effective Instruction).

3) Creating statewide networks of experienced school leader mentors, including a leadership development coach, five regional support coaches to work with schools in need of additional leadership assistance, and 16 lead principals to lead facilitated Professional Learning Community (PLC)  journeys as a part of the Arkansas Leadership Quest Program. PLCs create ongoing, personalized learning opportunities for local education agencies and provide access to competency-based, personalized learning tools through micro-credentials (ESSA: Title II, Part A: Supporting Effective Instruction).

4) Encouraging schools to apply for Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants (SSAE) that provide formula funding to support students and schools in high-need districts. Included are 1) safe and healthy activities (including mental health awareness training); 2) well-rounded activities (including college and career guidance programs); and 3) technology activities (including blended learning projects and providing students in rural communities with resources for digital learning experiences) (ESSA: Title IV, Part A: Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants).

  • Several of our ForwARd partner organizations offer programs to further education in these areas, and we’d love to see districts utilize these funds to incorporate their programs. Examples include Be Pro Be Proud, EAST Initiative, New Tech Network, etc.

Additionally, we applaud the revised RFP process for awarding 21st Century Community Learning Centers funds that places absolute priority on schools with a high concentration of low-income students and families. These funds are crucial to provide opportunities for communities to establish or expand activities in community learning centers that provide opportunities for academic enrichment (inclusive of nonprofit agencies, faith-based organizations, etc.) (ESSA: Title IV, Part B: 21st Century Community Learning Centers).

5) We are so very proud of the state’s new Vision for Excellence in Education plan and how it’s moving our education success measures away from adequacy and into excellence, shifting from a statewide system of support with the school as the focus into a one that empowers Local Education Agencies to improve their schools. We know that local support will be of the utmost importance, and are pleased to see the state reflect this by empowering LEAs to both report and act on important indicators, including third grade-level reading proficiency, middle level STEM readiness, and percentage of AP/IB/Concurrent Credit course credits, among others.

We’d like to see these items remain in the plan, and hope you will advocate for that also. To provide feedback on the plan, please take the survey available here, or email ade.essacomments@arkansas.gov.