How We Collectively Move Forward

The Next Five Years

Report Contents

Improving education is essential to doing better for Arkansas kids. It is also essential for our society – to ensure that Arkansas’s economy grows and that Arkansas residents and communities thrive.

In this report we focus primarily on the question: What must we do as a state to change the current educational reality and provide students with the experiences they need to be thriving adults?

In many ways though, identifying what is most important for students is the easier task. As we have shown, our state has focused on many of these areas for some time and made foundational progress. Still, significant progress on student outcomes remains elusive.

So then, as we move forward, we believe the most important question for our state is: How can we approach change in education differently to dramatically accelerate progress in producing better outcomes for every Arkansas student?

To provide a starting point for the next five years, we outline a set of five guiding next steps that we hope will galvanize Arkansans around the goal of doing better for our kids and inform our collective efforts as a state.

Set focused, ambitious, and measurable statewide goals.

A limited number of overarching statewide goals should drive all the work that we do and the decisions we make in education as a state. The goals should also be the foundation for the state’s next strategic plan, which we hope this report can help inform. Finally, we must align around key metrics to track, measure, and frequently communicate progress against the identified goals, ensuring that we reach communities across the state.

Continue to enhance our data and the systems to capture and share it.

Arkansas is a data-rich state, and we have made great strides in capturing data to deepen our understanding of students’ experiences and outcomes throughout their education journey. However, significant gaps still exist in key areas, such as the link between K-12 and career, and educator workforce. We should seek to address those gaps. Then we must create structures, that include various stakeholders and education partners, to use this data continuously to identify needs, coordinate and evaluate the impact of our efforts, and to improve.

Focus on integration at all levels.

While we present the eight priorities in this report independently, they are in fact highly interconnected and interdependent. For a student to learn to read, they must be physically and mentally healthy. If schools focus more time and resources on reading to ensure students acquire this basic skill, they must make trade-offs in other areas. Districts, schools, and communities will need guidance and support to prioritize resources and create an integrated vision and approach, rather than implement independent initiatives. Finally, state-level strategies to address student learning, health and well-being, and the transition to career must span multiple state agencies and partners. Strategies will need to be integrated and aligned around a shared vision for an Arkansas graduate that can serve as a north star for all efforts.

Use existing resources more effectively and creatively.

As a state, we may determine that we need to invest more resources to accelerate progress for students, especially those with the greatest need. However we should first develop a deeper understanding of how existing education funding is being used and why certain funding decisions are being made, especially at the local level. Guidance and support can be offered to district leaders and others to develop creative approaches to focus more of their time, funding, and staff on the most important needs of their students and communities. Identified challenges and barriers can be addressed through policy where necessary.

Facilitate community-led change within state-determined priorities.

As a state, we must set priorities, goals, and policies that guide our change efforts in education overall. Within these guidelines, we must also create the conditions and support that both enable and guide local leaders, educators, and families - setting a local vision for their students and schools and identifying the solutions to reach their vision. Only in doing so will there be buy-in and ownership locally that then leads to effective implementation and ultimately better student outcomes.