Innovation is key to improving the quality of education in Arkansas communities. In the past two years, promising areas of innovation for Arkansas schools have emerged from ForwARd’s work throughout the state.

Community Schools / Support Outside the Classroom

Arkansas has invested considerable resources to improve academic outcomes in the state—including large investments of state general revenue funding and district funding for programs that serve low-income students, as well as a large expansion of access to Pre-K beginning in 2003.

Federal education funding passed through to the state has financed an onslaught of school improvement specialists and targeted programming in low-income schools. Philanthropy has also invested heavily in new education strategies. Yet, little has changed for children of low-income families. According to the Bureau of Legislative research, in 2015, there was improvement in Arkansas NAEP scores, but the state averages are not improving in comparison to the national average.

Arkansas’ poverty levels play a role in the lack of progress. On the 2017 ACT Aspire test, which maps learner progress from grades three through high school, 33 percent of low-income children performed at or above grade level (meeting or exceeding on third grade literacy), while 62 percent of their higher income peers performed at or above grade level.

To meet the challenges poverty creates in children’s lives beyond the classroom, additional student and family supports are needed. The community school model provides such supports through community partnerships.

Building Community and School Leadership Capacity

Experienced, successful school leaders and educators are critically needed in many school districts across the state. Small, rural and low-performing schools often have the most inexperienced leadership and key roles go unfilled. Circumstances related to quality of life and lower salaries can limit applicants to leadership positions and encourage successful new leaders to move to other districts.

ForwARd will work to address this need by equipping local teachers and community members for leadership positions as school- or district-level leaders or school board members, respectively by engaging experienced district leaders to provide professional development sessions to individual school districts in our ForwARd communities.