Challenge:

Leaders in communities across Arkansas often face similar challenges in a vacuum, without benefit of peer insight.

Solution:

At the Forward Leadership Dialogue in August 2018, we brought community leaders together to present successes and challenges, particularly those related to pre-K, employability and the educator pipeline. Insight was shared by all, and outcomes further informed Forward’s Policy Recommendations for 2019 and beyond.

Challenge:

Arkansas needs more opportunities for dialogue to benefit from different voices and perspectives.

Solution:

We hosted Forward Together Conversations in 2018 to engage local educators, business and civic leaders, policymakers, parents and students. Small-group discussions focused on identifying key strategic priorities, exploring resources and identifying barriers. Several consistent themes emerged, which were used to shape community plans and policy recommendations for 2019 and beyond.

Challenge:

Arkansas is unable to connect educational data from pre-K through the K-12 system and beyond, making it virtually impossible to measure the quality and impact of educational investments.

Solution A:

Forward Arkansas initiated a community-based data campaign to evaluate district-provided pre-K programs. We learned that attending a district-provided pre-K program was associated with positive academic and non-academic outcomes – such as kindergarten success and participation in extracurricular activities – and that providing relevant research helped communities make strategic decisions. As a result of our efforts, one community secured continued outside pre-K funding and we secured a small partnership grant to continue our early childhood education advocacy.

Solution B:

We timed the release of these pre-K reports to coincide with the 2019 Forward Data and Policy Symposium. Our work to merge data across systems – as displayed in the reports – showed stakeholders the value of longitudinal data. Since the symposium, the state developed and activated the “Ready for Life” initiative, which is a statewide longitudinal data system (SLDS) focused on connecting data from K-12 to career. Our team was recognized as being instrumental to the development of this initiative.

Challenge:

Research shows taking college-level courses during high school improves a range of student outcomes. While courses are available for concurrent credit in high schools, students often must pay a significant price per class – making it impossible for many to participate.

Solution:

In 2018-19, Forward Arkansas worked with stakeholders in Independence County, ultimately developing the Arkansas Concurrent Challenge Scholarship program. This first-of-its-kind endeavor allows students to use Arkansas Scholarship Lottery dollars to pursue concurrent college credit coursework while still in high school, at little to no cost. The result? Thousands of Arkansas students can advance toward graduation while earning college credit and preparing for jobs of the future.

Challenge:

Early childhood education is critically important to long-term student success, but Arkansas must improve both quality and access.

Solution:

In 2017, Forward Arkansas successfully made the case to the Governor’s office to increase funding for the Arkansas Better Chance Program to $3 million per year, permanently. Since then, our team has continued to advocate for increases in educator compensation. We also secured funding for scholarships allowing mid-career early childhood educators to pursue more education, ultimately improving early childhood programs.

Challenge:

Arkansas had not had an adequacy study – used to determine educational adequacy and funding – since 2002-2003.

Solution:

Forward Arkansas added another voice to the pro-study contingent within the state legislature, including two op-eds published by the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. The legislature ultimately supported hiring consultants to conduct a new independent study, which took place during the second half of 2020. The study recommended the state do more to provide students with the opportunities they deserve, particularly high-need students and those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

Challenge:

Many barriers to student success (including medical care, technology needs and more) aren’t addressed in traditional school settings.

Solution:

The community school strategy promotes a more equitable education by meeting student and family needs in a more comprehensive way In 2021, Forward introduced and guided legislation to elevate community schools as an option in Arkansas, especially for schools with a high population of economically disadvantaged students.

Challenge:

COVID-19 learning loss has compounded existing learning needs in our state.

Solution:

Forward Arkansas worked with Instruction Partners – a national nonprofit supporting equitable access to high-quality instruction, particularly for students in poverty, students of color, students learning English and students with disabilities – to start a Community of Practice in Arkansas, focused on instructional strategies to help all students recover from impacts on learning due to the COVID pandemic Forward and Instruction Partners have engaged leaders and educators in six districts across Arkansas t to support instructional strategies for SY 21-22 tailored to district needs.