Education

Ever since the Central High School integration crisis in 1957, the image of public education in Arkansas in the national consciousness has ... not been one associated with progressive best-practices, but Arkansas public schools did turn out a president and a number of world class artists and scientists. Today, though, the state ranks near the bottom of most indexes of student achievement. 

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Over the last 15 years, residents of Little Rock have lost some hope that educational opportunity for kids of color is the same or equal to that of white kids. That’s according to an annual study on racial attitudes put out by the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Anderson Institute on Race and Ethnicity.

The survey is focused on education this year, and it found that while 60 percent of whites think integration benefits everyone, only 42 percent of blacks in Little Rock agree. But all city residents increasingly agree that  school education isn’t equal. University historian John Kirk led the survey.

He says one reason whites and blacks see more inequality in Little Rock than they did in his first survey 15 years ago is that demographics of the city have changed.

Jacqueline Froelich / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

In the olden days, misbehaving school children were forced to stay after school and write repetitive chastisements on dusty chalk boards. Today, many public schools offer alternative learning environments for students with behavioral and emotional problems. Bentonville Public School District in Northwest Arkansas, however, has installed two intervention-rich elementary “behavior classrooms” to help children learn how to overcome chronic disruptive behavior.

Johnathan Reaves / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Jonesboro is marking a grim anniversary March 24 — 20 years ago two children shot and killed five people outside Westside Middle School. 

The shootings occurred 13 months before the massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado  that is often called the seminal tragedy in a subcategory of mass shootings that take place at America's schools. 

Most recently, 17 students and teachers died at the hands of a gunman inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14.

Creative Commons

Arkansas school students are expected to join thousands around the country March 14 in a national school walkout at 10 a.m. (local time). Billed as “Enough,” the demonstration is a coordinated public response to the shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

It’s expected to last 17 minutes — one for each victim.

In Fayetteville, school officials are helping students coordinate a walkout at 10 a.m., though a district document also recognizes that some students have obtained a permit from the city to march on the Washington Count Courthouse — a demonstration the district has gently warned against.

Bobby Ampezzan / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

There was a time when Anthony Freeman wanted to be a Razorback. Arkansas’s original land-grant university was the very picture of "college" he held in his mind. He visited and applied and, he says, got in.

That's as far as it got.

A North Pulaski High running back and a Christian youth minister, Freeman had worked to become an Academic Allstar, a best-of-the-best, at the state’s second-biggest community college, Pulaski Technical College (now UA-Pulaski Tech), and he was preparing himself to be an architecture major, a degree field with comparatively few African Americans.

"My mind was set on UA. My heart was set on UA. I'm going to get to UA."

Public Education funds in Arkansas are meeting bare minimums set under law and not getting any extra money in the governor’s proposed budget for next year.

Education Commissioner Johnny Key fielded lawmakers’ questions and concerns about the proposed budget at a Joint Budget Committee hearing on education funding Wednesday in advance of February’s fiscal session.

Jacqueline Froelich / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Sending children to the principal's office has long been a traditional punishment for unruly students. But Principal Michelle Hutton at Elmdale Elementary in Springdale offers safe haven where children can talk about what's troubling them, including traumatic events.

Elmdale faculty and staff have partnered with Ozark Guidance, a regional community mental health center, to learn how to assess students struggling with trauma to provide them proper help.

Jacqueline Froelich / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

When a school bus crashes, upset parents may ask, “Why aren’t my children wearing seat belts on the bus?”

Some state lawmakers are listening. California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York and Texas have passed mandatory school bus safety restraint statutes. Earlier this year, the Arkansas General Assembly did, too. But Arkansas's new school bus seat belt law is no cinch. 

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Victims of Hurricane Maria are weighing the possibility of a fresh start in Arkansas this winter.

The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville is among a handful of schools on the United States’ mainland offering tuition help to Puerto Rican students whose universities were damaged and closed after the storm.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

On their 60th anniversary return to Central High School last week, the  Little Rock Nine — the nine students who desegregated Central in 1957 — called for continued efforts toward integration in education.

Arkansas Public Media spoke with professor Erica Frankenberg of Penn State University about her study on the re-segregation of the South.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

The anniversary of the desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock has brought national attention to Little Rock and renewed interest in the nine students who made history this month 60 years ago, even as a number of Little Rock residents talk of re-segregation of the school district and the ongoing state control of the city's public schools.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Mortgage backers Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae have recently changed lending rules to give more leeway to borrowers like Kristen Griffin with high student loans.

Griffin is a librarian at Nemo Vista High School in Center Ridge. She and her husband Mark are window-shopping on Zillow while their 2-year-old son Fletcher sleeps nearby.

National Park Service / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

It’s been 60 years since Central High School was forced to desegregate, but a federal lawsuit now claims the Little Rock School District is racially biased when it comes to investing in facilities and programs.

Proving that’s true in fact won’t be enough to win the case, though. The suit's authors will have to prove district officials set out to discriminate.

Bobby Ampezzan / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

On a blistering Monday afternoon in July, retired U.S. Army Staff Sgt. George Hollingsworth sat down with Hot Springs Village Voice managing editor Jeff Meek to talk about the Vietnam War.

"I hope this," Hollingsworth said, meaning Ken Burns' The Vietnam War, and perhaps his own small part here on this set, "could start a national dialogue again about America, not only its tendency to war, but its tendency to govern in a dishonest fashion."

LA Johnson / NPR

Student loan borrowers are carrying debts later into life and are finding it harder to make big purchases, like a first home. In fact, a 2016 survey by the National Association of Realtors, and American Student Assistance, a non-profit, found almost three-quarters of all borrowers say their student loans are the reason they aren't purchasing a house.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

Arkansas has until this fall to rewrite a wide-ranging education plan under the new federal law, Every Student Succeeds Act based on stakeholder feedback solicited on a draft this summer.

The Act replaces the Bush Administration era’s No Child Left Behind. In contrast to its predecessor, the new federal law moves away from ranking schools based on standardized tests and toward state control and a more diverse set of metrics.

Lorenzo Gritti / National Public Radio

The Arkansas Department of Education has received largely favorable feedback on a draft plan for its implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, a nationwide replacement for No Child Left Behind.

 

Last month, 114 respondents, mostly K-12 educators, gave input on the department’s second draft of the state’s accountability plan. More than three in four respondents said that overall, the plan lays out a clear vision for the state.

Jacqueline Froelich / Arkansas Public Media

Arkansas university and college administrators and faculty have been busy this summer drafting new policies to accommodate a new state law allowing concealed weapons on campuses this coming school year. Northwest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville, with an enrollment of 12,000 last semester, formed a special task force in April to consider the change. 

Teresa Taylor is the interim executive director of Institutional Policy, Risk Management and Compliance for the college.

“We held very open public town hall meeting forums to explain the laws that exist already, and what that means for our campus,” she says.

LA Johnson / National Public Radio

Arkansas has until this fall to rewrite a wide-ranging education plan under the new federal law, Every Student Succeeds Act, and the department is taking public comment on the plan on its website through the end of the month.

 

It replaces the Bush Administration era’s No Child Left Behind. In contrast to its predecessor, the law shifts away from ranking schools based on standardized tests and toward state control and a more diverse set of metrics. Test scores, once 70-80 percent of a school rank, will be counted closer to 50 percent. The state proposes to weigh students’ growth as heavily as their one-time test scores in order to rank school performance.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

At a brainstorming session after school recently at district headquarters, a group of black school employees sit around a U-shaped table discussing how to become principals. Coach Shawn Burgess, head of human resources at the Pulaski County Special School District, speaks to two women in the room who recently interviewed for leadership positions and didn’t get the job.

“And it’s not what you did wrong, per se. It’s about, ‘When is it my time?’” she said.

“That’s right. Um-hmm. That’s it,” echo the staff.

Lindsay Johnson / National Pubic Radio

A bill to create educational savings accounts for Arkansas students failed in the Arkansas House today on a 46 to 39 vote Friday.

The so-called “Parental Choice Program,” SB 746, was not written to be a traditional vouchers program financed directly by the state. Instead it would have created non-profit organizations to funnel contributions from taxpayers and corporations to parents for their children’s school of choice. Donors to those organizations would get a 65 percent tax credit at an estimated $3 million annual cost to the state for three of a four-year pilot.

J. Froelich / Arkansas Public Media

Last May, sisters Anais, Elise and Emory Bowerman spent the night at a Girl Scout slumber camp in Lowell. The girls came home the next day covered with ticks. 

“One second my life was going great," says Anais, 11. "Then a tick bites me and it’s all ruined.”

Anais, a budding artist, says her hands started to shake. Her sisters Elise, 10, and Emory, 7, also started to feel ill.

“I threw up twice," Emory says. "I felt sluggish and my head was kind of dizzy.” 

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

Schools in Arkansas get $6,600 for every student. So when kids leave a public school, the money leaves too. The state chips in temporarily to cover the financial loss, but a pair of lawmakers want to end that.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

Public school districts in Arkansas regularly buy and sell property, pending approval of local education boards, of course. But today, the Arkansas Senate approved a bill that would take some of that control away.

Senate Bill 308 would allow charter schools the right to purchase or lease unused public school buildings, a seemingly small concession that nonetheless raises big questions about local versus state control of schools and inspired a heated back and forth between senators this week.

Sen. Alan Clark (R-Lonsdale) said Tuesday that some public school districts let buildings sit empty, a misfortune he equated to murdering a building.

“We have had schools literally rot to the ground rather than let someone use them for educational purposes. That should never happen.”

Sen. Linda Chesterfield (D-Little Rock) had a lot of questions for Clark. She told a Senate Education Committee Tuesday that the bill is heavy handed, and she said it takes local control from public districts.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

Teachers in Arkansas’s lowest paying districts could see a small pay bump in their salaries soon.

A bill to increase minimum teacher salary in Arkansas is headed to the Senate Education Committee. It would bring the lowest paid Arkansas teachers up $400 dollars from the current $31,000 minimum.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

Davida Walls never thought she would be teaching high school biology, let alone in the first few months after graduating from college at 22.

“Teaching was not my initial goal. It was kind of an opportunity that just, you know, became available so I took it.”

She is trying to decide whether to become a doctor or a nurse, and plans to apply for a program to train for one or the other this year.

Pages