Arkansas should ensure every student has the resources needed to succeed

State should ensure every student has the resources needed to succeed

All children can learn and excel in school if they have the opportunity and the resources needed to be successful. A new report from Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families urges the state of Arkansas to commit to making sure all children – no matter their background or zip code – have access to the same educational opportunities. These recommendations are part of what could become a Student Bill of Rights, guaranteeing every student the Opportunity to Learn. The Arkansas Public Policy Panel, the Arkansas Citizens First Congress, and the Arkansas Opportunity to Learn Campaign have endorsed the report.

See the full version, or the executive summary.

In Arkansas, as well as other states, an achievement gap – a marked difference in educational achievement and test scores – exists between white and minority students, and between affluent and low-income students. To close that gap, every child in this state should have access to high-quality preschool programs, experienced and effective teachers, college prep courses, and classrooms that give them all the tools they need to learn – computers, tutors, mentors, low student/teacher ratios, libraries, and guidance counselors.

“The expectations for our students are always really high,” says Rich Huddleston, executive director of AACF. “If we’re going to expect a lot from our students, and judge how well they perform based on standardized tests, then we need to make sure they have the tools and resources necessary to succeed. And there are certain things students and parents should be able to expect from the state when it comes to education.”

Modeled after a 2002 proposal in the California legislature and the National Opportunity To Learn Campaign, an Arkansas Student Bill of Rights would define what parents and students could expect from their school districts:

• a clear statement of the academic standards that define what students are expected to know and the basic conditions for learning that students can expect from the educational system;
• adequate materials and resources;
• suitable learning facilities;
• high-quality teachers and counselors;
• a course of study that will enable all students who wish to attend a public university to do so;
• a safe school environment;
• fair and authentic assessment that is used to measure and improve the quality of education the students receive;
• instruction which incorporates students’ home language (which research shows to be a worthwhile investment of time and resources);
• easily understood information on the performance of the school in delivering these things;
• regular public forums to allow students and parents to communicate about their experience;
• and increased access to high-quality early childhood education.

Sarah Argue, the report’s author, says the idea behind the Opportunity To Learn campaign is that children from poorer communities should have the same opportunities and resources to achieve success as children from more affluent areas.

“More resources can make a difference,” Argue says. “The state should do the best it can to make sure all children have equal opportunities. A Student Bill of Rights would formalize that commitment and build on improvements Arkansas has made in education in recent years.”

The landmark Lakeview Case laid out a funding formula to make our education system more equitable. But that system is failing Arkansas kids as the achievement gap persists. As a result of Lakeview, the state constitution guarantees an adequate education to its citizens. Its courts have enforced that guarantee. Its legislature has committed to funding the formula. It is now time to be clear about what inputs are necessary to obtain an adequate education. A Student Bill of Rights communicates the assurance from the state that all students will be provided with the opportunity for academic success