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7 Research-Based Ways to Close the Education Achievement Gap

Arkansas has made significant progress to improve its education system since the Supreme Court’s 2002 Lake View decision. Arkansas students’ average ACT score grew from 17 in 2001 to 21 in 2006, while a 2008 Education Week study ranks Arkansas No.8 in the nation overall for education quality.

National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test scores from the past dozen years indicate that major gaps still remain among racial and socioeconomic groups.

Some existing policies need to be expanded and enhanced to close the gap:

  • Promote and expand participation in early childhood education so all eligible three- and four-year-olds take advantage of the State’s free quality pre-K program.
  • Continue to aggressively improve teacher quality by implementing the longitudinal tracking system, and using the data to improve the way Arkansas teachers are educated, distributed and developed in service.
  • Approve only new charter schools focused on reducing the racial and socioeconomic achievement gap.  Charter schools that are closing the gap have distinctive traits: extended learning time, rigorous professional development and strong school leadership.  These successful models should be studied to learn how they can be replicated in public schools at large.

Four promising new interventions for closing the gap that Arkansas is under utilizing:

  • Arkansas should aggressively implement the recommendations of the Governor’s Task Force on After-School and Summer Programs. Summer learning loss and unproductive time after school are key causes of the achievement gap.
  • Arkansas should expand school-based health clinics for under-served students or promote them through the Coordinated School Health Initiative.
  • Class sizes should be reduced in schools with high proportions of low-income, African American or Latino students.  Class size reduction in early grades can significantly improve test scores and graduation rates, especially among African American students.
  • Arkansas should develop policies to encourage broader community and parental engagement in schools.  Parent Involvement significantly impacts student achievement.

Arkansas has already greatly improved two other areas that should help close the gap: facilities enhancement and curriculum and instructional strategies. While crucial for educational adequacy, it is unlikely that new facilities enhancement or curricular and instructional reform will improve the achievement gap further over the long-term.

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