Forward Arkansas: Pre-k access, workforce training part of plan to improve education outcomes

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 1,618 views 

Forward Arkansas on Tuesday (Feb. 7) pitched ideas to improve education outcomes. The ideas, which include more pre-K access and better workforce training, come as Gov. Sarah Sanders has promised – but not yet delivered – a broad set of education system changes.

The Little Rock-based research organization established in 2015 by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and Walton Family Foundation to focus on better education outcomes, gathered input from thousands of Arkansans in the study that began in June 2022.

The report, “The State of Education in Arkansas 2023 Report: Growing Together for a Stronger Future,” presented  the following three key findings.
• Despite slight improvements prior to the pandemic, Arkansas student academic outcomes were severely lagging before COVID-19 and worsened during pandemic disruptions.
• Students are leaving K-12 unprepared for college and career opportunities.
• Since 2015, initiatives have been launched to address critical and foundational issues that the state can build on to accelerate progress.

“After months traveling the state, speaking with students, parents, educators, administrators and state and business leaders, it became clear that Arkansans largely agree on what is most important to prepare young people for today’s world,” said Forward Arkansas Executive Director Ben Kutylo. “There’s a shared eagerness to find ways to improve the educational, career and life outcomes for their children, students and future employees. We hope these findings will serve as a catalyst to drive actionable change and positively impact the future of every Arkansas student.”

The report included priorities for student learning. Those included:
• Expand access for early Childhood and pre-K: Expand access to high-quality early childhood education across the state;
• Improve literacy by improving the state’s focus on the science of reading;
• Prioritize the integration of durable skills such as communication, creativity, collaboration, critical thinking so students have a better chance to succeed in career and life; and
• Establish a clear vision for workforce education for all students that expands access to high-quality career pathway programs.

The report also included what Forward Arkansas labeled “Essential Conditions for Student Success.” Those ideas include:
• Addressing and improving student health and well-being;
• Develop an enhanced, comprehensive talent strategy to support the entire career continuum of teachers and school leaders; and
• Address unique needs in rural schools and communities.

Strategies to address priorities and essential conditions included setting ambitious and measurable goals, improve data collection and better share the data, use existing resources more creatively, and push for community-led change that meets broad state priorities.

Gov. Sanders is expected to soon unveil what is being called an “omnibus package” of education legislation. A key part of that, based on her previous remarks, will be school choice provisions, which may include vouchers, education savings accounts, and parental empowerment rules.

Link here to find a summary of the Forward Arkansas report and the lengthier detailed report. Watch the video below for an interview with Kutylo and his thoughts on the report.