LITTLE ROCK — For the second year in a row, Education Week magazine has ranked Arkansas fifth in the nation in its annual ranking of states’ educational policies and performance, though the state once again earned low marks in areas where it has long struggled — students’ achievement and chance of success.
The magazine’s Quality Counts 2013 report, released Thursday, gives Arkansas an overall grade of B-minus, the same as last year. The only states scoring higher were, in descending order, Maryland with a B-plus and Massachusetts, New York and Virginia, each with a B.
The nation as a whole received a C-plus.
Broken down by categories, Arkansas received two A’s: In transitions and alignment, or efforts to coordinate connections between K-12 education and preschool, college and the work force, where the state was ranked second; and in standards, assessment and accountability, where the state was ranked sixth.
The state received a B-plus and a ranking of second for the standards and accountability it requires of teachers; a C and a ranking of 26th for school finance; a C-minus and a ranking of 42nd for students’ chance of success in life; and a D and a ranking of 34th for K-12 student achievement.
The state moved up in its rankings for school finance, which was 27th last year, and chance of success, which was 44th last year.
Gov. Mike Beebe, who saw an advance copy of the report, said Wednesday that Arkansans should be proud to again be ranked fifth in the nation for overall K-12 education.
“While we can take a brief moment to celebrate this news with our students, teachers and administrators, we must then get right back to work. We made progress in two important categories this year, but there is still room for improvement in our push toward excellence in education,” Beebe said.
Rich Huddleston, executive director of the nonprofit group Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, said the state deserves credit for the strides it has made in education over the past decade.
“You have to be realistic,” he said. “You’re not going to go from being among the bottom of the states in education to the top in a couple of years. Those kinds of changes sometimes take decades.”
Huddleston said the state is doing a good job of making policy decisions that should, in time, result in greater progress in student achievement and chances for success. He said the state can continue to make progress by expanding early childhood education, after-school and summer learning programs and school-based health programs — or at the very least it should not reverse the progress it has made in those areas.
“I think it’s our hope that we’re not going to go backwards during the legislative session because of the tight budget situation,” he said. “A month or so back there were some rumblings out there about cutting pre-K. That cannot happen.”
Jerry Cox, president of the Christian conservative Family Council, said last month his group opposes any effort to expand early childhood education, which he called “state-funded day care.”