Chris Jones knows that reading on grade level by the third grade is critical for the educational development of young Arkansans. Promoting strong literacy skills bolsters academic performance, graduation rates, and in the long term, a more equipped Arkansas where all students leave school prepared to compete and prosper.
Only 37% of Arkansas students leave the third grade reading on grade level, making more advanced learning difficult in later grades. As of 2015, only 109 out of 1,057 Arkansas school districts reported literacy scores above 50%. There is a large socioeconomic and urban-rural divide associated with the lack of literacy, making grade level reading an issue of equity as much as an issue of educational attainment.
Chronic absence, lack of school readiness, low family and community engagement levels, under-equipped classrooms, and the lack of state-funded summer learning opportunities contribute to students falling behind in reading. For most Arkansas school districts, the costs of improving on all of these categories without outside help are staggering. Chris Jones knows that it is imperative to leverage both state and federal funds to provide the support our rural and low-income schools need to succeed.
Because grade-level reading deficits are a complex issue, Chris Jones knows that only an aggressive, multifaceted solution will deliver for Arkansans. This sort of approach is already being pioneered in Garland County, where a multi-district cooperative is delivering accessible Pre-K education, publicly-funded summer reading programs, and streamlined guidelines for competitive teacher hiring and robust family communications. These benefits must be provided for all Arkansan students.
To improve on-level reading proficiency by the third grade, Chris Jones would:
Work with educators to develop a comprehensive, state-wide reading plan that implements common standards across districts and provides increased resources to educators
Align state funding with a data-driven approach that delivers for the districts with highest need
Invest in building a network of universally accessible Pre-K and summer learning programs
Support the hiring of community relations staff in all school districts to strengthen family communications, which are key to bolstering attendance and increasing knowledge of public resources