A report from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation gives Arkansas low-to-middling marks in its support of students with unusual academic potential, particularly those from lower-income households.


It ranks Arkansas about in the middle of the nation for its education policies (a “C”) and outcomes (a “D+”). To be fair, it gives Cs or Ds to most states.

The report looks at both policies and outcomes in gauging what it calls “the Excellence Gap”:


“We were not especially hard graders, and sadly we still found Arkansas’s education policies ignore some of our brightest students who are economically disadvantaged,” said Executive Director Harold O. Levy, who served as New York City Schools Chancellor from 2000-2002. “What schools do provide for high-ability students primarily benefits those in wealthier school districts. The lost potential is staggering.”

Low-income students are less likely than their higher-income peers to reach advanced levels of academic performance, despite having equal abilities and starting in the same place. This Excellence Gap first appears in elementary school and continues throughout a student’s academic career. In fact, the longer a low-income student who tests “advanced” in the early grades stays in public education, the less likely that student is to graduate in the advance category. The same is not true for wealthy, high performers.

The racial and socioeconomic “achievement gap” is a familiar measure in the education world — that is, the statistical difference on test scores between an average white kid and an average black kid, an average poor kid and an average middle-class or wealthy kid — but this report highlights something different.

People tend to think of children from lower income backgrounds in terms of problems to be addressed, not academic potential wasted. But one of the most striking things about working in a struggling, low-income school system, in my opinion, is the realization that many of the same poor and minority students with academic deficiencies possess an obvious raw intellectual talent that’s simply gone uncultivated. Academic potential is far more likely to flame out and die in poorer students than in their middle-class peers, for many reasons — some related to their schools, others related to their homes and neighborhoods.


Bottom line: Poorer kids tend to perform worse in school, in aggregate, exactly because they come from a poor background, not because they’re working with lower quality mental and intellectual material. The achievement gap robs all of those students, no matter their place on the bell curve of academic potential.

Sounds like the level of “outcome” deficiencies in Arkansas are mostly a function of Arkansas being a state with a lot of poor people. The report continues, “Specifically, 53% of children in Arkansas under the age of 18 live in low-income households. For the state’s 4th grade reading scores, only 3% of low-income students reached advanced levels of achievement, compared with 12% of wealthier students. Similar excellence gaps exist in mathematics scores.”

In terms of policies, the report criticizes Arkansas for not having state-level policies allowing students to accelerate (skip a grade) or requiring students to receive instruction in working with students who are academically advanced.