Academic Distress Now, Economic Distress Later

This past summer marked the first time in Arkansas history that public schools have been designated in Academic Distress for having three-year averages of less than 50% of students proficient in Math and Literacy.

As a result, 26 schools (of 1,066) in 14 districts (of 238) and one charter (of 21) were declared in Academic Distress.

Having just one Academic Distress school can thrust an entire district into Academic Distress upon a vote by the State Board of Education. Once that happens, the State Board may implement any, all or none of the following:

  1. Require superintendent to relinquish all authority with respect to district and appoint an individual to administratively operate district under supervision of Commissioner of Education;
  2. Suspend or remove some or all of current board;
  3. Allow district to operate without local board under supervision of district administration or administration chosen by Commissioner;
  4. Call for election of a new board;
  5. Waive application of Arkansas law, with exception of Teacher Fair Dismissal Act and Public School Employee Fair Hearing Act, and/or Department of Education rules and regulations;
  6. Require annexation, consolidation, or reconstitution of district; and/or
  7. Take any other necessary and proper action, as determined by State Board, allowed by law.

Based on past three-year averages, six of the Little Rock School District’s schools, including three of its five high schools, are in Academic Distress. However, the schools’ lack of performance did not begin four years ago, but actually extends back at least ten years. That means there are current juniors and seniors in the Little Rock School District who have never had the opportunity to attend a school where over 50% of its students were proficient.

SchoolMathLiteracyAlgebraGeometry LiteracyBiology
Baseline Elementary46%43%    
Cloverdale Middle35%42%    
Henderson Middle39%44%    
Fair High  47%28%39%4%
Hall High  38%31%39%10%
McClellan High  45%42%40%20%
Baseline Elementary40%44%
Cloverdale Middle33%43%
Henderson Middle36%45%
Fair High36%36%36%2%
Hall High42%27%41%12%
McClellan High49%24%39%12%
Baseline Elementary47%51%
Cloverdale Middle41%45%
Henderson Middle41%54%
Fair High44%44%38%8%
Hall High34%39%40%6%
McClellan High33%29%33%11%
Baseline Elementary50%43%
Cloverdale Middle41%35%
Henderson Middle37%43%
Fair High38%34%42%4%
Hall High37%25%42%9%
McClellan High36%37%28%5%
Baseline Elementary48%46%
Cloverdale Middle41%37%
Henderson Middle34%45%
Fair High25%18%26%2%
Hall High38%25%46%8%
McClellan High36%31%39%1%
Baseline Elementary46%29%
Cloverdale Middle35%30%
Henderson Middle37%40%
Fair High15%25%30%8%
Hall High27%27%30%15%
McClellan High21%19%16%5%
Baseline Elementary41%27%
Cloverdale Middle25%27%
Henderson Middle27%37%
Fair High21%19%11%2%
Hall High27%27%24%5%
McClellan High21%13%16%0%
Baseline Elementary44%34%
Cloverdale Middle18%28%
Henderson Middle26%39%
Fair High24%29%22%NA
Hall High27%26%30%NA
McClellan High13%12%22%NA
Baseline Elementary31%31%
Cloverdale Middle22%33%
Henderson Middle30%45%
Fair High19%21%24%NA
Hall High40%29%25%NA
McClellan High9%11%15%NA
Baseline Elementary26%20%
Cloverdale Middle50%41%
Henderson Middle16%37%
Fair High18%13%22%NA
Hall High28%23%30%NA
McClellan High13%16%19%NA


In 171 opportunities over the past ten years, the six Little Rock School District schools currently in Academic Distress have performed above 50% proficient only twice – in 2011-12 Literacy – Baseline Elementary (51%) and Henderson Middle (54%). Two schools hit 50% in Math, Baseline Elementary in 2010-11 and Cloverdale Middle in 2004-05.

Originally, the Little Rock School District had seven of 32 schools in Academic Distress, but when the Department of Education excepted Alternative Learning Environment (ALE) schools, Hamilton Learning Academy was removed. However, those students’ scores remain and would make their originally assigned schools’ cumulative scores even lower.

What’s frequently left out of the recent Academic Distress discussions is the fact that, since 2011, the Little Rock School District has had:


That means that 16 of the Districts’ 44 Schools (36%) are among the lowest performing 122 schools in Arkansas (13%). And before 2011’s change in designation, most of these same schools were deemed Needs Improvement – Year 1, 2, 3…

These percentages did not suddenly appear. Over the past decade, they have been readily available to anyone who cared to look. 

Whose fault is it? The answer is obvious. The adults. The Community. The District. The State. All of us are culpable for allowing this to not only happen, but continue.

Whose fault is it not? Easy. The students, who have been systematically failed by the adults charged with providing excellent and accessible public education for all students, no matter their culture, economic status or Zip Code.

But forget the blame. The only relevant questions at this point are: “Who’s going to fix it, and when?” If the answers are not “all of us,” and “now,” then Academic Distress will continue to beget economic distress, which is steadily and certainly consuming our community and our people.

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