Rethinking how we do education so that it focuses on students

At his public school, Mason, who has autism, was always at the bottom of his class, falling further behind every semester. He was being bullied daily and had zero friends. In short, he was sad. Now, in the specialized environment at Access Group, he is getting A’s in math, always talks about his friends and how kind everyone is, and has shown dramatic improvement in his social and pragmatic skills. He attends school with a big smile on his face!

Similarly, Katie struggled for four years in the public school system. She hated school and started having behavior issues both there and at home. Then, her family moved her to Compass Academy, where she is thriving. Now, she comes home from school singing and dancing as she shows her family her work. She is proud of those A+’s!  

Drake was also constantly teased for his stuttering and for not knowing how to do certain things while he was in public school. He had wonderful special education teachers, but he was still not learning as much as he is now at Easterseals Academy at Riverdale. His parents are amazed at how much he is learning here. As a result, he is more confident; in fact, he feels like a leader!

These stories from parents are just three examples of the lives being transformed by the Succeed Scholarship, but there are so many more.

We see it every day — students who once hated school, even those who got frustrated to the point of misbehaving, can learn to love learning when they find the right environment. For all students, but especially for those with special needs, education strategies need to be flexible. In the traditional public school setting, because it is based strictly on age and not on understanding, all students are expected to learn in the same way, but no two students are the same.

We recognize this, even more now with the pandemic accentuating children’s individual needs, so we put more emphasis on individualized instruction. Student-focused programs also make building up students’ self-esteem a high priority, because we know that students are more engaged, and therefore learn better, when they see evidence of improvement and growth.

And it’s working! Every year, The Reform Alliance surveys parents to see how well the Succeed Scholarship is meeting the needs of participants. Every year, overwhelmingly, parents report that their children are growing socially and academically. In 2020, 92% of parents saw an improvement in their child’s social development. While only 16.6% of parents reported they were satisfied with their children’s academic progress while in public school, 97.9% were satisfied with their children’s academic progress while attending a school of choice via the Succeed Scholarship.

So, we support giving opportunities, like the Succeed Scholarship (a voucher), microschools, and the recently passed Philanthropic Investment in Arkansas Kids Program (a tax credit scholarship), to families who have not been able to afford these options in the past. Since the objective of education is to ensure that our children are able to read, write, do math and become contributing citizens in their communities, every effort should be made to meet the needs of students, regardless of which model serves them the best. 

It would make a monumental difference in Arkansas if we rethink how we do education so that it focuses on students. We encourage schools of all types to come together with families and communities to improve our education system so that all children can access the options they need in order to have a brighter future!