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The Effect of Race on Arkansas’s Education System


As most of us know it, the school year is in full swing. We’ve taken multiple tests, read a vast array of articles, and worked through different math problems, but one thing many of us fail to analyze are the things going on in schools outside of ours. As a student attending one of the best highschools in the state, I am closed off to the harsh realities that are present in other rural- and not so rural- parts of Arkansas. Like a canopy, Bentonville shelters me from seeing the failing grades that surround our city. At the start of the school year, parents, teachers, and students received emails about our new school ranking system. The Arkansas Department of Education, through the Every Students Succeeds Act of 2018, released a school report card that puts all schools across the state in different letter ranks. These ranks were determined by a variety of factors including a school’s weighted achievement score, value added growth score, graduation rate, along with school quality and success score. With each school’s report, we also get to see the demographic break up within the school itself. While taking a look at these break ups, I was able to notice key characteristics of each school with a D or F rank versus schools with an A rank. Perhaps, as the youth generation of the state with the lowest literacy rate in the country, it is in our best interest to find the patterns and causes of failing schools, and as a result be able to combat our state’s education inequality.

We must first look at the racial distribution of schools across the state. Take, for instance, Bentonville High School. 74.77% of BHS’s student body is white students, 10.78% are Hispanic, and 1.96% are Black. The demographic break up in this case is very highly concentrated towards Whites. Additionally Bentonville’s median household income is $89,653, around $10,000 more than the national average. What we also know about Bentonville is that it houses the world's number 1 retailer with abundant access to high skill jobs, indicating a more stable job environment. The ADE states that only 14.93% of BHS’s students are economically disadvantaged, thus identifying that the majority of students at BHS have a stable household. Schools in this area get significant funding and students in this area are introduced to many different cultures as Walmart brings in people from all over. We also notice that Bentonville has a stable tax payer income, and thus, citizens do not have to worry about infrastructural issues. Bentonville also, as a city, has a crime rate of 2.93 crimes out of 1000 residents→ one of the lowest in Arkansas. As we’ve laid out the key factors of Bentonville, there is no coincidence that Bentonville houses one of the most advanced school districts- not only at the state level- but also at a national level. With a 34% minority population, Bentonville proves that having a notable demographic group of minorities does not indicate failing schools, rather a booming economy and stable lifestyle develop the skills needed to succeed in school.

This is further continued as we look at failing schools. Pine Bluff High School ranks as an F rated school with a score of 49.06/100 in state education accountability. Pine Bluff is a town just south of Little Rock and ranks amongst the most dangerous small towns to live in, in America. The poverty rate in Pine Bluff rises up to 23.8%, with the median average household income of $36,940. There are no significant big business employers in the area, and Pine Bluff only receives a little over 37 million in taxpayer revenue. Thus, infrastructure budgets get cut, which leaves citizens with significant disadvantages when it comes to efficiency and household stability. The racial split of Pine Bluff High School is eye opening as it helps us see how these problems are disproportionately affecting minorities. 1.89% of the student body are white, 1.54% of the student body are Hispanic, and 95.03% of the student body are black. Keep in mind, there is no blame game- meaning that this article is not trying to place blame on the specific race for low scores. But instead perceive the causations that result in low scores among low income minorities, no matter the circumstances. An interesting fact is seeing how economically disadvantaged individuals- who are not part of a minority race- still seem to perform fine in school. For example, 50.76% of Bryant Junior High School’s student body are economically disadvantaged, but their school rating still stands at a B. Bryant Junior High School’s student body is concentrated mainly with the white race, with 50% being white, 22% being black and 16% being hispanic.

What does this tell us? Economically disadvantaged white predominant schools are still able to achieve high school based grades. The pattern we see here, and in most schools across the state, is that schools with predominantly white students inherently have higher school rankings, while schools with predominantly Hispanic/Black students inherently have lower school rankings. Not only does this result in the poverty cycle among black Americans across our state, but also holds many of them back from their potential success. Arkansas Legislators have the duty to serve our citizens in the most beneficial way. In order to allow Black Americans to break the chain of both systemic racism and the poverty cycle, we must address the problems with low income minority schools and highlight the importance of stability in a child’s household. Taxpayer money should be going to schools that need the most assistance so that each county has more of a chance of increasing their employment percentage. Spending money to fix problems will always be much more effective that spending money to further increase the advancements in an already advancing school. Our nation's schools are where our future is, and without thorough effort to change the way our minority low-income students are treated, the poverty cycle is bound to continue, America’s crime problem is bound to rise, and educational advancement will inevitably decline.

Nidhi Nair

Bentonville High School

@nidhinair_


Works Cited

2022 Popular Annual Financial Report City of Bentonville, Arkansas.

“ADE My School Info.” Myschoolinfo.arkansas.gov, myschoolinfo.arkansas.gov/SRC.

“Bentonville, AR Crime Rates and Statistics - NeighborhoodScout.” Www.neighborhoodscout.com, www.neighborhoodscout.com/ar/bentonville/crime. Accessed 17 Oct. 2023.

“Pine Bluff Ranks as the Least Safe U.S. Small City.” Arkansas Online, 13 Aug. 2023, www.arkansasonline.com/news/2023/aug/13/pb-ranks-as-the-least-safe-us-small-city/#:~:text=Pine%20Bluff%27s%20cost%20of%20crime. Accessed 17 Oct. 2023.

“U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: Pine Bluff City, Arkansas.” Www.census.gov, www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/pinebluffcityarkansas/IPE120222#IPE120222.







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