Each year, a national publication, Education Week, grades all 50 states and the District of Columbia on the performance and policies of their schools. The grades are now out for 2011, and Arkansas's public-education system ranks 6th in the nation. This is unprecedented and praiseworthy recognition, which we take great pride in achieving.
The annual report, called "Quality Counts", assigns each state a specific grade and score. Arkansas ranked 10th in the nation last year, so our progress to 6th is extremely gratifying, but we have much more to do in our pursuit of excellence.
The six categories studied show that Arkansas leads the nation in some areas, but lags behind in others. Arkansas received a letter grade of B-, in comparison with the nation's overall grade of C.
We earned high honors for our teacher-support policies in the State, as well as for our system of standards, assessment and accountability. Our top-ten national ranking in these categories recognizes our commitment to training and retaining top-quality educators. It also shows the results of our efforts to raise academic standards and hold teachers, students and school districts accountable for student achievement.
The report shows that Arkansas, and indeed the entire nation, needs to improve K-12 achievement to stay competitive in the global economy. We must be vigilant in our efforts to improve student performance, focusing especially on closing historic achievement gaps.
The most promising recognition Arkansas received was for our efforts in coordinating K-12 education with other segments of the education pipeline. Our focus on "cradle-to-career" education earned Arkansas a number-one ranking in the nation, but to better our students' chances for success, we must increase our low rates of college-degree completion.
We've seen a boost in college enrollment with thousands of new college students now receiving academic scholarships. The next step, and the most important, is increasing graduation rates to ensure that we have the competitive workforce we need to bring in and keep high-quality jobs. We must double the number of college graduates in Arkansas by 2025 to best position our state for economic success.
To do this, we will more closely tie the higher-education funding formula to the successful completion of courses rather than simply enrolling students. Our higher standards and other measures will also help us attack and reduce remediation, putting our students who start college on the right path from the outset.
Our national recognition establishes that Arkansas has entered a new era in education. We have truly risen from being among the lowest-achieving states to becoming national leaders. Yes, there is more hard work ahead of us, but I look forward to overcoming any obstacles in pursuit of academic and economic excellence for Arkansas.