By Governor Beebe
As Arkansas celebrates Black History Month, our thoughts turn once again to heroes. Heroes like Daisy Bates and the Little Rock Nine, some of the most widely renowned Arkansans in the Civil Rights Movement. Their brave work to integrate Little Rock Central High School had a lasting impact on our State and on the entire nation. They knew that education, like freedom itself, was not only a right, but also a serious responsibility, one that took personal courage and perseverance to achieve.
The most fitting way to remember these Arkansas heroes and honor their brave work is to carry it forward through a continued focus on quality education for all of our people. As job competition becomes even fiercer in a global economy, an individual's livelihood depends more than ever on education. Our celebrated Civil Rights leaders put African-American students on equal footing in the classroom. Now, we must help our students take the necessary steps forward in their educations as quickly as possible.
Recently, we've seen a significant increase in the scores earned by Arkansas's African-American students on Advanced Placement exams. In the 2009-2010 school year, African-American and Hispanic students increased their passing scores in math, science and English by 202 percent. Their progress far outpaced that of minority students nationwide. We can all take pride in this success, and it is a testament to those who have dedicated themselves to equal educational opportunities for everyone in every part of this State.
Of course, Arkansas still faces educational challenges for all of our students. We have to better prepare them for the demands of the 21st-century economy and the high-tech jobs that will dominate it. In fact, by the end of this decade, three-fourths of jobs available in Arkansas will require advanced skills in science, technology, engineering and math. For that reason, we recently launched a statewide initiative called STEM Works, aimed at making our students more competitive for high-wage jobs in those fields.
Despite the promise this education holds, the percentage of African Americans earning STEM degrees nationally has fallen in the past decade. In 2009, African Americans received only one percent of the degrees in science technologies, and only four percent of degrees in math and statistics. African-American students sometimes face discouraging academic environments that deter them from these fields. Often they need role models and mentors to help them realize their potential for the future and to provide them with the encouragement to chase their dreams.
Arkansas's African-American community has come too far in education to let this national trend influence our actions. As education officials prepare our schools for STEM education, so must educators, mentors, parents and community members prepare the minds of all our students. Our kids need to know that they can achieve anything they put their minds to. It is in this way that we can most appropriately honor the efforts of the Arkansas-African American pioneers who worked bravely to secure equal access to education. It's now up to us all to provide that same opportunity for the pursuit of excellence.