Sunday, May 3, 2009

Thoughts About Improving Education in Alaska

Despite the news of dismal failures, Alaskan schools have had good success with certain student populations. Some of our graduates have excelled at our nation’s most prestigious universities. Twenty-five percent of all Alaskans entering college go on to get a degree. After graduating high school, many youngsters obtain apprenticeships or complete specialized vocational training. A significantly large number qualify to go into the armed forces and then honorably serve and protect our country. Since some students are coming away with a decent education, it’s obvious that students do at least have an opportunity to acquire a decent education.

The problem is that we’re trying to make that one educational model, a college prep plan of study, the only one available to all students. The consequence is that we have too many dropouts and we don’t offer relevant education to most of our students – especially to students in villages. I don’t understand why we’ve decimated our vocational-ed programs. Skilled workers are always in demand in Alaska.

Alaskan students are required to take four years of language arts, four years of mathematics, three years of social studies, and three years of science, a health class, PE, and a several fine and practical art elective classes. Individual districts can also require additional classes. For each of these mandatory classes, that is one less class a student could take that might be more meaningful and practical. And if a struggling student fails a mandatory class, he must double-up the next year.

Wouldn't it make more sense to require a certain level of performance, and once that level is achieved, the student would have the option of taking more classes in that area or s/he could take a class of their choice?

The following postings suggest some changes that I believe would improve education in Alaska. Please view them as starting points for discussion. I welcome your comments.

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