Monday, May 21, 2007

U.S. Chamber Of Commerce Report Portrays Alaska's Public Education System As Long On Diversity, Short On Competency

Alaska's public education system got mixed reviews from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in a report released Wednesday February 28th, ranging from top scores for academic achievement among low-income and minority students to absolute failure for return on investment. Click HERE to view the report.

The chamber issued each state a variety of grades in an attempt to determine which states are the "leaders and laggards" in education. "For too long the business community has been willing to leave education to the politicians and the educators — standing aside and contenting itself with offers of money, support and goodwill," the report said. "But each passing year makes it clear that much, much more is needed." The report focused much more on state results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress exams, since many other state assessment and reporting programs vary significantly in quality.

Alaska's categorical scores are presented below. Note that since the Anchorage School District (ASD) is by far the largest and most prominent school district in the state, educating roughly 50,000 students, around half the state's total, these grades will be significantly biased towards ASD's results and serve as a fairly reliable benchmark of their capabilities.

Academic Achievement: Overall Letter Grade - D

Academic Achievement of Low-Income and Minority Students: Overall Letter Grade - A

Return on Investment: Overall Letter Grade - F. The basic methodology is to measure the relationship between state expenditures and student achievement. Specifically, for this particular report. they divided the percentage of students who scored at least Proficient on 2003 NAEP core competency tests by 2004 state expenditures. The implication is the more money you throw at a problem, the more likely you are to solve it. This theory has not always proven operative. By their standards, Alaska has chronically underfunded public education. There is some truth to this, since the Anchorage School District, unlike many districts, finds it necessary to float maintenance bonds in addition to construction bonds. ASD could pay for maintenance issues out of their own budget if their budget was increased to accomodate it. However, this category is clearly biased in favor of those who believe in throwing money at a problem as the first solution.

Truth In Advertising About Student Proficiency: Overall Letter Grade - D

Rigor of Standards: Overall Letter Grade - C

Post-secondary and Workforce Readiness: Overall Letter Grade - D. This deficiency has been identified in other studies and both the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development (DEED) and the Anchorage School District are developing strategies to correct this problem. The deficiency stems in part from the prolonged schism between the liberal arts crowd vs. the vocational crowd. The liberal arts crowd advocates holistic education to create "Renaissance Man" while the vocational crowd stresses "Economic Man". A hypercompetitive "casino-style" global economy creates a greater demand for "Economic Man" and public education has only responded fitfully to this sea change. The prime directive of our education establishment must be to first and foremost create EMPLOYABLE citizens.

21st Century Teaching Force: Overall Letter Grade - B. ASD may actually drag this down slightly; the current labor climate, with the imminent threat of industrial action by the Anchorage Education Association (AEA) indicates that Anchorage teachers are more preoccupied with compensation than with competency.

Flexibility In Management And Policy: Overall Letter Grade - C. ASD probably brings this grade up; they offer an impressive and flexible array of charter schools and alternative programs designed to promote a wide variety of pedagogical techniques and appeal to a broad segment of the student population. In addition, the transparency of ASD's operations is significantly above average.

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