Class discussion

The Anchorage School District’s mission – “Educating All Students for Success in Life” – has proven illusive. Annual math and reading scores continue to languish with nearly 57% of students performing below proficiency in English and 63% below proficiency in math.

To improve education, the school board’s communication committee put together a set of legislative priorities for board members to consider adopting.

The first set of goals focus on funding. This includes investing in benefits and sick leave for teachers, increasing the base student financial allotments from the state, and maintaining transportation funds.

The second set of priorities deal with student mental and behavioral health, trauma-informed practices, social emotional learning and so-called restorative justice.

Lastly, the board hopes to address the district’s failing academic record by taking the following actions:

— Continue prioritizing Pre-K, Reading, and Ready-to-Learn programs, including a focus on the “science of reading.”

— Add more days to the academic year.

— Lengthen the school day.

It’s unclear exactly how many of these goals will actually improve the education of Anchorage students. Alaska currently requires public schools to provide 180 days of schooling, with a minimum of four hours a day for grades 1-3 and five hours a day for grades 4-12. Those are fairly standard across the nation, and yet Alaska ranks 47th in terms of academic success nationally.

Extending overall hours in school is also controversial. While some studies suggest that extra instructional time can improve student achievement, the correlation is not one-to-one, and depends largely on other factors such as instructional quality. In fact, many other developed countries spend far fewer hours on classroom instruction and yet enjoy significantly higher academic success. Longer school days also mean more time away from home and family and less time for things like sports, youth groups, enriching extracurricular activities and other important aspects of life.

When it comes to education spending, Alaska is already near the very top of the list compared to other states. Alaska spends nearly $18,000 a year per student – the sixth highest in the nation.

The Alaska Policy Forum, a think tank that works on educational solutions, says schools should focus heavily on ensuring that third graders can read by the age of nine. It also recommends greater support for charter schools, and argues that state education funds should follow students instead of institutions. This would empower parents to seek educational options that best fit their child’s needs, whether that be public, private or homeschooling options.

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Will more funding and extended hours really improve Anchorage schools?

Joel Davidson
Joel is Editor-in-Chief of the Alaska Watchman. Joel is an award winning journalist and has been reporting for over 20 years, He is a proud father of 8 children, and lives in Palmer, Alaska.