School Ratings Linked to Lack of State Commitment to Education
Performance improving, but budget cuts and annual uncertainty hindering progress
Today, as the State of Alaska released its new school rankings, House Democratic Representatives said school rankings would improve in Alaska if school districts could count on adequate resources from one year to the next.
“These new standards are more rigorous than before, but any rating system will have its limitations,” said Representative Scott Kawasaki (D-Fairbanks), a former member of the House Education Committee. “It’s good they include progress over time, especially since many Alaskan schools are improving and deserve recognition for it, but the fact remains that if we want our schools to continue improving, the state needs to make a commitment public schools can count on year after year.”
Due to rising costs and insufficient resources, Alaska’s public schools have been forced to make significant budget cuts in each of the last three years. School districts have had to budget without knowing whether they will have the same resources as in past years because the Legislature has left school funding unanswered until the last days of session.
“It’s not about throwing money at the problem. It’s about innovation and building on what works,” said Representative Geran Tarr (D-Anchorage). “Our schools can’t do that when costs rise and they’re forced back to the Legislature each year fighting just to keep up.”
According to the Department of Education and Early Development, statewide dropout rates declined steadily from the 2004-2005 through the 2010-2011 school years.
“While we need to look closely at what and how they are measuring success in this untested new grading system, the facts show our schools are improving, graduation rates are improving,” said Representative Andy Josephson (D-Anchorage) and a former teacher in rural Alaska. “No matter how you measure it, Alaska’s children deserve a stronger commitment from the state when it comes to supporting our public schools.”
In 2012, House Democratic legislators called for the state to opt out of the one-size-fits-all federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and to create its own Alaska-appropriate standards. The state did, and the federal government granted Alaska a waiver from NCLB earlier this year. The new standards introduced today replace the Adequate Yearly Progress standards from NCLB that unfairly judged all schools, whether in rural Alaska, Anchorage, or a wealthy New York suburb, by the same narrowly-defined standards.