What others say: Time for a new conversation about education

  • Wednesday, February 5, 2014 3:17pm
  • Opinion

As Alaska lawmakers consider sweeping education reform there are a few other factors that need consideration; issues occurring outside the classroom and which go beyond increases to student funding and more school choices for parents.

A statewide survey funded by the National Education Association-Alaska asking teachers what factors they believe are inhibiting student learning was released Friday, and from the results it’s clear that the problems facing Alaska’s schools can’t all be fixed with extra funding, more teachers or smaller class sizes.

According to the report, the factors in both rural and urban districts include poor home environments, a lack of parent involvement, chronic absences and the influence of drugs and alcohol in the community and at home. Paying teachers more, increasing the base student allocation and offering vouchers to families won’t make these problems go away.

These problems aren’t new for teachers and administrators, or for many members of the public for that matter. The Juneau School District has a program that offers taxi rides to elementary school students who move midway through the school year. The rationale is so that students who have to constantly relocate can maintain some degree of stability by maintaining a consistent learning environment, which in turn will increase academic success. JSD also has taken an active role in working with homeless students, a role born out of necessity. Ask any teacher you know if they keep snacks and food in their classrooms for students who show up each day hungry, and the answer more times than not will probably be, “yes.”

The survey isn’t telling us anything we don’t already know, but it will force us to have an uncomfortable conversation about the issues outside of school that prevents about a quarter of Alaska’s young learners from graduating high school on time.

The problem is: How can Alaska legislate good parenting? The answer: It can’t.

When two people bring a child into the world, whether intentional or not, they take on responsibility for the child’s well-being. That includes physical, spiritual, emotional, and yes, even educational, nourishment. If a parent fed only junk food to their kid, child protective services would intervene because the lifestyle would be considered unfit. The same should be said when parental neglect leads to constant absence from school. Without a proper education kids will be far more likely to become a burden to society — through involvement in crime, time in prison or reliance on government aid — than a student who has learned the value of working hard and being successful.

According to the survey, only half of urban teachers believe parents are involved enough in their child’s elementary education. A third said the same when it came to parental involvement with high schoolers. In rural areas the figures are lower for each, 33 and 20 percent, respectively.

There’s no clear-cut solution to the problems addressed in the survey, and more than likely it will take a combination of solutions and perhaps some trial and error before we get it right. The important thing is that we try to get it right and learn from mistakes along the way. Solutions could range from mandated parenting classes when a student has too many unexcused absences, to legislation requiring districts to employ a truancy officer.

Bottom line: Our state’s politicians, teachers, school officials and parents need to begin a series of long — and perhaps difficult and awkward — conversations about what’s really keeping students from learning and graduating on time. And it needs to happen before the Legislature decides to throw money at the problem. A BSA increase may help keep schools heated and prevent a few teacher layoffs, but it won’t make parents care more about the importance of their kids’ education.

— Juneau Empire,

Feb. 2

More in Opinion

LaDawn Druce asks Sen. Jesse Bjorkman a question during a town hall event on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Opinion: Addressing Kenai Peninsula’s education and public safety employee shortage

Many of our best and brightest educators take a hard and close look at the teacher’s retirement system in Alaska early in their careers and are stunned

U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mitt Romney greet each other outside the chamber at the U.S. Capitol on April 5, 2022. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP file photo)
Opinion: Alaska’s senators and Mitt Romney

When newly elected Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, began his term five years… Continue reading

A line of voters runs out the door of the Diamond Ridge Voting Precinct at the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center on Election Day, Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022, in Homer, Alaska. Chamber Executive Director Brad Anderson said he had never seen the amount of people coming through the polling place. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
How many ways can you vote?

Multiple ballot options available to voters

UAA Provost Denise Runge photographed outside the Administration and Humanities Building.
Opinion: UAA offers affordable and convenient pathways that prepare students for the next step

At UAA, we provide numerous academic programs designed to meet specific workforce needs

scales of justice (File photo)
Opinion: The Dubious Dunleavy Deal to use public dollars for personal legal costs

In 2019, these regulation changes were ultimately abandoned without public notice

A 2022 voter information pamphlet rests on a desk in the Peninsula Clarion offices on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Where to find voter pamphlets

Be educated about what you are voting on

Trustees and staff discuss management and investment of the Alaska Permanent Fund. (Courtesy Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation)
Providing Alaska-based opportunities for professional talent

Expanding our in-state presence by opening a satellite office in Anchorage has been part of the fund’s strategic plan for the past four years

Ben Carson (center) visits Iditarod Elementary School in Wasilla with Gov. Mike Dunleavy (to Carson’s right) on Tuesday. (Official photo from the Office of the Governor)
Opinion: Embarrassing Alaska through neglectful governance

When Gov. Mike Dunleavy learned Dr. Ben Carson would be speaking in… Continue reading

Most Read