Special Report
Education

Alaska

January 04, 2005 3 min read
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Standards and Accountability: Alaska has clear and specific standards in mathematics and science at the elementary, middle, and high school levels, but not in English or social studies/history.

The state provides standards-based tests in all grade spans only in English and math. That is a common situation among the states, but one that significantly affects a state’s grade in this section.

On the positive side, Alaska uses a variety of test items to measure student knowledge, including multiple-choice and short-answer items. The state uses extended-response questions solely on English exams.

The state also uses achievement data to hold schools accountable by publishing the data on the Web and using test results to assign ratings to schools. Alaska provides help to schools rated as low-performing.

The state’s accountability system, though, lacks rewards for high-performing or improving schools and sanctions for persistently low-performing schools that do not receive federal Title I money.

Efforts to Improve Teacher Quality: Alaska once again receives the lowest grade in this category, in part because prospective teachers must only pass a basic-skills test to earn their initial licenses.

Teachers do not have to earn majors or minors in the subjects they plan to teach or pass subject-matter exams. But the state has established an alternative-route program that allows subject-matter experts to teach as long as they are enrolled in teacher-preparation programs that can be completed within two years.

Teachers in the alternative route face more rigorous content-matter requirements than do other teachers in the state. They must take subject-area competency tests given by the school districts or regional educational attendance areas that plan to employ them.

Alaska finances professional development for teachers across all districts and provides licensure incentives to teachers who earn certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. But the state fails to include teacher-qualification data on school report cards, and it does not identify low-performing teacher education institutions or hold such institutions accountable for the performance of their graduates in the classroom.

School Climate: Eighth graders in Alaska are more likely to attend schools where administrators surveyed for the National Assessment of Educational Progress report that physical conflicts and student absenteeism are problems than are students in other states.

Alaska does not have a class-size-reduction program and does not report class-size information on report cards.

Alaska also scores low on choice and autonomy: The state’s charter school law is rated weak by the Center for Education Reform, and the state does not have an open-enrollment program.

Alaska receives credit for being one of only 11 states that include parent-involvement indicators on their school report cards. Furthermore, the state has a law designed to reduce school bullying and harassment and has established specific penalties for incidents of school violence.

Equity: Alaska presents a mixed picture when it comes to equitable school financing. The state ranks first in the nation on wealth neutrality, which measures the degree to which inequities in state and local funding are linked to local property wealth.

But while the state does not have great inequities in funding tied to property wealth, spending per pupil still varies widely across districts. Alaska ranks last in the nation for the coefficient of variation, which looks at how wide the spread of per-pupil spending is across districts.

Spending per pupil ranged from $3,930 at the lowest end to $20,150 at the high end in the 2001-02 school year. The figures are weighted for regional cost differences and student needs.

Spending: Based solely on education spending per pupil, Alaska seems to be doing fairly well, spending slightly below the national average of $7,734, with $7,549 per student in the 2001-02 school year.

But Alaska ranks 47th on the spending index, which considers both the percentage of students in districts spending at least the national average and how far the rest of the students in the state fall below that bar.

Fewer than 2 percent of students in the state attend schools in districts where spending is at or above the national average.

Alaska is also the only state with a negative average annual rate of change from 1992 to 2002, meaning increases in school spending did not keep pace with inflation during that period.

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