Dunleavy's false claim that Alaska's schools are the worst hides real crisis in education
At the Koch Network/Gov. Mike Dunleavy budget show, the governor and his temporary budget director are giving a misleading and deceptive account about education funding and achievement in Alaska.
The Dunleavy/Donna Arduin talking point is that Alaska public schools are the worst in the United States and that the only solution is to reduce the number of teachers, administrators, and support staff.
According to Arduin, “continuing to pour money into it is not the solution, but cutting the budget is a solution that we need to have in order to bring stability to school districts,” which is complete nonsense.
The Dunleavy claim that Alaska schools are the worst stems from multiple-choice test scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is given every two years to a sample of students in grades 4 and 8.
Arduin claims that state spending on education has “soared” and continues to soar.
“Unfortunately for our children, they haven’t soared at the same time. We can show you category after category of proficiency. This is Grade 4 reading, for those of you who can’t see it, we’re dead last, dead last in the country. We think we can do better,” she told the Kenai crowd Monday.
At that point, Dunleavy said, “That’s as a system. There are certainly islands of brilliance and some amazing schools and certainly a bunch of dedicated teachers. It’s just system-wide is what we’re referring to in terms of the NAEP scores that come out every two years for grades 4 and 8.”
What “Dead Last” Dunleavy and Co. refuse to discuss is that the NAEP results show exceptionally low scores among Native Alaskans. This is the true crisis in education. The main response is silence.
The Dunleavy regime is doing a disservice to Alaskans with its false claims that Alaska public schools are failing overall, using that as an excuse to avoid discussing taxes. Refusing to admit the size of the achievement gap or just how difficult it is to change the situation is part of the crisis.
Among white students in Alaska, the average scores on the NAEP are above the national average in reading and math, while the scores for Alaska Native students, by far the largest minority group, are far below average.
Let’s look more closely at the Grade 4 reading statistics from last year that Arduin says will improve if the state spends a lot less on education.
White students in Alaska, who made up 46 percent of those tested, scored two points above the national average. Fourth-grade Alaska Native students, who made up 24 percent of those tested, scored 52 points below the national average. These results were far below the national averages for other minority groups.
The Grade 8 results also show an enormous achievement gap in reading. White students scored five points above the national average, while Alaska Native students were 31 points below the national average. These numbers are far below the national averages for other minority groups.
The achievement gap also shows up in the math scores. White students in fourth grade were 5 points above the national average, while Alaska Native students were 31 points below the national average. In eighth grade, white students were 9 points above the national average, while Alaska Native students were 29 points below the national average.
When the state reported the NAEP numbers last spring, Education Commissioner Michael Johnson referred to a “tragic achievement gap” in a press release, but did not mention Alaska Native students specifically.
The state’s own test results confirm the crisis, which is political, cultural and most pronounced in rural areas of the state where low incomes, teacher turnover, the abuse of alcohol and other drugs, an absence of community support services and a lack of formal schooling tradition all work against the chances of student success.
On the state tests, 88 percent of the students in the Northwest Arctic Borough School District, scored “below or far below proficient” in English and math. In the Yukon-Koyukuk School District, 64 percent scored below or far below proficient in English, while 78 percent scored below or far below proficient in math. In the North Slope Borough, 87 percent scored below or far below proficient in English, while 83 percent scored below or far below proficient in math. In the Lower Yukon School District, 97 percent of students scored below or far below proficient in English and math.
Statewide, 57 percent of all students fell in the “below or far below” categories in English, while 63 percent had those scores in math.
(The credibility question about the state test, raised in the comments below by Fairbanks School Board member Tim Doran, a veteran school administrator who is respected across Alaska, should be taken into account as well.)
Poor performance is not just an issue for Alaska Native students or rural communities and multiple-choice tests are not the ultimate measure of a good education, but Alaska has some serious shortcomings that must be dealt with.
The governor, the Legislature, Alaska school boards, Alaska Native Corporations, the Alaska Federation of Natives and all those who care about the future of the state need to get over their reluctance to address this crisis in education.
A good first step is to ignore the bafflegab from Dunleavy, Arduin, etc.
(If you want to contribute financially to this Alaska reporting project, you can do so here through PayPal. Or write to me the old-fashioned way: Dermot Cole, Box 10673, Fairbanks, AK 99710-0673. Thank you.)