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Wednesday, May 22, 2019
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Budget cuts can force re-evaluation of education system

EXISTING FUNDING IS NOT YIELDING GOOD RESULTS

By CHARLIE FRANZ
GUEST COLUMNIST

I had the opportunity to attend Rep. Sarah Vance’s town hall meeting Saturday at the Kachemak Bay campus of Kenai Peninsula College.

The meeting was very well attended by a vocal and emotional crowd.  There was much fear expressed about the cuts proposed in the governor’s budget and a strong appeal by the numerous teachers, students and others to protect the funding for the education system.

When I had the opportunity to speak, I expressed my interest in maintaining a strong and vibrant education system.  However, I also stated my concern with the performance of an education system that in spite of what appears to be ample funding does not seem to produce results commensurate with the resources invested.

I stated that it is my understanding that Alaska spends more per student on education than most states.  It was recently reported that the 4th grade reading scores for Alaska students put them dead last in the nation. I noted that this might have been a quirk in the data or testing process and that I looked for further evidence of the K-12 performance.

I then shared with the group the results of a review of transcripts from 2006 to 2015 done by the University of Alaska for first time freshmen enrolling in UA within one year of graduation. The report showed that statewide 70 percent of the freshmen had to take either remedial English or math or both before beginning their actual college courses.

I noted that the Homer High School principal has reported that our students do much better than state and national averages and the district superintendent  has made similar claims about the students on the peninsula.

However, the data in this study don’t really support such claims.  The report showed that 55 percent of the students from Kenai and Homer and 45 percent of the students from Soldotna had to take remedial courses.  I stated that it seemed to me that something was wrong when, despite the relatively generous funding we have been providing, we got such results.

Here’s the interesting interaction. After the meeting, a teacher confronted me and said she was deeply offended by my comments and that the data I presented were only for UA, which did not give a full picture of the quality of the Homer students.

I told her I didn’t understand, and she said that UA is not a good university and the good students go out of state, which skews the data.

She further stated that UA being a state school takes all applicants, some of whom are not the best quality students.  Therefore, the students would need to take remedial courses.

I asked her if she thought the UA was an average university. She said yes. I then asked her why she didn’t think an average high school graduate should be able to start regular course work at an average university. At that point we terminated the conversation.<

Something is not working in our K-12 system. I don’t think more money or even the same money will fix the problem.  The legislature must use the budget to force a reevaluation, and hopefully, changes that will improve future results.

[Read: Rep. Vance faces firing squad in Homer at town hall meeting]

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • Here we see the words confronted and offended. Do you really think the average public wants to participate? Elections not town halls are a true reflection of the public mindset.

  • Thank you Charlie Franz for a dose of sanity.

  • Your factual presentation was articulate and well-sourced…likely the reason that you received several rounds of “Boo” from the crowd of the emotionally “enlightened” Homeroids in the majority at that town hall. Well done…if you’re not receiving flak, you’re not over the target…you were on both counts! 👍

  • The issue here isn’t the need for more capital to the ASD budget the need is to get rid of the waste and the current curriculum!!!

  • I do not have any children, so this opinion may not be worth much, but I do know, from attempting to hold conversations with young people today, that our education system, nation-wide, has apparently strayed far, far away from the basics, and into the realm of the ridiculous. Forcing environmental studies on grade/high school kids is ridiculous. Forcing LGBTQXYZ studies on grade/high school kids is ridiculous. Anything beyond the basics of Reading, Writing (including cursive), Math, History (real History, not the Leftist version), Geography, and how to balance a checkbook should wait until the child is old enough to decide what interests them personally.

    • So you believe those who “graduate” from high school and don’t go on to college are to go out into the real work world w/o a basic understanding of the major issues confronting every citizen of the country? It must have been an oversight that you left physical and biological science along with logical and critical thinking out of your list of must haves! How do you expect them to rationally assess the abilities of the candidates who aspire to be elected to a leadership position?

    • Hint: if you include the phrase “leftist version” in your comment, the people you want to hear your comment aren’t listening anymore.

  • Charlie, I heard you at that meeting.

    “Something is not working in our K-12 system. I don’t think more money or even the same money will fix the problem. The legislature must use the budget to force a reevaluation, and hopefully, changes that will improve future results.”

    Right on! And it has been that way for a LONG time. Students I encountered at UAF in 1968 balked and caused a major flap when I asked them to read five pages a day, do a few problems and ask questions about the material they didn’t understand. They expected a “degree by tenure!”

    I don’t believe your faith in our legislature is well founded. I doubt they will do what you or I would agree will be effective. I don’t even think they are competent to define such a change and they may not be able to do so by some quirk of the law.

    I’m not knowledgeable on the current curricula but it seems evident that way too many kids are performing at less than grade level on the standardized tests. (and didn’t the feds dumb the tests down for Alaska recently?) The results for the whole state, each school district and each school are here:
    see: https://education.alaska.gov/assessments/results/results2018

    It appears kids are being passed on to higher grades even though they are not ready? That didn’t happen where I went to school in the 1950s. Kids stayed at a grade level until they were competent to go on or went out to work at age 16.

    Are Alaskan kids too dumb to learn? Don’t believe it for a second. See “The Kids From Nowhere” by George Guthridge.

    Standards/expectations too low? I’ve asked a few teachers what is wrong. I have yet to get an objective reply. A typical reply is silence or a defensive effort to shift the blame to some other group (away from teachers, school board, administration etc.)

    “The schools in Alaska are Crap ” to quote a mother of two enrolled in public schools in the Anchorage area who graduated from Lewis & Clark college with a BS in a science discipline and decided not to take a minor in elementary education after attending a few nonsense courses in the Education Department there. (There could be a hint in that fact.) Fifty years ago, a friend, PhD candidate in Math from Pennsylvania took some classes in the Education Department at UAF. The stories he told about the curriculum and expectations were hilarious in sort of a sick way. The stage for the fiasco Alaska faces today was set a long time ago.

    Thanks for trying to start the long overdue discussion.

  • Can I get some specifics about what is being suggested to improve education in Alaska? Am I to understand that a 22% cut to funding will improve schools in Alaska? If you’re really worried about Alaska being dead last in education, it would seem counterintuitive to starve it of funding. Or is this just an excuse? If you want better schools you need to recruit better teachers, and you don’t do that by eroding their support systems or cutting their salaries. I’m sure I’ll catch all kinds of sarcastic comments to this, but real answer? I doubt it.

    • Nothing yet! (But see Suzanne’s March 4 article on the Anchorage School District board meeting for tonight)

      The Governor has proposed substantial cuts to the budget in many service areas: k-12 education, University of Alaska (by cutting the state’s contribution though the general fund about 40%), Zero out Public Radio and television, 2/3 reduction in the Marine Highway System, and much more while continuing to pay the oil industry $1.9 billion in tax credits and “fully funding” the Permanent Fund Dividend paid to citizens each year – another multi billion dollar (off budget) payout.
      Needless to say “It” has hit the fan, so to speak and discussions are starting.

  • Can cutting state education money reduce school district administrative effort to comply with Federal funding requirements? That’s where almost all administrative effort goes.

    .

    Hooked on that Federal money (meth). Prescription? Less food, more diet pills and meth.

    .

    After 0bama and Bush (Common Core and No Child Left Behind) we practically should finish off public education for the sake of all participants. Can vouchers pass Constitutional muster?

    .

    One thing is for sure we’re on an ugly bruising route for all participants. It would be nice not to go down the double black diamond run with a blindfold on.

  • The way I read the benjamins is
    the University of Alaska has standards and is making an effort to assist unprepared students.

    The students ultimately are unprepared because of their parents.

    Good parenting is fundamental in educating children in STEM fields and inspiring artistic creativity.

    Whst kind of parent would blame others for their personal failings in educating thier own children ?

    Sure homeschool, but am also talking basic stuff like not drinking and watching tv at night and reading with your kids and playing math games and painting and skiing with your kids and what have you.

    Why blame the government when the responsibility is your’s?

  • Parents should pull their kids out of of the derelict, socialized public school system which has been dumbed waaaaaay down since the 1930s. Get your child his own large desk. Provide them with the Saxon math textbooks, and the best literature in the English language available for free in the public domain, and have them begin self-study each day for 5-6 hrs per day where they complete one lesson of Saxon math totally by themselves ((without a teacher), followed by a daily essay ( which mom or dad correct for spelling/grammar mistakes–a mere minutes to do), followed by 2 hours of free reading from the best books covering a wide variety of topics. Education problem solved! This methodology was created by CalTeach scientist Dr. Art Robinson who currently is running for Congress in Oregon, and his methodology works! After his wife died in the late 1980s, he had to somehow educate his 6 children who no longer had a teacher (they were all homeschooled). He had to continue his scientific research and could not teach the children himself, so he came up with this system and all of his children got perfect or near perfect SAT scores. They all went on to get their PhDs and have thriving careers. Thousands of students are using this methodology right now and are getting similar results. And the price cannot be beat! It is the most inexpensive educational system on the planet! Check out the Robinson Curriculum website for more about it. Truth be told, our educational system is bankrupt and will never be fixed from the inside. Parents, it’s time to take matters into our own hands and educate our children outside the failed public school system model.

    • What should be done about the kids whose parents don’t/won’t do this – they are stoned/drunk/mentally impaired/otherwise non-functional? Who should do it? How many kids (what percent) suffering this way are in the public school system? Are they to be abandoned by society?

      A successful society needs an effective functioning public education system or it will ultimately fail. It feels to me as though the USA society is going that way rapidly.

    • I’m glad most people don’t think like you. It takes courage and guts to get into a system and try to change it. How did hiding from the world work out for Ted Kaszynski? If you don’t want to participate in modern society you’re free to leave; let the potty trained people lead our country, including a strong public education system, into the future.

  • If you want to be taken seriously you should at least remove that graphic at the beginning of your article. You either are a) ignorant of the changes to the state testing in 2015 or b) being intentionally misleading and by implying that education dramatically declined in 2015. Either way, it’s inexcusable.

  • School budgets need to based on test scores. The students score low, the school budget gets cut to reflect poor performance. The “teachers” always use the students as hostages when it comes to their budget and their pay. If the students are “our future”, don’t you think the “teachers” should invest more time and instill into their pupils the fundamentals..? All I’m seeing is an educated elite ensuring they stay at the top of the heap and indoctrinating our “our future” with the wrong skills. It’s sad we shovel in truck loads of money and the return on our investment is rock bottom.

    • I’d like to see a detailed, objective examination of the possible causes for low test scores before thinking cutting budgets might be an effective cure!

      • Totally agree, Jere…It is highly improbable to expect an objective examination coming from the same school system that has created the dismal ROI dilemma but it IS a necessity…the same could be said of the argument that dumping more $$ into a failed system is somehow going to fix the problem (NOT suggesting you imply that view but others are trumpeting that msg loudly). Simply put, $$≠Success but diligence in finding failure’s cause can certainly help…