Anchorage School District closures: District and parents should take a close look at the test scores

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By DAVID BOYLE

The Anchorage School District is trying to fill its self-inflicted $68 million budget hole by “closing” six neighborhood schools. But only one school will be closed.

Five of the schools will be actually “repurposed” for other functions; two will be used to house enlarged pre-K programs.

The district has held town halls in the six schools to get feedback from parents and community members.  Resistance to closing the schools has been strong.  

Most of those opposed to the changes of their schools love their neighborhood school because it is the center of their community.  They voiced the same reasons that rural community members do.

Interestingly, at five of the town halls no one mentioned how well their kids were learning or how great the school was in improving student achievement.  Apparently, parents were not informed how poorly their kids were doing in basic math and reading at these five schools.

However, parents at the proposed closing of Birchwood ABC school voiced strong support for its curriculum which includes Saxon math and Spalding language arts programs.  These parents also said how well their kids were achieving.

Birchwood ABC is one of the schools the district wants to repurpose and move its students to Homestead Elementary School.  It makes one wonder if ASD just doesn’t want non-Common Core schools that do well.  

Here are the latest scores for the State’s STAR tests in the six  “closed” schools for all grades:

Would the parents of those five other schools selected for “closure” still want to support those schools if they knew how poorly they were performing? Or would they want to keep their schools as community centers?

We know all parents want their children to be able to read and do math at grade level.

Note that the Birchwood ABC school is performing well above the average of the Anchorage School District in both English language arts and math. The Saxon math and Spalding language arts programs seem to be the reason for this exceptional performance.  

Many of the parents who spoke at the Birchwood ABC town hall were either active-duty military or retired military.  These parents have moved their kids usually every 3 to 4 years due to relocations and they know what a good school is.

Will the district learn a lesson from the Birchwood ABC school that its curriculum works? Or will these students just be moved to another under-performing school?  

One Birchwood parent said that if they close this effective program, she will remove her kids from the district.

It would make more sense to move the Eagle Academy Charter School to the Birchwood ABC building and co-locate the Birchwood ABC program with it. They have similar curricula.

At every town hall, the district strongly encouraged parents and community members to contact their legislators to demand an increase in the Base Student Allocation (BSA). 

But they did not ask parents to lobby for better test scores and accountability for dollars spent.  

 It’s hard to imagine why the district needs more money when the number of students has decreased by more than 5,000 in the last five years. 

It seems the primary objective of the district is to activate parents of these “closed” schools to pressure the Legislature to further inflation-proof the BSA. Otherwise, their beloved neighborhood schools will be closed. 

To follow its principle of full transparency, the district should also provide the STAR test results to all attendees at these town halls. Then parents will know how well their children are doing.

The school district should also inform parents of the STAR scores of the school they are transferring their students to. Will the performance of these students increase, stay the same or decrease?

And will the ABC curriculum at Birchwood disappear once its students are transferred to a “Common Core” curriculum school?  

A school building is just that and nothing more. What happens in the classroom is what is most important. An effective classroom teacher and an effective curriculum are the keys to student success.

The Birchwood ABC school reflects that and is notable for its success.

David Boyle is the education writer for Must Read Alaska.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for digging into this. It’s an important question to be brought up. My child’s teacher at a south Anchorage school always go over test scores very meticulously during conferences etc. I believe they are also available digitally at anytime, on parent connect. Perhaps this isn’t done every where – but shows a true lack of engagement by parents. That is possibly the true core of low test scores that plague ASD – parental support (overall). Do parents support kids learning at home? Is school just viewed as daycare? I know in my family this isn’t the case- but I see/hear about it all too often. Sad

  2. ASD’s self inflicted wounds include allowing out of zone exemptions taking resources out of Title I neighborhoods and creating traffic jams and over crowding at the desirable schools. ASD then doubled down and tried to turn the Inlet View walking neighborhood school into an expansion with imports other schools. School consolidation should have started 5 years ago when the demographics were obvious. ASD now has to eliminate programs that should never have begun.

    • Are you really saying that parents should be stuck with low performing schools and should not have the ability to enroll their kids in a better performing ABC program?
      Frank, ASD is a administratively top heavy organization, spending way too many tax dollars on highly paid administrators instead of teachers in the classroom. It has nothing to do with Title I schools. It is a systemic problem of too many bosses and not enough actual workers. The education of our kids gets re-focused on nebulous goals of social-emotional learning over academics, to distract from that fact.

  3. “Many of the parents who spoke at the Birchwood ABC town hall were either active-duty military or retired military.“

    I have been to a lot of ASD schools and notice a different demographic/socioeconomic population when comparing to Birchwood ABC. Could this be a possible reason for varying test scores? To think curriculum is the “silver bullet” is a stretch.

    • Respectfully I disagree.
      Just compare straight forward Saxon math with the fuzzy common core math. Ask any parent, who was completely frustrated by this complicated lacking-all-logic approach to simply math problems, when assisting their kids with homework. If the adults can’t figure it out, how are the kids supposed to do it. The same goes for phonics. A tried and true method of teaching children to read, not the common core way of the teacher reading to the students.
      Birchwood as an ABC school is part of the lottery system and accepts kids outside their zoning into the program. The school participates in the free or reduced meals program based on income. I reject the idea that only socio-ecomically advantaged children are smart or learn, to me it is a cop-out to avoid having to make changes in the structure or assess the the inadequate curriculum choices the ASD made in order to receive federal dollars.

  4. George Martinez, who was not elected to office in previous campaigns, has placed signs all over east Anchorage now. These signs signify that he is well-aware of a soon-to-be opening on the assembly. And he wants it!

    Towards this end, George has organized a group of parents and northeast Anchorage residents to devise a plan to keep very low-performing Nunaka Valley Elementary School open. Look at the data above: students at this school perform near the bottom of the list of six schools that ASD might close. According to George, the closure of this elementary school will save ASD only $300,000.00. When I asked him to detail his analysis of the seemingly low cost savings that he announces at meetings and elsewhere, he told me to contact the district.

    He’s an idiot. The last person who should join the Anchorage assembly is George Martinez.

  5. There will be no fixing of the broken ASD until we vote out the worthless parasites on the School Board and clean house at the administration. To my knowledge, neither math nor English has changed since I was a kid. Neither has chemistry, or physics, calculus is still dx/dy, Shakespeare is still Shakespeare. And yet, every year, we buy new curricula, new books, new everything. Kids need computers so they can search the internet, as if they don’t learn that at home already. Schools have rooms with doors and windows and roofs and floors. And yet, kids do worse every year. That pretty much leaves… teachers, not teaching, or not being allowed to teach. Get rid of the dead wood, put some discipline in place, hold teachers accountable for kids learning, and get busy. That would cost nearly nothing.

    • Don’t forget all the administrators that need to be hired every year. What about the teacher advisors they hired? Remember it’s about the money not the kids as that is plain to see. Tear it down and rebuild it with someone who really cares not unions and leaches.

    • Tamra, you are spot on. I could not have said it better as I am a retired from ASD. The district has many great teachers whose hands are tied for many reasons. The administration keeps changing curriculums like I change shoes and expect teachers to teach. From the top of the teachers unions ,to the bloated administration, to the school board who is funding the Teamsters unions, people here need to wake up, get out to vote and make a difference.

    • At least they’re learning a foreign language..It’d be good for them to learn how to speak to some of their classmates in an indeginous language..Much of our English has become a gibberish language..nonsense.

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