Anchorage superintendent tells Senate Finance that ‘universal pre-K’ spending will improve Alaska’s low reading scores



The Alaska Senate is hearing a bill, SB 111, that is touted as being able to increase student achievement in reading.  The legislation also includes universal pre-K which is supported by the education industry stakeholders to get more funding. Some version of universal pre-K has been around for about three years.

The Legislature has failed to improve reading academics since 2003, even though K-12 spending has increased more than 90 percent since that time. 

Concurrently, Alaska fourth graders went from 49th to 51st among the states in the National Assessment of Educational Progress reading scores.  

Our 4th graders have been behind most of the nation even prior to Covid. This chart shows the trends in 4th grade reading in Alaska:

Now only 25 percent of Alaska students are proficient in reading. More money has not and will  not improve student achievement unless school districts are held accountable for results.

The education community is banking on establishing pre-K as a solution to the reading problem. But if Alabama is any indication this will be just another effort at throwing money at a problem.  

Alabama has had the highest quality pre-K program in the nation for the past 13 years according to the National Institute of Early Education Research. Today, Alabama ranks 48th in the 2019 4th grade reading scores. 

The education community wants to increase funding by putting the pre-K students into the Foundation Funding formula.  We do know that once it is put into the formula, it is near impossible to pull it back.

Anchorage Superintendent Bishop testified that former Superintendent Jim Browder changed the early reading requirement to 90 minutes per day: “He made it happen with no extra funding.” It’s clear districts do have the authority to emphasize reading within current funding.

Superintendent Bishop stated that because we have constant change in leadership and school boards kids lose ground.  And she stated there are no policies in place to require accountability from districts. The State Board of Education needs to put these accountability requirements in place now. She also stated they had sufficient funds.  A simple “read-by-nine” policy would hold districts accountable and teachers as well. The effective classroom teachers should welcome this.

Teachers who are effective in teaching reading should be identified and their best practices implemented. Why can’t we make that happen?

Sen. Natasha Von Imhof asked “How will pre-K improve reading?”  She asked about Head Start students who go to public school: “Where are the Head Start students in K-3 reading?” 

Commissioner Michael Johnson did not know but said he will try to track it down. 

It would seem if the department is asking for more money and an expanded pre-K program, the department would have that information. Those Head Start students should be followed to see the impact of a current pre-K program on reading achievement prior to funding for all.

The U.S. Department of Health and Humans Services study of Head Start showed that there were short-term gains in cognitive skills, but these gains diminished by the time the children entered elementary school.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski asked Commissioner Johnson, “Why is Alaska worst in the Nation in 4th grade reading?”  

“In Alaska, we may not always attach policy to funding like other states do. We send funding to districts out in bulk,”  Johnson answered.

Funding school districts and allowing them to do as they want with the money does not focus them on measurable outcomes.

“Other states send out funding programmatically and ask for certain things from districts for that funding,” Johnson said. They require accountability for results. 

Regarding accountability, Sen. Von Imhof asked if we cannot meet our current standards, what guarantee do we have we can meet these new standards? 

Bishop said that the accountability built in to SB111 will make that happen. 

But the reports mentioned in the bill do not specify accountability. The only real accountability is to defund the program by district if inadequate progress is made.  

The bill sunsets in 2034 and a final report is due in 10 years. 

The Senate Finance hearing was an admission that all past “fixes” have failed. Alaska does not have policies nor accountability in place. And yet proponents of universal pre-K want to wait until 2034 to tell us if this newest approach is effective. 

By that time, thousands of students may still not be able to read at grade level.

David Boye is former executive director of Alaska Policy Forum and is Must Read Alaska’s education writer.


  1. When my kids were in early grade school I remember reading a study that showed that typically even starting with some kids reading before or by kindergarten age, most kids were caught up to that same early reader by Third grade. My kids weren’t taught to read until they went to kindergarten. One didn’t really get it until 2nd grade. Then he was reading at 12th grade level. While he wasn’t taught to read at home, he was read to every night. Money isn’t what’s going to change educational outcomes. Time and time again that has not been proven effective.

  2. Malarkey. What improves reading is families reading to their children and having books in the home. Pulling kids away from their mothers before Kindergarten just retards their natural growth and development. This is simply a grab for the government to raise your kids. Kindergarten is really the same thing.

  3. Hardly. Another year of poor education will not make kids’ skills improve.
    Want better results? Better teaching, less woke politics, less federal interference.
    Love your kids? Get them out of government indoctrination.

  4. Universal pre-K is just a way for the federal woke government to start indoctrinating your kids at an early age with CRT , etc. Just say no.

  5. They want control of young “Pre-K” children to start the indoctrination at an early age. Hitler accomplished this with the “Hitler Youth” movement. History does repeat itself. It’s also how the Soviet Union was able to get children to rat out their parents.

  6. Throw money at it… Into whose pockets? Too much money and time are spent in social engineering – a job best left to parents – and not enough on the 3Rs. The test rankings are simply shameful. I’d be looking for wholesale turnover in administration, and possibly teachers – but of course it is more complicated than that…

  7. The best way to ensure educational success for children is for parents to read to them from an early age. And get rid of television and video games, or at least postpone them as long as possible. More money for more programs will not solve this problem.

  8. “The legislature failed to improve reading…” What?

    Briefly, the ASD wants more money for nothing — kind of reminds me of an old Dire Straits (the intellectual location of the ASD) tune.

    Giving money to stupidy doesn’t get anything more than more stupidity.

  9. According to a recent article in Reason magazine, pre-K produces slight improvements for a few years but by sixth grade students who attended pre-K have _worse_ reading scores than students who did not. This is not more moeny for nothing this is more money for worse outcomes.

    • Why aren’t people talking about THIS? It has NOT been shown to be an effective intervention so why even suggest it! The problem is that is sounds good so all the ignorant sheeple & parents who just want free childcare will jump on the bandwagon. Sadly, many legislators that know it isn’t a good idea will bow down to whatever gets them another term in the cush halls of free food and no accountability in Juneau.

  10. We’ve tried more money & more programs & IT DIDN’T WORK! What WOULD is If people who had kids took responsibility for the children they CHOSE to have instead of expecting the government (i.e., TAXPAYER) to do everything. When did people start holding the government accountable for THEIR family planning choices & furthermore, how in the world did it stick? Who first said, “I’m going to have a baby & then scream to my legislators that they need to make sure childcare is available & pay for preschool. Many high achievers did not attend preschool and many low achievers did. It has SO much more to do with parents turning off the TV, smartphones, video games, & computers & spending time reading to their kids. Early intervention programs in Anchorage haven’t put a meaningful dent in the low achievement scores for kids so why would more of the same work? To top it off, of the many times I’ve heard this topic discussed, it has not once been about achievement. People can say it’s about whatever they want but when it comes down to it, all I’ve ever heard parents talking about is wanting free childcare.

  11. Reading to a child from an early age …at home…is the best way to interest the children in books! Problem?
    Do the parents know how to read? Parents are a child’s FIRST teacher!!

  12. I think one way to improve test scores is to give the kids good old paper tests that they fill in with a pencil. I tried to navigate a recent third grade reading practice test and the test required going from one screen to another in a very confusing format. I gave up and decided I wasn’t going to subject my child to what was, in effect, a computer skills test.

  13. Senate Finance is composed exclusively of Democrats and left-wing RINOS, so this was probably well-received.

  14. Do teachers and administrators really need assessments and standardized tests to determine that students, under the district and teacher’s control, can’t read proficiently for their grade level? The first issue is subjecting students to multiple boring assessments/standardized tests which distances the student from the connection and enjoyment that reading provides. The second is waiting for test results to find out what should already be apparent. Get down and teach and you’ll know your student’s deficiencies. Instead of funding pre-K through SB 111, provide funds to the existing system by mandating lower class size and literacy coaches, for primary elementary students (grades K-2).

  15. No more funding. You accomplish nothing with your current overinflated budget, more money won’t fix bad administration.

  16. Third grade is when the Anchorage District starts segregating minority children from meaningful reading advancement. This does not happen in Seward. Take your children to Seward to learn. Or buy your children the gifted reading curriculum materials and work with them for two hours each day. You’ll get the results you would like to have. Do it again for two more years. Watch that the teachets do not willfully move your children into remedial books approved for use for adults in prisons. I am not kidding. CRT indeed! Give the parents the waivers. Or enjoy quiscient stupidity. Your choice.

  17. The Public Tax Monies appropriated for teaching kids should follow the child. Public School in Alaska has repeatedly failed.
    Let Parents put their child in the educational program of their choice, Be it Private or Public.
    Easily the largest group of cry baby /excuse makers in the USA, is the Public Educational Industrial Complex.
    Just look at how the Teachers leverage the China Flu for the Teachers best interest.
    When there is accountability, there is results. Tax payer school choice should be the debate. After all 51st place is the current high mark for Alaska. Unfortunately I am not sure that Alaska educators understand having a high mark is in fact a low mark.

  18. This is great reporting, exactly what Alaskans do not find with the Anchorage Daily News. Here in Juneau the school system feeds all students and has after school babysitting. Kids can arrive for breakfast early before school. It begs the question why students go home to sleep. Alaska schools are rolling in money but their performance is terrible; no one seems to really know why. Is it genetics? Is there something in the air and/or water? Teachers work hard but maybe they are unwilling or not allowed to tell us the truth. There are more school personnel per student today than ever before in Alaska; more personnel, more money, terrible results, but why? What are the options for responsible parents?

  19. The teachers and administrators of the district, who are in direct control of the students, should detect reading deficiencies without waiting for assessment or standardized test results. First, these tests are boring, cumbersome and break the bond and connection between these young students and the pure joy of reading. Second, it is a complete waste of time to wait for the test results, before launching a plan of action. Teachers should teach in a way where they know their students abilities, deficiencies and shortcomings. Everyday, every way. One has to know where the specific individual deficiencies lie, in order to fix it. Teachers need to focus on this fundamental connection. Rather than pass SB111, why not fund the existing schools by further mandating lower class size and reading coaches in the elementary primary grades (K-2) instead, as the current teachers and administration continued to fail. The pandemic has added to the disconnect. And connection with reading is key. Added to the challenge, there are so many students with English as a second language, which also needs additional support More school of the same quality is not going to fix this.

  20. Pre-K is nothing more than free daycare. It’s designed as a tax money subsidy to pay for your child’s day care to get you either in or back into the workforce earlier than kindergarten. Period.

  21. Time for some tough love: Alaskan kids are not intellectually curious. Lots of parents do not care about educational results. A significant portion of teachers are focused on “social justice” rather than education. The Legislature just hands out money. Better results will depend on changing one or more of these four things.

    • JMARK, yes, and happily one can make a difference in a child’s life that in the end just might save society by merely removing your child from the brain sucking gulag known as publik edukation.. There are options. Is your child worth it?

      • Bob: Fortunately, my kids are clear of this. One is really bright, the other is really successful. (I wish the results were more balanced between them.). When the kids were in school they benefited greatly from AP classes and focused programs. The majority of students do not pursue these options and I suspect the ASD does not encourage them today.

  22. So many parents blindly trust the schools to educate their kids. Even good teachers are often not allowed to teach as they would like. Do a little volunteer work at your child’s school and you will see where the problems are. With more parental support schools can get better without spending more money. They are your kids, not the schools.

  23. Love for God. An interest in life and people and education starts at home.

    When the parents aren’t reading books in front of their child nor reading to and with their children, Alaska never will raise its reading score.

    Picking the right stories for children to read is just as important as how many minutes they are reading to themself and alongside their parents. I wish I could take you through the Loussac library to show what our middle to teen kids like reading. The content absolutely does nothing for improving Alaska’s literacy.

  24. ASD & its bureaucratic bloated system is where all this money is going.

    They hire at high wages lil minions to go into schools & tell highly skilled experienced teachers how to teach as if they were idiots. Take in mind these minions are less skilled than most of the teachers they have been given authority over yet are placed over. It’s an insult to those teachers who are truly dedicated experienced and who put their students first.

    ASD is hell bent on putting their agenda above students & teachers. Look at the fruit and it speaks for itself.

    We are going to see a greater move of amazing gifted teachers leaving the profession. They are fed up! They have no one to advocate for them and the superintendent & her minions are lying on many fronts to move forward with their agenda. It is time to cut the funds. As a former ASD employee, I for the first time will no longer be approving any funding to an ASD budget.

    How many parents are aware that highly skilled specialists, Music, Art, PE are being told they are now to cancel classes at the beck & call of their Principal, to fill staffing shortages within their schools? How many parents know that their student may not have these classes because their principal who is following ASD protocol, are told they have to cancel their classes to do recess duty? Is that how we want our schools to be run? Why are we turning teacher against teacher with this class warfare?

    If you are a specialist with in ASD, you are a second class citizen. A highly trained teacher with two degrees as well as a masters is not allowed to do what they are highly trained at but instead has to cancel classes to be a recess duty. This practice by ASD & implemented by their Principals is appalling!. They are expected to drop their schedules at the last minute to be a special Ed TA, a recess duty, reading buddy etc & even a fill in Principal! Unacceptable!

    Why not have those “know it all” minions from the over paid bloated ASD administrative building come fill these gaps and let our teachers teach!!!

  25. So…
    Let me see if I have this straight.
    Reading scores have not improved since 2003, despite a 90% increase in government spending.
    And, their solution is to spend MORE?
    Who hires these idiots?

  26. There was a study done on Head Start children where they followed tbem from Head Start to graduation to see how it helped and they showed that the graduation rate among the students did not improve at all, in fact it was worse. My assumption, students don’t need more school they just need quality education and both parents who are involved in their education and them. That is what will make a difference.

  27. Allowing parents to participate in a school voucher system would most definitely improve student performance. And how about random drug testing of schoolteachers & administrators? Boy, wouldn’t that get the teacher’s union panties in a wad!

  28. There is no magic required, throw out your T.V. and read age-challenging books to your children regularly and often. We don’t need another nickle spent to up the quality of our kids’ reading abilities.

  29. Sorry, David…
    your second sentence in this article is wrong, and it serves to set up your false assumptions throughout the article. Senate Bill 111 does not contain universal Pre-K. It contains targeted Pre-K directed at the poorest performing schools in the state. Please debate the truth and try not to promulgate lies.
    My focus in drafting this Senate Education Committee Bill was to provide state-wide use of the “Read-By-Nine” Program, a successful reading intervention program adopted by over thirty other states in the lower 48 in the last two decades.
    Roger Holland, Senate District N
    907-351-8277 cell/text

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