Greg Sarber: Local autonomy in education is one of Eaglexit’s strongest arguments for detachment

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By GREG SARBER

Within the Eagle River, Chugiak neighborhoods — communities that make up Anchorage Assembly District 2 — a growing number of residents are working to detach from the Municipality of Anchorage and incorporate into a home rule borough, an initiative they call Eaglexit.  

One of their core motivations is education reform and a new approach that allows parents to choose among competing charter schools. 

Central to their vision is a shift toward a system consisting entirely of independent charter schools, none of which would observe boundaries.  Eaglexit’s approach appears timely, as parents are removing their children from public schools at an ever-increasing pace, not only in response to poor academic outcomes but also in pursuit of curriculums better suited to their children. 

According to Ric Smith, chairman of the Eagle Exit Education Committee,  this proposed new municipality — the Chugach Regional Borough — establishes a charter school district within it that is pioneering, since it “prioritizes the holistic development and success of students, while also empowering educators and fostering community engagement.” Smith and others believe this approach represents the future of education, based as it is on a more targeted learning experience tied to the interests of each student, and on a parent’s ability to choose among schools.

At the heart of this concept is the idea of autonomy. Traditional schools are often viewed as top-down management structures that strip too much authority and control from parents, educators, and school staff.  Under this new model, schools will be free to design programs based on broad principles contained in the borough’s educational standards. Each new charter school will have a decentralized governance structure where parents and school staff have more control through their own governing boards. Within this framework, each school will be free to specialize in areas such as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education, arts integration, language immersion, or vocational training. 

Another benefit to parents is the injection of competition among schools. Schools with programs that don’t meet the needs of their students will lose students to better schools. This will force the failing schools to alter course, to quickly correct deficiencies that cause students to leave. This is perceived as the best way to address the two biggest reasons parents cite for removing their children from traditional schools — lack of appropriate curriculum and lack of ability to affect change. With competition among charter schools, unhappy parents will now have alternatives.

Parents will exercise a key role in the educational evolution of this new district when they select the school that aligns with their values, priorities, and educational philosophy.  This partnership between parents, educators, and the community fosters a sense of ownership and investment in the success of the schools and students within the district.  

As statistics emerge that compare the performance of charter schools to traditional schools, Alaskans are paying attention. 

Gov. Mike Dunleavy recently cited a Harvard University study on charter schools when he stated, “Unbeknownst to a lot of folks, because this is the first study that’s ever been done that measures outputs through the NAEP scores — lo and behold, we’re tops in the nation! You would think you’d hear parade music and people dancing in the streets, but in some sectors, this has caused a problem because it doesn’t fit the narrative.”   

According to the Alaska statewide test scores, charter schools are outperforming the traditional Anchorage School Distric public schools in math and reading.  In Anchorage, which ranks among the highest in the nation in terms of spending per student, the charter school programs outperform traditional Anchorage public schools, both in higher student test scores as well as in lower spending per student. 

These improved outcomes for our youth should be a cause for bi-partisan celebration.

 Instead, every year the ASD and teachers’ unions promote the argument that they need more money to raise student test scores

Because of this growing disparity in outcomes, parents  find it difficult to enroll their kids in charter cchools. Eagle Academy in Eagle River has a waiting list of over 140 students.  

Given the waitlists, why doesn’t the Anchorage School District authorize more charter schools? One objection often cited is that charter schools remove resources from the traditional schools. However, Bob Griffin, of the Alaska State Board of Education and Early Development, exposed the fallacy of this argument when he stated:

“A final myth is that public charter schools rob resources from neighborhood public schools. This is not the case in Alaska, where per-student spending in charter schools is significantly lower than in traditional neighborhood schools. As more kids move to public charter programs, neighborhood schools are relieved of the burden of the variable cost of educating the kids who move, leaving more funding per student for the children who stay in their neighborhood schools.”       

Not only do charter schools outperform public schools, but they do it for less money. By leveraging the self-interest of parents, charter schools attract volunteer time and expertise. Charter schools do not float bonds for maintenance, since they must live within a budget. Parents must find a way to deliver their children to school.  Contrast this with the school district in Anchorage, which relies on bonds to pay for maintenance, and which receives $481 for busing charter school students even when they don’t actually transport them. ASD gets $1,108,705 to transport all 2,305 charter students; money the district then funnels to other uses.

During his 26-year career teaching at Birchwood ABC, Ric Smith witnessed firsthand how parents embraced a philosophy of high standards. Because parents cared and were involved, their kids brought that same enthusiasm with them to the classroom.  

He emphasizes an equally important dynamic, which was that his school had a parent advisory board which helped guide the direction of the school, and the hiring of its staff, working to always ensure the continuity of the program. “These are things you don’t see in the traditional schools, and therein lies a big part of the difference between the two types of models,” he stated. 

Eaglexit is still being formulated, and should it succeed, it will reflect the goals of the community. By engaging stakeholders in the charter development process, schools can identify local concerns and evolve in their solutions to educational challenges. This collaborative approach to education empowers schools to serve as agents of positive change within their communities, driving excellence in education.

Greg Sarber is on the board of Alaska Gold Communications Inc., parent company to Must Read Alaska.

18 COMMENTS

  1. Alaskans *should* be celebrating the accomplishments of these schools. They should also be using more of what works! Thank you for this article.

  2. I fully and wholeheartedly support the movement by Eagle River and Chugiak to secede from the statist hellhole that Los Anchorage has become. However, I still think that the organizers of that movement are being woefully naive, focusing strictly on “playing by the rules”, and assuming fairness and equal honesty and decency on the part of those sociopaths in Anchorage that they would leave behind. I think that it is almost guaranteed that those forces (both on the municipal and state level) will, in fact, use every underhanded strategy, trick and deceitful treachery to subvert and derail that secession movement.

    Mark my words!

    • You think it’s “Los Anchorage” now? If Eagle River ever successfully secedes you’ll get to see the largest and most important city in Alaska truly hit bottom. Like it or not, Anchorage is important. Many of us, whether or not we choose to live in Anchorage, must work, or conduct other, business there. I don’t want to see it get any worse.

  3. The charter school movement has higher test scores cuz of significant parental involvement. Cliques of educated, financially well off, probably mostly white women can make a difference.

    They have the privilege to form independent schools. These schools should be private and accept no state money.

    Public schools, in concept, are comprised of all students in the district and some come from abusive homes or homes with disinterested parents. Of course their scores will be lower than the privileged charter schools.

    To increase the success of public schools, the base student allocation should be raised, not strangled by conservatives that benefit from the “poorly educated” (see Trump, Donald).

    Some charter schools will endure contamination by Christian mythology. Build your Sunday Schools but don’t ask the public to pay for them.

    • I think most non-leftists with K-12 kids in public schools believe their kids are forced to endure your even worse woke mythodology.

    • Wow! You sure have drunk from the NEA Kool-Aid. Why do you believe that poor kids can’t learn? They have the same opportunities in the public K12 system. Why do you assume that most charter school parents are “educated, financially well off, and probably mostly white women”? To sum up your comment: You want every student brought down to the same level as the lowest student. Why do you criticize parents who are involved in their kid’s education? Isn’t that the way it should be? One reason many low income students cannot get into a charter school is that the Anchorage School District will NOT provide transportation. If you want to get these low income kids into a charter school, then fight that battle-not the involved parents.

    • My kids are out of the ASD, but your comments are woefully ignorant.

      My two youngest kids attended Aquarian Charter school in Anchorage. It was/is, highly diverse, and hardly because of “Cliques of educated, financially well off, probably mostly white women…”.

      It succeeded because moms, dads, and grandparents, regardless of skin pigmentation, worked and volunteered tirelessly to make the school a better place.

      My youngest, who is about to apply for to graduate schools for a PhD in Chemistry and has pretty much crushed every level of schooling, including a very elite undergraduate Chemistry program, owes a lot of that to great teachers and administrators at Aquarian, as well as the seminar program at Service High School. It’s probably all about her white privilege, tho, not hard work and good choices. Did I mention she is a Chinese adoptee? So she basically started out her life in a lot less “privileged” than you think.

      You got one thing right in your post – you hid your identity. That was smart, given the level of ignorance in your post. If you’re going to comment on Education, I would suggest you get educated.

      I don’t get too wound up when people attack me. You attack my kids and their accomplishments, and you will get push back.

  4. EagleExit can’t happen soon enough!! Eagle River-Chugiak has virtually no voice in the Anchorage Assembly or the Anchorage School Board. I hear concerns that we can’t afford to separate. My response – Can we afford to stay?! Look at the bonds that are on the ballots – every election! People live out here because they don’t want to live in Anchorage. Look at the future of this community if we remain part of the MOA – we’ll go right down the drainhole with them.

    • The last time discussions were held about the Eagle River megalopogis leaving Mother Anchorage, those residing at Loussac wanted the proposition on the ballot. But, wasn’t the vote to have been with all citizens of Anchorage voting on the proposition?
      Who is going to let that property/real estate tax money get away from the claws of the recipients of those dollars? Let the games begin….

      • BO, it’s my understanding that only those who would belong to the new borough would vote to ‘divorce’ from ANC. Go to eaglexit meetings for more info. Their last meeting was an eye-opener. Over the yrs they’ve done so much work/research. It is definately a move we can afford!

  5. Good points, Greg.
    .
    What prevents the cultural rot, corruption, and perversion endemic in Anchorage School District from infesting your new school system?

  6. Competition within the public school system will lead to better education outcomes. I wish all well in this great experiment to help all the kids.

  7. I oppose Eagle Exit. If Eagle River and Chugiak break away, those of us remaining in Anchorage will be doomed to a local government so far Left that Ethan Berkowitz will look like a conservative Republican. Sexualization and exploitation of school children will be mandatory. I will be jailed for unknown reasons.

    • JMark, your opposition to Eaglexit is woefully late and also illogical, as Los Anchorage ALREADY has a supermajority of Marxists on its assembly, a veto-proof majority that renders the three non-Marxists, and the two non-Marxists from Eagle River & Chugiak, already effectively irrelevant and powerless.

      Better to launch a lifeboat from a sinking ship, and save at least SOME of the passengers, than to pointlessly have every one of them drown together.

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