By Roger Sampson
April 1, 2005
We're achieving this goal step by step, in a systematic, strategic way. We've listened to others and adjusted our initiatives to better suit Alaska and Alaskans. But we have not strayed from our agenda.
Academic Success For Students
The short-term goals are:
The long-term result is to pass along to future generations of Alaskans the wonderful opportunities we adults have enjoyed. No component of Alaska's resource-based economy is more critical to our economic strength than people.
While many children are succeeding in school, the educational measurement tools we have put in place draw the blueprint for improving schools that will lead to increased career and economic opportunities for future generations of Alaskans.
Our goals for school improvement are ambitious, and they come with costs. One cost is financial, which Governor Murkowski, through his funding proposal, is prepared to support.
Another cost is the discomfort that sometimes comes with change. That discomfort will not stop our school improvement efforts. As President Kennedy said: "There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction."
Here are a few of the important initiatives that advance our agenda to improve instruction and increase student achievement.
More School Funding
Last year Governor Murkowski signed legislation to increase school funding by $82 million. This year he proposed before the legislative session began an increase of another $126 million over the next two years. Together, school funding would grow by 29% over three years. By any estimation, that's a major commitment.
The governor also has asked the legislature to fund education early so school officials know in advance the amount of funding they will receive. This enables local education leaders to spend more time focused on instruction and less time preparing budgets.
Data Driven Decision Making
Data driven decision making is now the name of the game. The Department of Education has put in place systems that allow us to make educational policy decisions based on hard data derived from student test scores and other measures of student achievement.
Quality Student Academic Standards and Assessments
The administration has developed new, more detailed student academic standards in core subject areas -- reading, writing, math and science -- for students in grades 3 through 10. We have also developed new improved standards based assessments to measure whether students are meeting the standards at each of those grade levels.
We have initiated the first statewide teacher mentoring program in the nation. The program reaches 350 new teachers with two or fewer years in the classroom. We expect teachers who receive mentoring to gain in two years what they otherwise would develop in five. This will show up in better academic results for more students.
The State Education Board has proposed to overhaul the state's teacher licensing system to require teachers new to our state to meet Alaska's standards for teachers, pass a test in the subject they teach and demonstrate they can teach their subject.
We have implemented a mentoring program for new principals and over time expect to have a generation of more effective school leaders.
These principals will be better equipped to lead teachers in systematic, data-driven instructional efforts to improve student achievement.
Staying The Course
Passing the funding bills and implementing the rest of our education agenda will not be easy. But we will stay the course because our agenda represents an investment that will pay off over the long term.
A prosperous future for our children and a prosperous future for Alaska are one and the same.
Roger Sampson is the Alaska Commissioner Education & Early Development
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