Empire Editorial: Making good news better

It is good to hear about reports of progress from Juneau School District Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich like those highlighted in this year’s State of the Schools speech Wednesday night.

Graduation rates are up to 80 percent this year, a 10 percent jump compared to last year.

While even a single-digit number dropout rate is unacceptable — those numbers reflect lives that will likely be more difficult without a high school diploma — this increase in students walking across the stages to get their diplomas is good news.

Even though it doesn’t sound like good news on its face, it seems Juneau’s students are being challenged with a more difficult curriculum, leading to a drop in academic performance.

The district is spending $800,000 on staff development to give teachers more tools to use in the classroom. Also good news.

But the news the Empire heard this week from University of Alaska President Pat Gamble was not good for any Alaska school district.

Gamble told the Empire’s Editorial Board on Tuesday that many youth from Alaska’s public schools are having some pretty hard landings when they take their academic placement tests, a majority piling into remedial education classes.

The kids who take those courses don’t get college credit while they catch up, and they’re learning information and study habits they were supposed to have gathered between kindergarten and 12th grade.

Back in 2011 the Empire’s education reporter wrote about plans for JSD to work harder with UAS to keep kids out of remedial English and math classes, and we hope those plans discussed two years ago are still in play.

The remedial education problem is not only a Juneau issue, Gamble said, it’s a statewide problem.

While we can’t solve the problem statewide, we hope that in years to come our own district’s superintendent will count among JSD’s achievements sending the vast majority of its college-bound students straight into college-level courses. With tougher academics and more teacher training, that should be achievable.

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