Isn’t it time for Alaska to be a leader?

The National Council on Teacher Quality is a thinktank founded in 2000 and based in Washington, D.C. that advocates for tougher evaluations of classroom teachers. They believe effective teachers should be recognized and rewarded, both monetarily and through increased opportunities for teacher leadership. Conversely, ineffective teachers should be identified and counseled, and, if unable to meet student achievement goals, dismissed.


In their 2017 survey of states ranked by implementation of best practices of teacher policies, Alaska is ranked D-, one of only four states with that grade or lower.

This survey follows Alaska’s Department of Education announcement last year that more than 60 percent of Alaska’s public school students failed to meet grade-level academic standards in English language arts and math in statewide standardized tests. Students did slightly better on the statewide science exam but barely half were considered proficient. Equally poor results were experienced by Alaska schools in 2015.

Teachers and administrators acknowledge Alaska’s test scores consistently rank below national averages.

So how do we hold government, schools, teachers, parents and students accountable? We start by getting the facts. You can view your school’s report card at

Alaska’s Education Challenge, a statewide effort studying student achievement gaps and ways to increase Alaska’s graduation rates, is still in the early stages. Some of the changes being advocated are increasing teacher diversity and better preparing teachers for the classroom, but one of the most glaring omissions is teacher accountability.

In his State of the State address, Gov. Bill Walker once again pledged his support for education. But, up to now, that hasn’t resulted in any discernable improvement in student achievement. His solution seems to be to pump more money into a declining system and expand it by offering free pre-K-12 school.

Perhaps it’s time for education advocates to stop viewing issues, such as poor test scores, absenteeism and low graduation rates, through the single lens of funding and ask why a national teacher quality thinktank gave Alaska a D- grade in teacher accountability.

This can be an opportunity to exercise the kind of leadership and bold initiatives that made this state great.

Accountability for student achievement runs from Walker, through his Commissioner of Education, to the 54 school districts around the state, including their school boards, administrators, teachers and finally parents and students.

The U.S. Education Department reports that nationally graduation rates are increasing. While this sounds like a reason for optimism, it is overshadowed by a very disturbing trend. While 80 percent of high school seniors receive a diploma, less than half of those can proficiently read or complete math problems.

The problem is that students are being passed on to the next grade when they should be held back. They are then unable to complete grade-level work and keep up with their classmates.

In Alaska, the trend is even worse. Last year only 45 percent of third-graders tested proficient in math, but by the time students reached 10th grade less than 15 percent were considered proficient.

The pressure from administrators and parents to continue to promote students is wide-spread and difficult to combat. Surely, teachers should be able to hold non-proficient students back. That is the only fair way teachers can be evaluated on whether their students are at least minimally proficient in various grade-level subjects.

But this is a two-pronged issue. Most teachers are competent, dedicated public servants. But not all.

National estimates conducted by the U.S. Department of Education find school districts dismiss a very small percentage of teachers each year for poor performance. Alaska is no exception.

If we really want to effect change, students shouldn’t routinely be promoted regardless of proficiency. Teachers should be evaluated using objective student achievement growth measures to determine their effectiveness. School administrators — such as principals — could be evaluated similarly.

Parents also need to accept responsibility in changing educational expectations, but continuation of the status quo only means continuing to pay for mediocre or poor results.

Championing change like this requires tremendous political courage. It would require battling unions, school board members, and many entrenched interests across the state.

Most of all it would require leadership and accountability at every level.

• Win Gruening retired as the senior vice president in charge of business banking for Key Bank in 2012. He was born and raised in Juneau and graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1970. He is active in community affairs as a 30-plus year member of Juneau Downtown Rotary Club and has been involved in various local and statewide organizations.


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