I firmly believe that our children are Alaska's greatest natural resource and the best investment in our future. But unless we cultivate and care for them now, their prosperous and secure future will not be realized. Giving them the tools to succeed is our charge and our responsibility.
We were making good progress in Alaska. Under the Knowles administration and the Quality Schools Initiative, standards were on the rise along with test scores. There were effective methods of measuring progress at the school and student level. State funding per pupil rose 25 percent and $1 billion was spent to improve our education infrastructure.
The No Child Left Behind legislation is being imposed upon our education system with a mindset that one size fits all. What works in New York may not work in Alaska; what works in Syracuse may not work in Barrow. While Washington proposes waivers and adjustments to the law, time continues to pass in legislative conversation, test development, and most importantly in the classroom.
This federal legislation is laudable in theory and it sounds like a great idea. However, without the financial resources to provide for the success of each student, it is nothing more than a theory and a catchy phrase. Alaska schools and Alaska kids need more than a good idea and a slogan.
How can educational success be measured? No Child Left Behind relies on a variety of measures relative to student achievement. Yes, qualified teachers and administrators are critical. Yes, test scores provide some indication of knowledge. But it needs to be recognized that educational success takes more than a building and a classroom. If parents aren't involved, if students don't come to school ready to learn, if the environment is not safe and secure, if we don't believe that every child can learn, if the community at large does not promote education and encourage our young people, test scores will never accurately reflect the potential of Alaska's kids.
I was proud of the work that the Knowles administration did to pass the Quality Schools Initiative. Our schools were making great progress because it made sense for Alaska. With the Quality Schools Initiative, progress was being made while giving due consideration to the diversity of our people, our cultures and our geographic challenges. No Child Left Behind has thwarted that progress.
Diane J. Heard
Former State Board of Education & Early Development member