Alaska legislators are questioning Gov. Sarah Palin's decision to sit out the creation of national educational benchmarks.
Palin announced May 31 that Alaska would be one of three states that would not join in the creation of a common core of educational standards. The other states are South Carolina and Texas.
"You don't have any voice if you don't participate," said state Senate Majority Leader Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage.
Ellis said Alaskans complain that people elsewhere don't understand some of the state's unusual attributes, such as its high proportion of very small schools.
"She's basically turned down a seat at the table to explain our unique situation here," he said.
Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, said the House Education Committee, for which she is vice chair, will be looking into the decision. The committee will meet this summer in a joint meeting with the state Board of Education and discuss the common core issue.
House Education Committee Chair Paul Seaton, R-Kodiak, said Palin may be correct to focus on Alaska issues and leaving the creation of national standards to others.
"I don't know how much time and effort it would take, but it might detract from what we're doing here," he said.
Alaska is already aware it has some serious education problems, he said, and faces hurdles such as being a national leader in rates of child abuse, rape and high school dropouts.
"We know we have a problem and we're trying to address the problem," he said. "It doesn't matter where we are in relation to other states."
Seaton acknowledged that there might be some benefit to participating in developing the standards, but doubted how much influence Alaska and states with similar issues could have on them.
"I'm not sure that Alaska and a couple of other rural states would be able to get enough modifications to make it worthwhile," he said.
Palin had announced that Alaska would "monitor" the development of national standards, even if it didn't officially participate in their creation.
She said that despite not helping develop the standards, she supports better schools and will consider using those standards if they prove useful.
"The state of Alaska fully believes that schools must have high expectations of students," Palin said. "But high expectations are not always created by new, mandated federal standards written on paper. They are created in the home, the community and the classroom."
The common core of educational standards are being developed by two nonprofit groups, the National Governor's Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.
They will develop standards in English and math for students from kindergarten to 12th grade. They expect to have them ready for adoption by December.
Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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