Education board to decide Alaska history requirement

If OK'd, high school freshmen in 2005 would have to take the course to graduate in 2009

Posted: Sunday, December 05, 2004

The state Board of Education will decide Tuesday whether to make the study of Alaska history a high school graduation requirement.

Like Juneau-Douglas High School, many schools across the state offer the course as an elective, but they do not require it for a diploma. The state Board of Education will hear public testimony on the proposed regulation at 8 a.m. Monday in Anchorage and by teleconference at legislative information offices in Juneau, Fairbanks, Bethel, Kotzebue, Kenai and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

If approved, high school freshmen in 2005 would have to take the semester course before graduating in 2009. The regulation does not set a curriculum for the course.

The Fairbanks School Board unanimously approved a resolution in November rejecting the proposed regulation. The resolution opposes the course requirement on the grounds that it would be a hardship on students and would set a bad precedent for the state to require any particular course, according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Juneau School District Superintendent Peggy Cowan said the Juneau School Board has not taken any action supporting or opposing the proposed regulation and has not decided whether to make the course a local requirement.

Members of the Alaska Legislature have unsuccessfully attempted for years to make the course a requirement.

Cowan said the Juneau School Board has tasked its social studies committee with looking at requiring the history course.

"The board asked the social studies committee that created the K-12 curriculum to examine the possibility of requiring it, bring back a recommendation and within that recommendation consider if it will be an additional requirement or substitute this credit for another credit," Cowan said. "If the state mandates it, then the decision is how to deal with the credit issues."

The Alaska Humanities Forum, a nonprofit organization, has developed a curriculum that is being tested for the first time this year in about 25 schools across the state, including JDHS. In October 2003, the U.S. Department of Education contributed $400,000 toward developing the curriculum and providing teacher training, according to Marjorie Menzi, project director of the Alaska Humanities Forum.

Alaska is one of three states that does not make its own history a mandatory course, Menzi said.

"If these young people are going to grow up to be participatory members of the state, they need background and history," Menzi said. She said many students now graduate without an understanding of what people contributed to the state and how political and social issues have evolved.

The Forum's Project Advisory Committee that helped craft the curriculum include former public figures such as former Gov. Jay Hammond, state historian Jo Antonson, Lt. Gov. Loren Leman, Anchorage School District Superintendent Carol Comeau and a variety of doctors, teachers, judges and others.

Web links

For more, go to (This is the curriculum created by the Humanities Council)

The curriculum's topics include regional history, geography, Alaska's cultures, Russia's colony, territorial history, government and modern-day Alaska.

Juneau School Board member Andi Story said she supports the requirement but added that she has not heard much demand from JDHS parents or high school staff to make the course mandatory.

"It's important to understand the past and how it will affect the future," Story said. "I think it's valuable for all students to know their state history, not only the political and economic history, but the cultures of the people in Alaska."

Juneau residents can testify on the regulation at the Terry Miller Legislative Office Building, Suite 111, at 8 a.m. Monday.

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