Thursday, March 5, 2015

Advocate for Local Control

One February 27, 2015, Senator Click Bishop hosted a Lunch and Learn on what was suppose to be the Worlds Smartest Kids, but ended up being on National Teacher Certification. I am not a fan of national teacher certification, but that is the subject of another blog. What is important is the brief moment of honesty and clarity by the one person in the presentation who is NOT a Nationally Certificated Teacher-- Mary Janis. She IS an advocate of the Common Core and unlikely person for our consideration.

This is a bit off the Common Core trail, but in the final analysis is ultimately about Common Core. The Alaska Common Core and the P-20W standards were adopted in Alaska to qualify for the 9401 waiver from the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) provisions of  Elementary and Secondary Education Act--more commonly called the ESEA Flex Waiver. The "flexibility" isn't for the state---it is for the Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.  It places the state--both road and off-road--urban and rural-- under federal control.

Removing schools from federal control was a major policy goal in early Alaska.

  But this brief segment is important to understanding the history of Alaska education policy. There have been times and instances when Alaska has produced some of the brightest. One of the reasons I moved to Alaska was that the schools, at that time were reputed to be some of the best in the world, as long as you stayed "in the cities."

 But in Mary Janis' presentation, she provided powerful evidence for the exact reforms that Alaska needs to restore educational excellence and fiscal integrity: local control. It was a tremendous repudiation of the current regime.

Here is what we know: 
1) She grew up in the Anchorage School District and she is Alaska grown and raised, albeit urban Alaska. 
2) Her education was on par with her private schooled peers that she met in college. 
3) She did not attend UA, but has a BA and an MA from an out of state school. 
4) She won the Presidential Excellence Award for teaching Kindergarten Science
5) She has been teaching 25 years. 

Now, while I might be a tiny bit off in my dates, I think we can use some basic math to figure out what was the educational system like that produce a private education on the public dime. Now, based on the age of her daughter, we can safely put her between 35 and 45. She states she has been teaching 25 years, which implies she started teaching in 1990, just before Jerry Covey became commissioner of education.  Subtract 6 years from that, and one might be able to find her in a 1983-84 Anchorage year book, and this lady probably started her own Kindergarten experience a couple years after Neil Armstrong walked on the moon and perhaps just before Nixon resigned.

So, to determine the type of educational system that produced a Mary Janis, we need to look at the Alaska Education system as it existed from the 1970s through 1980s.

This was the era of local control in Alaska. 

The system which produced Mary Janis is very different from the system for which she has advocated. She is on the record advocating for the Common Core standards, a system that heavily scripts teacher lessons, a regimented timeline and sequence of topics, and no math memorization. One can assume that her approval extends to the Elementary and Secondary Education Flexibility Waiver which eliminates local control. This is then, the great contradiction-- she revels in the system from which she emerged and lifts it up--but advocates for the exact opposite.

 For all of Alaska's efforts to gain control over its own education system, the current Commissioner of Education, Mike Hanley, has done all that he can to place the state under the control of the federal government through the ESEA Flexibility waiver.  But unlike that earlier time, it is the whole state, not just rural Alaska, that is under federal control via a state operated system.

The system that produced Mary Janis was largely free of federal control and state control in matters of curriculum and instruction.

History of Alaska Education 

The independent schools had originally been established in 1900 by an act of congress. In 1912, independent, locally controlled schools operated in the incorporated towns at Eagle, Fairbanks, Valdez, Nome, Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway, Douglas, and Wrangell. There were large church schools that operated at St. Stephens- Ft. Yukon, Nenana, and another near Barrow. These latter schools produced some of the first college graduates in Alaska. The first Alaskan born admitted to college, Walter Harper, died when his ship sank outside of Juneau--his friend Johnny Fredson, left a year later and returned as the first Alaskan born and raised college graduate. Another noted graduate of these schools was a gentleman who was later known as Howard Rock, who would play a pivotal role in Alaska's history.

Rev. William Loola, Circa 1912, teaching class courtesy of Archives, UAF. While UAF attributes the picture to Ft. Yukon, Hudson Stuck notes that William Loola's school at that time operated in Circle from 1896-1912, and moved to Ft. Yukon later. Loola had attended the schools established by Archbishop MacDonald, from whom Hudson Stuck took over. 

Prior to Statehood, there were independent schools were just that--independent and locally controlled. Despite popular myth, there were schools that operated in the North country free of government influence; not all were white people imposing white culture.  Even on the eve of statehood, the territorial department of education had no authority over the independent schools. According to the U.S. Department of the Interior's records,
Independent school districts are established by people of any incorporated city and its adjacent settlement or settlements; provided that such districts do not embrace more than 500 square miles. Each district has a school board of five members who have the exclusive management and control of school matters in the district...

Incorporated school districts are established in any town, village, or settlement outside the limits of an incorporated town or independent school district that has a population of 100 or more...Schools in incorporated districts are managed by a school board of 5 persons who are elected in a manner similar to board members in incorporated cities and have similar powers

The territorial Commissioner of Education ONLY had power in the rural areas...
Schools outside the limits of incorporated cities, independent school districts, and incorporated school districts are established by the Commissioner of Education with the consent of the Territorial Board of Education. The affairs of these schools are administered through the office of the Commissioner of Education.

When the Department of Education was created in 1959 Statehood Organization Act. It was given powers over educational activities, but with the following provision:  "...nothing in this Act shall be construed to extend or enlarge the State's functions with respect to independent school systems now established by law."

It is quite clear that the intent was for citizens to have local control. Certainly, the notion that some office in Juneau, would run the education of the independent schools was an alien concept to those Alaskans who founded the state, and some of those folks were pretty darn liberal. Bailey v Fairbanks upheld the right of independent schools to raise revenue and be independent, but this was on the eve of the 1964 Mandatory Borough Act that would forever change the landscape of education finance. 

What is important here is the notion of local control of schools.  It should not be regarded as some "wing-bat tea party notion," but an idea that was embraced by Alaskans on both sides of the aisle at statehood. It wasn't even a debated issue--it was an issue upon which there was a broad consensus among Alaskans. 

Carol Barnhardt provides an insight into the sort of education system Janis and others of her generation would have known. Prior to Janis'  time, Alaska had three education systems--a system of independent, locally operated schools by local school districts, Bureau of Indian Affairs schools, and military base schools. An effort to unify the state's schools came with the Division of State Operated System (SOS) which took control of the schools on military bases and some of the rural schools.

The idea behind the creation of the SOS was that the BIA would gradually transfer control of their schools to the SOS. The goal was to get the federal government out of the Alaska's education system. The SOS functioned from 1965-1976, and operated as one big school district. It went through some changes, but the SOS ended  when the Regional Education Authorities (REAs) were created to give districts local control. The transition to REAS happened  July 1, 1976. As noted by Moorehouse, MacBeath, and Leask, 

As a side note, the BIA still operated schools in rural Alaska, so while some regard Alaska as having a two tier system, it was really a three tier system--one with local control, one with state control, and one operated by the federal government.

But those in Anchorage during the time that Janis attended Alaskan schools would have known local control.

The system that Mary Janis knew had thrown off the State Textbook Selection Committee--and fought for local decision making. By the time it was repealed, it had been unfunded for several years, and when Janis was likely in elementary school a local textbook committee or the teacher picked the books. There were no state standards in the 1970-1990s and local districts ran curriculum and instruction--often by trusting the teacher and providing the teacher with support. There were not even state guidelines in Alaska until the 1990s, and that only came about because of federal dollars by way of Alaska 2000.  Even in the 1990s, there was extreme distrust that the guidelines might turn into standards some day, and hearken back to the old SOS system.  

The education system that produced Janis did not have state standards, it didn't have high stakes testing, and it didn't have teacher evaluations tied to student test scores. Tests were written by the teachers who taught the students and the parents and teachers knew each other socially as well as through the school. This is vastly different from federal tests imposed upon districts from Juneau.

Hiring and firing practices during the era that Janis grew up were established locally too, and would have varied slightly across districts and determined by the local school board. This is vastly different from the federally mandated system of accountability that has been imposed from Juneau that requires student test scores and other student learning outcome (SLO) indicators to be used in pay, retention, and promotion decisions. In fact, such things were not necessary because if a teacher wasn't performing, it would be known to those locally. 

Those Alaskans who were raised in the SOS did not necessarily receive a world class education--many of them did not even have high school available to them. In fact, there was a law suit about that very issue--Molly Hootch. But the goal of SOS was really to wrangle control of Alaska's schools from the federal government. How different is that from today when we have people in Juneau who serve as  compliance officers for federal programs. 

Many might argue several factors for the SOS being ineffectual in providing a top notch education, but I suspect one of the reasons that this is so is that they did not have local control. When you have a system where the decisions are made by a distant administrator, be it Juneau or Washington, DC, you will not have the same result as when you have local control. 

No comments:

Post a Comment