Alaska’s Education Challenge and Transformative Change

Jerry Covey, Managing Partner, JSC Consulting, LLC

In September 2016, the Alaska State Board of Education initiated strategic action that resulted in the establishment of Alaska’s Education Challenge and led to 13 transformative recommendations for our public education system.

As we all know, transformative change in public education is not an easy lift. It requires a critical look and honest assessment of our entire education system—not just the programs and students we are most proud of but also an honest and objective review of the education system’s shortcomings. Transformative change requires all involved in education in Alaska to confront uncomfortable ideas, engage in challenging conversations, and make some very difficult decisions.

Although the Board did not use the word transformative in September 2016, it was clearly their intent to initiate changes that were transformative. They were certain they wanted changes that would substantially improve the quality of education for all students and move the education system toward the Department of Education & Early Development’s mission of An Excellent Education for Every Student Every Day.

In April 2017, the State Board invited 100 Alaskans representing diverse backgrounds and interests to the Dena’ina Center in Anchorage. Participants, including students, teachers, administrators, parents, employers, legislators, university representatives, and healthcare providers, volunteered to serve on the following committees:

  1. Amplify Student Learning
  2. Ensure Excellent Educators
  3. Modernize the Education System
  4. Inspire Tribal and Community Ownership of Educational Excellence
  5. Promote Safety and Well-Being

These committees began a six-month effort to examine Alaska’s public education system and wrestled with ideas about expanding our best programs and services to all students, addressing our system’s shortcomings, and delivering the best education to every student.

Although committees were given free rein regarding the content of their work, they were charged with developing recommendations that met the following requirements:

  1. Be systemic and apply to all students, schools, employees, communities, etc.;
  2. Not require resources beyond our direct control; and
  3. Produce measurable results that can be benchmarked against higher performing states and countries.

Each committee presented their transformative recommendations to the State Board of Education on October 4. Committee recommendations can be viewed on the DEED website by searching Alaska’s Education Challenge and clicking on October Wrap-up Meeting.

On October 5, the State Board of Education approved and advanced all committee recommendations. The DEED team is currently processing the recommendations and will engage stakeholder groups in action plan development.

The remaining challenge will be to collaborate with educators, school board members, students, parents, and other stakeholder groups to implement and support transformative changes in our schools. If Alaskans support and stand behind the proposed changes, we can transform public education in effective and sustainable ways.

I have every reason to believe we can do it.