Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Bush, Alaska, and NCLB: The Week Ahead --

The "Bush" in the title refers to not to the current president but to rural Alaska. This is from a blog of a high school teacher in his fifth year of teaching in an isolated village accessible only by boat, plane or snow machine. Background, and necessary reading is found here in a eye opening article written by this same teacher in the Anchorage Daily News.

Normally, people refer to where I live as bush Alaska. It is remote; there isn't a road in or out. It is isolated; the flights to Anchorage cost nearly $500, and have to go through Bethel. And there are bushes. Well, at least here that's all there is. You have to go nearly 30 miles inland to find trees and those are spindly willows that only grow along the riverbanks.


This week will see a visit from officials at both state and district level. You see, we are a level 4 school. Basically, we are failing. Our kids are failing their standardized tests and they are failing to graduate. Essentially, each year you school fails to meet the requirements (which also change every year, though the basic politico-speak is "proficiency in reading , writing, and math") you move further up the NORAD inspired defcon system of levels. Level 5 is the worst and I'm afraid the visit will only confirm we are heading that way despite my best efforts.

Read the Daily News article and you will discover that these kids have problems you, or the writers of NCLB, never even thought of. The state of Alaska allows communities to declare themselves wet - sale and use of alcohol is permitted, damp - sale is prohibited but use and importation is allowed, or dry - neither sale or importation is allowed. When the article mentions "bootlegging"
they are not necessarily talking about a complicated distillation process. It could mean the fermentation and sale of anything alcoholic, such as fermented sugar and water. The author doesn't talk about it but gasoline "huffing'' is also a big problem in bush Alaska.

One thing the author also does not talk about is there are no educational options for these kids. There are no schools to transfer to. There are no private tutors. NCLB was geared to inner city schools but has been forced on everyone from the Alaskan village to the Indian reservation, to isolated farming and ranching communities to small towns, from mixed suburbs to gated communities, it is all applied the same.

In Alaska these kids really need help. They need someone to show them a future, and right now that future looks like more of the same, teachers that come and go and students that are tested and tested and still fail, as well as a curriculum that is not relevant to their day to day existence. The agenda being pushed by the NCLB crowd is not what they or any of us need. What they do need is another post.

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