The recent drop in education majors at the University of Alaska Anchorage is bad news for the K-12 schools of Southcentral Alaska. The broken pipeline of teachers feeding into our schools will result in higher costs and a decline in quality of education.
in 2017, the University of Alaska made the decision to merge the School of Education administrations of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, UAA and the University of Alaska Southeast. Coinciding with this merger, UAA lost accreditation for its early licensure programs. Instead of seeking reaccreditation, these education programs were merged into UAF and UAS despite the objection of the UAA student body, the UAA Faculty Senate, the UAA Chancellor and Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz.
A recent report shows that these changes have led to a sharp decline in declared education majors at the University of Alaska. In 2019, the number of education majors at UAA, UAF and UAS dropped 29% overall and at UAA, the drop was an astonishing 58%. With 30% of Alaska’s teachers trained at the University of Alaska, these declines mean that the pipeline of Alaska teachers for Alaska schools is broken.
Taken together, the Southcentral school districts in Anchorage, Mat-Su and the Kenai Borough employ approximately 5,350 teachers serving more than 70,000 students. In these districts, the teacher turnover rate is 10% each year, and with a replacement cost of $20,431 to recruit and hire a new teacher, the total taxpayer bill comes to almost $11 million annually (data based on a recent ISER report). The most effective way to reduce this cost is to hire graduates from the University of Alaska, who have nearly double the retention rate of those trained outside the state. To cut teacher turnover, reduce costs and retain experienced teachers in Southcentral Alaska, we must reestablish a strong and independent education program at UAA.
University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen often speaks about his goal to provide the school districts of Alaska with UA-trained teachers. This is a worthy goal. Right now, my daughter’s second-grade classroom has 29 students. With a broken pipeline of teachers from Alaska, the situation is only going to get more challenging for our current teachers. We must have a robust and accredited education program at UAA to keep taxpayer costs down and provide the education environment that our children deserve.
Max Kullberg is an assistant professor in the WWAMI School of Medical Education at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
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