Governor’s surprise launch of no-bid Florida virtual school is egregious

I have learned a thing or two about education in Alaska, having been intimately involved at all levels for the past 30 years from undergraduate to graduate student, to K-12 teacher in Anchorage, to one of 22 original Alaska Statewide Mentors in 2004, to instructing teachers nationally for five years on best practices for teaching writing. I can also recognize a politician’s attempt at advancing a personal agenda of voucher schools, reducing educational costs, especially in our rural Alaska villages — where equity in education can be expensive, while gutting research-based best practices for teaching the next generation. And on top of that, our governor is sending more than half a million dollars to another state while slashing our own state’s education and the university’s budget.

Teachers matter: To quote Dermot Cole, “Teachers, principals and superintendents throughout the state have been focused on revamping plans for the rest of the school year,” in daily conference calls with the commissioner of the state Department of Education. Teachers across the state have risen to the virus challenge by organizing online lessons built on the relationships they have established with their students and parents. Teachers know their students. Teachers know their families. Teachers know the needs of their students. Teachers are the single most important factor in the success of a child. “Research shows that effective teachers are the most important factor contributing to student achievement,” according to Educational Leadership magazine.

Relationships matter: A Florida virtual instructor is not in the best interest of student learning anywhere, and especially in Alaska. There can be no authentic relationships built between student and teacher. Place-based education, connecting culture and place to content, is key to successful learning in Alaska. Please show me how place-based delivery will be addressed virtually. Alaska is the only state that has embedded cultural standards into its teacher evaluations. How can we ‘score’ Florida on its Alaska cultural sensitivity? How will we ‘score’ Florida on its relationship-building with our students? Students and parent relationships are a key piece to successful teaching and learning.

Collaboration and expertise matter: Pretending daily to collaborate with the educational leaders (those with the prerequisite expertise) across the state while at the exact same time negotiating secretly behind their backs for a Florida-based virtual delivery of instruction is the epitome of disrespect, backstabbing, and lack of trust. Gov. Mike Dunleavy should be ashamed of this egregious behavior.

Teaching in Alaska is a privilege, a joy, an experience unlike teaching any place else in the world. The diversity and cultural expertise in Alaska value-adds a layer of richness and tradition to the education of our youth that is unavailable anywhere else on our planet. We are blessed. Our children deserve better than the political agenda of someone who has lost touch with what teaching the next generation truly means.

Jan Littlebear, Ph.D., earned her B.A. from Alaska Pacific University in 1991; M.A. from the University of Alaska Anchorage in 1997; National Board Certification in 2003; and Ph.D. from the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 2018 — all education degrees.

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