Homer Alaska - Elections

Story last updated at 5:13 PM on Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Downing: What works in education



Public education has received a beating in the media since No Child Left Behind (NCLB) began a dozen years ago. It is puzzling to me that so many Americans consider our schools to be failing, yet when asked to rate their local schools, they're given high marks. Some Alaskan schools do struggle but we have a state strong in resources, talent, and creativity — that is small enough to adapt quickly — so that if we have the collective will, we can become world leaders in education. We can do so because we know more about what makes a good education than any time in history.

So what works in education?

Flexibility and Choice: Students learn best in different ways and in different environments. Differentiated instruction individualizing skill level with the same content is common place in our classrooms. KPBSD offers traditional neighborhood schools, charter schools, home school, alternative, and standards-based schools. (For more information, read Dr. Atwater's blog at kpbsd.k12.ak.us.)

Quality teaching: Is enhanced by mentoring, professional development, collaboration, and an evaluation system that leads to continuous improvement. KPBSD has these.

Early education: A quality Pre-K curriculum provides fun and age-appropriate learning preparing young students to succeed. KPBSD has 10 Pre-K programs with more needed. Almost every state funds Pre-K but Alaska is still "piloting" the idea when we know Pre-K students require little or no intervention as they advance in school.

Intervention: When we assess where a students' strengths and weaknesses lie, and target intervention early, we can be efficient and effective in remediation so that students remain on course in their learning. KPBSD has interventionists in our schools.

Clear standards/creative teaching/consistent assessment: KPBSD implements strategies to assure students in each school have the opportunity to learn the same information, that teachers use a wide range of resources and techniques to teach, and assessments track student progress.

Smart use of Technology: High tech can make learning more meaningful, relatable, and efficient while retaining the high touch of teachers. We have smart classrooms and smart teachers trained to make best use of technology.

Meeting learning objectives, not seat time: There is so much our students are expected to learn and be able to do. The time has passed when a student needs to do exactly what every other student is doing. Education is becoming more individualized and will continue to do so as we develop strategies and technologies to customize learning. We have classrooms and schools that use standards-based learning where students choose what they will learn when, meet all requirements, and then teach each other as they master knowledge.

Student engagement: Students who feel a connection with their learning environment and the people around them, particularly caring adults, will be successful. We strive to foster these connections every day.

College and career ready: All students need career tech knowledge and traditional academic skills. While most vocational careers require some college, all students need exposure to these skills and careers throughout their education. And all students should be able to succeed in college if they so choose, whether they leave Homer High for Harvard or they begin college in their 40s.

Kenai Peninsula schools and staff have been recognized for excellence throughout the state and nationally. Unlike many school districts in the Lower 48, we have few discipline problems and we are no longer decimating our programs with huge budget cuts. We have amazing teachers, intelligent administrators, dedicated staff, hard-working students, and caring families. I truly believe that we have the best school district in the state and with the support of our communities, we will shine even brighter.