Curriculum Changes Come With High Price Tag

Ariel Van Cleave

     The House Education Committee is considering delaying an implementation of new education standards for English and math. The new curriculum requirements were passed this year and some lawmakers say the changes could be too costly for some school districts.

     The Alaska State Board of Education approved the new standards and they are set to go into effect in 2015. Typically, school districts have six years between a curriculum revamp. The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District saw changes to its math standards in 2012. 

     The two biggest concerns that Representative Tammie Wilson has heard are costs and timing. She’s the sponsor for House Resolution 9, which is the measure that’s asking the Department of Education and Early Development to slow down the process. Wilson said she wanted the department to do a cost analysis for how this could affect districts. And she also wanted to be realistic with the timeframe.

     “Can they put everything in place, new curriculum, new way of teaching, so that when we get the tests back it really is analyzing how are students are, or will the scores really show we haven’t had enough time to change our way of teaching and the different way these tests are going to do? Because they’re going to be much more extensive than what we have seen in the past,” she said.

     Education Committee Chair Lynn Gattis said she doesn’t like the fact that this is another “unfunded mandate” from the state.

     “There are (some) that are saying, ‘hey, this is a change.’ Whether it’s a good change or a bad change, there’s a conversation. But more importantly, it’s a costly change. And we can’t ignore that aspect,” Gattis said.

     Representative Peggy Wilson said these kinds of changes to the curriculum don’t just affect the students. She said teachers are dealing with this higher standard as well and should receive some more training to ensure they’re up to the challenge.

     “That’s my biggest concern that we are not going to be able to have the teachers ready for this so that they can do a good job. And I think that it’s not going to do any good to do it. I think that’s one area that we neglect just a little bit across the state is teacher training,” Wilson said.  

     Representative Lora Reinbold wanted to see a 10-year cost analysis starting in 2012 to know the true impacts of curriculum changes for districts and state. She was curious about the costs associated with the No Child Left Behind waiver the state was granted a few years ago, which kickstarted a lot of changes in education throughout Alaska. Reinbold said she’d also like to know how much it costs to train or re-train teachers to fit into the new standards as well as the assessments that test students. 

     “So I personally think we should wait and see and wait to get feedback on a national level from what’s going on nationally before we jump in this, in my opinion, expensive experiment. Which it appears to be,” she said.

     Reinbold initially had herself included as a co-sponsor for this delay, but she has been removed from the list as of Wednesday, March 19. Even though some school districts may have expressed frustration to lawmakers, not everyone is on the same page. 

     During the public comment period Sunni Hilts pointed out this delay is going to hurt the students. Hilts was speaking as president of the Alaska Association of School Boards. She’s also a member of the KPBSD school board. 

     “When we made this shift and when teachers bought into it, and have worked so hard to do this… it’s because we believe that our students deserve the best education we can provide. And right now, we think to delay this, to change course in any way, does not give them that best education. It means returning to inferior standards. And I think it means a lot of confusion,” she said. 

     Hilts said it’s in the state’s best interest to move forward and encourage districts to implement the new standards.