Analyzing the Current Situation

What do we need to do or change?

As alluded to in the Why Do We Need Research section, Alaska has a well educated older population, a population of elementary and secondary students performing at or above national averages, and a large percentage of youth who either drop out in high school or make a decision to not pursue higher education. Alaska ranks 42nd in the nation in the percentage of ninth graders who graduate from high school, and 50th in terms of the number of ninth graders who complete a bachelor’s degree within ten years[1] of their high school graduation.

Such statistics do not bode well for these students’ future employability. While Alaska’s total unemployment rates are below the national average, we have one of the highest rates in the nation for 16 to 19-year olds not in school and not working. The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development (DOLWD) projects that for those jobs with the brightest growth prospects and greatest number of openings over the next ten years that pay above median wages, over one-half will require at least an associate’s degree, and one-third will require a bachelor’s degree or greater.

In an increasingly global marketplace spawning increased competition for jobs and wealth, the United States has seen its public education systems move from the top of the list of the industrialized countries to fighting to stay above average (See Highlights From TIMSS 2007: Mathematics and Science Achievement of U.S. Fourth- and Eighth-Grade Students in an International Context report). Students’ standardized test scores in science and math have stayed consistent or even improved in recent years.  However, the scores of students in other nations continue to improve at an even faster pace, enhancing those nations’ competitive advantages and increasingly transferring jobs, and the wealth they create, away from the United States. 

For Alaska, these findings are even more disturbing.  While Alaska students often score near the national average in elementary and secondary standardized tests (See Alaska and NAEP: The Performance of Alaska Students on the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress report), Alaska has one of the highest rates of students dropping out before earning their high school diploma (See High School Dropout and Completion Rates in the United States: 2007 report) and the lowest rate of students attending college directly from high school (See info from the NCHEMS Information Center).  While these patterns are disturbing, they are neither unavoidable nor irreversible.  However, changing them will require concerted efforts by all stakeholders in Alaska's educational system.

To identify the areas of most concern to educational stakeholders, ACPE conducted a survey in late 2010, asking respondents to identify their most pressing unanswered questions.  These results should help guide future research efforts and, ideally, provide insights into the changes required to reverse the patterns noted above.