Alaska Judge Demands Action for Rural Schools

Last Updated: April 29, 2010

This article appeared in the April 2010 Rural Policy Matters

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The Alaska high court has ruled that the state is still not complying with a previous order to develop and implement improvement plans for chronically underperforming rural schools. On March 31, Judge Sharon Gleason gave the State Department of Education and Early Childhood two months to produce a “proper effort” and said she may appoint a special master if the state does not come up with a suitable plan.

Last year, Gleason ruled that the state should be doing more to assist these districts, including implementing pre-kindergarten programs. That ruling clarified four requirements for the state: 1) a constitutionally adequate set of standards;, 2) adequate assessments to determine whether schools are meeting those standards;, 3) adequate funding so schools would be able to meet those standards;, and 4) adequate oversight and accountability. It is this last requirement that has not been met.

The lawsuit was first filed in 2004.

The state had identified five districts that are chronically failing. The state claims that in those districts curriculum in not aligned with standards, students do not have sufficient individual remediation plans, teacher retention had not be addressed, and the districts do not have sufficient remediation plans.

The small rural districts say that they need and welcome the additional help. Many of the remote boroughs only have one or two teachers and students who do not speak English as their first language.

Lawyers for both sides in the case have met to discuss a settlement.

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Read more from the April 2010 Rural Policy Matters.