Perspectives on Business and Economics, Vol. 40

Perspectives on Business and Economics, Vol. 40, 2022 44 WALKING ON THIN ICE: EDUCATION CHALLENGES IN ALASKA Clare Fonstein Alaska faces challenges in providing public K–12 education to the state’s youth. Despite spending more per student than other states, Alaska schools are understaffed, lack proper resources, and score comparatively low on national standardized assessments. With the expansion of existing programs and implementation of new structures, the challenges can be mitigated to provide the best education possible for the students of Alaska. This article explores the root causes of Alaska’s education challenges and options for improvement. Introduction Alaska’s education system ranks forty-ninth in the nation, followed only by New Mexico, based on data from a U.S. News & World Report comprehensive evaluation, including graduation rates, test scores, and social mobility (Education Rankings, 2021). It is apparent from the below-average graduation rates and test scores that the Alaska education system requires drastic improvement. Data also reveal major disparities among students based on race, specifically for Alaska Native students, who are at the bottom of an already poor system. Alaska’s high school graduation rate, 81%, is lower than the 88.6% national average (Kerr & Kowarski, 2022). Alaska Natives/American Indians have an even lower graduation rate, 66.14% versus the state average (Alaska Department of Education & Early Development, 2022a). Graduation rates are key indicators of the health of an education system, signaling career readiness and students valuing school. Alaska students score lower than other states on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assessment, which measures what students know about and are able to achieve in the subjects of math, science, and reading. The test is given to a representative sample of students in each state and measures “students’ progress toward required knowledge and skills as set and defined by each state’s content standards.” In Alaska’s 2019 (pre-COVID) results, the average test scores for fourth graders were below the national average, indicated by NAEP reading scores (Figure 1). The same trend was continued for the eighth graders, also indicated by NAEP reading scores (Figure 2). Students’ 2019 math scores followed the same trends of Alaskan students performing below the national average. These same test data (Table 1) show that American Indian/Alaska Native students are scoring significantly lower than their white peers (National Assessment of Educational Progress, 2019).