In Kindergarten through 3rd grade students are learning to read; in 4th through 12th grade students are reading to learn. Therefore, it is imperative that students master reading by the end of the 3rd grade year. Classroom size is thus particularly critical in the early years. I remember my Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Wilhelm, sitting with a very small group of students teaching us to read. I am concerned that elementary school teachers have classes so large that they are not able to devote sufficient time to individual students. As a legislator I advocated for smaller class sizes. During my time in the legislature we passed the largest increase in educational funding in many years.
English as a Second Language
The East Side of Anchorage is home to numerous non-English speaking households. It is critical to the future success of the children in these households that they master English. Unfortunately, English as a Second Language (ESL) cannot be taught in a large classroom setting. Classroom size is particularly critical when dealing with non-English speaking students. I know from personal experience, having studied Spanish as a second language in Mexico, that the maximum number of students in a beginning ESL class should not exceed 5 or 6. Obviously, in the real world we are not going to have a certified teacher for every 5 or 6 students. But, there should be enough aides in each classroom that every 5 or 6 students have an instructor. As your representative I will focus on funding for ESL.
High School Dropout Rates
Alaska’s dropout rate, at 8 percent, was double the national average in the 2005-2006 school year, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Education. These are some of the things we should consider to lower the drop out rate. We should consider raising the compulsory school attendance age to 18. We should vigorously enforce truancy laws and provide funding for school districts to employ truancy officers. We also need to promote programs such as Step Up, SAVE High School and Benny Benson that work with at-risk students. Moreover, we need to aggressively advertise these alternative educational options in venues that reach these at-risk students.