Should state require history course?

KPBSD supports concept if funding is part of the plan

Posted: Monday, December 06, 2004

ANCHORAGE (AP) The state Board of Education this week will take up a proposal to make the study of Alaska history a graduation requirement for high school students.

The requirement, if passed, would be effective for students graduating in 2009.

The board will hear public testimony on the proposed requirement this morning and is scheduled to vote Tuesday morning.

The Anchorage School District already requires its students take a state history course, while several other districts offer elective courses in state history.

Supporters of a statewide course requirement argue that a solid knowledge of Alaska's cultures and economy is a must for students to become responsible citizens.

Opponents say school districts shouldn't be ordered when and how to teach a specific class.

While the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District does not require the course on it own, Superintendent Donna Peterson said Alaska history already is integrated throughout the district's curriculum.

"We support the concept but oppose the need for a separate course without adequate funding," Peterson said. "We have a course on the books and could put it in tomorrow if they decided we had to mandate it as a separate course. We're absolutely in favor and supportive of it, if it's the only way to meet the intent, but we need the funding to go with it.

"Our children do well within the standards, so we feel we're doing fine. But we're ready to do whatever the state board says is right thing," she said.

The Fairbanks school board last month unanimously passed a resolution opposing a state-wide requirement, saying those decisions should be left to local school boards.

Juneau School District Super-intendent Peggy Cowan said the Juneau School Board has not taken any action supporting or opposing the proposed regulation and has not decided whether to make the course a local requirement.

Members of the Alaska Legislature have unsuccessfully attempted for years to make the course a requirement.

Education Commissioner Roger Sampson is offering the board an alternative to requiring the class: He wants the board to instead direct him to create a committee with developing standards for state history, so districts can use those guidelines.

That approach would be consistent with how Alaska has guided school districts in teaching in other academic areas, Sampson said laying out what students should learn, instead of dictating specific classes.

''This has become a very emotional issue, and I don't want anybody to think I don't care about Alaska history,'' Sampson said. ''It seems like a no-brainer on the surface. Of course, we'd want Alaska students to know Alaska history. But I think we need to be very careful about mandating a specific course title.''

The Alaska Humanities Forum has created a curriculum for Alaska history that's free to any school district that wants to use it. The group used $1.2 million in federal dollars to create the curriculum.

There's also money set aside to train the roughly 350 teachers who would be needed to reach the estimated 10,000 students who graduate from Alaska high schools every year, director Ira Perman said.

The course, offered via software or the Internet, is being piloted this year in 25 Alaska schools, from Metlakatla to Point Hope. After massaging out the kinks, it will be ready in fall 2005, Perman said.

''We collectively have an obligation to each other to teach our kids state history,'' Perman said.

''Simple as that. This is the right thing to do. We are one of only three states in the whole United States that does not require state history.''

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