Alaska’s high school dropout rate outpaces national average

Anchorage, Alaska (AP) 11-08

Alaska’s high school dropout rate far outpaces the national average. In fact, it was double the national average from 2005 to 2006, or 8 percent, according to U.S. Department of Education figures.

In Alaska, the Commission on Postsecondary Education says 38 percent of today’s ninth-graders will have no high school diploma in 10 years. That puts Alaska last in the nation for the number of ninth-graders who will likely have a four-year college degree in 10 years.

The road to failure can start early.

Some educators say they can see which kids aren’t going to make it on the first day of kindergarten. Some children show up knowing how to read, while others come not even knowing their colors.


Alaska educators gathered for a third day on during mid November to brainstorm how to stop the epidemic of kids quitting school. They called dropping out a result of an accumulative failure, which can start before kids even enter school.

“This is a social issue, one we all own,” said Association of Alaska School Boards executive director Carl Rose. “We all need to take some responsibility in this.”

Part of the issue, according to University of Alaska president Mark Hamilton, is cultural. Parents and families are not valuing education. They need to realize even skilled labor fields, like plumbing or construction, require training that depends on knowledge, such as math, learned in high school.

“We have to stop saying, ‘College isn’t for everyone,’ “ he said. “Post-secondary education is for nearly everyone unless your goal is to be the head fry guy at McDonald’s.”

Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski convened the hearing. She asked state and national education experts what the federal government could do to help fix the problem.

Among the suggestions for federal help was to fund more pre-kindergarten programs; to support more vocational and technical classes in high schools; and to continue to provide special grants for the education of Alaska Natives, who have among the highest dropout rates.

“We are failing our kids and we should be ashamed of ourselves,” said Tina Michels-Hansen, of Cook Inlet Tribal Council, which offers tutoring and other schooling help for Anchorage School District Alaska Natives.

“Schools have become factories that communities passively accept,” she said.