Political News

Alaska editorials

Posted September 13

Here is a sampling of Alaska editorials:

Sept. 13, 2017

Ketchikan Daily News: Southeast needs a seat

Ketchikan and southern Southeast Alaska will want to be represented on the new Highway Advisory Board.

Gov. Bill Walker established the board earlier this month. The board will mimic the Alaska Marine Highway System advisory board and be as important to the communities of Southeast.

Seven Alaskans will be asked to serve on the board, representing the commercial trucking industry, municipalities and rural areas of the state. Terms will be for four years.

The highway board will provide input into the building and repair of Alaska's roaded infrastructure. While most of the state's roaded highways are in other regions of the state, Southeast isn't without its own, and their maintenance is a common topic in Southeast communities.

"Every single Alaskan interacts with our road system somehow — commuting, delivering goods and services, or simply to enjoy the beauty of the Last Frontier," Walker says. "Maintaining Alaskans' quality of life means maintaining our roads and bridges ."

Ketchikan and other Southeast communities are fortunate in the roads the state has built in the region, and many of those are being maintained well. But, like with most things, the work is never done.

Southeast shouldn't be without representation on the board. And, a Ketchikan representative would do as well as one from any other community in the region.

___

Sept. 6, 2017

Alaska Journal of Commerce: State education system needs total overhaul

The first step to solving a problem is admitting one exists.

Alaska education officials have finally crossed that threshold after releasing the results from math, science and English tests administered this past spring to more than 70,000 students across the state in grades 3 through 10.

The outcomes were shockingly poor.

Fewer than 15 percent of 10th graders statewide scored proficient in math; for English only 38.4 percent scored proficient or better. More disturbing still is looking at the bar charts that show a steady decline in proficiency from grade 3 to grade 10.

In math, 44.5 percent of third graders scored proficient or better. That's not great, but it is a starting point for improvement. Instead there is a steady path downward at every grade level before bottoming out at 14.7 percent in grade 10.

"We have to be dissatisfied with the current results," said Alaska Education Commissioner Michael Johnson.

Anchorage School District Superintendent Deena Bishop was even more blunt.

"Our scores stink," she told KTUU.

If anything, she understated the situation for the state's largest local school system.

In the ASD, just 12.2 percent of 10th graders scored proficient in math and a miniscule 2.2 percent as advanced. One in four 10th graders were far below proficient and another 60 percent were below proficient.

In English, a whopping 38.3 percent of ASD 10th graders scored far below proficient while just less than one in three scored as proficient or advanced.

There can be no pointing to an urban-rural divide in outcomes for the state education system when the district with every advantage possible is failing in such epic fashion.

Back in February, Herb Schroeder, the founder of the wildly successful Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program, released a study that tracks with the poor results of the state testing by showing that more than half of incoming freshmen from state high schools require at least one remedial course in math or English.

In one particularly ugly data set, Schroeder found that 74 percent of students from five high schools ranging in size and location required remediation despite graduating with an average GPA of 3.16.

What that means is students who qualified for state performance scholarships were unprepared for basic college work.

At the time, many superintendents faulted his study. None should dare question his conclusions now.

Schroeder has since estimated that the cost of remediation between students and the state pushes $42 million per year. Considering the state spends more than $1.3 billion per year on education, it is often paying twice to educate students.

A state with budget deficits topping $2 billion per year cannot afford to spend this much money on a failing system; what it can afford even less is to continue churning out unprepared students.

The state doesn't need another task force or committee to find solutions. It needs a single mission: To teach English, math and science first, second and last.

Fluffy social science, arts and expensive extracurricular activities must take a backseat to the old fashioned basics. There is no alternative.

The solution is surely not what is found on the ASD website under guidance for parents about state exams that advises: "Encourage your child. Praise him/her for the things they do well. If your child feels confident, he/she will likely do their best on a test."

This kind of touchy-feely nonsense that has plagued our education system for decades has got to stop. "Feeling confident" is not how to pass a test. Confidence flows from preparation, not from empty praise.

Another thing that has to stop is the misguided focus on graduation rates.

Graduating is obviously important, but it is the academic equivalent of the participation trophy if the end result is merely passing students through the system without educating them.

Schroeder has built the ANSEP success from the middle school level up by ensuring students are not only prepared to enter college, but prepared to excel. That hasn't happened by lowering standards and social promotion.

A total overhaul must start now for an education system that is crippling our next generation.

___

Sept. 13, 2017

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Turning around the troubled Alaska Dispatch News is a new challenge

The sale of the state's largest newspaper "has resonated across the state's media and political landscape. It is a momentous acquisition."

Those quoted words are what the Daily News-Miner published in this spot in April 2014 upon the purchase of the Anchorage Daily News by the owners of the Alaska Dispatch, which was then only an online news source.

And those words are again valid following the approved sale this week of the Alaska Dispatch News, the renamed Anchorage paper, to a group led by the Binkley family of Fairbanks and including Arctic Sounder Publisher Jason Evans.

We wish the new owners the best of luck as they assume operation of the Dispatch News, which was on a financial death spin that had been forestalled only by an influx of $1 million by the Binkley group last month as it made its play to buy the ailing news organization out of bankruptcy.

That action also gave the group prominence during the bankruptcy proceedings, which on Monday resulted in a judge's approval of the sale. No other potential buyers existed; it was approve the sale to the Binkley group or shut down the paper.

Alaska would have been be ill-served if its largest news organization had been allowed to go out of business.

The Alaska Dispatch News, as noted here in 2014, is full of Alaskans working hard to tell the stories of their fellow Alaskans and to report on issues affecting the state. The grand vision of now-former owner Alice Rogoff to expand that reach didn't work out as she had hoped, however, and should be remembered as a lesson.

The best thing now is for the newspaper to look ahead. For its employees, that won't be easy as the new owners take actions to improve the company's precarious financial situation.

It also won't be easy for the new owners. The judge presiding over the bankruptcy proceedings expressed that belief in court Monday.

The Binkley family, well known in our part of the state, is certainly keen for a challenge and has deep roots in Alaska that could be helpful in finding success. The Fairbanks family has a century of riverboating experience in Alaska through five generations and owns and operates the Riverboat Discovery and Gold Dredge 8, two of the top visitor attractions in the Fairbanks region.

John Binkley, vice president of the family business, is well known in the Alaska political and business worlds, two points that could come in handy when running a business reliant in large part on advertising revenue.

Mr. Binkley's background in politics is plentiful: He is a former state legislator representing the Bethel area and ran for governor in 2006, finishing second to Sarah Palin in the Republican primary election, and he was considered for appointment to the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by then-Sen. Frank Murkowski, who had just won election as Alaska governor. On the business side, and in addition to his role in the family business, he is president of the Alaska Cruise Association and a member of the Alaska Railroad board of directors.

Alaskans, and other media outlets, should hope the new owners do succeed. A strong newspaper in the state's largest city is vital.

Three years ago the News-Miner concluded its welcome editorial to Ms. Rogoff with these words:

"This is one of those prominent points on the timeline of Alaska media, up there with such events as the 1992 end of the great Anchorage newspaper war that saw the Daily News triumph over the Anchorage Times ... These are interesting and fast-moving times in the media industry, but the challenge remains the same as ever — to serve readers well."

That remains true today.

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