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Anchorage: First District-Level Adoption of Common Standards

Alaska is one of the handful of states that have not adopted the Common Core State Standards. But that didn't stop the state's biggest school district, Anchorage, from adopting them.

Yesterday, by a vote of 5 to 2, the Anchorage school board adopted the standards, and directed the district to create an implementation plan, according to district spokeswoman Heather Sawyer.

In their discussion, board members noted that the success of the endeavor depends on a sound implementation plan because the "standards themselves will not be a silver bullet to ensure increased student achievement," Sawyer told me.

The board made its move on the recommendation of superintendent Carol Comeau, who, as her June retirement draws near, has made a particular point of urging the panel to embrace the standards.

"I am very pleased, and feel confident that our students will definitely benefit from a more focused and rigorous instructional program," Comeau told me in an email. In developing its implementation plan, the district will be working closely with the Council of the Great City Schools, she said. The Council is an advocacy group for the largest school districts in the country. Comeau is currently on the group's executive committee, and has also headed its board.

With Anchorage embracing the common standards, that means that 37 percent of the preK-12 students in Alaska will now be under the common-standards umbrella.

Alaska itself, however, appears to be moving toward the common standards. At its June 7-8 meeting, the state board of education will vote on whether to adopt a new set of math and English/language arts standards that were modeled on the common standards, said department spokesman Eric Fry.

For six months, the state education department has been conducting outreach to a wide variety of people, from teachers unions and higher education to mining and oil-and-gas associations, to solicit public comment on its proposed standards, Fry told me. The proposed standards were designed by comparing Alaska's current standards with the common core and "taking the best of both of them," with the resulting standards "quite similar" to the common standards, he said.

"What we wanted to do was create standards that we had chosen, that we agreed with," he said. "If you think about it, that takes a while to do. Some states adopted them pretty quickly. There didn't seem to be anything negative about taking a close look, taking our time, and getting a couple hundred Alaskans, including educators, involved. It increases the possibility of getting buy-in."

In recommending that Anchorage adopt the common standards, however, one of Comeau's reasons was that Alaska's proposed set did not include the common standards' literacy standards for history/social studies, science and technical subjects. She also said in her recommendation to the board that in her view, that Alaska's proposed standards are not as rigorous as those in the common core, especially in English/language arts.

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