K–12 Education Gap Analysis
Energy literacy involves basic understanding of civics, politics, history and sociology, but is rooted at its core in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Meaningful efforts to expand energy literacy in Alaska must confront the ongoing STEM crisis taking place throughout Alaska at all grade levels.
Third grade is a year of intellectual transformation that is often identified as the most consequential year in a student’s life. Successful third graders move from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” On the other hand, underperforming third graders are four times more likely to drop out of high school than their more proficient classmates.
There is a winnowing down of Alaskan third graders who are able to meet basic grade level competencies, and this has an outsized impact on educational and career opportunities. Recent state testing showed that less than 45% of Alaskan third grade students are proficient at grade level math, and only 38% of students are English Language Arts proficient. This becomes more severe as students move through the school system; Alaskan third graders as a whole represent the highest scorers across the entire K-12 system. A mere 14% of Alaskan 10th graders are proficient at grade level math (Advanced Arithmetic/Algebra I).
As of 2018, the recently developed Performance Evaluation for Alaska’s Schools (PEAKS) statewide assessments have produced only two years’ worth of data, making definitive conclusions difficult. It is also the case that Alaska’s statewide student profile is highly unique, which makes comparison to other states problematic. But, to the degree that standardized tests are one of many tools that indicate how young Alaskans are faring in a highly competitive world, the results and downward trend by grade level are worrisome.
Energy literacy and STEM are not equated in this gap analysis, but they are inextricably linked. Meaningful energy literacy efforts and an understanding of Alaska’s clean energy potential are dependent on a student body with STEM competencies far greater than those in evidence today. We need to better prepare the ranks of future Alaskan students, workers, entrepreneurs, homeowners, teachers and parents.
Statewide K-12 extracurricular education efforts are by definition ambitious. No matter the state or subject matter in question, there are bound to be a common set of obstacles in introducing lessons that are not part of the regular curriculum. Time is a limited commodity in every classroom, and the competition to win over teachers and students working outside mandated curricula is fierce. In Alaska, there are added challenges unique in both number and character. The ever-present rural/Railbelt divide requires close attention to cultural diversity, historical grievances and the persistent web of logistical barriers that are familiar to generations of Alaskans.