Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Scholarship program may not reach rural students

Alaska ranks last among all states in sending students to college, especially when getting poor students to college. A 2010 law which provides merit-based scholarships to students who take tougher course loads in high school was supposed to help address those problems, but some stakeholders say the law does little to help rural schools. "With rural schools struggling just to get kids to come to class and, in the smallest communities, with class size -- fewer students mean less money -- Alaska's neediest students and the schools they attend may face more obstacles than others to reap the program's rewards," Jill Burke of the Alaska Dispatch reports.

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell admitted that not all of the state's schools were prepared to teach on-site more difficult curriculum, but claimed "schools will get better if  'parents demand improvements' and fight for their child's right to learn at a higher level," Burke writes. Still that demand may not be enough to bring new classes to rural schools, said Dr. Norm Eck, superintendent of the Northwest Arctic Borough School District headquartered in Kotzebue. Noting that the realities of life in rural Alaska are likely to impact Alaska Native students most, "We have to provide equal opportunity to our Alaska Native students, he said. "Right now we don't."

"The state has said all schools unable to offer on-site courses that satisfy the merit scholarship program's requirements will be able to connect students to those classes through either virtual or distance learning," Burke writes. "Still, a general lack of broadband infrastructure in rural Alaska may make that goal challenging to fully execute." Eck and other rural educators don't have a problem with the scholarship program outright, but he said the access needs to be fair. "We have to provide the opportunity to learn for the kids who want and need to take advantage of that," he told Burke. "There are no easy answers." (Read more)

No comments: