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September 24, 2021

The Cost of Doing More

Anchorage Quonset Hut school, 1948. This building was the overflow classroom for Chugach Elementary, the only elementary school at the time.

Anchorage Quonset Hut school, 1948. This building was the overflow classroom for Chugach Elementary, the only elementary school at the time.

By Jeff Friedman

The Anchorage School Board has passed its budget, and the state legislature will soon be voting on school funding. It is that time of year when people like to ask “why is education so expensive?”

As a parent and school board member, I have been active in education issues at the school, district, state, and national level for nearly 20 years. Like most of you, I also went to school myself as a child. Of course, that was nearly 40 years ago, and a few things have changed since then.

When I was in school, algebra was taught in high school and few students took calculus. Physics stopped with Isaac Newton, and our history books didn’t take us past the Korean War. My high school offered four advance placement classes. The level of science, math, writing, and reading instruction in an Anchorage elementary classroom is far more encompassing than I received in my elementary school. The science taught at the high school level for all students is what used to be taught only to college science majors. Teaching students more information costs more money.

When I was in school, if a student misbehaved, his or her parents held the student responsible. Today, the first question many people ask is “what did the teacher do wrong to cause the misbehavior?” This shift in responsibility has led to increased behavior problems, with more time spent attempting to address those problems. These changes cost more money.

When I was in school, dropping out to join the army or to get a job was considered a valid career choice. Certainly no one blamed teachers for a student’s decision to drop out. Responsibility for coming to school was placed on the student. Today, if a student drops out, the school is at fault.

The same was true about students who skipped a class. Skipping school was once thought to be a personal choice made by students; not a sign that teachers and principals were doing something wrong. Changing the school’s role so fewer students drop out or skip class costs more money.

When I was in school, children with disabilities didn’t attend the typical neighborhood school. Today, school districts are responsible for providing a free and appropriate education to all students. Districts must provide special education services to students enrolled in private schools as well. Educating all students costs more money.

When I was in school, addressing the needs of students speaking different languages was not an issue for most teachers. Teaching non-English speaking students costs more money.

I’m sure there were homeless students when I was in school, but school districts were not required to provide additional transportation and other services to address the unique needs of students without a home. Providing these services costs more money.

When I was in school, not all children were the same. People believed that some children did better in math, reading, or writing, than others, and that it was not possible for all children to be proficient every year. Today, society expects all children to be successful at or above a proficiency level that was thought to be unrealistic 40 years ago. Raising the standard of success costs more money.

Schools are also expected to teach job skills, work ethic, healthy eating and anti-bullying. Students must learn to use computers, search the internet, and follow safe internet practices. Parents have demanded more, so now the district teaches everything from anthropology to zoology, including courses such as aviation, tourism, engineering, material science, CAD, debate, web design, band, orchestra, forensic science, culinary arts, EMT, and multiple foreign languages, all part of an already crowded academic schedule.

Society has demanded changes. Students who in the past were shunted aside or left behind are now being educated. This change is very good, but it is not free. Rather than asking why education is so expensive, we should be asking how schools do so much at such a reasonable cost.


Jeff Friedman is a lawyer and was a member of the Anchorage School Board for nine years. The opinion expressed here is his own. This piece is cross-posted from the Anchorage Daily News.




6 Responses to “The Cost of Doing More”
  1. Carol says:

    Gol3ig, I agree. I was schooled from K thru college in Alaska. I did not have children but I am strongly behind public education. Children are our future; if you think education is expensive, consider how expensive ignorance will be for our future. I want an educated work force, so I can hire an educated worker; not someone I need to train in basic English, math, etc. I am not an educator. If parents want to make the choice to send their children to private schools, I have no problems with that. However, that choice should not detract from public education. A private school and in Alaska, most maybe all, are religious schools. Alaska’s constitution addresses religious schools and public education and they are not to mix.
    this article says it well as to why education costs more now than it did 40 years ago; there are many factors, one that this author alludes to; parents/society ask teachers to do the jobs that parents need to be doing. Parents need to take responsiblity for their childrens’ learning, do their homework, get to school on time, parents need to be involved with the schools. Many are – hooray!; too many aren’t – boo.

  2. Jeff says:

    Thank you for the supportive comments.

    Those of us in Anchorage are lucky; we need to remember that Anchorage still has librarians, music teachers, and art teachers. Anchorage still has a reasonable student teacher ratio, and special education support. Anchorage still has small kindergarten classes. In rural Alaska, and in much of the rest of the United States, they are really struggling. Huge classes, minimal to no maintenance and cleaning, No art. No libraries. No music.

    Ultimately, schools are not a reflection of what the community wants. Schools are a reflection of what the voters want. And lately, the voters have been electing too many people who do not value public education. They may claim to value it, but their actions show more.

  3. Zyxomma says:

    Every comment I’ve read in response to this stellar post is spot on. Jeff, thank you for your past service on the school board, and for your excellent, informed essay.

    I don’t live in AK, but in NYC. Our billionaire mayor has already cut school budgets 14 times since he took office (that’s not a typo), and is constantly telling all city agencies they must “do more with less” (unless they’re the police department, who receive funds to purchase military-grade hardware). Meanwhile, despite plenty of excellence at some of our schools, others are full of children whose parents should never have had them (whether because they were teenagers or junkies). However, they did, and those children should have a fighting chance to succeed in the 21st century. Teachers and principals are not to blame, but they are blamed, often, when anything goes wrong.

    Over 40 years ago, when I was in public school (not here, but next door in NJ), I was afraid to go home with my report card if it didn’t say “A” next to every subject. I was expected to do homework, projects, reports, etc., without the benefit of anything more sophisticated than books, pens, pencils, and paper. I also played in the bands and orchestra, wrote for the newspaper, and sang in the chorus. Things have changed. I am amazed at how much education is accomplished with such meager funding.

    I believe this (Republican-led) movement toward denying funding for the most important of missions, giving children a chance to succeed in life, is purposeful. If critical thinking is not taught, if higher education is unattainable, we will sink ever further in our standing in the world. I’m sure Walmart’s executives are laughing as they see the next generation of stock pickers and greeters, willing and ready to be exploited.

    Today is the International Day of the Woman. Let’s contemplate brave Malala Yousafzai and the million marchers in Pakistan who support education for girls. The education of women is the fastest and surest way out of poverty for aspiring families, as has been proven again and again. Here in the US, let us support girls’ efforts to enroll in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) classes.

    I love to learn; I’ve always loved to learn. I hope I always shall. I also love to teach, and it’s part of what I do for a living. I don’t do it through the school system, I help adults learn how to take care of their health. However, one of the best afternoons I ever spent was sharing a small part of my rock and mineral collection with students at a public school in Brooklyn, at the invitation of their teacher, who was dismayed by the school’s poor collection. One of my dearest friends just retired from the NJ public school system, where he’d been inspiring students since 1967 (he’s still teaching, but in college). Let’s treasure our teachers, and give them all the help they need. Our future depends on their success.

  4. Ivan says:

    Per barrel – education tax.
    per once of Precious metal – education tax.
    spill it on the ground – massive fine to go to education fund.

    i think all resource developers ( oil and gas, mining, forestry ? ) who are allowed to make a profit off of the people of Alaska’s resources should have to contribute to an education trust fund. EVERY CHILD should be given a k-12 education payed for entirely by the fund.
    i think it should also include a bachelors degree if the recipient stays and works and contributes to the economy in alaska for certain amount of time.
    there is no reason that a state with the natural resources we have should not have the best education system in the world.
    The only excuse we have is we allow greedy business men who are cloaked in the flag, free markets and the robe of Christ ( today’s American conservatism ), to profit off of OUR resources.
    They vilify any attempt to use those resources for the betterment of society by brainwashing the citizens into believing that the system will collapses into anarchy and socialism ( as if the two were inextricably tied together). this fear mongering has been used effectively since the end of WW ll. This a lead us to place where we sit passively by as our gov. executes people from the sky with robots simply for being “labeled” a threat, no trial, not even an arrest.
    You may say i digress from education but none of this will change if we do not educate our children, so it in our best interest to do so and in big business’s ( and the governments they control ) best interest to not educate.

    • Ivan says:

      It is a fact that the republican controlled government of Alaska wants to take money away from the education of our children and give it to large corporations.

  5. GoI3ig says:

    Well stated.

    I attended school in the ASD from K-12, and went on to earn a degree from the University of Alaska.

    When I graduated from high school, there were five Apple IIE computers for the entire high school. Times have progressed, and overhead has increased. Mr. Friedman has an understanding that the more specialized the system becomes, the more expensive it is to administer.

    I am tired of hearing people complain that the public school system is broken. I beg to differ. The school system works for those willing to seize the opportunity. My classmates of thirty years ago are now everything from pilots, dentists, politicians, lawyers, and accountants, to surgeons and teachers.

    I don’t mind mind paying for the public school system even though I have never had children in the ASD myself. I feel it’s the least I can do for the twelve years of education I received.

    I am concerned for the future of ASD funding as the legislature attempts to divert public funds away from public education to religious institutions.

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