If I were to design a K-12 education program from the ground up for a community the size of Eagle River I would start with a system that is centered on leveraging technology, along with choice and competition to produce excellent student outcomes at the lowest taxpayer cost.
To start with, Eagle River is nearly the perfect size for creating a very effect and effective school district with about 3,600 students enrolled in K-12 in Eagle River/Chugiak, the student population is very close to the optimum sized district of 2,900 students, according to a study published by the Mackinac Center in 2007. School District Consolidation, Size and Spending: an Evaluation Smaller districts lose economies-of-scale and districts that are much larger than 2,900 tend to very rapidly become bogged down in bureaucratic structure.
In my vision of the new Eagle River School District, school principals and staff would be given increased autonomy to create magnet programs for every individual school and parents would be granted blanket zone exemptions to put their child in the program that best suits their child’s needs.
The vast majority of resource allocation decisions would be delegated to the school principal and their staff. Funding would follow the student to their school so popular and successful programs would be rewarded with more funding. This is a technique that has been used extensively in many other places and was pioneered in Edmonton Alberta. This technique spurs healthy competition between school programs and improves outcomes without additional costs.
Competition between schools leads to increased use of innovations that are already common in many other places that have systems that encourage innovation as opposed to the centralized monopoly model that dominates urban K12 education in Alaska.
In this system, students essentially have no “boundaries” keeping them from participating in variety of different programs — and would not necessarily limited to enrollment in one particular campus. Students could simultaneously attend a program at one campus in the morning and a different campus in the afternoon while being also enrolled in on-line courses or homeschooling. Essentially an education smorgasbord, where student and parents pick and choose to customize their education experience.
There are a lot of exciting innovations happening now in K12 delivery across the country. Eagle River is a nearly perfect position to emulate those innovations as an independent school system to produce much better outcomes at lower cost.