Late last week the Dunleavy administration announced a $525,000 sole source contract with a Florida public education online outfit to create a new statewide virtual school. The ADN article describing the action focused primarily on NEA-Alaska (statewide teacher’s union) and Anchorage Education Association (AEA) shock and horror at the action. The comments section exploded with nearly 500 caustic (and worse) comments on the action in less than two days.
NEA-Alaska supporters were quite good at ferreting out complaints aimed at the Florida virtual education company. They were great at blasting away at Dunleavy, Donna Arduin, and everyone else within the frag envelope for the action. They swarmed instantly on any commenter who dared to post something in support of the contract. I posted a couple of those triggering predictable response strings. The response reminded me a lot of the reaction of a fire ant nest in Louisiana after tripping over it.
From a persuasion standpoint, this was a brilliant move, regardless of how good it works. From a political standpoint, it was even smarter.
The Dunleavy administration gave newly selected home-schooling parents (every parent with kids in the public, charter and private schools) another option for continuing education of their kids. It gave their kids another option for continuing their education. What did the unions do during these trying times? They collected signatures to recall Dunleavy.
How about the school districts? Although some commenters praised their online efforts, I’ve seen little to none of these efforts reported. And the school districts are in a difficult spot here, for should they educate their students online / distance with any level of success, they by definition undermine the rationale for brick and mortar locations to send kids to learn, and in turn continuing funding to support the current infrastructure. That movement has been underway for at least a couple decades, fought every inch of the way by the education establishment and unions. Why? Loss of control. Loss of funding. Ultimately, loss of the need to do what they have been doing, the product and service they have been delivering, in the way they have been doing it.
I have little sympathy for either the school districts or the unions in this, for the reasons previously stated. The districts are defending their status quo in a world that is quickly changing. And the unions are collecting signatures to recall the governor. Neither of these have anything to do with their stated mission of educating Alaskan kids.
From the standpoint of the governor, it really doesn’t matter if this will work or how well it works. All it matters is that he tried to give Alaskan parents and their children yet another option to continue their education during the time of Wuhan. My guess is that there will be some positive, and more importantly many, many lessons learned during and after the effort, lessons how to set up and operate distance education on a large level here in Alaska.
The unions? They were (are?) more interested in collecting signatures. They could have been out in front of this, suggesting similar options and putting those options in place. They weren’t and didn’t. As their actions reflect the views of their membership, this should tell you everything you want to know about the priorities of those public employees. Hint: they aren’t either parents or kids.
Alex Gimarc lives in Anchorage since retiring from the military in 1997. His interests include science and technology, environment, energy, economics, military affairs, fishing and disabilities policies. His weekly column “Interesting Items” is a summary of news stories with substantive Alaska-themed topics. He was a small business owner and Information Technology professional.