What Really Happened in Alaska?

If you didn’t know better, you might think that whatever happened in the Chugach School District in Alaska over a decade ago was a full-blown, ed-reform miracle.

“This district literally leaves no child behind,” gushes Edutopia in this article, which describes the big jump in test scores its students made after switching to a competency-based system of education.

As tends to be the case with legends of ed reform, however, it doesn’t take a whole lot of digging for the whole thing to unravel.

First you find out that the only thing this district has in common with most American school districts is that it happens to be located on Planet Earth.

In Chugach, 214 students live in tiny villages spread out among 22,000 square miles. Students must be flown by private aircraft to reach school sites, and a majority of students are actually home-schooled.

Then you keep digging, and it all starts to get weird.

Like really weird.

You find out, for example, that the entire district was literally used as a lab for a group of students working toward their doctorates at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, who served in administrative roles within the district while studying the implementation of a “quality schools model” based on principles of the business-oriented Malcolm Baldrige Award.

Then you find the application Chugach submitted for this award, and you discover that the Gates Foundation and Apple were helping to finance the whole thing.

And so you begin to wonder if maybe there was a broader agenda playing out in this rural Alaskan community.

You also find out that Tom Vander Ark – who visited Chugach in 1999 as executive director of education for the Gates Foundation before acquiring a massive venture capital portfolio of digital and online learning companies – was so pleased with what he saw in Chugach that he awarded few million dollars to get the whole thing to “scale up.”

Then you keep reading the application that the Chugach administrators submitted for the Malcolm Baldrige Award , and you stumble across strange comments like this:

 The leadership team sets value for all stakeholders by requiring their input and constant evaluation of the organization.For example, community members helped to create standards. “We want our kids to enjoy what they are learning while hey are learning, and to have a good humor in life,” said a Tatitlek Elder attending OTE meetings. These words are clearly reflected in CSD standards P/S Level 2.5 Demonstrates responsible use of humor.

…and you wonder how much input the Alaskan natives actually had in this whole endeavor.

After a little more digging, you also discover a document from an unrelated researcher who has written about a district that matches the description of Chugach but uses the pseudonym “Tikishla” to protect identities, and you learn that the superintendent of this district made a variety of  disturbingly grandiose claims that sound as though they come straight from this creepy document.

Here’s one:

You have to create the future. It takes a very rare individual to be able to have a vision to create that future, how to make it a better system. And for whatever reason, those people have not been in a leadership role. So they are looking at what we’ve done and analyzing it.

Apparently, this superintendent also believed it was his role to articulate his vision to stakeholders and enlist them as a “team of evangelists that go out and sell the dream for you.’’

Even more disturbingly, you discover that these “evangelists” described above were later invited to your home state of Maine to present at the annual superintendent’s conference, just before setting up shop as the newly formed “Reinventing Schools Coalition” (with big financial help from the Gates and Nellie Mae Foundations) to begin reworking schools in your own back yard.

Including the one where you were planning to send your own son.

And so you begin to get the sense that Chugach and the native Alaskans it is home to were actually being very deliberately used in a giant experiment that would one day serve as a prototype for the drive toward competency-based education that is now sweeping our nation.

It also makes you wonder when you read documents like this from a group called “Partnership for Change” based in Vermont – which claims that their reforms are homegrown when they are actually financed by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation  – whether or not the same type of thing that happened in Chugach is now happening beneath our noses here in New England.

Then you find out that a consultant group called Bellwether Education, which works with Gates and Nellie Mae, actually advocates setting up these types of non-profit groups to trick the public into believing that their reform ideas are coming from the community, and you decide that yes – this is most likely what is happening.

Then it dawns on you:

Our schools are being colonized.


















Author: Emily Talmage

My name is Emily Talmage and I teach fourth grade at Montello Elementary School in Lewiston, Maine. In addition to teaching in Lewiston, I have also taught special education and general education in New York City, including one year at a “high-performing” charter school in Brooklyn. I also have two master’s degrees; one in Urban Education from Mercy College, and another in Developmental Psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University. I have also worked as a research analyst and assistant at the National Center for Children and Families at Columbia and Oldham Innovative Research in Portland.

8 thoughts on “What Really Happened in Alaska?”

  1. I read the bellwether stuff and finally concluded that on the assumption that the idea could be sold to the education system the vast number of things,decisions etcetera which would have to be made by the administrators at every level in order to “do it yourself” would be put aside and a commercial system would be much simpler to implement, of course with taxpayers money. The fake non-profit outfits are therefore essential. I also saw, well buried, the expectation that DATA will be supplied to some outside company in all cases.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Just for fun I looked it up:
    A castrated male sheep is called a wether. Wethers are less aggressive than rams.
    A bellwether is a sheep that leads the herd often wearing a bell.

    So the shepherd is really in charge here.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. New to your blog via Ravitch on the recent Marzano posts.

    I am very interested is this blog post since it mentions Chugach School District. It seems a link is missing, the one in this sentence: After a little more digging, you also discover a document from an unrelated researcher who has written about a district that matches the description of Chugach.

    Is the document referenced this one? Transfer of Standards-Based Education in Rural Alaska: An Analysis of the Politics of Educational Transfer in the Tikishla School District by Timothy E. Jester

    Timothy E. Jester

    I am quite interested in this and have done some research on similar type operations in Alaska, they all apparently came from this one in Chugach.


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