As I sat in the audience at the recent community meeting at Lee High listening to speakers drone on and on about how they plan to turn water into wine, I just shook my head.
My mind wandered to some of the high poverty schools I have been to in Alabama and the world I’ve seen. A world being ignored this night.
The day a principal in Mobile told me she needed a shower to bath children from homes where the water was turned off. A principal in Talladega County telling me about a first grader she “spit shined” each morning to get her ready for class. An old portable building I went into thinking it was a storage room—but instead found two fifth grade classrooms.
How many times has a teacher pointed out a student and said, “He/she is just trying to survive from day to day?”
Instead we were hearing about looking at reams of data, about being focused like a laser on school outcomes i.e. test scores, and student achievement.
Scores were all that seemed to matter. (Did we not learn anything from No Child Left Behind?)
Never once did anyone say students are more than just numbers. Their talents and challenges cannot be neatly quantified and stuck in a math formula.
Never once did anyone explain that test scores are just symptoms of a larger problem. Why did a child do poorly on a test? Was it the teacher’s fault, as so many want to believe? Or did he have a tooth ache and has never been to the dentist? Has anyone ever checked his eyesight? Is his classroom the only safe haven he knows? Is the lady in the lunchroom the only person who ever smiles at him?
There are 8,760 hours in one year. A child in Alabama spends 1,080 of these hours in school. That is only 12 percent of their time.
Yet we spend most of our resources on the 12, forget the 88, and wonder why not much changed.
Montgomery is piloting “community school” programs at Davis, Nixon and Bellingrath middle. Such programs recognize there is more to school success than the 12 percent of hours of classroom time.
They are working to address the whole child, not just ABC’s and numbers.
The speakers did not mention any of this at Lee High that night. Just student achievement.
Right now, there are 18 systems statewide with weaker scores on the new A-F school system report cards than Montgomery.
Three of these are Selma, Midfield and Birmingham. All were “taken over” by the state in the last few years.
Each is similar to the traditional Montgomery system. Birmingham is 65 percent poverty, Selma is 73.2 and Midfield is 63.1.
So the question is begged, does the state department of education really know how to improve school systems? How many have they “turned around?”
We have a state superintendent with no experience of ever having worked in a school or a school system. He has no track record of turning around schools.
But he has now spent $1.2 million on consultants to examine Montgomery schools from top to bottom. And he gave 10 percent raises to all principals of underperforming schools, while ignoring principals of good schools.
The push for intervention in Montgomery is driven more by politics than anything else.
And like all politicians, the ones in Montgomery want instant gratification. They want to look at test scores on a sheet of paper and feel all warm and fuzzy.
But as any experienced educator will tell you, that ain’t the real world.
Yes, Montgomery schools are in desperate need of attention. But are we charting a path toward real progress and long range improvement—or just kicking the can down the road armed with another high priced report generated by experts 100 miles from home?