Mike Sentance Says: “AMSTI Is Not The Answer”

This was the response superintendent Mike Sentance gave on Feb. 20, 2017 in an email to a retired science teacher who questioned his intent to eliminate this program begun in 1999.

He referred to three studies of AMSTI (Alabama Math, Science, Technology Initiative).  One by Regional Education Lab (REL) Southeast in 2012.  This study showed “Science achievement unchanged, math improved, but far from the gains the state needed,” he said.  He also referenced two other internal studies.

However, two state department retirees with many years of experience with both AMSTI and Science in Motion disagree vigorously with Sentance’s assessment and with the studies he cites.

For one thing, AMSTI is a two-year training program for teachers.  Teachers are only partially trained at the end of one year.  They return for two more weeks of training in the summer after their first year, plus are mentored the second year. But the REL study measured results after teachers were only trained the first year.  “This is like weighing someone after five weeks on a ten-week diet and saying they didn’t meet their weight loss goal for ten weeks,” said one of my sources.

The internal studies Sentance mentions were not considered reliable.  In fact, external evaluators recommended studies trying to compare AMSTI to non-AMSTI schools be discontinued because such comparisons were not valid.  Nor does he mention that the AMSTI budget was cut by one-third in 2010 which significantly cut back on teacher training.

It is also interesting that both my sources spoke of internal studies that showed AMSTI to be a great success–but for whatever reason, such info was not made public.  However, the fact that legislative funding for the program went from $500,000 to $41 million over a number of years indicates someone thought there was value in AMSTI.

One thing few consider is that AMSTI is very cost efficient.  More than $75 million worth of lab equipment and materials circulate through 11 regional sites where, it is constantly being cleaned and maintained before going on to other schools.  Without this service, many smaller and rural school systems would struggle to provide students necessary lab equipment and materials.

Back to the Sentance email.

“It’s (AMSTI) not working.  Alabama remains at the bottom of the country in math and science.  Student achievement is persistently bad.”

Then unbelievably, he tells the reader to compare Alabama 8th grade science to top performing Utah, which spends less money per student than  Alabama does.  Are you kidding me?  This comparison is academic malpractice.  This is not an apples to oranges.  It is apples to kumquats or worse.

The median household income in Utah is 39 percent greater than Alabama.  The median home value in Utah is 72 percent higher than here.  And a whopping 164 percent more families in Alabama are on public assistance than in Utah.

I have driven from one end of Utah to the other.  I’ve been to the Mormon Tabernacle.  I’ve skied at Park City.  Trust me, never once did I think I was in Wilcox County.

Fortunately no one seems to be buying what Mike Sentance is selling.  Especially the legislature.  The Senate Finance & Taxation Education committee passed a new budget out of committee this past week that included $29 million for AMSTI, the same as the current year.  (Maybe knowing this would happen is why Sentance did not show up at the budget committee hearing.)

And early results from the survey this site is now conducting show that 93 percent of respondents disagree with Sentance about the value of AMSTI.  (And again, maybe this explains why he did not show up at the recent conference of the Alabama Science Teachers Association in Birmingham.)

Sentance concludes his email with this: “If we continue to go down the same path and expect a different outcome, we have no one but ourselves to blame for the results.  The state deserves better.”

He is right.  We do deserve better,  Starting with the “leadership” we’re now getting from Montgomery..

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