Last week we posted a survey asking how folks feel about having an elected state school board versus an appointed one. (Voters will tackle this issue by voting on a constitutional amendment March 3, 2020.)
More than 1,100 people responded. Here was our initial look at responses. As you see, 89 percent favor keeping an elected board. Then we asked those who were willing to go into more depth about how they feel to send us an email. Again, we heard from lots and lots of folks.
The great majority of these were either current or former educators. Several were retired superintendents. No one beat around the bush and spoke strongly and passionately about how they see the present state of education in Alabama.
Here are some takeaways:
There is not much confidence in the present state board of education. They are viewed as only reactive, never proactive. They don’t exercise enough authority over the state superintendent, who answers to them.
But there is even less confidence in the governor and legislative leaders to steer education in the right direction. Only 25 percent who took the survey said they have confidence in the governor to make good appointments to the state school board and just 17 percent have confidence in the state senate to confirm good people. “The legislature and governor are already too involved in education,” said one respondent. “An appointed board is just another ploy to further the destruction of our public school system,” said a retired superintendent.
A former local school board member said, “The last appointed state school board member was Matt Brown. How did that work out?” One retired educator said, “Our legislature could screw up a two-car parade.”
One respondent was a former superintendent in Tennessee, which has an appointed state school board. “It was all about politics, certainly not about educating children,” they said.
The divide between educators and politicians as to how education should be governed is about as wide as the Grand Canyon. “We ignore teachers when making policy,” said one. “This is like not listening to a doctor when deciding how to treat a patient.” “Bills like the A-F school report card are a slap in the face to educators,” said another. “If no one among the political leadership pays any attention to the opinions of educators, does it matter how board members are chosen? asked one.
Most believe that whether the state board is elected or appointed, at the end of the day the process is largely controlled by special interests. Numbers from the 2014 and 2016 campaign cycles confirm this. In those two years, the Business Council of Alabama contributed more than $600,000 to six candidates running for the state board. “Anyone who thinks BCA will not be trying to get their hand-picked folks on an appointed board is crazy,” said one respondent.
The election of 2010 that put a Republican supermajority in both the State Senate and House of Representatives was a knife in the back of public education. “This is when we adopted the Alabama Republican model for public education.” said someone, who happens to be an elected Republican official. “The Alabama Accountability Act was all the proof I needed to see this.” Someone else replied, “As long as the Republican party continues its war on Alabama educator’s, arguing over how the state board is chosen is like deciding on the arrangement of deck chairs on the Titanic.”
We are too focused on data and test results. “Teachers know the needs of their students and don’t need Scantron or any other test results to guide the direction of their classroom Too much valuable time is wasted on this nonsense,” said a teacher of 32 years who retired in June. “There is a lack of common sense leadership coming from the state level.”
The appointed charter school commission was cited over and over again as a good reason not to have an appointed state school board. “Take a look at the charter school commission and what they’ve done thus far. Is this what we’re saying we want as far as oversight for Alabama’s children? Not I,” was one comment. Another was, “Not one single person has accepted responsibility for the Woodland Prep mess. Pitiful. I’m sure we could expect the same from an appointed school board.”
Leadership was mentioned over and over again. Or actually, the lack of leadership. “Where are the so-called champions for children and school teachers?” asked one person. “Why won’t those who get money from local school systems to represent them in Montgomery do what they are supposed to do? Another wanted to know, “When legislation is bad for education, why doesn’t the state superintendent speak out, where is the state school board? Seems to me too many have become a part of the problem, instead of the solution. We constantly hear that you have to get along with the legislature, so you can’t make waves. Look at where that has gotten us: A–F school report cards, the Alabama Accountability Act, charter schools. It’s a joke.”
Heck, the divide may be much wider than the Grand Canyon. And those souls I exchanged emails with certainly don’t think it will become more narrow with the “players” we have now.