Next Saturday, Nov. 24, the state of Alabama will come to a virtual standstill to tune in the annual football game between Auburn and Alabama. If college football is a religion in Alabama, and I think it is, next Saturday is the holiest of holy days.
The University of Alabama team once again stands atop the college football world, while Auburn has had a disappointing season. Alabama fans expect their team to win in convincing fashion on their way to competing for another national championship season. Auburn faithful put their chances of victory as somewhere between slim and none.
(Of course, there are always some who say, “You can throw out the records when these two teams play each other.” But truth is, that is NOT the case as the majority of the time the favored team prevails.)
I was a freshman at Auburn in the fall of 1961. In those days, with Bear Bryant firmly lording over the college football world in Tuscaloosa and the game always being played in Birmingham, Auburn fans were seldom expectant. True to form, Alabama won that year 34-0. And of the five seasons I was at Auburn, we only beat Alabama once.
Bryant coached his last Iron Bowl in 1982, losing to Auburn 23-22. And the series has been remarkably competitive in the 35 games since Bryant leaned against the goal post before the game began. In fact, Auburn has won 18 while Alabama has won 17. In 1989 Auburn played for the first time ever on their home field and won 30-20.
And since the game began being played on the campus of both schools, Auburn has won five of the nine games in Tuscaloosa and nine of the 14 games in Auburn.
Obviously I have lots of memories of these games. Mostly the one’s Auburn won. Like Pat Sullivan and Terry Beasley winning two of three they played against Bama. I remember Auburn winning 49-26 in Birmingham in 1969 when punter Connie Frederick decided to run rather than kick and more than 80 yards later reached the end zone. Of course, I recall 1972 when Auburn blocked two Bama punts late in the game and won 17-16.
I also remember 1985 when Alabama field goal kicker Van Tiffin stuck a knife in Auburn’s heart with a 52 yard kick as the game ended to win 25-23. The first game played in Tuscaloosa since 1901 was in 2000. Son Kevin and I went. This game will always be noted more for the awful weather conditions than who won. It was 35 degrees and spitting sleet. Damon Duval kicked three field goals and Auburn won 9-0. I was so cold I went back to the car and listened to the second half on the radio. Kevin stuck it out.
No Auburn fan will ever forget playing in Tuscaloosa in 2010. Alabama was ahead 24-0 in the second quarter before Cam Newton and company came back to win 28-27. Auburn went on to win the national championship that year.
And there was 2013. I was at Jordan-Hare when Alabama lined up to try a long field goad with one second to go. I saw Chris Davis field the missed kick at the other end of the field, more than 100 yards away. Then he ran and got closer and closer and suddenly 87,000 people realized he would score a touchdown.
Pure and simple, it was bedlam moments after.. Davis was mobbed by teammates in the north end zone while thousands of fans surged onto the field.
More than 50 years of memories. Like the time at Legion Field when a Bama fan tapped me on the shoulder wanting to know if I had some chewing tobacco. When I told him I did not, he looked around and said, “Damn, 80,000 people are here and none of them have any tobacco.” Like the time at Auburn when I came close to punching an extremely loud and vulgar AUBURN fan because he would not shut up.
So start the countdown. Church begins in six days at 2:30 p.m.
The PTOs of Vestavia Hills and Mountain Brook city school systems held their 14th annual PTO Legislative Forum the evening of Nov. 15. All legislators representing this area attended. They included State Senators Jabo Waggoner and Dan Roberts and House members David Faulkner, Jim Carns and David Wheeler.
All are Republicans and Roberts and Wheeler are new to the legislature.
Questions were asked about new funding for schools, the state education budget, school choice, school assessment, school safety and mental health.
Having written extensively about the Alabama Accountability Act (choice) and the A-F school report cards (assessment), I was especially interested in response to each of these. Here are pertinent sections of an article from the Vestavia Voice:
PTO representatives also asked how legislators felt about the state spending about $30 million in each year in scholarships for students to transfer out of failing schools, which they said only hurts failing schools more and profits private schools over public schools.
Wheeler said he wants the Alabama Accountability Act, which authorized the expenditure, to be repealed, arguing it “benefits a few at the sacrifice of many.”
Faulkner disagreed, saying he’s seen poor children benefit from the act, moving into better schools. Faulkner argued the act does not hurt Vestavia and Mountain Brook schools.
Talking about “failing schools,” PTO representatives asked how legislators felt about the A through F report card.
Wheeler and Faulkner again disagreed, with Faulkner saying while it may have some issues, he supports the system, with Wheeler saying it was very flawed and an “administrative burden,” arguing the state legislature should listen to educators on this issue.
“A score on one standardized test does not accurately reflect on what you do,” Wheeler said.”
As you see, there is a stark contrast between how Wheeler and Faulkner see things. Knowing what I know, I have to feel that Wheeler has done his homework while Faulkner has not.
This is certainly true when Faulkner says that neither Vestavia Hills or Mountain Brook systems have been hurt by the accountability act. He doesn’t seem to understand that all systems are funded from the Education Trust Fund and that when money is diverted from ETF, there is less money to spend on EVERY system in the state.
Presently the accountability act has diverted $!46.6 million from ETF since 2013. This amounts to $201 per student–including those in Vestavia Hills and Mountain Brook. This adds up to $867,516 for Mountain Brook and $1,437,351 for Vestavia Hills.
Records show that from Jan. 1 through Nov. 2 Faulkner raised more than $200,000 for his re-election campaign and still has more than $175,000 in the bank. Number One. Perhaps he can take some of this money and help his schools make up for what AAA has cost them. Number Two. Perhaps he should sit down with David Wheeler and get up to speed on some education issues.
Recently the Montgomery County school board (which I am on until the end of November) passed a resolution calling on our legislative delegation to work to repeal the Alabama Accountability Act. The Baldwin County board had already passed a resolution and now Mobile County has as well.
Within hours my email inbox began to fill up with notes from parents in the Montgomery area asking that I not take away their child’s scholarship to a private school. I politely replied to each that the accountability act is a creation of the legislature and local school boards have no power to do anything other than express their concern about how it is impacting their local budget.
I found it interesting that the majority of these emails came from parents with children in one particular Montgomery private school where more than 40 percent of their student body gets an AAA scholarship. As best I can determine this school is owned by one person and is not affiliated with any non-profit group or organization.
Several days later I sent the following email to each parent who had contacted me:
“You are one of several who recently emailed me regarding Montgomery public schools and students getting scholarships to private schools. again, I appreciate you taking the time to contact me. It did not go unnoticed.
I would love to have the opportunity to talk to you, and the others who wrote me, about this situation. Specifically, I would like to know of your concerns about MPS and what steps you may have taken to address them with school personnel. Without doubt this school system has issues. And I think it is only when we have honest and forthright discussions about them that we will make progress.
Would you be interested in meeting with me, and the others who wrote, for dinner one night. I’ll treat.
Look forward to hearing from you.”
Guess what? Not one person responded. Which leads me to wonder just how concerned are these parents about education, or did someone just give them a piece of paper with my email address on it and were told that I was trying to take away their child’s scholarship?
The Mobile County school system is the largest in Alabama with an enrollment of 53,971 last year. And at their Nov. 13 school board meeting they joined Baldwin and Montgomery county systems in passing a resolution asking their legislative delegation to work to repeal the Alabama Accountability Act.
These means that of the four largest systems in the state, three of them have called for repeal. Baldwin has 35,907 students, Montgomery has 29,124 and Jefferson rounds out the top four with 35,907.
Since this law was passed in 2013, a total of $146,617,919 has been diverted from the state’s Education Trust Fund to provide scholarships to students attending private schools. There were 726,924 students in public schools in 2017-18. Do the math and you see this amounts to $201.69 for each public school student.
This comes to $10.8 million for Mobile, $6.2 million for Baldwin and $5.8 million for Montgomery. With all systems scratching for funding at present, more and more educators and school boards are realizing that the Accountability Act is a bad investment for public schools.
Here are portions of the Mobile resolution:
“WHEREAS, after five years of implementation, based on data, the act has not achieved its original purpose of increasing student achievement; instead, the state as a whole continues to suffer academically;
WHEREAS, instead of a positive financial impact, the act has holistically caused negative financial impacts on school districts;
WHEREAS, an evaluation by the Alabama Department of Revenue concluded that students leaving public schools for private schools under AAA “were not associated with significant improvement on standardized test scores” and that those students “were more likely to remain in a non-proficient category than to improve.”
WHEREAS, AAA labels schools, faculty, staff and students as failing when expediential growth is being shown in these schools each year;
WHEREAS, Mobile County Public Schools is the largest school district in the state, and adequate funding is needed in order to ensure both equity and equality among the 88 schools throughout the district;
WHEREAS, the Mobile County Board of School Commissioners requests a copy of this resolution to be provided to each member of the Mobile County Legislative Delegation requesting their support of the repeal of the Alabama Accountability Act of 2013.”
It is expected that more systems will soon take the same action as Mobile, Baldwin and Montgomery.
Sometimes I wonder if educators read this blog. But then I post a story like this one and I have my answer.
Suddenly my inbox is swamped as educators from every corner of Alabama chime in to agree with me. Their frustration with the constant search for a “silver bullet” or “magic pill” to give children is nearly palpable. There is great distrust of anyone or any missive from a central office or the state department of education.
A principal recently told me that she had gotten 20 emails that day from her central office from people looking for info that they could have looked up for themselves. I mentioned this to Hope Zeanah, assistant superintendent in Baldwin County and a principal for 16 years. She told me what she did to slow the requests. Seems that when she became part of the central office she required that any email sent to a principal also be copied to everyone in the central office, including the superintendent.
Because of this feedback, the volume of emails from central office to principals slowed a lot.
And as all of this goes through my mind, I can’t help but remember that mama went to two-room Chesser school about four miles north of Red Level in Covington County in the late 1920s. It was on a spit of sandy land her daddy owned about 300 yards from her house. She walked home for lunch each day. The school and any sign of it has long vanished, but I could take you to the spot where it stood.
Amazingly, mother could still vividly recall classmates and teachers when she was 90 years old. From time to time I would coax some tale out of her.
All of which got me to thinking about the history of schools in Alabama. When did we decide that bureaucrats were smarter than teachers? According to Shannon Driver, superintendent in Covington County today, a Mr. W. M Snider was elected county superintendent in 1890. Shannon thinks there must have been a school board at that time Mr. J. A Keller was appointed superintendent in 1921, so obviously this appointment was made by a school board.
Of course, mother and her classmates were all peas in the same pod. White, dirt poor. and knew how to pick cotton. And for some reason, their uneducated parents wanted them to go to school.
As David Mathews says in his book, Why Public Schools? Whose Public Schools? “In the beginning, control of schools was almost exclusively local; most schools had their own trustees. Schools were free-standing institutions, Today, everyone–parents, students, teachers, school board members, would-be reformers, even bureaucrats–.complains about bureaucratic control, which seems to be spreading faster than kudzu.
“Few communities today have the same relationship with their schools that they originally had. State and federal governments now play a much larger role”
In other words. over time communities have stepped back from their schools and allowed them to be gobbled up by bureaucracy.
Of course I know that this world is far different from the one mama grew up in. That we must prepare young people for a world that in most cases has yet to be born. But I still believe the real work of education takes place in a classroom with interactions between a caring teacher and an attentive student. I am not convinced all those who get a paycheck from an education entity remember this as well as they should.