Heading For The Hills

My family is very small.  Only me, my sister and my brother.  Sister has one daughter and one grandchild.  I have a son and daughter and no grandchildren.  My brother has never married.  So we don’t need much space to have a “family reunion.”

Neither do we have many chances to see one another.  Especially since my brother lives in Medellin, the capital of Antioquia Province in Columbia and, until a couple of months ago. my daughter and her husband lived in Germany.

But we will have a chance to gather for a couple of days nest week at my sister’s in Black Mountain, NC.  (Son Kevin, in Mobile, will not be able to come.)  And here’s hoping that the weather will be just a tad cooler than south Alabama in August.  (My computer says right now at 4:30 CDT on Thursday, August 15, it is 82 degrees in Black Mountain as compared to 99 degrees in Montgomery.).

No wonder my sister and brother-in-law like it there.

So I will let someone else be concerned about Alabama politicians who know more about schools than teachers who work in them and former members of our charter commission who swallowed Soner Tarim’s bait about Woodland Prep hook, line and sinker for a few days.  I’m heading for higher and cooler ground.

Pennsylvania Governor Has Questions About Charter Schools.

While many states have had charter schools for 20 years or longer, Alabama did not pass a charter law until 2015 and only two were in operation in the 2018-19 school year.

Minnesota was the first state to pass a charter law in 1991.  California followed in 1992.  Pennsylvania got a charter law in 1997.

However, many states are now starting to look at how charters have performed, how they have impacted traditional public schools and how laws should be changed to get more accountability.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf is one of the voices calling for change.  Here are recent comments he made on charter schools, as reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday pledged to overhaul Pennsylvania’s charter-school policy to increase accountability for the schools, which have long been a source of controversy.

At a news conference at a school in Allentown, Wolf said he would direct the state Department of Education to change regulations for charters, including tightening ethics standards, charging fees for services provided by the state, and allowing school districts to limit enrollment at charters that don’t provide a “high-quality” education.

Wolf also said he would push to revise Pennsylvania’s charter law, which he called “one of the most fiscally irresponsible laws in the nation.”

“I want to create a level playing field for all taxpayer-funded public schools,” Wolf said, and “increase the accountability and quality of the charter-school system.”
It’s the latest effort in Pennsylvania to reshape the charter-school movement, which has grown even as the divisions over it have deepened. More than 143,000 students attended Pennsylvania charter schools last year, up from 79,000 students nearly a decade earlier.

Describing charter schools as increasingly costly to school districts, and in some cases poorly performing, Wolf said the current system “isn’t good for anyone.”
 “We have been talking about charter-school reform since I became governor,” Wolf said. “And my actions today are the result of the fact that we haven’t really done anything. So I’m going to do something, and hopefully this will be the start of a conversation.”
Joyce Wilkerson, president of the Philadelphia school board, on Tuesday commended the governor for “stepping up to the plate on this critical issue,” saying state charter law “is outdated and repeatedly ranked as one of the worst in the country.”
“Quite frankly, I find it encouraging,” Rep. Curt Sonney (R., Erie), who chairs the House Education Committee, said Tuesday. “I agree it’s long overdue.”

Sonney said he planned to introduce cyber charter reform legislation, though he did not know whether House leadership would support it.
In the Senate, Appropriations Committee Chairman Pat Browne (R., Lehigh) called for a special session on charter-school funding, saying the issue had “reached a crisis point.”

Pennsylvania’s charter-school funding formula, passed into law in 1997, was “the best available platform at that time,” Browne said in a statement. “However, now it has created an irreconcilable financial conflict between charter and traditional schools which mandates both in-depth review and responsible legislative and executive action to address.”

Under the charter law, school districts fund charter schools based on enrollment. Charter schools have become one of the biggest expenses for school districts, along with pension contributions and special education services.

Charter schools have a large presence in cities like Philadelphia, where about one-third, or 70,000 of the city’s 200,000 public school students attend charters.

The issue isn’t limited to brick-and-mortar charters in urban areas. Districts across the state pay for students to attend cyber charter schools — and at the same rate as brick-and-mortar charters. Pennsylvania has one of the country’s largest cyber-charter school sectors, and researchers have repeatedly flagged the schools’ poor performance on tests.

Wolf on Tuesday cited a June report by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, which described the performance of the state’s cyber charters as “overwhelmingly negative.”

Get Ready For The Common Core Flim Flam

When the election of March 3, 2020 rolls around, the proponents of switching from an elected to an appointed school board will play their Common Core card.

Why?  Because the legislation calling for a vote on a constitutional amendment to change how we pick our state school board has one sentence tucked away on page 5 that says the new board should adopt:

“Course of study standards that ensure nationwide consistency and the seamless transfer of students from within and outside of the state, in lieu of common core.”

Given all the misinformation about common core we have heard for years, no doubt some of those advocating to take over the state board see this as a “secret weapon” to encourage a YES vote.

But before voters fall for this gimmick, they should listen to what one Alabamian wrote about our standards in 2014.

“Over the past weeks and months, I have found myself caught up in numerous conversations with family, friends, and colleagues regarding an increasingly controversial issue. The issue is Common Core.  And the arguments I consistently hear against it are the same: The standards are a backdoor attempt by Washington to usurp local control of education and institute a national K–12 curriculum.

If this were the case, I would join the opponents of Common Core instead of debating them. For if the federal government is ever allowed to dictate the substance of our children’s education, it is only a matter of time before the cultural values of our children will be reprogrammed by Washington bureaucrats.

But, thankfully, this is not the case.  Put simply, Common Core does not allow the federal government to prescribe what our children learn. Much of the resistance to the program stems from this single misperception, which is itself rooted in a deep distrust of the president. But President Obama isn’t driving the standards, nor did he create them. The states are propelling Common Core. Currently, all but five states have fully implemented the standards. Moreover, the standards began gaining momentum long before Barack Obama was elected president.

The standards now known as Common Core were initiated and developed by governors and other state leaders eager to raise educational standards in a way that was state-led, rather than being a Washington solution. That’s why it is deeply encouraging that so many states are asserting ownership of the standards by adapting them to their needs.

There is simply no evidence that national education standards will lead to a national curriculum, or that they will stifle the ability of states to teach subject areas that matter to parents residing there. To the contrary, many of those who know the standards thoroughly, including the state superintendent of education in Alabama, insist that educators today retain full control in the development, selection, and implementation of the curricula used in our schools.

Common Core establishes uniform standards — standards that must be met regardless of the curriculum a state decides to adopt. The standards demand accountability. They give the things that really matter — reading, writing, and arithmetic — priority over subject matter that does little or nothing to prepare kids for college and the workforce.  And ultimately, the Common Core standards will make American students more competitive with their international peers.

All of these goals are worthy, and they deserve the support of both Republicans and Democrats.”

Former Governor Bob Riley wrote these words in 2014.  A dyed-in-the-wool conservative Republican, hardly a wild-eyed liberal with an Obama sticker on his bumper like all supporters of the Alabama College & Career Ready standards are supposed to be.

Don’t believe me?  Go here and see for yourself.

So when Senator Del Marsh cranks up his snake oil show in hopes of hand picking the state school board and taking away the right of Alabama citizens to vote, it is a pretty safe bet that he will never mention what Governor Riley said about these standards.


Del Marsh Tips His Hand

Senate majority leader Del Marsh wants to control public education in Alabama.  Yep, the same guy who has shown us repeatedly that he is clueless about how schools really work, what their challenges are and how best to address them, now wants to hand pick the members of the state school board.

On March 3, 2020 voters in Alabama will say YES or NO to a constitutional amendment to do away with the elected state board of education and replace it with one where the governor appoints nine board members who must then be confirmed by the state senate.  The senate Marsh rules with an iron fist.  Never doubt that under this proposal no one would serve on the state school board without Marsh’s approval.

Based on his track record since becoming majority leader in 2011, this is a scary thought.

Look at his nominees to serve on the state charter commission.  He had two slots to fill.  One for a vacancy created when Chad Fincher resigned last March.  (The charter law passed in 2015 and sponsored by Marsh says that vacancies should be filled within 60 days.  Marsh ignored this.)

Officials with nominations to the charter board must submit two names for each seat to the state school board.  This board makes the final selection.

Marsh nominated former House of Representatives member, Jamie Ison of Mobile.  His other recommendation for the same position was Hunter Oswalt of Mobile, who had been nominated twice before but not selected.  Her resume’ says she worked for charter schools in Houston and Atlanta and had a relationship with Teach for America.  No doubt she is a fine young lady, but with this kind of background, how objective could she be?  And her nomination by Marsh says he was trying to stack the deck.

Jamie Ison was chosen by the state school board to fill this position.

The majority leader submitted two names for his other slot.  One was incumbent Henry Nelson of Birmingham who has been on the commission since it was created.  Marsh’s other recommendation was Steve Sipel of Birmingham.  A businessman, Sipel was the founding board chair for Legacy Prep charter in Birmingham.  This screams of conflict of interest since charters must be reauthorized every five years by the charter commission.  Again, a questionable selection by Marsh

Nelson was picked to retain his seat.

And we want to let Del Marsh tell us who will oversee all of public education in Alabama?  Can we expect him to look for people who really are objective and have some understanding of the challenges our public schools face or people already beholding to his agenda–which has been anything but healthy and reasonable for public schools?

Since rising to power in 2011, Marsh’s signature legislation is no doubt the Alabama Accountability Act of 2013.  The bill that went to conference committee as one thing–and came out as something entirely different?  The bill that no one in education knew about because Marsh said, “They might be against it.”

The bill that has sucked money out of every public school classroom in the state to the tune of $145 million at last count.  The bill that promised to help poor kids stuck in struggling schools by their zip code, though six years later such students are damn near impossible to find, especially in the Black Belt.

This is the same senator who earlier this year wanted to do away with the Alabama College & Career Ready standards–after supporting them since their inception.  (When a principal in Calhoun County, which Marsh represents, asked him what standards he objected to he admitted he had no idea what the standards were.)

And he should hand pick state school board members?

Marsh is the most powerful legislator in the state.  He is at the top of the fund-raising food chain.  Political action committees curry his favor with donations, lots and lots of donations.  In the election cycle that ran from October 2017 to the end of 2018, Marsh raised $893,000.  Alabama realtors gave $50,000, retailers gave $45,000, automobile dealers gave $47,500, Poarch Band of Creek Indians chipped in $30,000; the medical association gave $30,000.

Who among these groups that fuel Marsh’s political machine know anything about public schools?  Who among them when they see him favoring someone to be on the school board whose credentials are as suspect as some he nominated to be on the charter commission will challenge him?

Del Marsh is a smart man and a helluva politician.  He is in a  position to do things for our schools that would be meaningful and have lasting impact.  But for reasons I don’t understand, as his track record shows, he choses a different path.

So long as he insists on doing so, he does not need to hand pick state school board members.



Will The Charter Commission Begin To Act Responsibly?

The state charter commission held their organizational meeting on August 27, 2015.  At best, one can only conclude that they have conducted business since then in a very haphazard manner.

For instance, a close examination of commission minutes (some of which are posted on-line and some of which are not) shows the only election for chair and vice-chair was at the first meeting in 2015.  However, their bylaws clearly state that terms of both are for one year.  Which means there should be an election each year.

Ed Richardson was picked as chair at the first meeting.  Thomas Rains and Gloria Batts were picked as co-vice-chairs. But when Richardson became interim state school superintendent in 2017 minutes say that Mac Buttram moved from vice-chair to chair  But when was he elected vice-chair?  The minutes don’t say.

Minutes from April 25, 2017 say the commission would elect officers at the May 2017 meeting.  But if an election was held in May 2017, the minutes say nothing about it.

The only mention of another election came at the September 22, 2017 meeting when Mac Buttram called for a motion to elect a vice-chair since he had moved to chair.  Henry Nelson of Birmingham was elected.

Complying with by-laws is basic behavior for any organization.  Let’s hope the five new charter commission members just selected will insist on doing so.

And speaking of minutes, ones for the commission are simply not thorough enough for the public to understand what is really going on  For example, the minutes of February 4, 2019 say Mac Buttram introduced David Marshall as a new commissioner.  Who did he replace?  The minutes don’t say.

I am secretary of the board for the national Rural Schools Collaborative.  Minutes are not distributed to the board without me first reviewing them for accuracy and for making sure they reflect what happened at a particular board meeting.  The charter commission is a public body.  They should be held to a higher standard than they have exhibited in the last four years.

They should also post their agenda publicly at least one week prior to a meeting.  This has not been the case.  In fact, the agenda is not available to the public until they show up for a commission meeting.

When Woodland Prep was given a one-year extension on June 7, board member Henry Nelson asked why no one from Washington County  attended the meeting.

It was because they did not know discussion of an extension was on the agenda.  Had they known, they would have been there.  But it is 175 miles from Chatom to Montgomery and you don’t hop in your car and make that drive unless you have a good reason.

This is a 10-member commission.  Five new members were chosen August 8.  Two others have been selected since the first of the year.  In other words, there is a new sheriff in town.  Let’s hope he demands this commission show more accountability and act professionally..