Final Look At Most Recent Survey. 96 Percent Oppose Appointed State School Board

With 1,000 responses to our recent survey about an appointed vs. elected state school board, let’s take a final look at the numbers.

And the one that jumps off the page is that 96 percent will vote NO on amendment one to switch from an elected to an appointed state school board on March 3.

As might be expected from readers of this blog, the overwhelming majority are connected to public education.  Some 25 percent are retired educators, 24 percent work for a public school system, but are not teachers, and 26 percent are teachers.  That adds up to 75 percent.

(Which begs the question, why aren’t the groups who claim to represent various sectors of the education community telling people to vote NO?  And how in the world can the Alabama Association of School Boards actually be in favor of amendment one?  That is mind-blowing.)

One of the most interesting facts we found is that while it is Senator Del Marsh and his Republican supermajority friends who are backing this amendment, 43 percent of those who answered the survey say they are Republicans.  This compares to 35 percent who are Independents and 22 percent who are Democrats.  Are Marsh and his cronies that out of touch with their constituents?

But considering what happened in August when the state Republican executive committee met, that is a rhetorical question.  On Aug. 24 this 461-member committee met and passed a resolution opposing Marsh’s amendment 64 percent to 36 percent.

Other facts about survey takers: 65 percent were female, 85 percent were Caucasian and 37 percent were 36 to 55 years of age, while 41 percent were 56 to 70.

Why did they vote no?  Some 28 percent said they do not want to give up their right to vote and 65 percent said they do not trust the state  senate to  appoint people to the board who have the best interests of public education at heart.  (While the amendment says the governor will appoint nine members to this board, they must be confirmed by the state senate.  In other words, Marsh will handpick board members who will, in turn, pick a state superintendent.  In effect, Marsh would be the czar of Alabama’s public schools.)

And 92 percent of survey responses say they have “very little” confidence  in Marsh doing what is best for schools.

Given his track record on public education since becoming senate majority leader in 2011, this is hardly a surprise.  After all, he sponsored the Alabama Accountability Act in 2013 that has now diverted $155 million from the Education Trust Fund to give scholarships to private schools and the charter school act of 2015 which is governed by an APPOINTED state charter commission that has made a mess out of charter applications in both Washington County and Montgomery.

While supporters of amendment one are quick to say those who oppose it simply want to protect the “status quo” in Alabama schools, the survey says this is untrue as 65 percent believe education here is going in the wrong direction.

Why do they feel this way?  The fact that when asked to give the legislature a letter grade of A-F, 71 percent handed out either a D or an F is a strong indicator educators blame lawmakers for continuing to set education policy that is anything but helpful to public schools.  (Only one respondent out of 1,000 graded the legislature an A.)

I do not know what will happen on March 3.  But it is for certain that if amendment one passes, it will not be because of support from those who feel deeply about our schools.

 

 

 

George Wallace Was Right

For some of us who are long in the tooth, we can recall that when George Wallace ran for president as a third party candidate, he often said  “there was not a dime’s worth of difference between Democrats and Republicans.

And looking at Alabama today, it’s hard to argue with what he said.  For all intent and purposes, yesterdays Democrats are now today’s Republicans.

A quick history lesson explains.

After reconstruction, Bourbon Democrats took control of state politics.  They were the large landowners, mill and mine owners and anyone with substantial wealth.  They were the elites and proved it in 1901 by writing a state constitution that disenfranchised thousands and thousands of yeomen farmers and others they felt were not their equal.

Grandpa was three years old in1901.  But he and all his family and neighbors were just clogs in the Bourbon Democrat wheel.  They picked their cotton, sawed their lumber, raised their food, mined their coal and worked endless hours in textile mills.

The one thing they did not do was VOTE–unless they paid a poll tax of $1.50 a year because they did not own property.  And when you were a sharecropper, as grandpa was, and usually went deeper in debt from one season to another, $1.50 was a handsome price to pay..

Basically the constitution of 1901 said that those who did not own property were second class citizens and were not worthy of having a voice in who got elected to office.

(Grandpa served in World War I and it was only when the probate judge of Covington County gave him a waiver from the poll tax for his military service that he could vote.)

Now the Republican supermajority in the Alabama legislature has adopted the Bourbon Democrat philosophy and has put an amendment on the ballot March 3 that will disenfranchise people across the state by taking away their right to vote for members of the state school board.

That’s right.

Just like the 1901 constitution did to grandpa, the Bourbon Republicans want to make me a second class citizen.  They want to hand pick our state school board because they obviously don’t think I–and every other citizen in this state–have enough sense to go to the ballot box and cast an informed vote.

They believe they are smarter than the average citizens of Alabama.  We should only been seen and not heard.  We should put our fate in the hands of these modern day elites.

And here is my message to them.  When I vote NO to amendment one on March 3, I will simply say, “Grandpa, this one is for you.”

 

 

 

Where Are The Naysayers When It Is Good News?

When NAEP (National Assessment of Education Progress) scores recently were unkind to Alabama, the naysayers were quick to crawl out from under their rocks and scream about the sky falling.  A perfect example is this rubbish from the Alabama Policy Institute that tried to convince us that even though Mississippi only has six charter schools in the entire state, “school choice” is the sole reason for their improvement in NAEP scores.

But when the latest report on school report cards contained substantial good news, the naysayers were strangely quiet.

In the 2017-18 school year, we got school grades for 1,303 K-12 schools.  Of these, 201 got an A and only 39 got an F.  So, 15.4 percent of all state schools were A-rated, compared to 2.9 percent being F-rated.

Compare this to the 2018-19 grades when 1,315 wee graded.  This time 269 (20.4 percent) got an A and only 24 (1.8 percent) scored F.

Last year we had 15 school systems that were rated as A, this jumped to 25 systems this year.

So any way you cut it, on the A-F grading system, Alabama schools made significant improvement.

Of course, when your agenda is political and not education, you keep your mouth shut when the narrative does not support your position.  Which is just another way of saying that you show your true colors.

And never forget that the same folks pushing negative news, while ignoring good news, are the same ones who want us to go from an elected state school board to an appointed one.

Accountability Act And High School Football

There are presently seven scholarship granting organizations (SGOs) giving out scholarships to private schools through the Alabama Accountability Act.  They make quarterly reports and the one that covers July, August, September of 2019 has just been released.  Since this report covers the start of a new school year, it is especially insightful.

Particularly since we are now having high school football playoffs.

While it is seldom discussed publicly, especially by those who support this legislation, it is no secret that some private schools make good use of  AAA scholarships to boost their athletic programs.

Heading into the second week of football playoffs, there are 16 private schools still in competition in all seven football classifications.  The just-released SGO reports show nine of these have scholarships.  A grand total of 377 to be exact.

The biggest benefactor is McGill-Toolen in Mobile with 108.  Next is Faith Academy, also in Mobile with 77.  Montgomery Catholic Prep has 63, St. John Paul Catholic of Huntsville has 58 and Mobile Christian has 38.

Of the nine schools with scholarships, their overall record this season is 84 wins and 14 losses.  In fact, four of them are undefeated as of this date.

As we all recall, when this legislation was passed in 2013 we were told its primary purpose was to help students stuck in struggling schools by their zip codes.  No one said a word about touchdowns.

Editor’s note: The new quarterly reports show a total of 5,006 scholarships were awarded this school year, a sizeable jump from 3,685 in the same quarter last year.  Of these, only 33.5 percent went to students “zoned” for failing schools.  A total of $11.1 million was spent on these scholarships.

This program has now diverted more than $155 million from the Education Trust Fund since 2013.  And is the primary reason 25 local school boards have passed resolutions calling for repeal of this legislation.

What Happens When We Put Too Much Emphasis On Test Scores

Editor’s note:  Paul Thomas is a professor of education at Furman University in Greenville, SC.  He taught high school English in rural South Carolina before moving to higher education.  A contributor to many education journals, his work is always grounded by his experiences in the class room.

In this article, which is much more lengthy and “deeper” than most we publish, What is the relationship among NAEP scores, educational policy and classroom practice? he stresses how self-serving politicians and the media often misinterpret test results and make claims that can not be substantiated.

“Annually, the media, public, and political leaders over-react and misrepresent the release of SAT and ACT scores from across the US. Most notably, despite years of warnings from the College Board against the practice, many persist in ranking states by average state scores, ignoring that vastly different populations are being incorrectly compared.

These media, public, and political reactions to SAT and ACT scores are premature and superficial, but the one recurring conclusion that would be fair to emphasize is that, as with all standardized test data, the most persistent correlation to these scores includes the socio-economic status of the students’ families as well as the educational attainment of their parents.

Over many decades of test scores, in fact, educational policy and classroom practices have changed many times, and the consistency of those policies and practices have been significantly lacking and almost entirely unexamined.

For example, when test scores fell in California in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the media, public, and political leaders all blamed the state’s shift to whole language as the official reading policy.

This was a compelling narrative that proved to be premature and superficial—relying on the most basic assumptions of correlation. A more careful analysis exposed two powerful facts: California test scores were far more likely to have dropped because of drastic cuts to educational funding and a significant influx of English language learners and (here is a very important point) even as whole language was the official reading policy of the state, few teachers were implementing whole language in their classrooms.

This last point cannot be emphasized enough: throughout the history of public education, because teaching is mostly a disempowered profession, one recurring phenomenon is that teachers often shut their doors and teach—claiming their professional autonomy by resisting official policy.

November 2019 has brought us a similar and expected round of making outlandish and unsupported claims about NAEP data. With the trend downward in reading scores since 2017, this round is characterized by the sky-is-falling political histrionics and hollow fist pounding that NAEP scores have proven policies a success or a failure (depending on the agenda).

If we slip back in time just a couple decades, when the George W. Bush administration heralded the “Texas miracle” as a template for No Child Left Behind, we witnessed a transition from state-based educational accountability to federal accountability. But this moment in political history also raised the stakes on scientifically based educational policy and practice.”

Specifically, the National Reading Panel was charged with identifying the highest quality research in effective reading programs and practices. But while the NRP touted its findings as scientific, many, including a member of the panel itself, discredited the quality of the findings as well as accurately cautioning against political misuse of the findings to drive policy.

Here is where our trip back in history may sound familiar during this current season of NAEP hand wringing. Secretary of Education (2005-2009), Margaret Spellings announced that a jump of seven points in NAEP reading scores from 1999-2005 was proof No Child Left Behind was working. The problem, however, was in the details:

When Secretary Spellings announced that test scores were proving NCLB a success, Gerald Bracey and Stephen Krashen exposed one of two possible problems with the data. Spellings either did not understand basic statistics or was misleading for political gain. Krashen detailed the deception or ineptitude by showing that the gain Spellings noted did occur from 1999 to 2005, a change of seven points. But he also revealed that the scores rose as follows: 1999 = 212; 2000 = 213; 2002 = 219; 2003 = 218 ; 2005 = 219. The jump Spellings used to promote NCLB and Reading First occurred from 2000 to 2002, before the implementation of Reading First. Krashen notes even more problems with claiming success for NCLB and Reading First, including:

“Bracey (2006) also notes that it is very unlikely that many Reading First children were included in the NAEP assessments in 2004 (and even 2005). NAEP is given to nine year olds, but RF is directed at grade three and lower. Many RF programs did not begin until late in 2003; in fact, Bracey notes that the application package for RF was not available until April, 2002.”

Jump to 2019 NAEP data release to hear Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos shout that the sky is falling and public education needs more school choice—without a shred of scientific evidence making causal relationships of any kind among test data, educational policy, and classroom practice.

But an even better example has been unmasked by Gary Rubinstein who discredits Louisiana’s Chief of Change John White proclaiming his educational policy changes caused the state’s NAEP gain in math:

So while, yes, Louisiana’s 8th grade math NAEP in 2017 was 267 and their 8th grade math NAEP in 2019 was 272 which was a five point gain in that two year period and while that was the highest gain over that two year period for any state, if you go back instead to their scores from 2007, way before their reform effort happened, you will find that in the 12 year period from 2007 to 2019, Louisiana did not lead the nation in 8th grade NAEP gains.  In fact, Louisiana went DOWN from a scale score of 272.39 in 2007 to a scale score of 271.64 in 2019 on that test.  

This means that in that 12 year period, they are 33rd in ‘growth’ (is it even fair to call negative growth ‘growth’?).  The issue was that from 2007 to 2015, Louisiana ranked second to last on ‘growth’ in 8th grade math.  Failing to mention that relevant detail when bragging about your growth from 2017 to 2019 is very sneaky.

The media and public join right in with this political playbook that has persisted since the early 1980s: Claim that public education is failing, blame an ever-changing cause for that failure (low standards, public schools as monopolies, teacher quality, etc.), promote reform and change that includes “scientific evidence” and “research,” and then make unscientific claims of success (or yet more failure) based on simplistic correlation and while offering no credible or complex research to support those claims.

Here is the problem, then: What is the relationship among NAEP scores, educational policy, and classroom practice?

There are only a couple of fair responses.

First, 2019 NAEP data replicate a historical fact of standardized testing in the US—the strongest and most persistent correlations to that data are with the socio-economic status of the students, their families, and the states. When students or average state data do not conform to that norm, these are outliers that may or may not provide evidence for replication or scaling up. However, you must consider the next point as well.

Second, as Rubinstein shows, the best way to draw causal relationship among NAEP data, educational policy, and classroom practices is to use longitudinal data; I would recommend at least 20 years (reaching back to NCLB), but 30 years would add in a larger section of the accountability era that began in the 1980s but was in wide application across almost all states by the 1990s.

The longitudinal data would next have to be aligned with the current educational policy in math and reading for each state correlated with each round of NAEP testing.

As Bracey and Krashen cautioned, that correlation would have to accurately align when the policy is implemented with enough time to claim that the change impacted the sample of students taking NAEP.

But that isn’t all, even as complex and overwhelming as this process demands.

We must address the lesson from the so-called whole language collapse in California by documenting whether or not classroom practice implemented state policy with some measurable level of fidelity.

This process is a herculean task, and no one has had the time to examine 2019 NAEP data in any credible way to make valid causal claims about the scores and the impact of educational policy and classroom practice.

What seems fair, however, to acknowledge is that there is no decade over the past 100 years when the media, public, and political leaders deemed test scores successful, regardless of the myriad of changes to policies and practices.

Over the history of public education, also, before and after the accountability era began, student achievement in the US has been mostly a reflection of socio-economic factors, and less about student effort, teacher quality, or any educational policies or practices.

If NAEP data mean anything, and I am prone to say they are much ado about nothing, we simply do not know what that is because we have chosen political rhetoric over the scientific process and research that could give us the answers”.