As discussed here many times, on March 3 voters will vote YES or NO on going from an elected state school board to one appointed by the governor and confirmed by the senate. A YES vote will mean you lose your right to vote, a NO vote means you will keep it. Legislation calling for this constitutional amendment was passed in our last regular session last spring.
Republican Del Marsh is senate majority leader. Since his party holds a supermajority in this body, he has considerable influence. This is reflected by the fact that the vote in the senate was 30-0. All but two of the 27 Republican members voted to take away your right to vote (Jimmy Holley and Tom Whatley did not vote.). And five of the eight Democrats in the senate voted with Marsh. (Priscilla Dunn, Malika Sanders-Fortier and Rodger Smitherman did not vote.)
Listed below are these 30 senators, along with the best email address I have for each.
If you do not want to give up your right to vote, write these senators and ask them why they voted for this amendment.
Greg Albritton—R Gerald Allen–R
Will Barfoot—R Billy Beasley–D
David Burkette—D Tom Butler–R
Clyde Chambliss—R Donnie Chesteen–R
Linda Coleman-Madison—D Vivian Figures–D
Chris Elliott—R Garlan Gudger–R
Sam Givhan—R Andrew Jones–R
Steve Livingston—R Del Marsh–R
Jim McClendon—R Tim Melson–R
Arthur Orr—R Randy Price–R
Greg Reed—R Dan Roberts–R
David Sessions—R Clay Scofield–R
Bobby Singleton—D Shay Shelnutt–R
Larry Stutts—R Jabo Waggoner–R
Cam Ward—R Jack Williams–R
While it seems some Alabama legislative “leaders” are quick to blame everything from dead possums in the middle of the road to ingrown toenails as the fault of educators, when a site called WallteHub annually ranks states as to which ones are the worst in which to teach, no one in the statehouse ever mentions such info.
WalletHub ranked states depending on how they scored in two categories:
“Opportunity and competition,” which includes how competitive salaries were, teacher pensions, and income growth.
“Academic and work environment,” which includes the quality of the school system, how many students per teacher, and the rate of turnover.
It comes as little surprise to me that Alabama made the list of “15 worst”. To be exact, we are ranked at No. 38. Arizona, New Hampshire, Hawaii, Louisiana, West Virginia, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Maine, Tennessee, Colorado and Missouri are considered worst than Alabama.
The best 15 states for teachers are: 1) North Dakota, 2) New Jersey, 3) Pennsylvania, 4) Wyoming, 5) Connecticut, 6) Illinois, 7) Minnesota, 8) Massachusetts, 9) Utah, 10) New York, 11) Delaware, 12) Oregon, 13) Kansas, 14) Kentucky and 15) Washington.
I am not a big fan of rankings for the reason that many things that impact such can not be easily quantified with only numbers. However, as long as we persist in doing so, it is interesting to check them out.
For instance; last spring Alabama delayed implementation of new math standards because the governor wanted to compare how we teach math in Alabama to how it is taught in Massachusetts, Minnesota, Wyoming, Virgina and New Jersey. Why these states? Because they had the best 4th grade math scores in the country on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests.
It is worth noting that of these five states, four of them are ranked by WalletHub as in the 15 best places to teach. (Virginia was the exception.)
Could it be that there is a correlation between classroom results and Opportunity and competition and Academic and work environment?
Or is expecting lawmakers to link such as simply a bridge too far?
It is the day after another football game between Auburn University and the University of Alabama, called the “Iron Bowl” in these parts. And orange and blue flags are fluttering atop cars in celebration of Auburn’s 48-45 win.
It was a wild one for certain. Alabama ran a kickoff back for a touchdown. Auburn ran an intercepted pass 100 yards for a touchdown. Auburn’s field goal kicker had struggled in recent games, but yesterday was a perfect 4-4 to provide the difference in the game.
Like two prizefighters who simply refuse to be bested, the teams swapped blow after blow. Ten times the lead in the game changed. One would score, then the other. Most football gurus predicted a low-scoring game. So much for their collective wisdom.
And for the second time in the last seven Auburn vs. Alabama games, coach Nick Saban learned that the final outcome may come down to what happens in just one second.
In 2013, with the score tied and the game headed to overtime, Saban insisted to the officials that there was still one second remaining in the game, just enough time for Alabama to try a long field goal for the win. The result was the famous (for Auburn fans) KICK SIX. Bama did try the field goal, but Auburn had defensive back Chris Davis waiting in the end zone to run it back if possible.
And 109 yards later Davis was in the end zone at the other end of the field and Auburn was the victor.
This time Auburn coach Gus Malzahn insisted that there was one second left in the first half, enough time for field goal kicker Anders Carlson to try for three points. His successful effort made the halftime score 31-27 in favor of Alabama. This time Saban augured that one second was NOT enough time for such a play.
Finally it came down to Auburn holding a 48-45 lead with two minutes left and Bama facing 4th down near the Auburn end zone. Saban’s field goal kicker Joseph Bulovas lined up in hopes of tying the game, But as such things sometimes happen, the kick hit the left upright and bounced harmlessly to the ground.
Auburn needed one more first down to win the game. Facing 4th and four, Malzahn outmaneuvered Saban with his play calling and a penalty gave Auburn a first down and the win.
Bedlam quickly followed. My sister and niece in Black Mountain, NC called and sang the Auburn fight song. A school superintendent in North Dakota sent me an email. I got a text from Nebraska.
Kendall Leland will go to her 5th grade class in Cape Girardeau, MO tomorrow and tell her friends all about being at the game. Her father went to Auburn, her grandmother lives in Opelika, and pilgrimages from eastern Missouri to Auburn games are common place for her family. Her Thanksgiving was a little bit of turkey and a whole lot of Auburn.
Sully Van Sice is also in the 5th grade. But his trip to school in Fairhope tomorrow will not be as jubilant as Kendall’s. He cheers for Bama. But not his grandmother. At Sully’s insistence, he and grandma had a small wager on the outcome. For the next month, Sully will have to make up her bed every day.
No doubt thousands of such stories could be told across Alabama today.
All just a part of the annual madness we call the Iron Bowl.
Long ago I realized that apparently the sound of tires on asphalt is my own special brand of therapy. How else can I explain all the miles I cover and time in my car?
I graduated from Auburn 53 years ago. I doubt there have been many of those years when I didn’t drive at least 30,000 miles. (I just checked my records and have driven 35,000 miles since last November. And yes, I do have the record.) At that rate I’ve covered 1.5 million miles in the last half century.
And I have often given thanks that I have never had an accident, that every log truck I’ve ever met stayed on their side of the road, that someone didn’t run a red light and find me in their way. Surely the good Lord has played a role in my safety. For which I am certainly grateful.
However, my luck almost ended on a recent Thursday afternoon.
If you get off I-85 at the Tuskegee-Franklin exit about halfway between Montgomery and Auburn and head north, you are on highway 49. Stay on it long enough and you get to Cheaha Mountain. But this day I was only going as far as Oskars, a restaurant near Still Waters on Lake Martin, to have lunch with Joe Windle, superintendent of Tallapoosa County schools.
While highway 49 is very serviceable, it has its shares of twists and turns as it heads into Alabama’s Piedmont region. If you come up from behind on a slow moving vehicle, patience is your friend, Straight stretches where you can pass someone are few and far between.
It was raining when I headed back towards Montgomery. Not hard rain, just a slow drizzle.
I was rounding a curve when it happened. In a microsecond I was off the road on the right side. Was not speeding, did not slip. Just somehow I was suddenly staring at a washed out gully and pine tress. There was no shoulder. My first thought was “this ain’t gonna end well.”
I jerked the wheel and to my utter amazement made it back to the pavement. Fortunately, there was not an on-coming vehicle because I was on the wrong side of the road. Debris I gathered on the underside of the car was dragging the road. Coming to a place to pull off I got out and tried to clear some of it away.
I will never understand how I got the car back on the road. My only thought is that an angel was riding with me and grabbed the steering wheel.
Needless to say, it was a sobering experience. So much so that a few days later I went back up highway 49 to find the spot. I still don’t know what kept me out of the gulley and pine trees.
We are now celebrating the Thanksgiving season. It has special meaning for me this year.
And I hope it does for you as well. But not for the same reason.
After Hurricane Katrina nearly destroyed New Orleans, charter schools were seen as the salvation for a school system plagued with poor performance for decades. Today all schools in the Crescent City are charters.
However, as Times-Picayune reporter Della Hasselle points out in a recent article, the latest school grades leave much to be desired. You can read her entire report here.
Following are key excerpts of her lengthy piece.
“The release of the state’s closely watched school performance scores earlier this month offered an overall update on New Orleans schools that seemed benign enough: A slight increase in overall student performance meant another C grade for the district.
But a closer look reveals a startling fact. A whopping 35 of the 72 schools in the all-charter district scored a D or F, meaning nearly half of local public schools were considered failing, or close to it, in the school year ending in 2019. Since then, six of the 35 have closed.
While New Orleans has long been home to struggling schools, the data released this month are concerning. There was an increase of nearly 11% percentage points in the number of schools that received the state’s lowest grades from the 2017-18 school year to 2018-19.
This year also showed the highest percentage of failing schools in the past five years. The closest comparison was in the 2016-17 year, when nearly 41% of the city’s schools, including those then overseen by the Recovery School District, earned D’s or F’s.
“It makes me angry and hurt. Because these are the children of our city,” said Ashana Bigard, a parent of two children in Orleans Parish schools and a longtime critic of the post-Hurricane Katrina education reforms that rebuilt the district as a network of charter schools.
For a look as close to apples-to-apples as possible, comparisons don’t include alternative schools, which cater specifically to struggling students and now are held to different standards, or schools now located in New Orleans but run by the state.
But even conceding bright spots and exceptions, the state of New Orleans public education isn’t rosy — especially since low scores on standardized tests can mean school closures or takeovers by other charter organizations, a controversial byproduct of the district’s all-charter system.
But even as charter advocates and critics haggle over what the data mean, failing grades have again ignited controversy in New Orleans, because they could trigger another round of school closures or takeovers.
In a prepared statement, Lewis, (Henderson Lewis Jr. is school superintendent) who has run the district since 2015, said students particularly need help mastering standardized tests, which account for a large proportion of schools’ scores. Lewis has pushed for more funding to hire the best teachers.
“The K-8 letter grades reflect the decline in test scores we saw this spring. We have work to do,” Lewis said. “Across the district, we are focused on doing a better job implementing high-quality curriculum and on ways to improve teacher recruitment and retention.”
“The good news is nearly three out of four schools received a progress index score of A or B, we saw significant improvement in the graduation rate, and our high schools did a better job preparing students for college and careers,” Lewis said.
But Kathleen Padian, a former deputy superintendent for the district, said she’s wary of letting poor-performing schools stay open too long, and of relying too much on the student growth factor to measure schools’ progress.
“There should be some credit given to schools who are able to grow year to year. But there has to be a limit,” Padian said. “I think it’s shocking … if you have had a school for so many years and you can’t get past a D letter grade.”
While Bigard is also skeptical of how well most charter schools are functioning, she doesn’t think closing them all is necessarily the answer.
“We close their schools, scatter them, and have them (students) up at 5 a.m. in the morning to get them (on the bus) to another failing school,” Bigard said of the district’s students. “Our children need stability.”
Before Hurricane Katrina and the flooding that crippled the Orleans Parish school district, the city’s public schools were notoriously low-performing.
Although it’s difficult to extrapolate citywide trends, there are some patterns in the data.
Schools in both big and little charter organizations got D’s and F’s. Some organizations saw major changes. FirstLine Schools, which got D grades for four of its six schools, and Success Preparatory, which also earned a D, got new leaders. Others absorbed students relocated from elsewhere, and many adopted new curricula.
Four other F-rated schools had already closed by the time the grades came out.
And, while Lewis expressed disappointment that six still-open schools dropped to an F, he said the district had already implemented support to help them improve.
For all her disappointment, it’s an effort Bigard said she appreciated.
“What makes a school failing is children not getting what they need to get up to grade level,” she said. “This is not rocket science. You get those schools the support they need.”
Editor’s note: The situation strongly supports what research has shown for years. Bascially, there is little difference in performance of public schools and charters. Some are exceptional, some are terrible and the majority are somewhere in between. There is no magic in simply labeling a school as a charter.