Sully Strikes Again

Once again we return to Baldwin County to check on our young friend, Sully, the fifth-grade grandson of assistant superintendent Hope Zenah.

Sully has his eye set on a video game and has been diligently trying to find ways to earn money to buy the game.  So grandmother told him that she would pay him $25 to wash her car and clean the inside as well.

He jumped at the chance and two hours later came running for grandmother to proudly show her his handiwork.

He could not have been prouder, Hope told me.  “And he should have been because he did a great job.”

Except.  For. One. Thing.

The brush he used to clean the car had a long handle and stiff bristles.  Something more along the order of what you would use to sweep a sidewalk, not wash fenders.  The result was lots and lots of scratches.

Hope did not have the heart to show Sully what happened.  Nor would I.

So off she went to the nearest car detail shop and for $75 got it waxed and buffed with nary a scratch showing.

God bless him.  We all need Sully “moments” to brighten our days.


Governor Fills Ella Bell’s School Board Seat

Governor Ivey has appointed retired Alabama State University dean Dr. Tonea Stewart to fill the remainder of the term of the late Ella Bell on the state board of education.  The appointment is immediate and Stewart will attend her first SBOE meeting Jan. 9.

Bell’s term ends in January 2021, IF voters turn down the March 3 vote on amendment one.  This is the amendment calling for a switch from an elected to an appointed state board.  If approved, the terms of all current board members would end and they would be replaced by members appointed by the governor.

Stewart served as the dean and a professor in the College of Visual and Performing Arts at ASU.  In addition to her work at the university level, Stewart is a professional actress with appearances in numerous films, television shows and stage productions.

Look Who Wants To Get Their Hands On Accountability Act Scholarships

A few days ago a group calling themselves USA Academy plan to start a football  program in Elmore County and attach a “school” to it.  As one friend told me, “Normally we have schools looking for football teams, but this is a football team looking for a school.”

Even in football-crazed Alabama, this development is more than “over-the-top.”

You can read all about this venture in this piece by Josh Bean, with

The football program will be run by Rush Propst, a very successful high school coach in Alabama and Georgia, and someone who has been more than a little controversial throughout his career.

Supposedly the primary purpose will be to produce high school players who can readily find college teams to play for.

Here is the part of Bean’s article that most caught my attention:

“Will in-state students be eligible to receive Accountability scholarships?

The Alabama Accountability Act, originally passed in 2013 by the state Legislature, allows taxpayers to donate to scholarship granting organizations, known as SGOs. The SGOs distribute scholarships to low-income students in kindergarten through 12th grade to use in participating schools.

DeVaughn said in-state USA Academy students will be able to access Accountability scholarships. In addition, he said he’s already spoken to two scholarship granting organizations and received positive feedback and confirmed the school also plans to create its own scholarship granting organization.

Scholarship students using tax credit scholarships must take standardized tests in English language arts and math, and they must take the ACT college entrance exam before graduating.”

But wait?

Isn’t this program that has diverted $155 million from the Education Trust Fund all about helping “poor kids stuck in failing schools by their zip code?”  After all, this is what the public has been told over and over and over again since the Accountability Act was passed in 2013.

And certainly no one would ever dare deceive the good taxpayers of Alabama.



The Colossal Charter Mess In Montgomery

It is nigh impossible to figure out what is going on with charter schools in Montgomery.  Whether it is by design, deception or a bushel of inaptitude, the situation is clearly defying sections of the charter law and thumbs its nose at what is legal and what is not.

The charter law was passed in 2015.  We were told it was the best such law in the country.  But as is often the case with educational policy cobbled together by our supermajority, words and reality seldom agree.

Under the law, local school systems can opt to become a charter authorizer, meaning that charter applications that impact a school system must first get approval from the locals.  (However, if turned down at this level, applicants can then appeal to the state charter commission.)  Very few local school boards went this route.  One reason being that local authorizers are required to send out RFPs seeking charters to come into their system.

(As one over-the-mountain superintendent told me, “We have excellent schools, why should we recruit competition for them?”)

Initially, the Montgomery school board voted to become an authorizer and they commenced paperwork, which is a very involved task.

I served on the Montgomery school board for three months in late 2018.  One of the things I tried to find out was what happened to the Montgomery effort to become an authorizer.  I learned that while the process was begun, the initial application was not approved by the state and sent back for more work.  However, by this time the Montgomery board, having learned more about what being an authorizer entailed, changed their mind and did not complete the application.

But today the charter commission says that Montgomery is an authorizer, however efforts to get the paperwork that support this contention,  have been futile.

Enter LEAD Academy, the Montgomery charter that opened last August and has been mired in controversy and legal actions.

LEAD applied to the state charter commission for approval.  Which begs the question, if MPS is a local authorizer, why didn’t LEAD apply to them?

The initial LEAD application was reviewed by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, a group in Chicago used by the state charter commission since they opened shop.  They recommended that LEAD be denied, that the application was weak in all  major categories.

The charter law clearly spells out that authorizers, such as the state charter commission, shall decline to approve weak or inadequate charter applications.

But in spite of this, the charter commission ignored the NACSA recommendation and approved LEAD Academy.  (They did the same thing with Woodland Prep in Washington County.)

In March, 2018, the Alabama Education Association sued contending that the charter commission’s vote did not include a majority of its membership.  This action did not hold up in court and LEAD was allowed to go forward.

Enter the Montgomery Education Foundation and their plan to convert existing public schools in Montgomery to charter schools.

Unlike LEAD,  this application was submitted to MPS.  However, we once again see that the charter law is not being followed.

The law states: A local school board may convert a non-charter public school to a public charter school.  After identifying the non-charter public school it has decided to convert to a public charter school, a local school board shall release a request for proposals, allowing education service providers the opportunity to submit applications.  Provide evidence of the education services provider’s success in serving student populations similar to the targeted population…..”

The decision to convert three public schools to charters WAS NOT the board’s decision.  This came from the foundation.  In addition, the foundation has NO experience in school management.

Now another potential charter is on the scene.  They will hold a public hearing at Carver high school at 6 p.m. on Jan. 9 before the local  board.  If MPS is not an authorizer, they can not legally approve a charter application.  In addition, who will grade this application to see if it has merit?  MPS does not have this capacity.

On top of all of this, what about the situation at LEAD where they are being sued by their former principal for wrongful termination and where a number of faculty have left since school began?   All school systems, including charters, are supposed to post their financial info, including check registers, on-line monthly.  Why hasn’t LEAD done this?

Why did LEAD’s education consultant, Soner Tarim of Houston, leave them?  His so-called expertise was a major part of LEAD’s application to the state.  This change in structure should be spelled out in a new contract with the state.  Has this been done?

It is a mess of the highest order.  There are way too many questions and not near enough answers.  The taxpayers of Alabama are footing the bill for all of this.  They deserve answers.

The charter law gives authority over charter schools to the state department of education.  Here is what you find on page 24, line 18 of the law:

The department shall oversee the performance and effectiveness of all authorizers established under this act.  Persistently unsatisfactory performance of the portfolio of the public charter schools of an authorizer, a pattern of well-founded complaints about the authorizer or its public charter schools, or other objective circumstances may trigger a special review by the department.

In other words, where is the state school superintendent and the state school board?  This mess is squarely in their lap.





Governor, You Need To Do Some More Homework

Overall, I think Governor Kay Ivey has done a good job regarding education.  She has been a strong proponent of early childhood education, she shows up at state school board meetings to serve as chair (something few other governors have bothered to do), she hired a smart, earnest young man, Nick Moore, to serve as her education liaison person, and best of all in my opinion, she replaced Mac Buttram as chair of the charter school commission.

However, she recently sat down for an interview with Montgomery’s WSFA TV station and said some things that cause me concern.  You can see the interview here.

For one thing, she shows that, like too many politicians, she has fallen under the spell of “data rapture” by referring to Alabama’s 4th grade NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) scores.  But she fails to provide any context and by not doing so, is misrepresenting what NAEP is all about.

As we have stated time and time again, NAEP is simply a small sampling of students in each state to look at trends.  The results of one year ARE NOT intended to be a measurement on which to hang your hat.

Diane Ravitch is not only a former assistant secretary of education for the U.S., she also served on the governing board for NAEP.   Which says to me that she has a much better understanding of NAEP than anyone in Alabama.

I asked her to tell me about this measurement.  “NAEP achievement levels have always been controversial,” she said.  “Scholarly panels have declared them ‘fatally flawed’ because they are subjective, not objective.”

Then she added something all politicians should understand, but few do..

“The thing to remember about ALL standardized tests is that they are highly correlated with family income and education.  Kids from affluent, educated families tend to get high scores.  Kids without those advantages get low scores.  A test doesn’t measure the quality of education   as much as it measures the quality of the conditions in which children grow up and measure their opportunity to learn.”

The governor referred to our 4th grade math scores as “rock bottom.”

But she gives no credit to Alabama educators for the progress we’ve made since 1992 when state scores were first published..  Since Massachusetts has historically been at the top of the heap with NAEP scores, everyone wants to compare Alabama to them.

When you do, you find that Alabama has actually made greater progress over this period than Massachusetts has.  So we are actually running at a faster pace than our neighbors in New England.  In fact, Massachusetts’ 2019 4th grade math scores are the same as they were in 2005.

And it is foolhardy to ever compare education in Alabama to Massachusetts.  For one thing, people in the Bay State spend considerably more per pupil than Alabama does.  For another, the percent of adults with a college degree in Massachusetts is nearly double that of Alabama.  This is a HUGE advantage because it means there is far more local support for education, i,e. taxes for schools, than here.

The governor also put in a plug for a yes vote on amendment one that will change us from an elected state school  board to an appointed one.  Her reasoning?  Voters don’t know who their state school board member is.

So I guess this means we should also have an appointed state supreme court, an appointed public service commission, an appointed court of civil appeals and an appointed court of criminal appeals because the members of these bodies are no more well known that school board members.  In fact, I doubt many members of the general public can tell you who is the lt. governor, the state treasurer, secretary of state, state auditor or commissioner of agriculture and industries.

As I said, I like the governor.

But her argument for approving amendment one is extremely weak.