All I Want For Christmas Is One Front Tooth

So last Sunday I’m at the BBQ joint around the corner treating myself to some ribs.  About halfway through the last one, I chomped down on something that definitely was not meat.  I rolled it around in my mouth and decided to face the music and check it out more closely.

OH NO.  It’s a big chuck of tooth and it didn’t take my tongue very long to tell me that it came from a front tooth.  Like the second one from the center of the upper front.  Right there in plain sight of God and everyone else.

When I looked in the bathroom mirror my first thought was that all I needed was a cap saying “Roll Tide” to complete the picture.

Two days later and I’m plopped in my dentist’s chair while he takes x-rays, pokes around with some tools and does a lot of mumbling.  I learned that at some point this tooth got a root canal.  Also that seven years ago he filled it and left behind a notation on his charts, “Let’s hope for the best.”

Obviously the time limit on hope has now elapsed.

The dentist tells me I just have bad teeth.  That I’ve not taken care of them.  (I tell him I brush every morning and come to his office for cleaning every six months.)  He tells me I have eaten too many sweets and sugar and teeth don’t get along very well.  I plead guilty.  That I come from a long line of men with a sweet tooth.

And while Daddy may have given me his sweet tooth, he did not give me his teeth.  When he passed away at 86 he had one filling.  He always claimed this was from being raised on well water that was not subject to Lord knows what kind of chemicals are in tap water today.

However, for much of his life this well water came from a bucket dropped down a dug well and I’ve never understood why such water that is standing still in a deep hole and can be the breeding ground for all kind of creepy, crawly things could be that beneficial.  Besides from the time I was in the fifth grade until I finished high school I also drank well water, but it came from a pump stuck in the ground, not an open hole.

The dentist tells me that he can make a bridge, however, he is not sure how long the teeth he would anchor it to will be around.

He leaves it at, “Let me think it over and see what I might come up with.”

So I leave his office just like I came in–with a  big hole where a rib-gnawing tooth used to be.  Which means that if you see me you will immediately think of Hee Haw in all likelihood.  And though it may be called for, don’t expect me in that Roll Tide cap.

Dothan Eagle Questions Accountability Act

Under the headline: $30 M should produce dramatic results, not indiscernible difference, the Dothan Eagle has joined the chorus of those questioning the value of the Alabama Accountability Act.

Here’s what they had to say recently:

As Dothan school officials wrangle over strategies to reshape the city school system to make better use of the funds available for education, an interesting report has emerged from the University of Alabama’s Institute for Social Science Research. The Institute performed an evaluation of the Alabama Accountability Act, the 2013 law that established a mechanism to compensate parents of children zoned for “failing” public schools with $3,500 tax credits to help offset the cost of sending those children to private school.
The study evaluated the academic achievement test outcomes of the 2016-2017 recipients of AAA scholarships compared to their counterparts in public school. Not to put too fine a point on it, the study found no discernible improvement in academic performance of the students in private school with AAA scholarships.

With such results, it’s a wonder there’s not a procession of taxpayers descending on the state house with torches. Under the Alabama Accountability Act, the state spends $30 million from the Special Education Trust Fund each year to send a small collection of students to private school because they’re zoned for public schools deemed as “failing.”
It was a dubious plan from the start, but academic test results aren’t the sole determining factor when weighing whether to move a student from a failing school. Still, these findings suggest that the $30 million in taxpayer funds spent on AAA scholarships might be better spent in an effort to improve public schools attended by hundreds of thousands of Alabama schoolchildren.

Alabama lawmakers must revisit this boondoggle at the first opportunity.”

Having lived in Dothan for 10 years, I am very familiar with The Dothan Eagle.  This is one of the most conservative newspapers in Alabama and it is significant that they call the money spent on this legislation into question.

A Fine Piece Of Writing

My son, Kevin, lives in Mobile and writes for the weekly publication, Lagniappe.  I am proud of him and his ability to tell a story.  He is a tireless researcher and digs hard to get those tiny facts and quotes that bring a story to life.

On September 22, 1993 ,The Sunset Limited left the train station in Mobile past midnight headed east.  Unfortunately, within minutes the train derailed and chaos consumed the dark and very foggy night in the water and mud of the Mobile Delta.

Here is Kevin’s recounting of this event.  He puts the reader in the midst of this Hellish scene.  If you appreciate good writing, treat yourself.

A Closer Look At Accountability Act And Student Performance

We recently wrote about the latest study by the University of Alabama of academic performance of students who have received scholarships to private schools via the Alabama Accountability Act.

In a nutshell, the report says that there is very little difference in the performance of scholarship students and their public school counterparts.

But since one of the scholarship granting organizations, the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund, and someone who works for the Jeb Bush-created ExcelinEd group, have both attempted to put their own “spin” on the research, we reached out to Dr. Joan Barth, Senior Research Scientist at the Institute for Social Science Research at the University of Alabama, who was the lead evaluator on the report.

This is the third such report she has worked on and obviously is far more qualified to dissect the numbers than anyone else.

Here is my exchange with her:

How would you summarize what you learned?

“It’s important to note that the majority of students in the AAA program belong to demographic groups (low income, racial minority groups) that have traditionally lagged behind other students in the state and in the country in academic achievement. Keeping that context in mind, here are the three take home messages from the report.

1. With a few exceptions noted in the report, across the seven achievement tests we examined, results generally indicate that the scholarship students as a group did not meet national achievement norms or benchmarks.

2.  In 78 percent of the comparisons made between scholarship recipients and public school students, there was no statistically significant difference between the scholarship recipients and students attending public schools. In cases where statistically significant differences were observed, no reliable patterns across grade levels and subjects could be discerned—so one group did not consistently outperform the other.

3. There is no evidence to suggest that scholarship recipients’ achievement test scores improve over time (but they do not seem to decline either).

Do we have enough data to really come to any hard and fast decisions? 

“We have tried to make the best use of the data available to us. I believe that there is valuable information that can inform the legislature about the progress of the scholarship students as a group. (see 1 and 3 above). These findings are pretty clear. However, to make a more definitive assessment of the relative performance to the scholarship students compared to public school students, it would be better to have both groups of students take the same achievement test.  The comparison group of scholarship recipients with ACT Aspire or ACT scores is only about 14 percent of all scholarship students who were required to be tested, so I do wish we had more data from these students.”  

The news release from the SGO points out that some parents are using these scholarships because they felt their children were being bullied in public schools.  Does any of your data support this claim?

“We were not asked to assess school environment or social factors.”

Editors note: It is interesting that the AOSF news release cites Dr. Patrick Wolf of the University of Arkansas who is Distinguished Professor of Education Policy and 21st Century Endowed Chair in School Choice in the Department of Education Reform.  It is widely recognized that Wolf receives substantial support from the Walton Foundation, one of the nation’s strongest proponents of vouchers like those being used in the Alabama Accountability Act.

Adam Peshek wrote an op-ed defending the accountability act and taking issue with an editorial in The Anniston Star.  It should be noted that he works for a group founded by Jeb Bush in 2008.  According to their web site, their areas of interest are: charter schools, school choice, education savings accounts, tax credit scholarships and vouchers.  The Walton Foundation gives this group more than $1 million annually.



Anniston Star Sees Little Value In Accountability Act

After watching the lack of performance by the Alabama Accountability Act for the last five years, The Anniston Star takes a look at the recent University of Alabama study of academic performance of students getting scholarships to private schools through this program and points out in the following editorial the magic promised by supporters of this bill has failed to come to fruition.

“Since its creation, the Alabama Accountability Act has neither revolutionized educational opportunities in our state nor silenced its thunderous critics. There’s little doubt either of those outcomes will soon change.

We say that because of a new study released this week by the Institute for Social Science Research at the University of Alabama that essentially paints the AAA as middling legislation that’s produced tepid results. No home runs, no outright failures, the study said. So much for the grandiose claims by the AAA’s legislative supporters who pushed the program as a way to help low-income students move out of schools on the highly criticized “failing” schools list and improve their education.

Let’s point out several highlights of the study:

Students on AAA scholarships frequently did better academically than low-income students in public schools, but they didn’t perform better than the state overall.

On average, scholarship students’ academic results did not improve from their previous levels.

A majority of students on AAA scholarships did not post gains or losses in percentile scores on the ACT Aspire, Iowa Test of Basic Skills, and Stanford test. However, scholarship students did better than low-income public school students on the ACT Aspire test in almost every grade in reading and math.

Eighty percent of families who take advantage of the AAA do so because of bullying and school safety issues, not because their public school is considered failing by the state guidelines.

In truth, little with the AAA’s place in the sphere of Alabama public education has changed since the program began in 2013. It has helped a significant number of families move their children out of undesirable situations, but it remains a flash point for the argument between school-choice advocates, defenders of public schools and skeptics of private schools’ role.

Lesley Searcy, executive director of the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund, told the Associated Press that “the vast majority of children are starting the program three years below grade level. While there is always room for improvement, these results should be encouraging to families in the program and for lawmakers looking for ways to improve education.” AAA critic Larry Lee, a Montgomery County Board of Education member, told the AP in an email that he estimated the program had diverted $5.4 million from the school system. “Yet many elementary schools are struggling to just get textbooks,” Lee said.

Just as important, if not more so, is that the AAA hasn’t demonstrably addressed the overwhelming need to improve the quality of public education in Alabama — not just for low-income students, but for all of them. Two examples: Earlier this year, U.S. News and World Reports ranked public education in Alabama 47th nationally, and Education Week ranked it slightly better at 43rd. That’s not good enough. In time, the AAA may become a small component of an improved version of public education in Alabama, but until a more holistic approach lifts the weakest schools and raises the bar statewide, there’s no reason to be satisfied with these results.”

In summary, this newspaper realizes that we can better spend money helping all 730,000 public school students in the state, instead of continuing to spend millions and millions of dollars on just a handful of them.