Oh My Goodness. Another Birthday.

Ain’t no way.  Impossible.  Simply can not be.  The calendar must be messed up.

I mean, I just had a birthday a couple of months ago didn’t I?  Right before Thanksgiving?  Or was it just before football season maybe?
Remember it well.  Was the 36th anniversary of my 39th birthday.  Got two cards, four emails and one telephone call.  Some folks even mentioned it on Facebook.

So I have double-checked.  And then double-checked my double-checking.  And much as I would like to deny it, it really is true that on Monday, Jan. 21 I will have my 76th birthday.  And to make me feel even older, that means I have lived for 76 years and now start on number 77.

Apparently the news got out somehow because Monday has been declared a NATIONAL HOLIDAY.  How many of my friends can say that happened on their birthday?  Not many, if any.

Of course I know that most think Monday is a holiday because of Martin Luther King, Jr.  And some in the Deep South think it is because of Robert E. Lee.  But that is not he case at all.  You see, King was born on Jan. 15, 1929 and uncle Robert was born on Jan. 19, 1807.

So while we may have the day off on Monday because of them, it’s really MY birthday–not theirs.

I am glad to still be kicking.  Though hardly as high as I once did.  I’m not so steady when I stand up these days and to put on my pants I have to sit on the edge of the bed.  No more balancing on one foot while doing so.  And the memory is definitely not what it used to me.  Coming out of a restaurant today a gentleman spoke to me as if he knew me.  I had no clue who he was.

Here’s hoping that as you enjoy your holiday Monday, you remember why you got it.

Governor Ivey Names Jo Bonner Chief Of Staff

A few week ago we told you that former Congressman Joe Bonner had joned the staff of Governor Kay Ivey as Senior Advisor.  She has now made Bonner Chief of Staff.  He replaces Steve Pelham who is going to Auburn University as Chief of Staff for President Steve Leath.

Bonner is a native of Camden, in Wilcox County, as is Governor Ivey.  His father was probate judge.  He is a graduate of the University of Alabama and went to Washington, D.C. in 1984 as press secretary to Congressman Sonny Callahan.  He became Callahan’s Chief of Staff in 1989.  When Callahan retired in 2002, Bonner ran for his seat and defeated six other candidates in the Republican primary.

He was elected to six more terms before stepping down in 2013 to join the staff of the University of Alabama system as vice chancellor.

With his experience in politics and vast network of associates, Bonner should be a great asset to Governor Ivey  He is 60 years old.


Survey Says Time For Accountability Act To Go

More that 600 people have responded so far to our recent survey about the Alabama Accountability Act.  They are loud and clear as to how they view AAA.  Seventy-six percent say it should be repealed.  Another 17 percent say it should be modified and only one percent say it should be left as is.

This is not surprising since 78 percent of respondents are either currently working in public education, or are retired educators.  They also have a vested interested as 58 percent either have children or grand children now in a public school.. More than 51 percent are in the age range of 46 to 65.  Sixty-eight percent of all respondents are female.

And 46 percent identify themselves as Republicans, 32 percent are Independents and 23 percent are Democrats.

Editor’s note: SurveyMonkey was the instrument used to get responses.  This methodology is used by more then 4,000 companies worldwide In market research.  Unlike traditional political polling, SurveyMonkey does not control responses according to demographics.  However, the number of responses is so large that info is very valid in measuring attitudes and trend lines.

We probed a number of education issues and AAA issues.

For instance, while those supporting the accountability act imply that public schools should not miss the $100 million now diverted from the Education Trust Fund by this legislation, 95.5 percent of survey takers do not believe Alabama schools are adequately funded.  Only four percent say they know someone who has contributed to a Scholarship Granting Organization (SGO) and seven percent say they know a student who has received a scholarship with this program.

This law creates a double standard for charitable contributions.  While the state allows an income tax DEDUCTION for traditional contributions based on the contributor’s income tax bracket; donors to an SGO get a dollar for dollar TAX CREDIT on their taxes.  Say you are in the 35 percent tax bracket and give $1,000 to the Boy Scouts, you get a $350 (35% X $1,000) tax deduction.  However, if you give $1,000 to a SGO, the state allows you to take this amount off your tax liability owed the state.  In other words, you are reimbursed $1,000.

Some 56 percent of those who answered the survey say both regular charitable contributions and SGO contributions should be treated equally.

There is concern these scholarships are sometimes used to recruit athletes to private schools.  Some 77 percent think a school getting AAA scholarships should not be allowed to compete in athletics with public schools.  They also have strong feelings about scholarships being given to non-accredited private schools as is presently allowed.  Eighty-three percent oppose this.

The survey also shows intense feelings about the State Board of Education and their unwillingness to take a stand on AAA.  Some 88 percent say the board should take a public position on AAA and 90 percent say the board should be actively involved in making legislative changes in the law.

While this law requires that the state identify the bottom six percent of all public schools and label them as “failing,” 78 percent say the same bottom six percent standard should be applied to private schools.  In other words, apply the same logic to both public and private schools.

Once identified as a “failing” school, AAA does not stipulate that any resources or help be given to these schools to help them improve.  Eighty-three percent of responses say this is wrong.

So far, school boards in Baldwin, Mobile, Montgomery, Randolph and Tallapoosa counties have passed resolutions calling for the repeal of AAA.  Some 87 percent agree with school boards taking such action.

We also wanted to know how respondents feel about the overall state of public education in Alabama.  Unfortunately, 45 percent believe it will be worse in the future than it now is.

Might it be that after six years of the accountability act and little to show for it, plus the fact that the state school board is apparently content to give up $100 million in funding without saying a word, there is ample reason for general pessimism?

I don’t know that answer.  But I do know that the good folks who took this survey have spoken loudly that they do not believe the accountably act works and they are calling for action.


55 Years Ago Today

It was a Saturday.  I was at the Mobile Infirmary in a waiting room studying German, having just begun my 4th quarter at Auburn.  I was waiting on my son Kevin to make his first appearance in this world.

The doctor had predicted that he would be born in late December, but sometimes doctors and Mother Nature don’t read from the same play book. I well remember being taken to the nursery to see him for the first time.  He was there among eight or ten other newborns.  Others were also looking at what the stork had just delivered and I heard plenty of, “why he has his daddies nose” or “she looks just like her mother.”

Kevin just looked like a brand new baby to me, all red and puffy with no resemblance to anyone I knew.

It is hard to believe that has now been 55 years ago.  But indeed it has.

He was a smart little fellow.  Attended a school for gifted in Birmingham and later was invited to attend the new Alabama School for Fine Arts.  He has always read about anything he could get his hands on.  I have often said that he is far more well-read than I will ever be.  And my sister just says, “Don’t ever play Trivial Pursuit with Kevin.”

He is an excellent writer and I’m proud to occasionally share some of his words on this blog site.  Unfortunately, we had no clue 55 years ago that his body harbored a genetic defect that would cause severe respiratory issues as he aged.

I enjoy conversations with him.  Politically we think very much alike.  And we certainly share the same allegiance to any athletic team that wears orange and blue.

But mostly I am just proud to be his father.  Even if his turning 55 does mean I am about to be 76.

I love you Kevin.  HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!.

Time To Let Us Hear From You

We put up a brand new survey 36 hours ago to get feedback concerning the Alabama Accountability Act.  This law was passed in 2013 and, to say the least, has been rather controversial because it diverts money from the state Education Trust Fund to be used to provide scholarships to private schools.

With a new session of the Legislature convening In March and with a large number of new House and Senate members, now is the right time to see how people across the state view the Accountability Act.

Response has been great.  Well more than 400 people have weighed in.

But the more, the merrier.

Remember, all respondents are anonymous and the program is set up so that there can only be one response per email address.

Go here to fill out your survey form.

And Excellent Example Of What Is Going On In Alabama Schools

Sometimes you come across something and your only response is, “Wow.”  That is exactly what I thought when I read this article in the TimesDaily from northwest Alabama.

It’s about a group of Sheffield High students and their research project that the Samsung Corporation chose as the Alabama winner in their Solve for Tomorrow contest.  The engineering class also won $20,000 in technology for their school.  They will now compete for a national top ten spot by submitting a three-minute video.

The nationwide competition challenged students to inspire change in their communities, to use science, technology, engineering and math skills to develop solutions to complex issues.

The project involves research on the Zebra mussel and it’s negative impact on the Tennessee River.  Jamie Smith, who teaches Intro to Engineering at Sheffield, is working with the students.

Here are some excerpts from the article:

:”It’s a multilayered project really, and one that’s become much bigger than we’d first anticipated,” she said. “We’re charged to find a solution, and while we don’t believe we can rid the river completely of these invasive mussels, we wholeheartedly believe we can make a difference by impacting their spread.”

The group’s research shows that zebra mussels have been a growing infestation of the Tennessee River since the 1980s with contamination coming from the Great Lakes. The problem originated in eastern Europe during the 1800s.

The mussels are clogging pipe-ways and filtering water, ridding it of food and nutrients that native species of mussels and fish need to survive. “We have native mussels in the Tennessee (River) right now that are suffocating because of these zebra mussels,” Smith said.

The group of students will work with TVA to collect mussels and observe them in a controlled environment to study. They will also involve the district’s fourth-graders in the project as they study the behavior of the species.

Ultimately, the high school team will create a trash grate to collect the mussels. It will go on the edge of the river’s piping system, where the water is pulled from the river. The students must determine a coating for their device that attracts the zebra mussels.

“We’re entering the third phase of this project and we’re still generating ideas as to how to create this device,” said Zane Turner, a junior who is leading the team, along with his sophomore classmate Austin Walker.

“We’ve gotten pretty deep into this and we just want to help with this river situation,” Turner said. “And we really believe we can. We’ve learned a lot already.”

Now you see why I said “Wow.”


Start The New Year With A Survey About Alabama Accountability Act.

Though we’ve written extensively about the Alabama Accountability Act since it was passed in 2013, we have never done a survey of readers about what they think about this legislation.

So let’s get started.  Go here to respond to this new survey.

Your insights are welcome.  We will make sure the results are widely circulated.  It is just two months until the first regular session of the legislature convenes for this new four-year term of office.  And with so many new members of both the House and Senate, info of this nature is extremely helpful in guiding any education agenda.

Please share this post with as many of your friends and colleagues as you can.  The more responses. the better.

You will find the survey here.

Writers Of Accountability Act Never Heard Of The Good Samaritan

Most of us heard the parable of the Good Samaritan at an early age.  Probably in a Sunday School Class.  And in Alabama, it was probably a Baptist Sunday School.

As you remember, Jesus told the story of a Jewish traveler who was beaten and left by the side of the road.  A priest saw him, but did not help.  Then a Levite came along and like the priest, did not lend a hand.  And even though Samaritans and Jews did not like each other, it was a Samaritan who came to the aid of the traveler.

The point being, of course, that we are to help those most in need.

This is where those who drafted the Alabama Accountability Act forgot what they learned in Sunday School.  Because while the law makes a big deal out of identifying the bottom six percent of all public schools as “failing,” they made no mention of trying to help these struggling schools in any form or fashion.

We have now published six lists of so-called “failing” schools.  Most years there are about 75 schools identified.  (We will soon get the latest list.)

Nine schools have been on this list every single time.  R. B. Hudson Middle in Selma; Central High in Tuscaloosa; Camden School of Arts & Technology in Wilcox County; Bullock County High in Union Springs; Robert Brown Middle in Greene County; Bellingrath Middle and Capitol Heights Middle in Montgomery County and Booker T. Washington Middle and C. L. Scarborough Middle in Mobile County.

For SIX years these schools have been waiting for a Good Samaritan.  But all they have seen are priests and Levites.

These schools have 3,989 students; 72.6 percent of whom are on free-reduced lunches and 90.3 percent are black.  They are the face of struggling schools across Alabama.  The very ones legislators claimed they wanted to help when they concocted AAA.

But the fact that this legislation turned its back on our most challenged students and their schools, proves once again that this law was never truly INTENDED to help education, but was all about tax breaks instead.

I have watched in amazement for six years as a state that strongly professes to being guided by Biblical teachings, turns a blind eye to its own moral shortcomings.

It can only be called shameful..

New School Reports Are Out. Now What?

Report cards for 1,300 Alabama schools are now out.  Their release brought the usual amount of fluttering about from educators and politicians.  In brief, general improvement was seen across the landscape with more districts earning A’s and B’s than previously.

Trish Crain, who covers education for AL.com did her usual good job of looking at this topic from stem to stern.  You can see her reporting here, here and here.

And what we learn again is something we’ve known for years.  Poverty levels and demographic makeup of schools, nine times out of ten, or maybe ninety-nine out of one hundred, set the DNA of a school.  While it may not be politically correct to discuss such matters, or just turn away from reality, a deep look at the info provided by these report cards reveals the starkness of what we face in many parts of this state.

After all, the report cards are just a tool.  Unless we work hard to find out what they tell us, they are worth very little.  Too often we get so caught up a process that we fail to see the larger picture.  What would you think if your doctor ordered some X-fays, and then did not look at them?  Or if he had blood work done for you, and did not look at the results?

There are 15 school systems (out of 137) that earned a system wide A.  On average, they are 70.1 percent white, 14.8 percent black, 5.7 percent Hispanic and 5.1 percent Asian.  The average free-reduced lunch rate is 23.4 percent.

By comparison, numbers for all 722,212 public school students are: 54.1 percent white, 32.4 percent black, 8.4 percent Hispanic and 1.4 percent Asian.  The average free-reduced lunch rate is 49.9 percent.

There are ten systems that received a D grade.  (None got an F.)  Collectively they are 10.1 percent white, 79.6 percent black, 8.2 percent Hispanic and less than one percent Asian.  Poverty rate is 64.9 percent

Yep.  The differences on each end of this spectrum are stark..  But wait, it’s when we go inside some of these numbers that we begin to find nuggets that may give us insight and guidance.  For example, there are 190 A schools listed.  But of these, 31 have a poverty rate greater than the state average.  And 10 of these are 60 percent or greater.

Steele is in the north end of St. Clair County, on U.S. 11 that was once the main route  from Birmingham to Gadsden.  It’s the home of Steele Junior High, a K-7 school with only 174 students.  The free-reduced lunch rate is 72.4 percent meaning that it has the highest poverty rate of any A school in Alabama.  Someone must be doing something right at this school and in this community.  I don’t know what, but I plan to take a look.

Another nugget.  Of the 190 A schools. there are only two that are majority black.  One is Jeter Primary and the other is Morris Avenue Intermediate.  Both are in Opelika and both have a 60 percent poverty rate.  Again, they may have stories to tell.

There are 27 A schools in C districts.  They are sprawled from Lookout Mountain to Mobile.  How are they meeting challenges other schools in their district can’t seem to overcome?

We love to look for bright, shiny objects in education.  Let’s have a new strategic plan, let’s give out vouchers, what about converting some schools to charters?  Why not convene an “education summit” and bring in high-paid consultants who have written lots of books?

Or better yet, let’s take the road map these school report cards have given us, be honest about our challenges and shortcomings and don’t insist that one size fits all.  We obviously have some home-grown experts.  You know like teachers and principals,

Ten years ago Buddy Dial was principal of Albert Turner, Sr. elementary school in Marion.  This was one of the schools we studied for Lessons Learned From Rural Schools.  After 40 years in education, Buddy retired the following year.  He is a native of the Black Belt and knows it and its people like the back of his hand.

He called me yesterday and we talked about education.  He told me, “It really is a lot simpler than folks think.”

I don’t disagree.


Sully’s Science Project

Let’s begin the New Year on a light-hearted note and what better way to do that than checking in with our fourth grade buddy Sully, down in Baldwin County.

Couple things you need to know about Sully, like most young boys, he is not big into taking a shower and for certain does not see the benefit of a shower after going swimming.

So when I happened upon some advice about bathing, I immediately thought of Sully and sent the following tidbit to his grandmother.

The American Academy of Dermatology gives parents advice about how often to bathe their tots, based on how dirty and smelly they get. If they’re not too dirty from playing, the recommendation is a bath at least once or twice a week for kids between the ages of six and 11. Their little developing immune systems need some dirt (organisms like bacteria and small doses of viruses and infections) in order to grow up strong.

But once we hit age 12, the official bathing guidance stops. The AAD seems to assume that just about everyone is trying to wash away those awkward teenage smells, and that most people have a daily shower routine by the time they’ve reached puberty.

The truth is that we probably don’t have to shower that much. 

The immediate response from Baldwin County was ain’t no way I share this with Sully.  He might never get in the shower.

Then grandma informed me of a science project Sully conjured up and conducted.  He wondered if your shoes smelled worse if you wore them without socks or with socks.

I have no clue just how precise his “research” may have been.  Were the socks always cleaned to the same standards.  Was a new pair of shoes used for every repetition of the protocol?  Who was the official “smeller-in-charge”?  Had they been certified by the American Society of Smellers?  (Sometimes known as ASS.)  Did he wash his feet before each test?

The conclusion of the research was that socks do indeed reduce the smell in your shoes.  But for some reason, I doubt that Sully really cared all that much about his science project.

As some folks some times say, WE NEED TO KEEP IT REAL.  And Sully understands that for sure.