Generals Bring Common Sense To Standards Discussion

James Rogers, Tony Jones and Jim Myles have three things in common.  1.  They all live in the Huntsville area.  2.  They are all retired Army generals.  3.They think the idea of repealing the Alabama College & Career Ready standards is a very bad idea.

Reporter Lee Roop with AL.com interviewed each of these men and came up with this report.

Three Army generals who helped lead Huntsville’s recent growth have a message for Alabama lawmakers: Leave Common Core alone, they say.

“I just don’t understand it,” Maj. Gen. James Rogers (Ret.) said Thursday of the issue’s return. “It’s crazy.”

Ending Common Core would throw sand in a machine that is creating tens of thousands of jobs in Alabama and sending hundreds of millions in tax dollars to Montgomery, the generals say.

“We can’t continue the successes we’ve had if we can’t maintain the standards,” Lt. Gen. Tony Jones (Ret.) said Thursday.

“We’ve already fought this fight, and we’re making progress,” said Maj. Gen. Jim Myles (Ret.) “This isn’t moving forward. It’s moving backward.”

All three are surprised the issue has risen again after being defeated in the Alabama Legislature in 2013.

The generals say the repeal wouldn’t be fair to thousands of families who have decided to move to Alabama for jobs at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Airbus in Mobile, and the various automobile plants around the state. And it isn’t fair to families who aren’t moving anywhere, they say, but whose children might.

Jones, Rogers and Myles were leaders in the Army and at Alabama’s Army posts. Jones was chief of staff at U.S. Army Headquarters in Europe and commanded the Army Aviation Warfighting Center at Fort Rucker, Ala., among other commands. After retiring, he ran Boeing’s operations in Huntsville.

Jones mentioned the skilled FBI employees moving from Washington now to a new campus in Huntsville. The FBI has already announced 1,350 moves, and local leaders expect 4,000- to 5,000 new FBI jobs before the move is done.

“You’ve got a lot more engineers, scientists, business management people here,” Myles said. “They bring a certain pedigree and DNA inside of them. They realize the education’s important so, naturally, they want their kids to have the same input (they had).”

Joe Windle is the superintendent of the Tallapoosa County school system.  Like the three men in Huntsville, he retired from the Army as a colonel in 1996.  Since then he has been commandant at Lyman Ward military academy, principal at Reeltown high and superintendent.  He totally agrees with the three generals.

Our system has made a huge investment in time, money, resources and professional development unpacking the math and reading standards.  Partnerships with AMSTI and ARI are paying off.  Four of our five schools increased report card grades four to seven points.  Two increased letter grades from C to B.”

“The contention that ACCR  is bad for our schools is totally wrong.” adds Windle..

 

No Kidding, Del Marsh Wants Legislature To Decide On Alabama Education Standards

Senator Del Marsh obviously has little respect for teachers–and any other education folks.  Apparently he does not consider teachers as professional or education to be a profession.

Why do I come to this conclusion?

Because his latest “Creature from the Black Lagoon” bill, known as SB119, basically screams it out loud.  What else can you surmise when Marsh says that once any new academic standards that have jumped through all the hoops of being vetted and approved by the state school board must then be approved by the legislature.

Trish Crain with AL.com explains it all here.

Here is the most pertinent part of the article.

“But the part about the legislature having the final say over academic standards flew under the radar until Thursday afternoon, when Marsh made mention of the legislative review of standards just before the Senate vote.

The bill states: “The State Board of Education shall replace the existing Common Core Standards with new standards adopted by rule pursuant to the Alabama Administrative Procedure Act.”

The Administrative Procedure Act, or APA, is a set of processes for how new rules and policies can be adopted by state agencies.

Subjecting the adoption of new academic standards to the APA, Marsh said, adds an extra layer of oversight needed at this time because of the lack of confidence in the state board.”

Earlier this week I spent two nights in ICU at a Montgomery hospital.  After all the blood samples and stuff dripping into my arm and being monitored for 60 seconds a minute, a real life physician, one who spent years in medical school and working in hospitals, said I could go home.

Do you think at that moment I wanted our legislature to have passed a law saying that before I could be released, legislators would have to review my case and say yea or nay?

Sounds absurd doesn’t it?  Of course it does.  But no more so than a group of non-educators having the final say what goes on in our classrooms.

 

Del Marsh Takes Aim At University Of Alabama Football

Republican Del Marsh singlehandedly passed the infamous Alabama Accountability Act in 2013 that has diverted $145 million from the state’s public schools and has done nothing to help struggling schools.  Now he has launched another sneak attack on public schools by insisting the Alabama College and Career Ready standards (which he once supported wholeheartedly) do not work either and calling for the state to “eat” the millions of dollars spent on putting them in place.

But wait, he’s not through.

This time he is going after the football program at the University of Alabama.  He wants wholesale changes and far more accountability than the program now has and is developing legislation that he says will result in the perfect football program and avoid the “embarrassment” of last Jan. 7 when the University lost the national championship game to Clemson, 44-12.

Marsh says he is sick and tired of seeing the highest paid football coach in the country (Nick Saban makes $8.3 million a year) get beat on national TV while Alabama becomes the laughing stock of the country..

When questioned by a reporter about his experience in coaching and running major football programs, Marsh pointed out that he knows as much about football as he does about education and believes experience is vastly over-rated in both coaching and running schools.

Marsh believes that a football program with endless resources like the one in Tuscaloosa should settle for nothing less than perfection.  He points out that this fall Bama will pay10 football assistant coaches $7.5 million, an increase of $1.4 million from 2018.  And this comes fresh on the heels of the school losing the biggest game it had ever played.

Nick Saban has coached in Tuscaloosa for 12 seasons.  Yet, he has only had one undefeated season.  Senator Marsh doesn’t think this is good enough.  He points out that Coach Bear Bryant coached 25 years in Tuscaloosa and had three undefeated seasons.  Bryant’s salary in his final year was only $450,000.

Marsh contends that we should roll back the clock with the university’s football program just as he is trying to do with Alabama schools.  He intends to pass legislation that will do just this.  For instance it may say that the team can only use the wishbone offense or can not throw more than ten passes in a game.

When reporters pressed Marsh to detail how much success the Alabama Accountability Act has brought to state schools, he chastised them for bringing up meaningless details.

Editor’s note: Hopefully readers will quickly see that this is satire.  However, the point being made–that Senator Marsh has no better understanding of what challenges education faces than he does about Coach Saban’s football program–is no less valid.

 

March 18, 2019: The Day My World Changed

Since my car is 20 years old, I am never too surprised when I have to take it to the shop.  So why am I bewildered when my body–which is 56 years older than my car–needs the oil changed and brakes redone?

Still I am.

I’d not been at the top of my game for several weeks.  I was rapidly becoming Rip Van Winkle.  I could begin a nap before I ended the one I was taking.  So Monday I found my little blood pressure device, put some new batteries in it and clicked it on.  91/55 got my attention and I headed for a doc in the box I’ve used before,.

I hardly hit the door before they called an ambulance and sent me down the street to Baptist East emergency room.  At one point I counted 10 people gathered around me talking excitedly about my heart rate, what little there was.  About this time I got the sense that this was about more than just getting my oil changed.

Long story made short, I am now home with more holes in me from taking blood than a pin cushion.  The end of every finger has been pricked for blood to find out my blood sugar level.  My blood sugar tends to go from high to higher and I’m thinking that sweet iced tea is in my rear view mirror

I’m reading about living with diabetes and figuring that morning trips to Hardee’s for a sausage and biscuit and small coke are just “precious memories.”  No doubt I am about to discover that there are entire sections of a grocery store that I never knew existed.  Something says that late night runs to Krispy Kreme are no longer part of my travel plans.

I deeply appreciate all those who sent good wishes and prayers.  They are deeply appreciated.

And for those who may have some tips on dealing with this new future, love to hear from you.  larrylee133@gmail.com

 

 

Senator Del Marsh Stoops To “Alternative Facts”

President Trump had hardly taken the oath of office in January 2017 when his advisor, Kellyanne Conway, told us on Meet The Press about “alternative facts.”  She was trying to defend press secretary Sean Spicer for disputing how many people attended the Trump inauguration.

Host Chuck Todd simply told her, “Look, alternative facts aee not facts.  They’re falsehoods.”

That incident came immediately to mind when I read the latest attempt by Senate Majority Leader Del Marsh trying to once again defend the Alabama Accountability Act.  You can see the article here.

The good senator begins with a statement we all agree with:  “I firmly believe that every child in Alabama deserves access to a quality education that prepares them for a successful career and fulfilling life.”

So does everyone elseBut Marsh ignores the fact that we have 722,212 students in Alabama public schools while the accountability act is only giving scholarships to 3,659 of them.  Somehow 3,659 out of 722,212 does not add up to EVERY CHILD.

There have now been 20 local school board to pass resolutions calling for the repeal of the accountability act.  Obviously Marsh is aware of what is going on across the state because he says, “Regrettably, several local school boards recently passed resolutions calling for an end to the Alabama Accountability Act. They claim that participating students are not making academic gains and that the program takes money away from public schools’ budgets. 

“Neither of these are true.

A recent University of Alabama report showed that students on AAA scholarships did better academically overall than low-income students in public schools and took steps toward equaling the performance of all Alabama students regardless of their demographic.”  

Actually what is not true is the Marsh statement.

Here is the conclusion of the most recent University of Alabama study comparing students on AAA scholarships to others.

The purpose of the evaluation is to assess how the scholarship program enacted through the AAA affects the academic achievement of students in the program.  Throughout the report many concerns have been voiced about the reliability and validity of the findings due to unknown factors associated with missing achievement tests and due to issues related to subsamples included in specific comparisons, such as whether a subsample of students accurately represented the larger group of scholarship students.  Within these limitations, the report made use of the available information to describe how well the scholarship recipients in the 2016-17 academic year performed.  The evaluation addressed three objectives to reach this goal:

The first objective described the achievement test results of the scholarship recipients and revealed that generally these students DID NOT PERFORM (all caps added) as well as other students in the U.S.  Other indicators, such as the NAEP assessments, are consistent with these results, finding that students in the state of Alabama do not perform as well as students elsewhere in the country.

When compared to Alabama public school students on ACT Aspire and ACT scores in Objective 2, there was no consistent pattern indicating that one group performed BETTER OR WORSE across grade levels.  Only a small percentage of students took the ACT Aspire or the ACT, which hampers the ability of this report to draw definite conclusions.

Finally, the evaluation assessed if scholarship recipients’ achievement scores improved, declined or remained the same over time.  Similar to their public-school counterparts, findings suggested that, on average, SCORES SHOWED LITTLE IMPROVEMENT OVER TIME.

Would someone please show me where this reports says AAA students “did belter academically overall?”

Just like Kellyanne Conway, Senator Marsh has “alternative facts.”

As to his second comment about AAA taking money from public schools, he doesn’t bother to defend this allegation.  But then “alternative facts” can sometimes be worrisome that way.

As Senator Marsh knows, every dollar that goes to a scholarship for a student to attend a private school is diverted from the state’s Education Trust Fund through a tax credit to a donor.  Since all income tax goes straight to the ETF, when money is switched from ETF to scholarships, that is money taken from public schools.

The state Revenue Department administers the accountability act.  They have lots of info on a web site.

Alabama Accountability Act

Senator Marsh needs to look at it sometime.  One thing he will find are reports from scholarships granting organizations that show that through the end of 2018, these groups have collected $145,003,640 from donors.  That is $145 million that did not get to ETF.  That is not an “alternative fact.”

Finally, Senator Marsh tells us: “The funding for AAA scholarships is less than half of 1 percent of the overall state education budget. I do not believe that this small amount is too much to pay so that children and their parents have the ability to choose the type of education that sets them up for future success.” 

Wow, I now know that $145 million is a “small amount” in the grand scheme of things.  And Senator Marsh is a deep-fried CONSERVATIVE?

As a former member of the Montgomery County school board, I will be happy to arrange for the senator to visit some of our schools and classrooms.  He can visit BTW magnet where students are crammed on top of each other because their school burned to the ground last year.   He can tell the students $145 million is nothing.  Or visit any of the teachers who are constantly using DonorChoose to try and scratch up supplies for their children.

For sure he will come away with real facts, not ones pulled from thin air.

 

 

 

What Happened To Alabama Values?

How many times have we listened to some Alabama politician rant and rave about “Alabama values:?  The obvious implication being that if you are not from Alabama, you are not as smart, good-looking and genteel as we are.  Remember when George Wallace proudly claimed that Alabamians were as “cultured and refined” as anyone else?

And Heaven forbid if we ever stooped so low that we thought folks in other states could teach us anything.

But, but, but, this line of thought has apparently been bogus.  We’ve been duped.

Because now we are being told that educators in Wyoming, Massachusetts, Virginia, New Jersey, Minnesota and those who work with Department of Defense schools understand how to teach math much better than we do and we should find out what they are doing better than we are?

This all started about a year ago when the state school board appointed a blue-ribbon committee to come up with a new math course of study.  The committee has 30 members.  Twenty-one of them have advanced degrees, four have doctorates.  They have almost 500 years of experience with more than 300 years in the classroom.  The committee estimates they spent at least 3,500 hours on this project.

And they are all from Alabama.

The state school board recently held a work session to review the work of the committee.  At the end of the day, it was decided that we need to look at math education in the states named above, totally ignoring that there are substantial differences in each of them and Alabama.  (We have pointed these out.)

(But we failed to point out the most critical factor in student and school performance.  Poverty rate.  The rate of free-reduced lunches for Alabama schools is 51 percent.  This is more than ten points higher than the states we want to compare ourselves to.)

Suzanne Culbreth is a committee member.  She is a Nationally Board Certified Teacher and was teaching geometry at Spain Park high school when she was selected in 2012 as Alabama Teacher of the Year.  Today she works at UAB.

To say she is disappointed is an understatement.  “It is most discouraging that we followed the process and now it seems the state board is not honoring the work of the Alabama math educators they appointed to complete the assignment,” Culbreth says.  “We were given a task, followed the process and worked diligently to compete it.”

Vic Wilson is executive director of the Council for Leaders of Alabama Schools (CLAS).  A longtime educator, he praised the efforts of the committee in his recent weekly newsletter to members.  He also pointed out that since Minnesota has the country’s highest NAEP scores in math, they will be the fist state Alabama studies.   He makes an excellent point by reminding everyone that Minnesota spends far more money per pupil than Alabama does.

It is $2,550 more per each student.  For Alabama to reach that level, the state K-12 education budget would have to increase $1.9 BILLION annually.  But when you are ignoring reality, why pay attention to something like this?

Instead, continue to live in a fantasy world where you scream ALABAMA VALUES and school children continue to take a back seat to politics.

 

 

More Fake News

It is dumbfounding how far some folks will distort the truth so that they can claim they are the only people with the right answers.  Basically if the facts don’t fit their pre-conceived narrative, then why bother with them?

I hold in my hand a flier promoting an event at the State Capitol on March 20 at 10 a.m.   As best I can tell, the event will be to pray for our children.  The flier says, “Come join us in prayer and in truth so that more will gain understanding to make a difference for such a time as this.”

Super.  I am a great believer in the power of prayer and think we should all do much more of it.

But it is the two words, “in truth” that cause me pause because the central contention of this announcement is in no form or fashion based on truth.  Someone holds up George Hall elementary in inner-city Mobile as a shining example of the evils wrought by Common Core.  They point out that this was once one of the shining lights in Alabama education–and then they fell under the spell of Common Core and went to Hell in a hand basket.

They base this charge on data found on the web site SchoolDigger.com, one of a number of school rankings sites.  So I visited the site and sure enough, they give George Hall only one star and say that it ranks 559 out of 680 Alabama elementary schools.  Unfortunately I could not find rankings going back several years.

(It is interesting that the folks claiming Common Core destroyed George Hall fail to mention that SchoolDigger.com also shows that five Mobile elementary schools have a five star ranking, seven four star and five three star.  Since they are all elementary schools in the same system using the same curriculum, why did they not also fall prey to Common Core?  But I guess that does not fit their pre-conceived narrative.)

I have probably visited George Hall more than any other school in Alabama over the past decade.  I spent a day in one of their pre-K classrooms to see what life is like as a teacher’s aide.  I raised $17,000 so they could install showers to be used by children coming from homes where the water has been turned off.  I was there in August 2010 when Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary dropped by.

What happened at George Hall beginning in 2004 was remarkable.  That was when the school system chose Hall as one of five schools they wanted to turn around.  And that’s when Terri Tomlinson showed up as principal.  She told me she interviewed 150 teachers and hired 25 of them.  For the most part, they were time-tested, experienced educators.  And in the early days of this transformation, there was virtually no teacher turnover.  This was a key part of their success.

Hall became a show piece as to what an inner-city school can become.  They were recognized nationally as a Blue Ribbon school.  Alabama designated them a Torchbearer school.

But time waits for no one.  Circumstances change.  Terri Tomlinson retired several years ago.  Most of the teachers she hired retired as well.  And especially significant is the fact that the school system redrew district lines and the school got an influx of students who did not have the benefit of experiencing George Hall when they started school.

The neighborhood is aging and school enrollment is down 22 percent in the last five years.  Teacher units have also declined,

Yes, the numbers from George Hall these days are not what they once were.  But to point to Common Core as the sole reason is simply deceptive and disingenuous.  It is shameful that people engage in such, especially considering that they are using children to advance their own political agenda.

 

 

 

Living In A Make Believe World

Huntingdon is a small college of 1,100 students here in Montgomery.  They have a football team that belongs to the USA South Athletic Conference.  They play schools such as LaGrange College, Brevard and North Carolina Wesleyan.

Now join me in suspending reality for a moment and imagine that the Huntingdon coaching staff spends a week at the University of Alabama using a fine tooth comb to analyze every thing Nick Saban and his staff do.  They see what their players eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  They take videos on all the drills they do in their weight room.  They make copies of every routine their University of Alabama counterpart does, from the time practice starts to what time players go to bed.

Now.  How many readers of this blog believe that in 12 months Huntingdon will be playing for a national football championship in the Rose Bowl?

By now you are probably roaring with laughter and saying that is the dumbest thing you have ever heard.

But is it?  Because this is exactly what is now being proposed in Alabama when it comes to selecting a new math course of study.  You can see for yourself by reading this.  Scroll down to this paragraph:

“In a statement to AL.com, a spokesperson for Ivey wrote that she wants to reconvene the course of study committee to examine the “correlations between the proposed curriculum and that of the top six performing states on the NAEP.” Those six, according to Ivey’s letter to Mackey, are Massachusetts, Minnesota, the Department of Defense Education Activity, Virginia, New Jersey, and Wyoming.”

Are you kidding me?  Haven’t we chased this NAEP rabbit before.  Remember when Governor Robert Bentley said that since Massachusetts had the highest NAEP math scores in the nation that we should hire Mike Sentance to be state superintendent because he was from the Bay State.

How did that turn out?

It was a disaster from the beginning because in no form or fashion is Alabama similar to Massachusetts in indicators that tell us what to expect from our schools.  And guess what, the same is true for Minnesota, Virginia, New Jersey and Wyoming.

Here’s proof.  You need money to spend on improving schools.  The median household income in Alabama is $44,509.  This is significantly lower than the five states we want to examine.  It is only 65 percent of the median in Minnesota.   Which brings us to how much each state now spends per pupil.  Alabama is $10,142.  Wyoming is $17,700.

Only 23.5 percent of everyone in Alabama is a college graduate.  That compares to 42.5 percent in Massachusetts.  There are more than one million more people in the Bay State who have a college degree than in Alabama.  This is a HUGE difference because it means one state has a much stronger “education foundation” than the other.  Alabama’s percent of high school graduates is 84.3.  This is the lowest of the other five, with Minnesota, Massachusetts and Wyoming being more than 92 percent.

So in every measure that speaks to educational success such as money and a proven interest in education, Alabama is behind all of the folks we will study.

Governor Ivey, I know you are commuted to better schools in Alabama.  You have shown this by simply attending more state school board meetings than other governors have.  But it does us no more good to compare apples to oranges than it does to think we can turn Huntingdon’s football team into the one they have in Tuscaloosa.

We’ve just had a committee of more than 30 of the best math teachers in Alabama spend more than 20 days and 3,500 hours putting together a new math course of study.   And not one of them from Minnesota, Massachusetts, Virginia, New Jersey or Wyoming.  And if anyone understands Alabama students and what they are capable of achieving, I believe they do.

Lets forget the make believe world and listen to our own experts..

 

 

Three More School Boards Pass AAA Repeal Resolution

Roanoke City, Covington County and Blount County are the latest school boards to pass resolutions calling for the repeal of the Alabama Accountability Act.  This brings the total to 20–with more on the way.

According to information from Scholarship Granting Organizations on file with the Alabama Department of Revenue, this legislation has now diverted $145 million from the Education Trust Fund.

Editor’s note: While SGOs show contributions of $145 million, they only show awarding $90 million in scholarships.  Where is the other $55 million?.

The pro rata share of this $145 million for Roanoke City is $260,000; for Covington it is $586,000 and for Blount, $1,800,000,

There are 722,000 students in Alabama public schools.  There are 194,000 (26.9 percent) in these 20 systems.  And 52.6 percent of all students in these systems are on free-reduced lounges

Even more impressive is that the collective legislative delegation for all 20 systems is 52 Representatives and 26 Senators.  For instance, Blount county has four Representatives (David Standridge, Randall Shedd, Corey Harbison and Wes Kitchens) and two Senators, Clay Scofield and Shay Shellnut)..

Since all politics is local, you can bet when a local school board calls for repeal of the accountability act, it gets the attention of local  legislators.  Resolutions direct the local superintendent to send a copy of the resolution to their legislative delegation.

Here are the other 17 school systems that have passed a resolution: Baldwin, Bibb, Butler, Geneva, Henry, Houston, Jefferson, Marion, Mobile, Montgomery, Randolph and Tallapoosa counties and Andalusia, Leeds, Opp, Russellville and Winfield city systems.

If your local school system is not on this list, ask them why.

Schools Of Distinction Make Us All Proud

Each year the Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools host a luncheon to recognize 24 schools from around the state that have been chosen as SCHOOLS OF DISTINCTION.

There are eight state school board districts.  Three schools are picked from each district.  And one of these is picked as a BANNER SCHOOL.  I was at this luncheon a few days ago.  As always, I was extremely impressed at what each of these 24 schools are doing.  It is obvious that dedicated principals, teachers and students are going way beyond the call of duty.  There is noting routine about their efforts.

Here are the schools honored.  The school in boldface is the banner school for that district.

District 1

Alma Bryant High School–Mobile County system; Lee Elementary–Satsuma City system;  Tanner Williams Elementary–Mobile County system.

District 2

Beverlye Magnet–Dothan City system; Montana Street Magnet–Dothan City system: Selma Street Elementary–Dothan City system.

District 3

New Beginnings–Hoover City system; B. B. Comer Memorial high–Talladega County system;  Munford Elementary–Talladega County system.

District 4

Central High–Tuscaloosa City system; Hillcrest High–Tuscaloosa County system;  Buhl Elementary–Tuscaloosa County system.

District 5

George Washington Carver Elementary–Macon County system; Satsuma High–Satsuma City system; Westside Elementary–Demopolis City system.

District 6

Pleasant Valley High–Calhoun County system; Weaver Elementary–Calhoun County system; Morgan County School Technology Park–Morgan County system.

District 7

Leeds High–Leeds City system; Florence High–Florence City system; Verner Elementary–Tuscaloosa City system.

District 8

Spark Academy at Cowart Elementary–Athens City system; Bob Jones High–Madison City system; John S. Jones Elementary–Etowah County system.

Congratulations one and all.  You are examples of what is happening across Alabama..