Governor Ivey Questions “Failing School” Language

Governor Ivey’s comment at the state school board work session last week about “failing schools” opened the door for what should have long been done–a thorough look at the Alabama Accountability Act and it’s shortcomings.

FAILING SCHOOLS is largely a gimmick inserted in the act to throw a bone to parents who move their kids from failing to non-failing schools.  In fact, it is mentioned in the first paragraph of the original bill:

“to provide an income tax credit to any parent who transfers a student enrolled in or assigned to attend a failing public K-12 school to a nonfailing public school or nonpublic school of the parent’s choice”

However, according to a reliable source, only about 100-125 parents apply for such a tax deduction when filing their state income tax.

(This act is administered by the Revenue Department, not the Department of Education, and each year they work with the Department of Education to try and verify if the children of those asking for this deduction were, in fact, attending a failing school.  It is not uncommon to find a few cases where there is no record of children having been enrolled in any Alabama school.)

The law also says that when a child transfers, 20 percent of the money that normally would leave the school with them must remain with the failing school.  This amounts to only about $900 per student.

It certainly appears that amending the law and eliminating any reference to “failing schools” would have virtually no impact on how the program is administered–and it would eliminate the present confusion caused by having one list of “failing schools” and another list of schools graded by a letter grade of A-F.

Our present system makes no sense.

We are told there are now 75 “failing schools.”  Yet, the latest A-F ranking shows there are only 24 F schools in the state (out of 1,315).  Five of these F schools are not on the failing  list.  But 43 D schools are on it, along with 11 Cs and two rated as a B.  This is downright bizarre and nonsense of the highest order.

How do you explain to a principal and faculty who celebrate a B that they are on the failing list?  You don’t.

The failing school portion of the accountability act should be scrapped as it serves no useful purpose.

 

Jackie Zeigler Pushes Back On Amendment Language

State school board member Jackie Zeigler of Mobile is an outspoken opponent of the effort to change from an elected to an appointed state school board.

So much so that she is challenging the wording in the constitutional amendment that will be voted on March 3.

Here is the proposed wording of what will appear on the ballot asking for a yes or no vote:

“Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to change the name of the State Board of Education to the Alabama Commission on Elementary and Secondary Education; to provide for the appointment of the members of the commission by the Governor, subject to confirmation by the Senate; to change the name of the State Superintendent of Education to the Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education; to provide for the appointment of the secretary of the commission, subject to the confirmation by the Senate;  and to authorize the Governor to appoint a team of local educators and other officials to advise the commission on matters relating to the functioning and duties of the State Department of Education. . . .”

However, Zeigler contends that this language fails to clearly state that if this amendment is approved, voters will lose their right to vote on state school board members.  She has failed a complaint with the state’s Fair Ballot Commission that will discuss the situation at a Nov. 21 meeting in Montgomery.  This will take place at 2 p.m. in room 200 of the Alabama State House.

“The wording masks the vital elimination of a board elected by the people and accountable to the people,” says Zeigler.  “Instead, it highlights a name change of the board and the state superintendent.”

She also contends that the proposed language violates Alabama code 17-6-41 which states: “Whenever a constitutional amendment is submitted to a vote of the qualified electors the substance or subject matter of each proposed amendment shall be so printed that the nature thereof shall be clearly indicated.”

Stay tuned.  We will cover the meeting.

State School Board Candidates Set For March 3, 2020 Election

The state school board has elected members representing eight different districts.  Members serve four-year terms.  Since terms are staggered, four of these seats come up every two years.

The 2020 election cycle will be for districts 1, 3, 5 and 7.

The present incumbents in these slots are Jackie Zeigler (1), Stephanie Bell (3)  vacant (5) and Jeff Newman (7).  District 5 is vacant due to the recent death of member Ella Bell.  Zeigler and Stephanie Bell are seeking re-election while Newman is retiring.

Since qualifying ended Nov. 8, we now know who is running for each position.

Republican Zeigler is opposed by Democrat Tom Holmes in the November general election.  Republican Stephanie Bell is opposed by Democrat Jarralynne Agee.  This will be a rematch of the 2016 election when Bell got 73 percent of the vote.

Republican Belinda McRae, a member of the Marion County school board, was the only person to qualify for Newman’s seat on either the Republican or Democratic side.  This means she will take office in January 2021.

This is in stark contrast to District 5 that Ella Bell represented for many years.  Ten Democrats and one Republican are running for this seat.  Montgomery school board member Lisa Keith is the lone Republican.  Democrats are: Fred Bell, Tonya Chestnut, Ron Davis, Phillip Ensler, Pamela Laffitte, Penni MClammy, Woodie Pugh, Joanne Shum, Robert White, II and Billie Jean Young.

District 5 is a huge geographic region, covering all or part of 17 counties stretching from Bullock and Macon counties on the east to downtown Mobile.  This is also the district with the largest minority population.  According to the Alabama reapportionment office, 59.25 percent of the District 5 population is black.  Black voters in Montgomery and Mobile counties comprise 56.7 percent of the total vote.

What makes this election unique is that on March 3 voters will have to approve or disapprove a constitutional amendment as to whether we keep an elected state board or switch to an appointed one.  So while voters are voting for school board candidates, the vote on the amendment may also make election of board members a moot point.

 

 

 

Final Look At Most Recent Survey. 96 Percent Oppose Appointed State School Board

With 1,000 responses to our recent survey about an appointed vs. elected state school board, let’s take a final look at the numbers.

And the one that jumps off the page is that 96 percent will vote NO on amendment one to switch from an elected to an appointed state school board on March 3.

As might be expected from readers of this blog, the overwhelming majority are connected to public education.  Some 25 percent are retired educators, 24 percent work for a public school system, but are not teachers, and 26 percent are teachers.  That adds up to 75 percent.

(Which begs the question, why aren’t the groups who claim to represent various sectors of the education community telling people to vote NO?  And how in the world can the Alabama Association of School Boards actually be in favor of amendment one?  That is mind-blowing.)

One of the most interesting facts we found is that while it is Senator Del Marsh and his Republican supermajority friends who are backing this amendment, 43 percent of those who answered the survey say they are Republicans.  This compares to 35 percent who are Independents and 22 percent who are Democrats.  Are Marsh and his cronies that out of touch with their constituents?

But considering what happened in August when the state Republican executive committee met, that is a rhetorical question.  On Aug. 24 this 461-member committee met and passed a resolution opposing Marsh’s amendment 64 percent to 36 percent.

Other facts about survey takers: 65 percent were female, 85 percent were Caucasian and 37 percent were 36 to 55 years of age, while 41 percent were 56 to 70.

Why did they vote no?  Some 28 percent said they do not want to give up their right to vote and 65 percent said they do not trust the state  senate to  appoint people to the board who have the best interests of public education at heart.  (While the amendment says the governor will appoint nine members to this board, they must be confirmed by the state senate.  In other words, Marsh will handpick board members who will, in turn, pick a state superintendent.  In effect, Marsh would be the czar of Alabama’s public schools.)

And 92 percent of survey responses say they have “very little” confidence  in Marsh doing what is best for schools.

Given his track record on public education since becoming senate majority leader in 2011, this is hardly a surprise.  After all, he sponsored the Alabama Accountability Act in 2013 that has now diverted $155 million from the Education Trust Fund to give scholarships to private schools and the charter school act of 2015 which is governed by an APPOINTED state charter commission that has made a mess out of charter applications in both Washington County and Montgomery.

While supporters of amendment one are quick to say those who oppose it simply want to protect the “status quo” in Alabama schools, the survey says this is untrue as 65 percent believe education here is going in the wrong direction.

Why do they feel this way?  The fact that when asked to give the legislature a letter grade of A-F, 71 percent handed out either a D or an F is a strong indicator educators blame lawmakers for continuing to set education policy that is anything but helpful to public schools.  (Only one respondent out of 1,000 graded the legislature an A.)

I do not know what will happen on March 3.  But it is for certain that if amendment one passes, it will not be because of support from those who feel deeply about our schools.

 

 

 

George Wallace Was Right

For some of us who are long in the tooth, we can recall that when George Wallace ran for president as a third party candidate, he often said  “there was not a dime’s worth of difference between Democrats and Republicans.

And looking at Alabama today, it’s hard to argue with what he said.  For all intent and purposes, yesterdays Democrats are now today’s Republicans.

A quick history lesson explains.

After reconstruction, Bourbon Democrats took control of state politics.  They were the large landowners, mill and mine owners and anyone with substantial wealth.  They were the elites and proved it in 1901 by writing a state constitution that disenfranchised thousands and thousands of yeomen farmers and others they felt were not their equal.

Grandpa was three years old in1901.  But he and all his family and neighbors were just clogs in the Bourbon Democrat wheel.  They picked their cotton, sawed their lumber, raised their food, mined their coal and worked endless hours in textile mills.

The one thing they did not do was VOTE–unless they paid a poll tax of $1.50 a year because they did not own property.  And when you were a sharecropper, as grandpa was, and usually went deeper in debt from one season to another, $1.50 was a handsome price to pay..

Basically the constitution of 1901 said that those who did not own property were second class citizens and were not worthy of having a voice in who got elected to office.

(Grandpa served in World War I and it was only when the probate judge of Covington County gave him a waiver from the poll tax for his military service that he could vote.)

Now the Republican supermajority in the Alabama legislature has adopted the Bourbon Democrat philosophy and has put an amendment on the ballot March 3 that will disenfranchise people across the state by taking away their right to vote for members of the state school board.

That’s right.

Just like the 1901 constitution did to grandpa, the Bourbon Republicans want to make me a second class citizen.  They want to hand pick our state school board because they obviously don’t think I–and every other citizen in this state–have enough sense to go to the ballot box and cast an informed vote.

They believe they are smarter than the average citizens of Alabama.  We should only been seen and not heard.  We should put our fate in the hands of these modern day elites.

And here is my message to them.  When I vote NO to amendment one on March 3, I will simply say, “Grandpa, this one is for you.”

 

 

 

Where Are The Naysayers When It Is Good News?

When NAEP (National Assessment of Education Progress) scores recently were unkind to Alabama, the naysayers were quick to crawl out from under their rocks and scream about the sky falling.  A perfect example is this rubbish from the Alabama Policy Institute that tried to convince us that even though Mississippi only has six charter schools in the entire state, “school choice” is the sole reason for their improvement in NAEP scores.

But when the latest report on school report cards contained substantial good news, the naysayers were strangely quiet.

In the 2017-18 school year, we got school grades for 1,303 K-12 schools.  Of these, 201 got an A and only 39 got an F.  So, 15.4 percent of all state schools were A-rated, compared to 2.9 percent being F-rated.

Compare this to the 2018-19 grades when 1,315 wee graded.  This time 269 (20.4 percent) got an A and only 24 (1.8 percent) scored F.

Last year we had 15 school systems that were rated as A, this jumped to 25 systems this year.

So any way you cut it, on the A-F grading system, Alabama schools made significant improvement.

Of course, when your agenda is political and not education, you keep your mouth shut when the narrative does not support your position.  Which is just another way of saying that you show your true colors.

And never forget that the same folks pushing negative news, while ignoring good news, are the same ones who want us to go from an elected state school board to an appointed one.

Accountability Act And High School Football

There are presently seven scholarship granting organizations (SGOs) giving out scholarships to private schools through the Alabama Accountability Act.  They make quarterly reports and the one that covers July, August, September of 2019 has just been released.  Since this report covers the start of a new school year, it is especially insightful.

Particularly since we are now having high school football playoffs.

While it is seldom discussed publicly, especially by those who support this legislation, it is no secret that some private schools make good use of  AAA scholarships to boost their athletic programs.

Heading into the second week of football playoffs, there are 16 private schools still in competition in all seven football classifications.  The just-released SGO reports show nine of these have scholarships.  A grand total of 377 to be exact.

The biggest benefactor is McGill-Toolen in Mobile with 108.  Next is Faith Academy, also in Mobile with 77.  Montgomery Catholic Prep has 63, St. John Paul Catholic of Huntsville has 58 and Mobile Christian has 38.

Of the nine schools with scholarships, their overall record this season is 84 wins and 14 losses.  In fact, four of them are undefeated as of this date.

As we all recall, when this legislation was passed in 2013 we were told its primary purpose was to help students stuck in struggling schools by their zip codes.  No one said a word about touchdowns.

Editor’s note: The new quarterly reports show a total of 5,006 scholarships were awarded this school year, a sizeable jump from 3,685 in the same quarter last year.  Of these, only 33.5 percent went to students “zoned” for failing schools.  A total of $11.1 million was spent on these scholarships.

This program has now diverted more than $155 million from the Education Trust Fund since 2013.  And is the primary reason 25 local school boards have passed resolutions calling for repeal of this legislation.

What Happens When We Put Too Much Emphasis On Test Scores

Editor’s note:  Paul Thomas is a professor of education at Furman University in Greenville, SC.  He taught high school English in rural South Carolina before moving to higher education.  A contributor to many education journals, his work is always grounded by his experiences in the class room.

In this article, which is much more lengthy and “deeper” than most we publish, What is the relationship among NAEP scores, educational policy and classroom practice? he stresses how self-serving politicians and the media often misinterpret test results and make claims that can not be substantiated.

“Annually, the media, public, and political leaders over-react and misrepresent the release of SAT and ACT scores from across the US. Most notably, despite years of warnings from the College Board against the practice, many persist in ranking states by average state scores, ignoring that vastly different populations are being incorrectly compared.

These media, public, and political reactions to SAT and ACT scores are premature and superficial, but the one recurring conclusion that would be fair to emphasize is that, as with all standardized test data, the most persistent correlation to these scores includes the socio-economic status of the students’ families as well as the educational attainment of their parents.

Over many decades of test scores, in fact, educational policy and classroom practices have changed many times, and the consistency of those policies and practices have been significantly lacking and almost entirely unexamined.

For example, when test scores fell in California in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the media, public, and political leaders all blamed the state’s shift to whole language as the official reading policy.

This was a compelling narrative that proved to be premature and superficial—relying on the most basic assumptions of correlation. A more careful analysis exposed two powerful facts: California test scores were far more likely to have dropped because of drastic cuts to educational funding and a significant influx of English language learners and (here is a very important point) even as whole language was the official reading policy of the state, few teachers were implementing whole language in their classrooms.

This last point cannot be emphasized enough: throughout the history of public education, because teaching is mostly a disempowered profession, one recurring phenomenon is that teachers often shut their doors and teach—claiming their professional autonomy by resisting official policy.

November 2019 has brought us a similar and expected round of making outlandish and unsupported claims about NAEP data. With the trend downward in reading scores since 2017, this round is characterized by the sky-is-falling political histrionics and hollow fist pounding that NAEP scores have proven policies a success or a failure (depending on the agenda).

If we slip back in time just a couple decades, when the George W. Bush administration heralded the “Texas miracle” as a template for No Child Left Behind, we witnessed a transition from state-based educational accountability to federal accountability. But this moment in political history also raised the stakes on scientifically based educational policy and practice.”

Specifically, the National Reading Panel was charged with identifying the highest quality research in effective reading programs and practices. But while the NRP touted its findings as scientific, many, including a member of the panel itself, discredited the quality of the findings as well as accurately cautioning against political misuse of the findings to drive policy.

Here is where our trip back in history may sound familiar during this current season of NAEP hand wringing. Secretary of Education (2005-2009), Margaret Spellings announced that a jump of seven points in NAEP reading scores from 1999-2005 was proof No Child Left Behind was working. The problem, however, was in the details:

When Secretary Spellings announced that test scores were proving NCLB a success, Gerald Bracey and Stephen Krashen exposed one of two possible problems with the data. Spellings either did not understand basic statistics or was misleading for political gain. Krashen detailed the deception or ineptitude by showing that the gain Spellings noted did occur from 1999 to 2005, a change of seven points. But he also revealed that the scores rose as follows: 1999 = 212; 2000 = 213; 2002 = 219; 2003 = 218 ; 2005 = 219. The jump Spellings used to promote NCLB and Reading First occurred from 2000 to 2002, before the implementation of Reading First. Krashen notes even more problems with claiming success for NCLB and Reading First, including:

“Bracey (2006) also notes that it is very unlikely that many Reading First children were included in the NAEP assessments in 2004 (and even 2005). NAEP is given to nine year olds, but RF is directed at grade three and lower. Many RF programs did not begin until late in 2003; in fact, Bracey notes that the application package for RF was not available until April, 2002.”

Jump to 2019 NAEP data release to hear Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos shout that the sky is falling and public education needs more school choice—without a shred of scientific evidence making causal relationships of any kind among test data, educational policy, and classroom practice.

But an even better example has been unmasked by Gary Rubinstein who discredits Louisiana’s Chief of Change John White proclaiming his educational policy changes caused the state’s NAEP gain in math:

So while, yes, Louisiana’s 8th grade math NAEP in 2017 was 267 and their 8th grade math NAEP in 2019 was 272 which was a five point gain in that two year period and while that was the highest gain over that two year period for any state, if you go back instead to their scores from 2007, way before their reform effort happened, you will find that in the 12 year period from 2007 to 2019, Louisiana did not lead the nation in 8th grade NAEP gains.  In fact, Louisiana went DOWN from a scale score of 272.39 in 2007 to a scale score of 271.64 in 2019 on that test.  

This means that in that 12 year period, they are 33rd in ‘growth’ (is it even fair to call negative growth ‘growth’?).  The issue was that from 2007 to 2015, Louisiana ranked second to last on ‘growth’ in 8th grade math.  Failing to mention that relevant detail when bragging about your growth from 2017 to 2019 is very sneaky.

The media and public join right in with this political playbook that has persisted since the early 1980s: Claim that public education is failing, blame an ever-changing cause for that failure (low standards, public schools as monopolies, teacher quality, etc.), promote reform and change that includes “scientific evidence” and “research,” and then make unscientific claims of success (or yet more failure) based on simplistic correlation and while offering no credible or complex research to support those claims.

Here is the problem, then: What is the relationship among NAEP scores, educational policy, and classroom practice?

There are only a couple of fair responses.

First, 2019 NAEP data replicate a historical fact of standardized testing in the US—the strongest and most persistent correlations to that data are with the socio-economic status of the students, their families, and the states. When students or average state data do not conform to that norm, these are outliers that may or may not provide evidence for replication or scaling up. However, you must consider the next point as well.

Second, as Rubinstein shows, the best way to draw causal relationship among NAEP data, educational policy, and classroom practices is to use longitudinal data; I would recommend at least 20 years (reaching back to NCLB), but 30 years would add in a larger section of the accountability era that began in the 1980s but was in wide application across almost all states by the 1990s.

The longitudinal data would next have to be aligned with the current educational policy in math and reading for each state correlated with each round of NAEP testing.

As Bracey and Krashen cautioned, that correlation would have to accurately align when the policy is implemented with enough time to claim that the change impacted the sample of students taking NAEP.

But that isn’t all, even as complex and overwhelming as this process demands.

We must address the lesson from the so-called whole language collapse in California by documenting whether or not classroom practice implemented state policy with some measurable level of fidelity.

This process is a herculean task, and no one has had the time to examine 2019 NAEP data in any credible way to make valid causal claims about the scores and the impact of educational policy and classroom practice.

What seems fair, however, to acknowledge is that there is no decade over the past 100 years when the media, public, and political leaders deemed test scores successful, regardless of the myriad of changes to policies and practices.

Over the history of public education, also, before and after the accountability era began, student achievement in the US has been mostly a reflection of socio-economic factors, and less about student effort, teacher quality, or any educational policies or practices.

If NAEP data mean anything, and I am prone to say they are much ado about nothing, we simply do not know what that is because we have chosen political rhetoric over the scientific process and research that could give us the answers”.

North Carolina Mother Sheds Light On Alabama Charter School Mess

Editor’s note:  Alyson Ford is a mother in the Charlotte, NC area.  It wasn’t long after she enrolled one of her sons in a charter school that she began to feel something was amiss.  Soon she was attending board meetings of the school and digging into financial records.  What she found was disturbing and even led to conversations with the FBI.

What does this have to do with Alabama?  Many of the players Alyson has uncovered are involved with American Charter Development of Springville, Utah.  This company is heavily involved with both LEAD Academy in Montgomery and Woodland Prep in Washington County and has close ties to Soner Tarim.

Here is Alyson’s story:

“I have two boys.  One has only attended charter schools. The other has attended traditional public schools, as well as charter schools.

My son enrolled at Lakeside Charter Academy in November 2017, during their rebranding and name change from Thunderbird Preparatory Academy. He stayed through the 2018-2019 school year (4th grade). My stepson began at Lakeside in January 2018, for 4th grade. We withdrew him at the start of the 2018-2019 school year.

We chose the charter school route for several reasons. The biggest being that one son has a severe peanut allergy. The thought of him  eating lunch in a cafeteria, surrounded by peanut butter sandwiches was terrifying.  Our district schools are much larger than charters as well. We liked the idea of smaller schools for our boys. We like the sense of community offered at many charter schools.

We were aware of the negative press since Thunderbird opened in 2014. I studied the North Carolina Charter School Advisory Board meeting minutesl. The school was frequently in trouble and on the verge of having their charter revoked.

We toured the school and found the interim principal amazing. She was the reason we took the leap of faith. We were cautiously optimistic when enrolling at Lakeside Charter Academy (formerly Thunderbird Prep).

Given the school’s past I vowed to be very involved and attend board meetings. I was especially curious about the EB5 investors involved with the school. Even though I repeatedly asked questions regarding this I never received much clarity. Sadly, the more I attended board meetings the more unanswered questions I had.

I became quite suspicious of what I was being told.  I continued asking questions and researching all involved parties/companies. I didn’t like what I was finding.

I had a feeling these businessmen from Utah weren’t wanting to educate my boys out of the goodness of their heart. There had to be a monetary motivator. Where could money be coming from given the depressingly low enrollment that has plagued the school for most of its existence and years of missed rent payments?

I took a trip to the Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds office where I reviewed the sales history of the property, as well as work permits.

The property was initially purchased on May 5, 2014 by Provo Land Exchange, LLC for $1,300,000.

Six months later ALA Anthem Enterprises, LLC another Mike Morley enity (he founded American Charter Development and is a former legislator in Utah) became the property owner in a dollar free transaction. According to the work permits it appears that about two million dollars was spent on construction costs.

On June 18, 2015 ALA Anthem sold the land and buildings to Vertex iii, LLC for $7,650,000. Quite the whopping return on a minimal investment. I say minimal because three million dollars came from EB5 investors from China. It would appear that ACD and the Morley family wasn’t out any of their own money for the initial purchase and construction of this small school.

A curious side note about Vertex iii, LLC is the name of the registered agent; Jared Haddock. Upon further review of Mr. Haddock it appears that he is the President of the Alumni Association of the Board of Directors at Utah State University Eastern. Coincidentally Mike Morley is the Vice President of the same board.

June 30, 2017 Vertex iii, LLC sold their property to AEP Charter Thunderbird for $9,225,000.

This next sale occurred during our time at the school. On December 21,2018 Lakeside Charter Holdings, LLC purchased the school for $9.5 million.  What I find quite odd is that during this time Taft Morley, COO of American Charter Development, was also the chairman of the board of directors at Lakeside Charter. He knows the schools financial struggles better than anyone. Why would he want his company, ACD, to purchase a failing school for such an inflated price? The assessed value of the land at this time was $3,315,300. This doesn’t seem like a wise business move.

If I was a betting person I would say most, if not all, of these sales are bogus and only on record to drive up the cost of rent paid to ACD via tax dollar money.

Upon review of various contracts ACD schools have with their tenants it appears that if the school fails to make payments ACD then has the authority to take over as the managing body of said school. I believe this is what happened at Lakeside. The school was set up for financial failure and completely incapable of meeting the astronomical rent demands thus opening the door for ACD to take over.

As my concerns arose I wanted to understand how this school went from max enrollment to barely staying open.  It always came back to finances and the board of directors. The ethically questionable finances were alarming.  In fact, I received a call from two FBI agents at the Charlotte Field Office. At the completion of the face to face interview I was told that it appeared there was fraud regarding Lakeside Charter Academy.”

Oh the webs we weave under the guise of helping children.

Survey Respondents Strongly Reject Appointed School Board

With the first 700 responses to our latest survey now in, it’s time to see what folks are saying about the March 3 vote to change from an elected state school board to an appointed one.

Some 95 percent say they will vote NO on this amendment.  (When we asked the same question in a July survey, 89 percent said no.)

If this constitutional amendment passes, the governor will appoint nine members to a commission known as the Alabama Commission on Elementary and Secondary Education.  Members will serve a six-year term and can not serve more than two terms.  One member will be appointed from each of the present school board districts.  They will appoint a secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education.

However, all appointments by the governor must be confirmed by the state senate.  So in reality, the senate will call the shots.

Alabama had an appointed board until voters passed an amendment in 1969 to switch from appointed to elected.  Consensus was that an appointed board only answered to the appointing authority (governor) and local voters and school systems had little input into education policy.

Obviously those who answered the survey are not interested in returning to a system once considered “failing.”

But before digging deeper, let’s look at who responded.

As might be expected, these 700 have close ties to public education.  Retired educators made up 29 percent of responses, teachers were 30 percent and those who work for public school systems, but are not teachers, were 30 percent.   And 53 percent have either children or grandchildren in public schools.

When it comes to political affiliation, 37 percent are Republicans, 37 percent are Independents and 26 percent are Democrats.  Females were 64 percent of those who took the survey, 83 percent were Caucasian, 38 percent were from age 36 to 55 and 40 percent were from 56 to 70.

Why did those who will vote no do so?  Some 23 percent say they do not want to give up their right to vote, while 70 percent say they do not trust the state senate to make good choices about who should be appointed to the state school board.

This distrust of the legislature is intense.  When asked to give the legislature a letter grade of A-F, 71 percent handed out Ds and Fs.  Only 21 percent gave them a C.  And distrust of senate majority leader Del Marsh is even more intense.  Some 93 percent say they have very little confidence in Marsh to do what is best for public schools.

No doubt this comes from his record since taking control of the senate in 2011.  For example, he was the sponsor of the Alabama Accountability Act which has now diverted more than $150 million from the Education Trust Fund to give scholarships to students attending private schools, he sponsored the charter school law of 2015 which has led to major problems with charter schools in Montgomery and Washington County and he supported the 2012 law giving a letter grade to schools which is considered worthless by most educators.

While critics of our public schools claim educators are simply wanting to protect the “status quo,” this survey says that is not the case.  For example, 61 percent believe education is going in the wrong direction.  But they place the blame for this on education policy passed by the legislature, not on educators.

Take aways:

As we have pointed out before, the vote on March 3 is really more about how the public feels about the legislature and their too-often misguided attempts to pass unreasonable education policy, than it is about whether we should have an elected or an appointed school board.  The disconnect between those in the statehouse and those in classrooms is about as wide as the Grand Canyon.

As long as this is the case, we will never have meaningful progress in Alabama.  Until some folks on goat hill decide to try to build some bridges instead of burning them, the 700,000 students in our public schools will be the ones who pay the price.

A great number of those who will vote no on this amendment are the very people critics of public schools claim to represent.  White, female and Republican.  There are 27 Republican senators in Alabama.  None of them are female.  All 27 voted to support Del Marsh’s call for an appointed school board.

There are more female voters in Alabama than male.  It appears that the Republican supermajority is largely out of sync with this voting bloc.