I believe Brittany Williams is the epitome of what we are doing right in education in Alabama. She was in the inaugural cohort of the Black Belt Teacher Corps at the University of West Alabama and has just completed her first year as a kindergarten teacher at University Charter School on the campus of UWA.
The Rural Schools Collaborative is a national organization that played a major role in getting the Black Belt Teacher Corps up and running. I have the good fortune to serve as secretary of the RSC board. Gary Funk is the executive director. Several years ago he came to UWA and introduced them to the teacher corps concept, based on the Ozark Teacher Corps in Missouri. Dean Jan Miller embraced the idea and it was off and running. We were fortunate to convince state senators Bobby Singleton and Arthur Orr and representative Bill Poole to furnish the initial seed money. As we have since seen, it was money well-spent.
RSC believes strongly in place-based education which is another way of saying that students use community resources as part of making their classroom lessons more meaningful. To this end, the organization awards small grants, normally $1,000 or less, to teachers to implement projects. I have blogged about a number of these, such as this piece about Monette Harrison at Greenville Middle School.
Brittany also received a grant. Go here to read about how she and her young students put it to good use in Livingston. It will show you once again that education is all about what takes place in our schools and that what we hear coming out of Montgomery is far, far removed from the real world of education.
Last week we posted a survey asking how folks feel about having an elected state school board versus an appointed one. (Voters will tackle this issue by voting on a constitutional amendment March 3, 2020.)
More than 1,100 people responded. Here was our initial look at responses. As you see, 89 percent favor keeping an elected board. Then we asked those who were willing to go into more depth about how they feel to send us an email. Again, we heard from lots and lots of folks.
The great majority of these were either current or former educators. Several were retired superintendents. No one beat around the bush and spoke strongly and passionately about how they see the present state of education in Alabama.
Here are some takeaways:
There is not much confidence in the present state board of education. They are viewed as only reactive, never proactive. They don’t exercise enough authority over the state superintendent, who answers to them.
But there is even less confidence in the governor and legislative leaders to steer education in the right direction. Only 25 percent who took the survey said they have confidence in the governor to make good appointments to the state school board and just 17 percent have confidence in the state senate to confirm good people. “The legislature and governor are already too involved in education,” said one respondent. “An appointed board is just another ploy to further the destruction of our public school system,” said a retired superintendent.
A former local school board member said, “The last appointed state school board member was Matt Brown. How did that work out?” One retired educator said, “Our legislature could screw up a two-car parade.”
One respondent was a former superintendent in Tennessee, which has an appointed state school board. “It was all about politics, certainly not about educating children,” they said.
The divide between educators and politicians as to how education should be governed is about as wide as the Grand Canyon. “We ignore teachers when making policy,” said one. “This is like not listening to a doctor when deciding how to treat a patient.” “Bills like the A-F school report card are a slap in the face to educators,” said another. “If no one among the political leadership pays any attention to the opinions of educators, does it matter how board members are chosen? asked one.
Most believe that whether the state board is elected or appointed, at the end of the day the process is largely controlled by special interests. Numbers from the 2014 and 2016 campaign cycles confirm this. In those two years, the Business Council of Alabama contributed more than $600,000 to six candidates running for the state board. “Anyone who thinks BCA will not be trying to get their hand-picked folks on an appointed board is crazy,” said one respondent.
The election of 2010 that put a Republican supermajority in both the State Senate and House of Representatives was a knife in the back of public education. “This is when we adopted the Alabama Republican model for public education.” said someone, who happens to be an elected Republican official. “The Alabama Accountability Act was all the proof I needed to see this.” Someone else replied, “As long as the Republican party continues its war on Alabama educator’s, arguing over how the state board is chosen is like deciding on the arrangement of deck chairs on the Titanic.”
We are too focused on data and test results. “Teachers know the needs of their students and don’t need Scantron or any other test results to guide the direction of their classroom Too much valuable time is wasted on this nonsense,” said a teacher of 32 years who retired in June. “There is a lack of common sense leadership coming from the state level.”
The appointed charter school commission was cited over and over again as a good reason not to have an appointed state school board. “Take a look at the charter school commission and what they’ve done thus far. Is this what we’re saying we want as far as oversight for Alabama’s children? Not I,” was one comment. Another was, “Not one single person has accepted responsibility for the Woodland Prep mess. Pitiful. I’m sure we could expect the same from an appointed school board.”
Leadership was mentioned over and over again. Or actually, the lack of leadership. “Where are the so-called champions for children and school teachers?” asked one person. “Why won’t those who get money from local school systems to represent them in Montgomery do what they are supposed to do? Another wanted to know, “When legislation is bad for education, why doesn’t the state superintendent speak out, where is the state school board? Seems to me too many have become a part of the problem, instead of the solution. We constantly hear that you have to get along with the legislature, so you can’t make waves. Look at where that has gotten us: A–F school report cards, the Alabama Accountability Act, charter schools. It’s a joke.”
Heck, the divide may be much wider than the Grand Canyon. And those souls I exchanged emails with certainly don’t think it will become more narrow with the “players” we have now.
About all I know about the Alabama Policy Institute is that apparently they spend more time reading tea leaves than honest research reports before sending their version of “wisdom” to the masses. How anyone can actually believe what they say is beyond me. To prove my point, here is something they sent out across Alabama 24 months ago in defense of state superintendent Mike Sentance.
“Our Evaluation of Michael Sentance
The Alabama State Board of Education will meet tomorrow in Montgomery for a special meeting abruptly called last week. The stated purpose is to evaluate Superintendent Michael Sentance. The rumored purpose is to fire him.
We trust that the latter is just that–a rumor–as there is absolutely no justification for firing Mr. Sentance. Indeed, allow us to offer our evaluation:
Michael Sentance is a stellar superintendent.
Here are a few of Mr. Sentance’s accomplishments in his short time as superintendent, as reported by Yellowhammer News:
He generally disfavors Common Core and he’s effectively laid the groundwork to replace it with standards that better serve Alabama’s students.
He’s secured permission from the federal government to free Alabama from the sub-par ACT-Aspire standardized tests, which were based on Common Core.
He’s made great progress in reforming Montgomery’s 27 failing public schools and restored the district’s fiscal stability in a short time–a monumental task.
He’s finalizing a smart strategic plan called Alabama Ascending that will serve our children well.
He’s put the stars of the profession–the teachers–at the center of his reform efforts.”
As we all know, Sentance was a disaster as state superintendent. And thank goodness, the state school board paid no attention to the words coming form the Alabama Policy Institute and Sentance was on his way back to Massachusetts not long after API proclaimed him “stellar.”
API is a big fan of the Alabama Accountability Act and has promoted it many times with dubious info. Who knows, they may even think it too, like Mike Sentence, is STELLAR.
We posted a survey on July 2 asking readers how they feel about an elected vs. an appointed state school board. Response was tremendous as more than 1,000 answered the survey, even though we were bumping heads with the 4th of July.
The vote was overwhelmingly opposed to an appointed board, by 89 percent to 11 percent.
However, since the format of a survey such as this limits information you can obtain, need a favor.
If you were one of the many hundreds who said you would vote NO, I would like to probe your reasoning some. So I am asking that you send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org). The reason being that I would like to ask you a few more questions and dig a bit deeper.
Any info I get will be kept confidential. And as always, appreciate your help and the fact that you read this blog.
Highway 75 cuts through the Sand Mountain portion of DeKalb County like a good butcher knife slices a ripe watermelon. Going north from Marshall County you go through Geraldine, Lakeview, Fyffe, Shiloh, Rainsville, Sylvania, Henager, Ider and on into Georgia. Add all their populations together and you get 12,183–about one half the size of Homewood.
Still, you don’t have to be big to be good. Seth Maddox, who just graduated from Geraldine high school and is about to head o Auburn University, is proof of this. Seth was just named as the Microsoft Office Specialist PowerPoint National Champion.. He finished ahead of 145 who were invited to the finals in Orlando. He now goes to New York City to compete in the World Championship.
You can read about Seth, and watch an interview with him, by going to this article on AL.com.
For some reason, I have to think that Seth does not use a vintage flip phone as I do, and that we could help me every time my computer throws me a curve.
And in times when so many politicians want us to believe that they know more about education than professional educators do and give us a constant drum beat about how terrible our schools are, young people like Seth Maddox are a shining example of how little the politicians really do know.
While most students scatter like a covey of quail when they finish a school year, some at Mobile County’s B. C. Rain high school’s Aviation and Aerospace Academy are building an airplane. Their work actually began during the school year. But now they are being assisted by students from other highs schools and middle schools, along with volunteers and interns from Airbus.
Brett Davis is aerospace instructor at the academy. According to Davis, students learn skills they may use one day in a career in aerospace, perhaps in Mobile. He adds that students also learn how to think critically and solve problems.
When completed, the plane will be a two-seater with one engine. And yes, students will have the chance to fly in it, or one just like it.
The Aviation and Aerospace Academy is one of 12 academies in the Mobile County system. Others are: Advanced Careers; Pre-Med, Medical and Health; Coastal Studies; Manufacturing; Engineering Pathways Integrated Curriculum; Law, Arts and Health Services; Biomedical Sciences; International Studies; Industry and Engineering; Advanced Information Technology and Maritime, Engineering and Entrepreneurship
In 2017 U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos called out the Mobile system for their lack of school choice. At least that was what a Brookings Institute report claimed. And DeVos, an avowed supporter of charter schools and vouchers, was quick to echo the info Brookings promoted.
Superintendent Martha Peek was not pleased and said so. She said the Brookings analysis was, “a bunch of political garbage done by someone at a desk in Washington I am shocked that the Secretary of Education would reference a website review.”
DeVos later made a visit to Mobile at the invitation of Congressman Bradley Byrne. After visiting several schools, she and Peek had a chance to visit. “It was a very nice conversation,” Peek said. “I found her to be a good listener and very interested in what we were saying.”
Knowing Peek, who retired last June, as I do, I am sure she was cordial to DeVos, but made a strong case for the options students in Mobile County have.