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.
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.
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..
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.
Alma Bryant High School–Mobile County system; Lee Elementary–Satsuma City system; Tanner Williams Elementary–Mobile County system.
Beverlye Magnet–Dothan City system; Montana Street Magnet–Dothan City system: Selma Street Elementary–Dothan City system.
New Beginnings–Hoover City system; B. B. Comer Memorial high–Talladega County system; Munford Elementary–Talladega County system.
Central High–Tuscaloosa City system; Hillcrest High–Tuscaloosa County system; Buhl Elementary–Tuscaloosa County system.
George Washington Carver Elementary–Macon County system; Satsuma High–Satsuma City system; Westside Elementary–Demopolis City system.
Pleasant Valley High–Calhoun County system; Weaver Elementary–Calhoun County system; Morgan County School Technology Park–Morgan County system.
Leeds High–Leeds City system; Florence High–Florence City system; Verner Elementary–Tuscaloosa City system.
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..
Most readers are well aware of the very, very messy search process that brought Mike Sentance to Alabama in 2016 as state superintendent. The stench got so bad that state senators Gerald Dial and Quinton Ross conducted an investigation into what took place.
I attended each of these committee meetings. It was standing room only. Someone should have sold popcorn. For a recap, go here, here and here.
From the get go, attention was focused on board member Mary Scott Hunter of Huntsville and the very active role she played in getting the Ethics Commission involved. I will never forget the moment when Hunter told Senator Dial that she “did not know the rules” when he probed about how the Ethics Commission works. There was a collective gasp throughout the room.
In February 2017, Jefferson County superintendent Craig Pouncey filed legal action against Hunter and several others. This action got the attention of the entire education community, from one end of the state to the other.
Hunter was elected to the board in 2010, was re-elected in 2014 and gave up her seat in 2018 to run for state senate. She lost to Sam Givhan. She had a tendency to be controversial and never shied from an interview or TV camera. From the outset of her tenure, she seemed to be constantly looking for another political office to run for. In fact, she was already an announced candidate for Lt. Governor when she dropped down to run for state senate in 2018.
You can get a better look at her by reading articles here, here and here.
And now, more than two years after Pouncey filed his suit, we may be seeing the light at the end of tunnel as this case has been assigned to Montgomery Circuit Court Judge Jimmy Pool and should be heard within the next few months.
All of which finally brings us to the point of this post.
Whenever a state agency wishes to contract for outside services, their request must be submitted to the Contract Review Permanent Legislative Oversight Committee. While the committee can not stop contracts, they can delay them. The next committee meeting is March 7.
One of the contracts up for review is a request from the state department of education for $150,000 for Montgomery attorney Lee Copeland to “Mr. Copeland and his office will contribute to the defense of Mary Scott Hunter in her individual capacity in the case of Warren Craig Pouncey vs. Mary Scott Hunter.”
Whoa, whoa, whoa.
We are going to take $150,000 from education funding to defend a one-time school board member for actions she took ON HER OWN to influence the selection process for a state school superintendent? It was established without a doubt during the legislative hearings that Hunter ignored proper procedure and protocol in this affair. In fact, one legislator asked her if she was an agency head. Hunter said she was not. So the legislator asked why she was acting like one. Hunter did not answer.
My last job before retiring in January 2011 was with the state of Alabama. I knew what my job required and did not. Had I robbed a bank one day on my lunch break, would the state have paid for an attorney to defend me?
It’s disgraceful enough that a state school board member took actions that have led to legal action being brought against them. And asking the taxpayers to pay for their defense is nothing but rubbing salt in our wound.
Congressman Bradley Byrne, already an announced candidate for U.S. Senate in 2020, took the stage with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, to announce his support for a program offering Federal tax credits for donations to scholarships for private schools. Think of it as the Alabama Accountability Act on steroids. You can see the AL.com article about Bryne’s move here.
This seems to an odd move by Bryne, considering that he was the odds on favorite to be elected governor of Alabama in 2010, until he launched a full scale attack on the state’s public schools. This triggered an all out effort by the Alabama Education Association to make sure Bryne’s campaign was not successful.
Consequently, Bryne lost the primary runoff to Robert Bentley. And we all know the rest of that story.
It also seems strange that Byrne is cozying up to Devos, who in 2017 called out Mobile County schools for earning a failing grade on school choice. She got her info from a Brookings Institute study, that then superintendent Martha Peek called “a bunch of political garbage” and nothing but an advertisement for charter schools and vouchers.
Truth is, the Mobile system may offer the widest range of choices for their students of any system in the state. This is because of the 12 signature academies ranging from pre-med to aviation and aerospace and much more. In fact, the Bryant high school Academy of Coastal Studies was named earlier this week as a Banner School by the Council for Leaders of Alabama Schools.
One would think that Bryne learned that it is not good politics to rally the education community against you. Especially since another candidate for this seat is probably going to be state senator Del Marsh, who signed a letter endorsing DeVos for Secretary of Education before she was picked by President Trump.
DeVos does not have the support of the vast majority of educators as her track record prior to going to Washington was decidedly anti-public schools. DeVos has been a major contributor to the Alabama Federation for Children in their efforts to hand pick members of the Alabama State Board of Education and certain legislators.
So DeVos comes up with anti-public school legislation–after talking about how bad our schools are and trying to influence our political process by sharing some of her millions of dollars with us–and Bryne embraces her?
Someone once said that “politics makes strange bedfellows.” Bradley Bryne proves they were right.