I waded off into the blogosphere in the spring of 2015. That was now more than 1,300 posts ago and at an average of about 500 words per post, more than 600,000 words.
Or, since Google tells me that the average book is 100,000 words, six books ago. No wonder I feel plum tuckered out at times.
Since I am totally out of my realm when it comes to today’s technology (as attested to by my old flip phone), I would never have made it without the help of Deb Geiger of Spanish Fort, who calls her business Content Fresh. All I can do is put words on my computer screen. She’s the one who manages the site, sets up the occasional survey, posts pictures from time to time and answers my questions. (If any one reading this is looking for help she might provide, drop me a note and I’ll be glad to put you in touch with her. firstname.lastname@example.org)
It’s been quite a ride, both literally and figuratively. My old car has covered thousands and thousands of miles from one end of Alabama to the other going to meetings, visiting schools and classrooms, sitting in on school board meetings, making presentations, etc. I’ve made some wonderful friends and every day realize that education in this state would be far better off if we paide more attention to teachers and principals and a lot less attention to politicians and folks with big titles and big egos.
It has definitely been a journey filled with frustration, which no doubt comes across often in some posts. I am constantly baffled at the unwillingness of those who envision themselves as “leaders” to stand up and be counted when public schools are under attack. I’ve learned that just because someone says, “I’m doing it for the kids,” does not mean it is true. Way too many decisions are made that are guided more by self-preservation than anything more altruistic.
Of course, none of this would be possible without the faithfulness of hundreds of folks who come to this site every day. The fact that I get more than 200,000 views annually blows me away. Granted, that does not mean that 200,000 different people visit, still I am overwhelmed.
And because I am who I am, I did some homework before writing this. The single most read post was this one, posted on August 11, 2016, the day Mike Sentance was chosen as state superintendent. It got 30,000 views. It was the first of many I wrote about him. His selection was the most illogical thing I’ve ever seen a group of adults do and this episode is still not over because former state school board member Mary Scott Hunter still awaits going to court about her role in what transpired.
Number two on the “hit” parade belongs to this one. Published on November 2, 2016, it got more than 12,000 views. This was when Governor Robert Bentley earned the total disdain of every educator in the state by declaring that “education sucks.”
While probably at least 90 percent of what I write about deals with our public schools, from time to time I stray and write about Auburn football, the passing of a favorite entertainer such as B. B. King, Etta James and Billy Joe Royal and memories that pop into my mind. (Which I consider to be OK since it is my blog, I am my own boss and I pay my own bills.)
How much longer will I keep on keeping on? That is something I ponder all the time as I think about hitting the road to explore places I’ve never seen or visit long time friends without feeling an obligation to fill another empty page. But for now, I guess I will keep on writing and hope that you will keep on reading. However, I have promised myself to take more time for myself.
Of course, I am always looking for good stories. In spite of what some want us to believe, our schools are full of them. If you know of one, don’t hesitate to share it with me. email@example.com
And again, from the bottom of my heart, thanks for stopping by.
On a recent Monday night about 100 people gathered in Troy for a community discussion about their public school system. Billed as a discussion of “cradle to career,” the meeting was coordinated by the David Mathews Center for Civic Life in Montevallo.
The crowd was broken into discussion groups, eight to the table. They talked about topics such as: what are Troy’s greatest education assets, what are its challenges, what would you like to change, what would you like to preserve, etc.
My table had three parents and a grandfather who moved to town to be near his two grandchildren, two long-time teachers and a Troy University student serving as recorder.
It was all very interesting. But I heard nothing I haven’t heard over and over in communities across the state.
Lack of parental support. Teachers having to be surrogate mamas and daddies. The impact of poverty. The need for more after school programs. Lack of transportation for many families. Not enough sense of community both inside and outside of schools. The need for more volunteers. The increasing mental health issues schools are not equipped to handle. The need for more community partnerships.
Never once did anyone say they needed a charter school. No one talked about A-F grades for schools. No one mentioned the Alabama Accountability Act and scholarships for children to go to private schools. No discussion as to whether the state school board should be elected or appointed. Not a soul said we need a new statewide strategic plan for education.
Jan Baxter Lee is now in her 27th year in an elementary classroom. I have asked dozens of longtime teachers what has changed over their career. So I did the same with Jan. And got the same answer I have before. “Lack of respect for teachers from both students and parents,” she said. “When I first started teaching, I could call a parent about an issue with their child and they took action. Today, whatever issue the student is having is the fault of the teacher.”
As I headed north on highway 231 after the meeting I reflected on the evening which once again highlighted the divide between what politicians, and many education bureaucrats, think we need to do to make our schools better and what the real world thinks.
Too many want to build a better mouse trap. Yet, they don’t even know where the dad-gummed mice are.
Bombarded by a 24-7 barrage of bad news about self-centered politicians, mad men with assault weapons. the constant quest for riches by billionaires who already have more money than they can spend and overpaid and over indulged athletes, it is easy to forget what the intrinsic goodness and innocence of childhood may show us.
A wonderful such example is Dana Perella of Boulder, CO who wanted to raise money because one of her friends had cancer. So she started baking cookies. With donations of ingredients from her classmates, she set a goal of raising $40,000. That has long been surpassed.
Learn more about this effort by clicking here.
I promise you will be glad you did. Heck, you may even make a contribution just as I have done several times. And know that you helped brighten the world and turned your back (at least for a moment) on the madness that too often passes for normalcy.
This will not be welcome news for all the naysayers who say Alabama educators can’t walk and chew gum at the same time–but new info from the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama says we are making great progress in graduation rates and preparing students for college and careers.
In 2012 when Tommy Bice was state superintendent, he and his staff put together Plan 2020 that tackled graduation and readiness rates. This was guided by tons of feedback from both four-year and two-year colleges, business and industry and local school systems.
Here is the PARCA news release of September 23 that details what is happening:
“In 2012, the Alabama State Board of Education adopted Plan 2020, which embraced a vision for the state education system led by the motto: “Every child a graduate. Every graduate prepared.” The plan called for raising Alabama’s high school graduation rate to 90 percent, while at the same time producing graduates who are better prepared for college and the workplace. Since that time, significant progress occurred in raising the graduation rate from 72 percent in 2011 to 90 percent in 2018.
While the high graduation rate is laudable, state education leaders have raised concerns about the gap between the percent graduating and the percent prepared for college or work.
Significant progress has been made over the past three years:
In 2016, Alabama graduated 87 percent of its students, though only 66 percent were college and career ready.
In 2017, the gap closed, with 89 percent graduating and 71 percent college and career ready.
In 2018, improvement continued with 90 percent graduating and 75 percent college and career ready.
Though the gap is still large, it is improving.
Continuing to close that gap is vital. The state has a goal of adding 500,000 highly-skilled workers to the workforce by 2025. To meet that goal, virtually all high school graduates will need to be prepared for education beyond high school or prepared to enter the workforce directly after high school.
The 2018 CCR data shows:
Career Technical Education (CTE) certificates are the fastest-growing means for classifying students as college and career ready.
Qualifying scores on the ACT and WorkKeys assessments are the two most common measures used to classify students as college and career ready.
Systems and schools leverage different strategies for preparing students – reflecting varying strengths, resources, and goals for education.
Some systems are very strong in particular areas and weak in others, which may not meet the needs of all students.
The Alabama College and Career Strategic Plan (a component of Plan 2020) articulated a vision in which all Alabama students graduate high school college and career ready. The plan defines college and career readiness as:
“…a high school graduate [that] has the English and mathematics knowledge and skills necessary to either (1) qualify for and succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing college courses without the need for remedial coursework, or (2) qualify for and succeed in the postsecondary job training and/or education necessary for their chosen career (i.e. technical/vocational program, community college, apprenticeship or significant on-the-job training).”
High school graduates are classified as college and career ready (CCR) if they meet at least one of the following criteria.
Score college ready in at least one subject on the ACT
Score at the silver level or above on the WorkKeys Assessment
Earn a passing score on an Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate Exam (college-level courses delivered in high schools)
Successfully earn a Career Technical Education credential
Earn dual enrollment credit at a college or university
Successfully enlist in the military”
The Alabama Political Reporter is an on-line publication that does not shy away from asking tough questions about state powerbrokers–and those who wish to be.
Within the last few days, they have questioned a contract for almost a million dollars doled out by the Department of Early Childhood Education with a Birmingham-based PR firm closely aligned with Republican wheelers and dealers. The article was written by investigative reporter Josh Moon.
Here is how Moon begins his piece:
“Last legislative session, with good results and great PR rolling in for Alabama’s Pre-K program, the Department of Early Childhood Education received a record-breaking increase in funding, as Gov. Kay Ivey and lawmakers pledged to build on one of the few bright spots in Alabama’s public education programs.
The Education Trust Fund budget passed by the Legislature and signed by Ivey included $96 million for DECE, an increase of $18.5 million from the previous year. It was the largest increase in the program’s history and hailed as a triumph for education.
But this is Alabama. And where there’s money to spend, you’ll find the usual leeches lurking about, figuring out ways to divvy up a portion for themselves and their friends and family.”
He goes on to connect some dots and name names.
The second article is by Bill Britt. He talks about how a handful of people, both elected and un-elected, hatched a plan in 2016 to put both K-12 and post-secondary education under the control of the Department of Commerce. Britt reports:
“In 2016, the State Board of Education was in turmoil which led to Philip Cleveland’s appointment as interim superintendent of the Board.
In June of that year, Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, emailed members of the board encouraging them to keep Cleveland as interim superintendent “a few more months to work on efficiency and effectiveness of the department and the programs.”
She also urged the members to consider Ross (Jeanna Ross, secretary of the Department of Early Childhood Development) as the permanent superintendent.
According to those involved in the situation at the time, Collin’s email was part of a larger plan to gain control of Alabama’s education system by then-president and CEO of the Business Council of Alabama Billy Canary and former Gov. Bob Riley.
Sources who spoke to APR in 2016—on background because they were part of the selection process and did not want to speak publicly—said, “The goal is ultimately is to put both K-12 and post-secondary under the Department of Commerce, because they see education as workforce training,” In fact, several education experts privately stated the same, while accusing Gov. Robert Bentley of being a “useful tool” for Canary and Riley.”
There is no doubt that a small group of non-educators have been trying to enforce their will on how we do education in this state for the past decade. One of the major players was Billy Canary, who headed the Business Council of Alabama until July 2018 when he was forced out.
One of the ways he tried to exert influence was getting his hand-picked folks on the state board of education. This began in 2014 when BCA gave $70,000 to Mary Scott Hunter’s re-election campaign. She also got $15,000 from California-based Students First, a group devoted to charter schools, vouchers and any other idea associated with “education reform.” And the Alabama realtors PAC kicked in $5,000. This group also favors charters and vouchers.
Prior to Canary’s involvement, campaigns for state school board were rather low-key affairs. For instance, when Dr. Charles Elliott of Decatur ran successfully for an open seat in 2010, he raised $38,395. His Democratic opponent, Kim Drake of Cullman, raised $23,353.
Another BCA beneficiary in 2014 was Barry Sadler of Eufaula who challenged long-time incumbent Betty Peters of Dothan. Canary’s group gave him $85,000 and Students First chipped in $15,000. Peters won.
Two years later BCA wrote more checks. They backed Matt Brown who had been appointed by Governor Bentley to an open seat in 2015, went after incumbent Stephanie Bell with challenger Justin Barkley and backed incumbent Jeff Newman. They spent $149,000 on Brown, who lost to Jackie Zeigler. Barkley got $94,755 in contributions and in-kind services–and also got $22,936 from the Alabama Federation for Children, another “education reform” group supported by out-of-state millionaires. Bell beat Barkley handily Newman got $106,730 in contributions and in-kind and kept the seat he won in 2012.
A truism of politics is that “Little money gives, big money invests.” Canary invested heavily in hopes of having more influence over the state board. BCA also created the Business Education Alliance with former state school chief Joe Morton as chairman and president and former legislator Jay Love as finance chair.
Their agenda is driven by the following posted on their web site:
“Just as competitors force businesses to improve quality, service and products for their customers in order to maintain a share of the market, school choice does the same for education. Failing schools are provided the incentive they need in order to improve or risk losing students to better performing facilities.”
But as countless research studies have shown, this rationale is bogus.
BCA has also been a consistent cheerleader for the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund, a scholarship granting organization created by former governor Bob Riley in the wake of passing the Alabama Accountability Act in 2013. Though the SGO, Scholarships for Kids in Birmingham, is the largest such organization in the state with more scholarships and contributions than AOSF, BCA pays them little attention.
Realizing what was going on, management of SFK decided to join BCA several years ago in hopes of also being promoted. Nothing changed and SFK pulled their membership.
After Mike Sentance was chosen as state superintendent in 2016, candidate Craig Pouncey sued Mary Scott Hunter for her role in discrediting his name and character. At present, this trial is scheduled for next March in a Montgomery circuit court. Many feel that Hunter was working to support BCA;’s agenda, because they did not want someone of Pouncey’s stature, heading the state department of education.
This trial will be watched closely by educators as it may shed more light on who is trying to pull the strings on education in Alabama and what their motives are.
Let’s cut right to the chase.
If the voters of Alabama approve a constitutional amendment next March that switches us from an elected to an appointed state school board, Senate majority leader Del Marsh will be in total control of the board.
To date, most discussion of the amendment has virtually ignored the fact that the legislation passed in May calling for this vote says: “Each member appointed to the commission shall be subject to confirmation by the Senate…”
Interpretation: Since Marsh controls the supermajority senate with an iron hand, no one will be appointed without his approval.
Given his track record with public education, this is a very scary thought.
After all, Marsh pushed through the Alabama Accountability Act in 2013 and later boasted that he made sure no one in education knew about this bill because they might have opposed it. At last count, AAA has diverted $145 million from the education trust fund so that about 3,500 students could get scholarships to private schools. The public was told over and over again that this bill would “help poor kids stuck in struggling schools by their zip codes.”
There is only one problem. No one in the Black Belt can find any of these students.
Marsh was also the godfather of the charter school law passed in 2015. As spelled out in the law, charter schools are governed by a commission made up of appointments from the governor, lt. governor, speaker of the house and senate majority leader.
How has that worked? Judging from the fiasco in Washington County about a charter approved by the commission, not so well. Do we really want to take a chance that an appointed state school board would be any better?
While language in the amendment legislation says that the governor “shall ensure that the appointed membership of the commission reflects the geographical, gender, and racial diversity o the students enrolled in public K-12 education in the state,” it should be noted that this is similar to language in the charter law that has been virtually ignored.
For instance, according to the law, “The appointing authority shall consider the eight State Board of Education districts in determining the geographical diversity of the commission.” But of the nine commission members serving prior to August 8, 2019, four of them were from Montgomery and none from Mobile. How’s that for geographical diversity?
The charter law also says that one commission member appointed by the speaker and one by the majority leader SHALL be recommended by the minority party in each body. There is no indication that this has ever been done.
So just because we have some words on some paper apparently doesn’t mean that in the cauldron of political maneuvering, anyone will pay much attention to them.
And while there is no doubt that Governor Ivey is very interested in public education and attends most state board meetings, she is the excepti8on, not the rule, when it comes to governors.
Look at our previous two governors, Bob Riley and Robert Bentley. They rarely attended state board meetings. When the accountability act was passed, Bob Riley quickly created the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund, a scholarship granting organization, to dole out money contributed by big companies seeking tax breaks at the expense of public schools. (Riley raised $17 million in 2013. Some $14 million came from only two sources. And we are supposed to believe that Riley’s only interest was “helping poor kids stuck in failing schools by their zip codes?”
Bentley’s track record was equally suspect. After all, he’s the governor who proclaimed in a speech that “Education sucks.” His was the deciding vote that brought Mike Sentance from Massachusetts to Alabama to be state superintendent in 2016. Has there ever been a more disastrous decision for our public schools?
And don’t forget that Bentley made an appointment to the state school board when he picked Matt Brown of Baldwin County to fill a vacant seat. His credentials? He had never attended a public school, said that his children never would either, and worked tirelessly in 2015 to defeat a vote in Baldwin County to better fund schools.
Of course, governors are term-limited and will not serve forever. But legislation is not term-limited and what happens when the next Bob Riley or Robert Bentley becomes governor?
We are treading on dangerous ground with this amendment. And never forget that at this point in time, if it passes, Del Marsh will virtually control our public school systems.