Oh My God, Another Legislatively-Mandated Study About Education

As soon as I read that we will soon hire a consultant, pay them $750,000, and study the state department of education, all because the legislature wants to do so, two thoughts came immediately to mind.

One was a favorite saying of my late farmer friend, Rufus Coody of Vienna, GA, “Like a billy goat needs a song book.”  The second was about the $500,000 study state superintendent Mike Santance got some of his friends in Massachusetts to do on Montgomery schools after he took control of them.  It was a total waste of time and money and I would be surprised if anyone in the Montgomery school system could find a copy of it today.

And, of course, we will use scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) as a benchmark to see where we are.  As I have pointed out many times, NAEP is the most misused education standard there is.  This is a random sample of a few thousand fourth and eighth graders done every two years to check math and reading ability.  It is only useful when you look at growth over a number of years.  But politicians never do this.  They just consider a state’s ranking, never giving thought to how much top-performing states spend per student, demographics of a state’s students, poverty levels, etc.

Using them to compare Alabama to all other states is akin to picking a national football champion after the first game of the season.

Of course, we have a bloated state department of education bureaucracy in Montgomery.  But we don’t need to spend $750,000 to find this out.  All you need to do is ask a bunch of local superintendents who get buried under an avalanche of paperwork generated in Montgomery.  It’s a topic that comes up in nearly every conversation I have with a superintendent.

If we insist on doing studies, what about one to look at the impact of decisions on education policy made by the legislature?  What good are school letter grades of A through F?  How well is the appointed charter school commission required by the charter law of 2015 working?  Why do we continue to take money out of every classroom in the state as directed by the Alabama Accountability Act of 2013 so about 3,500 kids can attend a private school?

Or what about one trying to figure out why members of the legislature consider themselves to be “education experts” from the moment they set foot in Montgomery.

Last night I sat around a table in Birmingham with a group of teachers.  One of them has 18 students in her kindergarten class.  Nine of them can not speak English.  The same nine do not know how to flush a toilet or what toilet paper is for.

How will another study help her and her students?  We would be far better off to take this $759,000 and get some English language learner teachers for her school than to enrich another consultant.

And Rufus Coody was right.  We need this like a “Billy goat needs a song book.”














Pardon Me, But Is That Egg On Your Face?

One of the most discussed bills coming from our last session of the legislature in the 2019 regular session was an act calling for a vote on a constitutional amendment next March as to whether we should have an appointed state school board, or one that is appointed.  If approved by voters, the governor would appoint nine people to the state school board who would then have to be confirmed by the senate.

In other words, no one would sit on this board unless senate majority leader Del Marsh said they could since he rules the senate with an iron fist.  There are 140 members of the legislature, 129 of them voted on this bill.  Only 21 house members opposed it.  No senators did.  So only 16 percent of the members who voted were in opposition.

But was legislative leadership really reading the tea leaves of the general public on this issue?

A survey we did in late June certainly showed that the public and lawmakers are not on the same page.  Out of nearly 1,200 responses, 89 percent said they would vote against this amendment..

And now, the executive committee of the state Republican party has voted to oppose this change as well.  The committee met in Auburn on August  24 and passed a resolution to oppose the constitutional amendment, 64 percent to 36 percent.  Since Republicans have super majorities in both the house and senate, this was a major rebuff, especially to senator Marsh.

The GOP vote also left egg on the face of the Alabama Association of School Boards since they are the only education group that has endorsed a YES vote on the constitutional amendment.

A press release by AASB of May 10, 2019 says in part:

“The AASB Board of Directors voted to endorse Gov. Ivey’s proposed constitutional amendment regarding K-12 educational governance after thoughtful consideration of the bold initiative. Fundamentally, we believe it is important the people of Alabama have an opportunity to vote on this dramatic change and that such change is needed to drive significant, sustained improvement in our schools across the state.” 

Frankly I am baffled by the position of AASB since their members are local school board members, the vast majority of whom are elected to  the boards they serve on.  Does this mean all of those who run for office think they should be appointed–not elected?  If so, I haven’t been able to find any of them.

What will happen in March?  Your guess is as good as mine.  But were I a betting man, at this point I would not put money on senator’s Marsh’s effort to hand-pick the state school board.


Get Ready For The Common Core Flim Flam

When the election of March 3, 2020 rolls around, the proponents of switching from an elected to an appointed school board will play their Common Core card.

Why?  Because the legislation calling for a vote on a constitutional amendment to change how we pick our state school board has one sentence tucked away on page 5 that says the new board should adopt:

“Course of study standards that ensure nationwide consistency and the seamless transfer of students from within and outside of the state, in lieu of common core.”

Given all the misinformation about common core we have heard for years, no doubt some of those advocating to take over the state board see this as a “secret weapon” to encourage a YES vote.

But before voters fall for this gimmick, they should listen to what one Alabamian wrote about our standards in 2014.

“Over the past weeks and months, I have found myself caught up in numerous conversations with family, friends, and colleagues regarding an increasingly controversial issue. The issue is Common Core.  And the arguments I consistently hear against it are the same: The standards are a backdoor attempt by Washington to usurp local control of education and institute a national K–12 curriculum.

If this were the case, I would join the opponents of Common Core instead of debating them. For if the federal government is ever allowed to dictate the substance of our children’s education, it is only a matter of time before the cultural values of our children will be reprogrammed by Washington bureaucrats.

But, thankfully, this is not the case.  Put simply, Common Core does not allow the federal government to prescribe what our children learn. Much of the resistance to the program stems from this single misperception, which is itself rooted in a deep distrust of the president. But President Obama isn’t driving the standards, nor did he create them. The states are propelling Common Core. Currently, all but five states have fully implemented the standards. Moreover, the standards began gaining momentum long before Barack Obama was elected president.

The standards now known as Common Core were initiated and developed by governors and other state leaders eager to raise educational standards in a way that was state-led, rather than being a Washington solution. That’s why it is deeply encouraging that so many states are asserting ownership of the standards by adapting them to their needs.

There is simply no evidence that national education standards will lead to a national curriculum, or that they will stifle the ability of states to teach subject areas that matter to parents residing there. To the contrary, many of those who know the standards thoroughly, including the state superintendent of education in Alabama, insist that educators today retain full control in the development, selection, and implementation of the curricula used in our schools.

Common Core establishes uniform standards — standards that must be met regardless of the curriculum a state decides to adopt. The standards demand accountability. They give the things that really matter — reading, writing, and arithmetic — priority over subject matter that does little or nothing to prepare kids for college and the workforce.  And ultimately, the Common Core standards will make American students more competitive with their international peers.

All of these goals are worthy, and they deserve the support of both Republicans and Democrats.”

Former Governor Bob Riley wrote these words in 2014.  A dyed-in-the-wool conservative Republican, hardly a wild-eyed liberal with an Obama sticker on his bumper like all supporters of the Alabama College & Career Ready standards are supposed to be.

Don’t believe me?  Go here and see for yourself.

So when Senator Del Marsh cranks up his snake oil show in hopes of hand picking the state school board and taking away the right of Alabama citizens to vote, it is a pretty safe bet that he will never mention what Governor Riley said about these standards.


Did The Legislature Paint Themselves Into A Corner?

There were hosannas and smiles all over goat hill when the legislature recently passed a bill calling for a vote on a constitutional amendment next March 3  as to whether Alabama should have an elected state school board or one appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state senate.

The fact it passed the senate 30-0 and the house, 78-21, sent a loud and clear message that the legislature has little confidence in the present state school board and the leadership of state school superinte4ndent Eric Mackey, who the board hired on a 5-4 vote just over a year ago.

However, it’s unlikely that legislative leadership stopped and considered that this vote will, in effect, be a referendum on what the public thinks about them.  A YES vote will mean that people agree with the legislature and trust the governor and the senate to do what is right for our 720,000 public school students.  But a NO vote will mean that they simply do not trust our politicans.

My guess is that this was never given any thought in legislative chambers.

Results of the survey we recently did that had 1,170 responses, indicate that many of the 140 house and senate members may have made a serious miscalculation.

Granted that 44 percent of respondents are teachers and that many more work in public education, but their responses are so overwhelmingly against an appointed state board that they can not be discounted.  How overwhelming?  Try 89 percent against and only 11 percent in favor of the constitutional amendment.

But what makes the numbers so intriguing is that these are not people enamored with education in Alabama as we now know it.  Anything but.  In fact, 60 percent think education is headed in the wrong direction and 45 percent give the state superintendent a letter grade of C, D or F.   In fact, slightly more give him an F than they do an A.

So one can not claim that respondents are happy with what we are doing and don’t want change.

Rather, they don’t believe the change we need means giving final say on who sits on the state school board to the Alabama state senate who must sign off on any names a governor sends them.  Only 18 percent have confidence in the senate to approve competent people.

This is easy to understand.  Since 2010 when today’s super majority came to power, education has been hit with A-F school reports cards that serve no useful purpose for educators, the Alabama Accountability Act that has diverted $145 million from class rooms and the charter school act, that is governed by an appointed board, and has caused chaos in tiny Washington County by approving a charter that is unwanted and unneeded.

All of these have a collective impact and weigh heavily on the minds of educators now being asked to ignore the track record of those running the legislative process and entrust them with even more power.  Respondents, 49 percent who identify as Republicans, see senate majority leader Del Marsh as the primary architect of this attack on public schools.

We have heard legislator after legislator lament that education needs to get better and somehow, turning even more control over to them, will be a step in the right direction.  That’s an argument that 1,039 (89 percent) survey respondents just ain’t buying.

And the day after the vote, legislative leadership may well find themselves way over in the corner of the room looking at the fresh paint that has just stuck them in the corner..


Jo Bonner Comes To Montgomery

Governor Kay Ivey has just announced that former Congressman, Jo Bonner, is joining her staff as “senior advisor.”  In my opinion,  this is great news for the people of Alabama.

I have known Jo since 1982.  And if I could sum him up in just one word, it would be GENUINE.  What you see is what you get.  As far as I know, he is the same person he was when I met him 36 years ago.  He has a moral compass that is steadfast and has always seen the light side of life–even when the joke is on him.  Trust me, there are not many in the political world I would say this about.

He was just out of school at the University of Alabama and working on the campaign of my college classmate, Lt. Governor George McMillan, who was running for governor, in 1982.  (And lost in a runoff to George Wallace.)  Jo was working throughout the Wiregrass and was stationed in Dothan.

McMillan was having a rally in Dothan and that’s where Jo and I met.  At some point that evening Jo asked where I was spending the night since I lived in Montgomery.  I told him I had no plans and he graciously suggested that I spend the night with him since he had an available bed.  I did.

Years later when he was elected to Congress from Alabama’s First District, he sent me a note on his stationary and said something to the effect, “I will not forget the night we spent together in Dothan.”

He told me later with a hardy laugh that his secretary questioned what he said in the note and asked him if he was really going to send it.  He told her he was because it was true.  How do you not appreciate that quality in a person?

When we studied 10 rural elementary schools in 2008, I was dumbfounded by the physical condition of Calcedever elementary in the north end of Mobile County.  To call it deplorable was being too kind.

I got Jo to come visit the school and see firsthand.  He did.  And in each room he quickly told the students that he worked in Washington and if they were ever going to be there, he would help arrange a tour for them.  A little blond guy in the first grade paid rapt attention and as soon as Jo said this, he quickly pulled out his pencil and asked, “What is your number?”

I nearly fell in the floor laughing.

Jo worked for Congressman Sonny Callahan of Mobile for 18 years.  And when Sonny retired in 2002, Jo was elected to replace him.  He stepped down in 2013 to take a position at the University of Alabama.

As we say in Red Level, “Kay, you done good.”




Is The Business Council Getting Out Of The Education Picture?

As we reported back in July, longtime head of the Business Council of Alabama, Billy Canary, was ousted from his position after months of high stakes politicking by some of Alabama major companies.

His replacement will be Katie Britt, who is presently chief of staff for Senator Richard Shelby.  As explained in this article by the Alabama Political Reporter, she was selected by the BCA executive committee for the top job in October and all that is left is a vote by the full board of directors.

But here is what really caught my attention in the article:

“It is also believed that the executive committee wants to pull back from some of the group’s programs like Business in Education, an arm of BCA started to compete with the Alabama Education Association.

“BCA has to get back to its core mission,” said a prominent supporter. “BCA needs to concentrate its efforts on promoting business, not frivolous power grabs.”

I’ve made no pretense of my feelings about BCA and some of their education initiatives.  Just check out articles here and here.  And the fact I was willing to say that the emperor had no clothes is what prompted the BCA to come after me hard during my campaign for the Montgomery school board last spring.  Canary gave my primary opponent $250 and Jay Love, who is finance chairman of the Business Education Alliance, chipped in $1,500.

BCA also spent major PAC funds on state school board races in 2014 and 2016.  Like several hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Canary once worked at the White House in the administration of the first President Bush.  And he is a true believer in the education reform efforts promoted by Jeb Bush.  Jeb is president and chairman of the ExcellinEd Foundation that is a major promoter of things like charter schools, vouchers, tax credit scholarships, etc.  The fact that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Bloomburg Philanthropies and the Walton Foundation have given this group more than $1 million each is ample testimony about their agenda.

And under Canary, BCA was all about the same things.  They made a big deal each February of promoting a “school choice” rally in Montgomery and they were an unabashed cheerleader for Bob Riley’s Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund.  I will never forget sitting in a legislative committee meeting when BCA told everyone how wonderful the Alabama Accountability Act is.

While I do hope this BCA agenda bites the dust, I also think they could be a positive force for public education in this state.  Goodness knows we need all the help we can get.

But before they tackle anything they should spend a lot more time talking to honest-to-goodness educators.  You know like those who are principals and teachers and understand our challenges far better that people who work in big offices in tall buildings.

Principals are key to good schools.  But too often we do not give them the professional development they desperately need.  BCA  could make a huge contribution to this state by developing some pilot PD programs for principals.  Or how about using their vast network of business contacts by encouraging their members to get involved in local school systems?  The list could go on and on.

I do not know Katie Britt.  I certainly wish her well and look forward to meeting her in the near-future.