Latest Legislative Brainstorm Is Classic Example Of Why Amendment One Should Be Defeated

If Amendment One passes on March 3, the legislature, more specifically the state senate, will control public education.  That’s because while the governor will appoint state school board members, they must be confirmed by the senate.

And if you want to see what whacky ideas members of the legislature conjure up for public schools, look no farther than all the recent talk about not having school from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

While it sounds simple enough, this idea runs smack dab up against the requirement that students have 1,080 instruction hours in a school year.  This is a totally unrealistic proposal and has teachers and administrators from one end of the state to the other up in arms.

According to an experienced educator I trust whole-heartedly, squeezing the school year into this time frame would mean no professional development days for teachers can be embedded into the school year, Thanksgiving holiday would be only Friday and Saturday, Christmas holiday could not begin before December 23 and spring break would be eliminated

In addition, chronic absenteeism would sky rocket for students as parents would simply take them out of school for traditional holidays so they could travel.   Since absenteeism is one of the factors by which schools are graded these days, the public perception of the job schools are doing would be hurt (which is what legislators love to shout about).

Without holidays, professional development or workdays built into the calendar, there will be an escalation of teacher burnout at the very time we are screaming about teacher shortages.  And every day a teacher is out, a day of good instruction for students is lost because they have a substitute teacher.

Our focus needs to be on providing business and industry with a well-rounded, educated and trained workforce.  A  shortened  school  year will not provide that outcome,” according to my source.

And this is the kind of thinking we need directing public education?

Only if we are trying to go backward–not forward.

 

A Lesson In Civility

As already mentioned here, Sunday afternoon Feb. 9 I participated in a League of Women  Voters forum in Dothan to debate the pros and cons of Amendment One.  I opposed the measure.  Senator Greg Albritton from Atmore supported it.

I had done my homework and so had he.  We both spoke with passion and conviction.  There was no doubt we were on opposite sides.

However, we were friends when we got there and we were friends when we left.

I respect Greg and the fact that he was duly elected by the majority of voters in his senate district.  He certainly has a right to his viewpoint and his opinions.  I have no doubt he feels the same about me.

Our exchanges were lively and even interspersed with moments of laughter and good will.

In other words, we were civil.

And as I drove back home to Montgomery, I couldn’t help but think of how what had just played out was in such stark contrast to what we see far too often in politics these days, especially in Washington.  Both civility and respect have become four letter words in the nation’s capital where if someone disagrees with you they are usually ridiculed, berated and the object of insults.

We are destroying what is most dear to this republic. The presumption that as a whole we are better than the sum of all our parts.  That all citizens should be treated with dignity, not chastised because they don’t think like we do.

I understand better than most that 2020 is an election year and that in such times, passion often replaces common sense.  But even so, even that does not condone so much of the junk we see on TV and Facebook right now.

It is shameful.

Of course, I will vote NO on amendment one.  And Greg will vote YES.

But to me the larger lesson of this forum was not so much about the pros and cons of this legislation as it was that civil discourse and disagreement can–and should–be conducted with civility.

When it is not, we are all diminished.

 

 

 

“Let Us Go To Dothan”

Editor’s note:  Genesis tells us the story of Joseph looking for his brothers and being told that they went to Dothan.  So, like Joseph, Sunday afternoon Feb. 9 I went to Dothan.  But I was looking for a forum conducted by the Southeast Alabama League of Women Voters to discuss Amendment One that will be on the ballot on March 3.  I was invited to speak against the amendment, while my friend Senator Greg Albirtton of Atmore was on the other side of the fence.

There was a good and diverse crowd.  The LWV ladies are to be commended for hosting this event.

Here are my remarks:

“Amendment One is little more than a sham, built on faulty numbers and making false promises. It is another example of the elites in Montgomery trying to take away our right to vote and seize more and more power.

The proponents of this amendment are talking out of both sides of their mouth as they distort results from a national test not aligned with the standards we use while promising to rid classrooms of other national standards—which this amendment does not do.

Amendment One is not about helping the 715,000 students in our public schools, it is about control. Public education has been under attack since the Republican supermajority took control in 2010 and this is just the latest—and boldest—step in that direction.

The elites love numbers. Which is why you hear them talk about Alabama’s scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests, commonly referred to as NAEP–probably the most misunderstood scores you can find.

Time after time we hear someone shout that our 4th grade math scores are the lowest in the country, so our schools must be terrible. However, they never give any context.

Every two years we randomly select 5,000 4th and 8th graders in Alabama to take NAEP. But standards used for NAEP do not align to Alabama standards so we are testing students on things they have never been taught.

There are 715,000 students in our public schools. 5,000 is six-tenths of one percent of them. There are 15,192 students in Dothan and Houston County. Six tenths of one percent are 91 students.

Does anyone in this room honestly think test scores from just 91 students would give you an accurate assessment of how your schools are doing?

State NAEP scores were first published in 1992. Most of this time Massachusetts has been at the top of NAEP rankings. So, some constantly want to compare us to Massachusetts.

When you do this, you find something quite interesting. Alabama has actually made greater gains in NAEP since 1992 than Massachusetts has.

Does anyone here think Dothan city schools should be compared to those in Mountain Brook? There are 4,320 students in Mountain Brook, only 23 receive free or reduced lunches. By comparison, of the 8,536 students in Dothan city, 5,606 are on free-reduced lunches.

No other single factor influences test scores as much as poverty does.

Comparing Alabama to Massachusetts is comparing Dothan to Mountain Brook. It is nonsense, but we do it all the time.

Of course, we don’t have perfect schools in Alabama. And we never will.

But we have amazing teachers and principals doing amazing things with very limited resources. I see them in schools constantly.

To say they are terrible based on a test given every two years to less than one percent of all students makes no sense.

And if our schools are so bad and our kids so dumb, how in the world have we created 40,000 jobs in the automotive industry in the last 25 years?

In addition to this, the elites believe they can hoodwink the public by making the false claim that Amendment One will eliminate Common Core.

This is untrue. All you have to do is read the legislation.

Here is what it says:

“In addition to any function or duty provided by general law, the commission shall adopt all of the following:

a. 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 come.”

If I have ever heard political double talk, this is it because “standards that ensure nationwide consistency and the seamless transfer of students from within and outside of the state ARE standards like common core.

This is like passing a law that says the University of Alabama must change their football uniforms—but the new ones must be red and white and have a large script A on them.

There is great irony in the fact that this March we will celebrate the march over the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma in 1965 when people risked their lives for the right to vote.

Yet this March we are being asked to vote to give up our right to vote on members of the state school board.

If Amendment One passes, the governor will nominate people to serve on the state school board. But they must all be confirmed by the State Senate which is controlled by 27 white, male Republicans and run with an iron hand by senate majority leader Del Marsh.

This board will then hire a state school superintendent, but again, this must be confirmed by the senate.

The reality is that Amendment One would make Del Marsh the czar of Alabama public education.

That thought scares every educator in the state.

The attack on our public schools It started with a special session in late 2010 when the supermajority stopped educators from serving in the House or Senate. Doctors, lawyers, accountants, insurance folks, business folks, eye doctors and anyone else you can think of who can serve—but not educators.

In 2012 we passed the A-F school report card bill. The next educator I find who says this law has any worthwhile value will be the first one I’ve found.

In 2013 we passed the Alabama Accountability Act that has now diverted $155 million from the Education Trust Fund to give scholarships to private schools. This now amounts to $215 per public school student—or $3.2 million for Houston County and Dothan schools. That’s about $5,000 per classroom.

The most recent numbers show Houston Academy has 15 scholarships and Northside Methodist has 68. None of these students were attending a failing school before getting a scholarship—yet we were told when this law passed that it was all about “helping poor kids stuck in failing schools by their zip code.”

In 2015 we passed the charter school law which has been a disaster with LEAD Academy in Montgomery where I live and in Washington County which is one of Senator Albritton’s counties.

Last Monday the state charter commission came down hard on LEAD Academy and Woodland Prep in Washington County. They told LEAD they lack institutional control and began the process to revoke the application for Woodland Prep.

It should be noted that the charter commission is an appointed board with nominees coming from the governor, lt. governor, speaker of the house and senate majority leader.

If Alabama has had a jewel in its crown, it is the Alabama Reading Initiative that started 20 years ago. There was $64 million in the 2009 education budget for ARI. But by 2018 this was cut to $41 million by the supermajority. A reduction of 35 percent.

Of course, we hear a lot about teacher shortages these days. So, what did we do? Eight years ago, the supermajority cut benefits for new teachers by 20 percent according to the Retirement Systems of Alabama.

And we should now turn over public education to these people? That makes as much sense as Georgia building a monument to General Sherman.

We have now done three surveys on my blog about Amendment One since last summer.

The most recent was in January with more than 500 responses.

79 percent of respondents were either retired educators, teachers or employees of a public school system.

43 percent said they were republicans, while 31 percent were independents and 25 percent were democrats.

65 percent were female, 86 percent were Caucasian.

93 percent said they will vote NO on amendment one.

One thing that jumped out like a sore thumb is that 66 percent of them rated the legislature either a D or an F.

And 86 percent said they have “very little” confidence in Del Marsh doing what is in the best interest of public schools.

I find it very interesting that while 65 percent of respondents were female and 43 percent were Republicans, they are not in agreement with the Republican dominated legislature on this issue.

There are 104 Republicans in the House and Senate. Only 8 of these, all in the House, are female.

When Democrat Andy Beshear narrowly defeated incumbent Republican Matt Bevin for governor of Kentucky last fall, many felt it was because many suburban Republican women did not vote for Bevin.

The results of this survey indicate that this contention has merit.

It is also worth noting that last August the 400-member Alabama Republican Executive Committee voted 2 to 1 to oppose Amendment One.

To me, the most meaningful takeaway from this survey—and all the others we have done–is the huge gap between how those interested in public education see things and how they are viewed by the legislature.

When Del Marsh passed the Alabama Accountability Act, not a soul in education, even the state superintendent at the time Tommy Bice, knew what was going on and Marsh later bragged that he kept educators in the dark because they might have opposed this bill.

So, on March 3rd we will vote on an amendment that has huge implications for education, but was written without input from those most impacted.

Until legislative leadership shows a willingness to seek advice from those they wish to govern, we will continue to squander opportunities for our children.

Amendment One is no more than a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It should be rejected.”

 

 

Dothan Eagle Leery Of Amendment One

The Dothan Eagle put in a plug for the forum the Southeast Alabama League of Women Voters held Sunday afternoon, Feb. 9.  They urged locals to turn out to learn more.  (I was honored to be one of the two presenters.)

However, the newspaper made no bones about the fact they have reservations about this amendment.

“Alabama voters have a complicated relationship with constitutional amendment referendums that turn up on their ballots on Election Day. There’s usually little in the way of voter awareness publicity, and the questions themselves are written in clunky government-ese that leaves many voters scratching their heads.

On March 3, there’s an important referendum — Amendment 1, which would change the makeup of the state’s board of education by seating board members by appointment.

There’s no doubt that public education in Alabama needs constructive change, and that drastic measures might be necessary.

However, Amendment 1’s first step would disenfranchise voters who elect state school board members by replacing election with appointment by the governor alone. The appointments would then go to the state Senate for confirmation. That’s a recipe for disaster, inviting cronyism, political favoritism or worse.

Today, state school board members are accountable to voters. Should Amendment 1 pass, that panel will be beholden to a single politician.”

You Can’t Have It Both Ways

There are 138 school systems in Alabama.  All 67 counties have one, then there are another 71 local community systems.  All are different.  All have different resources and different challenges.

They range from Mobile County with an enrollment of 52,741 to Linden with 462.  The citizens of Mountain Brook pay enough taxes so that local support for each student is $9,528.  At the other end of the spectrum are 12 systems, mostly county, that have less than $2,000 in local support per student.

Given such factors, there is not a politician in the state who is foolish enough to say that schools in Marion County should equal those in Mountain Brook, or those anywhere in the Black Belt should be just like their counterparts in Huntsville.  Lanett is not Hoover.  Thomasville is not Homewood.  Jackson County is not Bullock County.

Of Mountain Brook’s 4,320 students, only 23 off them receive free or reduced lunches.  There are 174 students at Marengo County’s A. L. Johnson k-12 school, 163 of them are free-reduced lunches.  In other words, our communities and their schools vary greatly.

The same is just as true when we compare Alabama schools to those in Massachusetts or New Jersey or Wyoming?

Yet we do this constantly.

We look at standardized test scores for the state of Alabama and weep and wail that they are not as good as those in faraway states.  While we readily acknowledge the differences among school system across Alabama, we do not apply the same logic to the United States.

Last March the governor asked the state superintendent to look at how math is taught in Massachusetts, Minnesota, Virginia, New Jersey and Wyoming because they have high math scores than Alabama does.

It makes absolutely no sense.

Comparing Alabama to Wyoming is about like wondering why a dump truck gets less miles per gallon that a Prius.  There are less than 92,000 public school students in Wyoming.  Students there get 76 percent more funding each than their Alabama counterparts.  They have the lowest pupil-teacher ration in the nation.

Thinking we can compare ourselves to them is ignoring reality.  But we do it to try and justify another attempt to force the next “education reform” on our educators.

We’re hammering square pegs into round holes and hoping no one is watching.

 

A Look At Survey Numbers Re: Amendment One

Alabama voters will be asked to approve or disapprove Amendment One on March 3.  A YES vote will switch us from an elected state school board to one appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state senate.  A NO vote will keep our present system of electing state school board members in place.

According to the first 500 respondents to our most recent survey on this issue, a successful YES vote has only two chances: slim and none as 93 percent say they will vote NO.

It should be pointed out that respondents have strong ties to education as 79 percent are retired educators, teachers or public school system employees.  This, of course, is far different than the general voting public.

Other demographic info is also important.  Some 61 percnet of respondents have either children or grandchildren in a public school, 43 percent are Republican, 65 percent are female, 86 percent are Caucasian and 44 percent are between the ages of 56 to 70.

While many believe that the majority of people opposing Amendment One are doing so because they do not want to give up their right to vote, this is not the case with our respondents.  Of those with a connection to education, 70 percent say they are voting NO because they have little confidence in the state senate to do what is best for public schools.  However, of those without ties to education, only 53 percent say they don’t trust the state senate.

Critics of Alabama education often claim that far too many are simply objecting to change because they want to preserve the status quo.  But the fact that 60 percent of respondents say Alabama education is going in the wrong direction refutes this contention.

One of the stark takeaways from this survey is that there is a huge gap in how the general public views education and how legislators do.

For instance, when asked to give a letter grade to the state legislature, 66 percent give them either a D or an F.  Only 4 percent give out an A or B.  This dissatisfaction certainly carries over to senate majority leader Del Marsh.  (If Amendment One passes, any appointments to the state school board, though made by the governor, must be confirmed by the senate.  As majority leader, this means any appointees must be looked at favorably by Marsh.  An appointed board would also hire the state school superintendent and again, this hire must be confirmed by the senate.  So the perception is that Marsh would run the state school system.)

When asked how much confidence they have in Marsh to do what is in the best interest of public schools, 86 percent said, “very little.”

No doubt this extremely harsh view of Marsh is based on his track record since taking control of the senate in 2011.  His unwavering support of A-F school report cards, the Alabama Accountability Act. charter schools, etc. undermines his utterances that he supports public schools.

I find it extremely interesting that 65 percent of respondents are female and 43 percent are Republicans.  Yet they are not in agreement with the Republican dominated legislature.  (There are 27 Republican senators out of 35.  However, they are all white.  And they are all male.)

When Democrat Andy Beshear narrowly defeated incumbent Republican Matt Bevin for governor of Kentucky in 2019, many felt it was because many suburban Republican women did not vote for Bevin.  This survey indicates that this contention has merit.