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.



Bless His Heart

The PTOs of Vestavia Hills and Mountain Brook city school systems held their 14th annual PTO Legislative Forum the evening of Nov. 15.  All legislators representing this area attended.  They included State Senators Jabo Waggoner and Dan Roberts and House members David Faulkner, Jim Carns and David Wheeler.

All are Republicans and Roberts and Wheeler are new to the legislature.

Questions were asked about new funding for schools, the state education budget, school choice, school assessment, school safety and mental health.

Having written extensively about the Alabama Accountability Act (choice) and the A-F school report cards (assessment), I was especially interested in response to each of these.  Here are pertinent sections of an article from the Vestavia Voice:


PTO representatives also asked how legislators felt about the state spending about $30 million in each year in scholarships for students to transfer out of failing schools, which they said only hurts failing schools more and profits private schools over public schools.

Wheeler said he wants the Alabama Accountability Act, which authorized the expenditure, to be repealed, arguing it “benefits a few at the sacrifice of many.”

Faulkner disagreed, saying he’s seen poor children benefit from the act, moving into better schools. Faulkner argued the act does not hurt Vestavia and Mountain Brook schools.


Talking about “failing schools,” PTO representatives asked how legislators felt about the A through F report card.

Wheeler and Faulkner again disagreed, with Faulkner saying while it may have some issues, he supports the system, with Wheeler saying it was very flawed and an “administrative burden,” arguing the state legislature should listen to educators on this issue.

“A score on one standardized test does not accurately reflect on what you do,” Wheeler said.”

As you see, there is a stark contrast between how Wheeler and Faulkner see things.  Knowing what I know, I have to feel that Wheeler has done his homework while Faulkner has not.

This is certainly true when Faulkner says that neither Vestavia Hills or Mountain Brook systems have been hurt by the accountability act.  He doesn’t seem to understand that all systems are funded from the Education Trust Fund and that when money is diverted from ETF, there is less money to spend on EVERY system in the state.

Presently the accountability act has diverted $!46.6 million from ETF since 2013.  This amounts to $201 per student–including those in Vestavia Hills and Mountain Brook.  This adds up to $867,516 for Mountain Brook and $1,437,351 for Vestavia Hills.

Records show that from Jan. 1 through Nov. 2 Faulkner raised more than $200,000 for his re-election campaign and still has more than $175,000 in the bank.  Number One.  Perhaps he can take some of this money and help his schools make up for what AAA has cost them.  Number Two.  Perhaps he should sit down with David Wheeler and get up to speed on some education issues.


Looking At Members Of 2019 Legislature

With the general election now over, we at least know who the brand new members of both the Alabama House and Senate will be.  There will be 12 new Senators and 28 new House members.

Actually, three of the Senators are former House members moving to the other chamber.  These are Donnie Chesteen of Geneva; David Sessions of Grand Bay and Jack Williams of Wilmer.  They will be joined by brand new Senators Garlan Gudger of Cullman; Sam Givhan of Huntsville, Andrew Jones of Centre; Randy Price of Opelika, Dan Roberts of Birmingham; Will Barfoot of Montgomery and Chis Elliott of Spanish Fort.  Former Senator Tom Butler of Huntsville is returning after sitting out a couple of sessions.

New House members are: Andrew Sorrell of Muscle Shoals; Parker Moore of Decatur; Andy Whitt of Harvest, Proncey Robertson of Mt. Hope; Scott Stadthagen of Hartselle; Tracy Estes of Winfield; Jamie Kiel of Russellville; Rex Reynolds of Huntsville; Gil Isbell of Gadsden, Craig Lipscomb of Gadsden, Debbie Wood of Valley; Ginny Shaver of Centre; David Wheeler of Vestavia Hills; Neil Rafferty of Birmingham; Rodney Sullivan of Northport; Brett Easterbrook of Fruitdale; TaShina Morris of Montgomery; Kirk Hatcher of Montgomery; Ed Oliver of Dadeville, Jeremy Gray of Opelika; Jeff Sorrells of Hartford; Will Dismukes of Prattville, Wes Allen of Troy;  Rhett Marques of Enterprise; Matt Simpson of Daphne, Sam Jones of Mobile, Shane Stringer of Citronelle and Chip Brown of Mobile.

In all, 34 percent of the Senate is new, while 27 percent of the House is.

The House will meet this week to organize leadership..  Of the 15 members of the House Ways & Means Education committee appointed to serve after the 2014 election, eight of them are no longer in the legislature.  Bill Poole of Tuscaloosa currently chairs this committee and is likely to return.

As to the education policy committee, chaired by Terri Collins of Decatur, seven of the 13 members no longer are in the House.

So there are plenty of new players now in the game.  Will this bode well for education?  Time will tell.  But this is definitely an opportunity for public schools.