Editor’s note: We use Survey Monkey for feedback on education issues. Unlike surveys used for political polling, responses are not sorted to reflect the general population of a certain area such as a state senate district where those polled reflect the district’s demographics. However, because the number of respondents is usually very large, we get a very good sense of trend lines. More than 6,500 companies worldwide use Survey Monkey, often to gather information on market share.
In the presidential primary of next March 3, Alabama voters will vote whether or not to adopt a constitutional amendment to switch from an elected state board of education to one appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state senate.
The first 1,000 responses to the survey we posted on July 2 were overwhelmingly supportive of keeping an elected board–to the tune of 89 percent in favor of our present system, to only 11 percent who will vote to change it.
But it is important to see who answered the survey. Some 44 percent are teachers, with an additional 31 percent employed in some capacity other than teaching, by a school system. Some 58 percent have children or grandchildren in a public school. Forty-nine percent say they are Republicans, compared to 20 percent Democrats. Respondents were 73 percent female, 86 percent Caucasian and 52 percent between the ages of 36 to 55.
So the sample is top-heavy with those involved with education. But it is important to note there are more than 50,000 public school teachers in Alabama who can be expected to weight in heavily on this issue with family and friends.
Which is to say that any effort to approve this Constitutional Amendment appears to be a very uphill battle.
The only real message to voters to get them to support an appointed board is to tell them that our present system is not working. But our survey shows this may not work.
When we asked the question: Do you believe education in Alabama is going in the right direction, or the wrong direction?, 62 percent said wrong direction. So telling them we should change direction becomes something of a moot point. The question we did not ask, but is very germane to everything is, Why do you think it is going in the wrong direction?
However, answers to a couple of other question may give us a hint. When asked how much confidence they have in Governor Ivey to put qualified people on the state board, 50 percent said they did. Since the constitutional amendment calls for the senate to confirm gubernatorial appointments, we also asked about the confidence level respondents have in the senate to confirm competent appointees. Only 17 percent said they trust them.
So, it is not hard to believe that while folks are not happy with the direction education is going, they have little confidence in politicians to make necessary changes. When you look at what the legislature has done to education since 2012 with things like A-F school reports cards, the Alabama Accountability Act and the charter school law, it is easy to see why.
It appears that respondents have more tolerance for the state school board than they do for legislators. For example, the state board hired Eric Mackey as superintendent in the Spring of 2018. Those answering the survey don’t have a high opinion of his job performance. Only 37 percent gave him an A or B, while 63 percent said he should get a C, D or F. He got more Fs than As, This is consistent with the evaluations he recently got from the state school board.
Which simply means that the March 3 vote may well be more a referendum on our current political leadership than it is about education. (There is no doubt that recent actions of the appointed state charter school commission are definitely hurting those wanting an appointed state school board.)
The law setting up the constitutional amendment vote also directs an appointed board to set new study standards to replace Common Core standards. Given how Common Core has been vilified, this would seem a good ploy to entice people to vote for change. But 69 percent of respondents say our version of these standards known as Alabama College & Career Ready should NOT be replaced.
So this approach may not be as fruitful as some who drafted the legislation thought.
And the following question may be as revealing as any we asked: Under the present system of electing state school board members, candidates must raise money to run their campaigns. This often comes from political action committees. Under the proposed new system, do you believe the lobbyists who control these political action committee will still play a major role in who is selected?
It is not surprising that 73 percent said yes.
In other words, respondents don’t think you can take politics out of politics.
So why change?
We put up a brand new survey 36 hours ago to get feedback concerning the Alabama Accountability Act. This law was passed in 2013 and, to say the least, has been rather controversial because it diverts money from the state Education Trust Fund to be used to provide scholarships to private schools.
With a new session of the Legislature convening In March and with a large number of new House and Senate members, now is the right time to see how people across the state view the Accountability Act.
Response has been great. Well more than 400 people have weighed in.
But the more, the merrier.
Remember, all respondents are anonymous and the program is set up so that there can only be one response per email address.
Go here to fill out your survey form.
Though we’ve written extensively about the Alabama Accountability Act since it was passed in 2013, we have never done a survey of readers about what they think about this legislation.
So let’s get started. Go here to respond to this new survey.
Your insights are welcome. We will make sure the results are widely circulated. It is just two months until the first regular session of the legislature convenes for this new four-year term of office. And with so many new members of both the House and Senate, info of this nature is extremely helpful in guiding any education agenda.
Please share this post with as many of your friends and colleagues as you can. The more responses. the better.
You will find the survey here.
Earlier this week we took a preliminary look at the survey posted Monday night, July 31. Response was staggering, with more than 1,200 people taking part. This is the most response ever and no doubt a reflection of the ongoing commotion coming from the state department of education and the antics of superintendent Mike Sentance and his “leadership” team.
And though we had another 500 respondents since our last report, there was no significant change in any numbers.
As stated earlier, Sentance is still considered to be a terrible choice for state superintendent and the state school board is still blamed for not only hiring him, but for letting him stay in office.
Respondents were dominated by people with a vested interest in education as 61 percent were teachers, 74 percent work for a school system and 61 percent have children or grandchildren in public schools.
The state school board should pay special attention to the fact that responses came primarily from educators. Since the board paid scant attention to what educators told them before they hired Sentance last August, it is hardly unexpected that these people now blame the state board for Sentance’s blunders and misjudgments.
While 90 percent give Sentance a letter grade of D or F at this point, 82 percent also give the state board Ds and Fs. In other words, Sentance gets a passing grade from only 10 percent of respondents and the board gets a passing grade from only 18 percent.
One group watching all of this unfold carefully is legislators. I have talked to a number of them who are dismayed that Sentance is still around and that the state board has not taken action.
Several board members are very concerned that there may be a legislative effort to change how K-12 governance is managed in the future. (Alabama switched from an elected state superintendent and an appointed board to the present elected board and appointed superintendent in 1971.) Some fear that an effort will arise to go back to an appointed board.
Legislators have told me, “After watching this circus go on for months, how could an appointed board be any worse?”
Clearly at this juncture the board holds its own fate in its hands. Every day they appear to dilly dally and not take action is another day more of the public questions them.
The first question on the survey read: It has now been one year since the state board of education selected a new state superintendent on a vote of 5-4. He promptly assembled a new “leadership team” that has often been criticized by educators. Many describe the situation as a “crisis of confidence.” Do you agree with this assessment?
Some 88 percent agree. And this is probably the most meaningful question we asked.
Frustration and downright anger virtually seep from responses to most questions.
Is public education better or worse than a year ago? Worse say 78 percent. Will it get better or worse in the next year? Worse say 72 percent. Did you agree with the board when they hired Sentance? No said 96 percent. Do you think state board members should listen to educators when making a decision as important as hiring a state superintendent? Yes said 97 percent. After Sentnace’s recent poor evaluation by board members, what action should they take? Termination said 77 percent.
Some Sentance supporters claim he has brought education “reform” to Alabama. But 89 percent disagree.
Alabama’s education community is united in their lack of confidence in Mike Sentance. They think the decision of Aug. 11, 2016 to hire him was a bad one. And they have seen nothing from him since to change their minds. They have watched him refuse to communicate with his board, they watched the grad rate fiasco unfold and watched in dismay as he threw Linda Felton-Smith under the bus for what happened, only to be told by another of his consultants that no one was to blame.
They have read all about how he and his team have hired administrators left and right at six-figure salaries to take over Montgomery schools, while the other 136 systems across the state are ignored for all intent and purposes. They know about the no-bid contract of $750,000 to bring a new CFO to Montgomery for three years. They have listened to him downgrade Alabama teachers and well-established programs such as AMSTI, ARI and career tech..
And they know the only way to correct this mistake is with decisive action by the state school board. And soon.
We stand at the brink of a cliff. Only the state board can save us from going over it.
Will they? Or will we all look back on some future day and remember 2017 when the end of public education in Alabama took root?.
Response to the survey we posted at 7:30 p.m. July 31 has been remarkable. In less than 15 hours (as of noon Aug. 1) more than 700 people responded, 1,391 viewed the post on this blog, 8,016 people were reached on Facebook and the post was shared 68 times on FB. (It took nearly five days to hit 700 responses back in March.) This can only be attributed to a very heightened sense of frustration among Alabama public school educators.
Respondents are strongly invested in public education as 62 percent are teachers, 71 percent work for a school system and 61 percent have children or grandchildren in public schools. So this response clearly shows what educators think of the present situation. And in my opinion, they are far more qualified to offer advice than some who are quick to write an op-ed touting Sentance.
For instance a common refrain of the non-education writers is that Mike Sentance has brought “education reform” to Alabama. Yet 91 percent of respondents say this is a myth.
Sentance has never had the support of the education community. Last December 92 percent of respondents said he should not have been hired. This has now risen to 96 percent. And only two percent say he was the right choice last August. It is IMPOSSIBLE to bring someone back from the dead who has a two percent approval rating.
Other measures are equally damning. Some 81 percent say Sentance is doing a worse job than they thought he would, 90 percent say Alabama education is going in the wrong direction under his leadership, 79 percent say we are worse off now than a year ago and 72 percent say we will be in even poorer shape in 12 months.
And as to be expected, the state school board is now held in almost as much disdain as Sentance. Last March 66 percent of respondents gave the board letter grades of D or F. That has now jumped to 83 percent. This is a very significant increase and shows that Sentance is taking the board right down the tubes with him.
After months of news about the selection process last summer being manipulated, about an internal education department investigation saying department employees and one school board member worked in concert to discredit a superintendent applicant, a number of meetings by a legislative committee looking into wrong doing during the selection process, on-going news about large no-bid contracts for consultants and huge salaries for what seems an endless stream of administrative hires. it is no wonder that people are upset and blame the state board. After all, they hired Sentance.
And just how much this is all washing over to board members is evident in the lack of support for the two board members who voted for Sentance last August and continue to stand by him. Mary Scott Hunter is one. She is now running for Lt. Governor. When survey takers were asked if they would vote for Hunter, State Senator Rusty Glover or Representative Will Ainsworth (other announced Republican candidates), ony 2.68 percent chose Hunter. Glover got 16.48 and Ainsworth 16.90. Some 64 percent had no choice.
Betty Peters from District 2 is the other steadfast Sentance supporter. Her seat is up for election in 2018. At this moment only 1.55 percent say they will vote to re-elect her, while 84.53 percent say they will not.
In a nutshell, there is a tremendous “crisis of confidence” in those we expect to show leadership. In fact, 88 percent of respondents say so.
Given all of this, no one should be surprised that 77 percent say Sentance should be terminated ASAP.
Sentance’s goose is cooked. But the question is, can the state school board smell it?
It is time once again to get feedback through a survey.
Go here to respond.
Given the continuing controversy about the hiring of state superintendent Mike Sentance last August, the ensuing legal action and internal report from the state department, as well as a legislative investigation, about efforts to manipulate the outcome of the selection process, this survey is especially timely.
And while we welcome all responses, we are particularly interested in feedback from teachers, any current employees working in education in any way, and retired educators.
In the recent past, we have made too many education decisions in Alabama with limited input from the education community. This has to change. So respond ASAP and be sure to share with co-workers and ask them to as well.
Go here to see the survey.
And know as always, responses are ANONYMOUS. The instrument we use, Survey Monkey, makes certain of that.