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?.