We all recall the passage from the Book of Matthew, “…will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain came, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell.”
This is an apt description of education policy legislation spoon fed the Alabama public in the last few years.
Houses built on sand. Or more exactly, policy built on logic that is actually more myth than anything else.
The Alabama Accountability Act is a classic example. We were told repeatedly that if you wag your finger at poorly-performing schools, competition will make them change their ways and live happily ever after. This is the classic, but wrong-headed, mantra of why we should have school “choice.”
Just look at the Business Education Alliance’s website (an offshoot of the Business Council of Alabama). “Just as competitors force businesses to improve quality, service and products for their customers in order to maintain a share of the market, school choice does the same for education. Failing schools are provided the incentive they need in order to improve or risk losing students to better performing facilities.”
Or this statement from the first page of the A-F school grade bill, “The Legislature further finds that performance-based incentives and increased autonomy are commonplace in the private sector and should be infused into the public sector as a reward for productivity.”
It is HOGWASH.
Under the directive of the accountability act we have now released a list of “failing schools” five times. If the above contentions were true all “failing schools” would soon not be failing. They would magically alter the circumstances which they labor under and become a shining example of how smart our legislative leaders are.
But our schools must operate in the real world, not in the land of smoke and mirrors where legislation comes from.
A review of all five lists of failing schools shows that there are 11 which have been on the failing school all five times. Not surprising, four of them are in very rural areas and seven are inner-city schools. Their collective poverty rate is at least 20 percent greater than the state average.
But how is this possible we ask.
Because it is impossible to change the challenges these schools face each day. What about the child who goes home to a ramshackle mobile home each afternoon where children care for each other and the TV is their primary caregiver? Can we switch him for one who gets off the bus in front of a four bedroom where books and magazines abound? Can we snap our fingers and suddenly his mother goes from welfare to a $45,000 a year job? Can we swap his largely AWOL daddy for one who drives home each afternoon ready to take him to Little League practice.
Oh we can beat our chest and declare that “sorry parents” are the cause of it all. And we would be correct. But did this child pick his parents any more than you or I did?
In March 2013 Rep. Terri Collins defended the accountability act in an article in the Decatur Daily. She said, “This bill clearly states that the tax credit only applies to those enrolled in or assigned to attend a failing public K-12 school in the state. ‘This is a strong motivator for failing schools to improve.'”
So we continue to write laws built on a house of sand that stand neither the test of common sense or “Alabama values.”
We ignore reality and get our ideas from Washington think tanks and blame teachers and principals for not being magicians.