I’ve not missed many cross roads in years of traveling Alabama, but I had never been to Bryant, AL until last Tuesday. And to get there, I went to Georgia and took a left. Seriously.
I was in search of Bryant junior high and teacher Ann Monroe, so from Fort Payne I headed up I-59 toward Chattanooga. Crossed into Georgia and when I got to Trenton went back across the interstate to Alabama. Sure enough, I eventually came to Bryant junior high which is about five miles from Georgia and two miles from Tennessee. It’s a K 8 school with only 152 students. Nearly 70 percent of whom are on free-reduced lunches which is one reason staff packs food for many students each Friday.
This is where Ann Monroe has taught all of her 13 years in education. Smack dab on top of Sand Mountain. About 25 miles from where she grew up in Pisgah and where she still lives.
“I love my little school and my students,” she says with passion. “There is no feeling in the world better than watching a child when ‘it all clicks.'”
It was this passion that prompted Ann to take a day off and make the roundtrip drive of 400+ miles to Montgomery to speak for three minutes when the Senate Education and Youth Affairs Committee held a hearing on the RAISE/PREP bill a few days ago. She told the committee about one of her eight-graders (who is repeating that grade) who missed 43 days of school the first semester because his mother is so involved with drugs that she doesn’t see that he goes to school.
“How well with this child be prepared to take a test that you want to use to determine if I am a good teacher or not?” she asked passionately. Her point was that this bill calls for using an evaluation process known as VAM that uses the test scores of students to determine how well teachers perform. It is a system that has never worked satisfactorily and been decried by such groups as the American Statistical Association. A system that has lead to more litigation than success.
Like any good teacher, Ann knows that many factors impact student test scores–not just who is leading the class. “What they want to do makes as much sense as blaming a dentist because his patients don’t brush their teeth,” Ann says.
The nine senators on the committee listened as Ann spoke. They did not ask her any questions about her school, her students, her training, her professional development, her degrees, nothing. When her time was gone she sat down.
Ann was one of nine people who spoke against this legislation. All of them were in education. Seven spoke in favor of the bill. Only two were in education.
The vote was 5-4 to send the bill on to the full Senate. In other words, five committee members voted against educators.
As I left Ann Tuesday, her parting words were this question, “Why do legislators keep getting in teachers’ business since they don’t seem to know much about how schools work?”
A fair question. And one hundreds of others are also asking.