As soon as I read that we will soon hire a consultant, pay them $750,000, and study the state department of education, all because the legislature wants to do so, two thoughts came immediately to mind.
One was a favorite saying of my late farmer friend, Rufus Coody of Vienna, GA, “Like a billy goat needs a song book.” The second was about the $500,000 study state superintendent Mike Santance got some of his friends in Massachusetts to do on Montgomery schools after he took control of them. It was a total waste of time and money and I would be surprised if anyone in the Montgomery school system could find a copy of it today.
And, of course, we will use scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) as a benchmark to see where we are. As I have pointed out many times, NAEP is the most misused education standard there is. This is a random sample of a few thousand fourth and eighth graders done every two years to check math and reading ability. It is only useful when you look at growth over a number of years. But politicians never do this. They just consider a state’s ranking, never giving thought to how much top-performing states spend per student, demographics of a state’s students, poverty levels, etc.
Using them to compare Alabama to all other states is akin to picking a national football champion after the first game of the season.
Of course, we have a bloated state department of education bureaucracy in Montgomery. But we don’t need to spend $750,000 to find this out. All you need to do is ask a bunch of local superintendents who get buried under an avalanche of paperwork generated in Montgomery. It’s a topic that comes up in nearly every conversation I have with a superintendent.
If we insist on doing studies, what about one to look at the impact of decisions on education policy made by the legislature? What good are school letter grades of A through F? How well is the appointed charter school commission required by the charter law of 2015 working? Why do we continue to take money out of every classroom in the state as directed by the Alabama Accountability Act of 2013 so about 3,500 kids can attend a private school?
Or what about one trying to figure out why members of the legislature consider themselves to be “education experts” from the moment they set foot in Montgomery.
Last night I sat around a table in Birmingham with a group of teachers. One of them has 18 students in her kindergarten class. Nine of them can not speak English. The same nine do not know how to flush a toilet or what toilet paper is for.
How will another study help her and her students? We would be far better off to take this $759,000 and get some English language learner teachers for her school than to enrich another consultant.
And Rufus Coody was right. We need this like a “Billy goat needs a song book.”