Tea Party Spin Machine Short On Facts, Long On Hot Air

The news of Mike Sentance’s resignation as state school superintendent brought instant reaction from various factions of the Alabama Tea Party.  As usual, there was lot of chest-thumping and finger-pointing, but very few facts.

One of the best examples came from Quin Hillyer, a one-time writer for the old Mobile Press-Register.  (Have never met him, but listened to him pontificate at a meeting in Foley several years ago.  Surely one of the most self-infatuated people I’ve ever heard.  At one point he declared that he was an “award-winning journalist.”   Well, so am I.  But I never tell any audience I speak to that I am.)

Hillyer was one of nine candidates in the special election for an empty Congressional seat in District 1 in September 2013.  He came in fourth with 13.8 percent of the vote.

Hillyer laid out a list of reasons why Alabama would slide into the Gulf of Mexico without Sentance running education.  Here are the first two.

1.Sentance is a nationally recognized reformer who oversaw the Massachusetts school system when it was the highest-performing system in the country. Firing him just one year after he began the job (after having begun to agitate to fire him after just seven months) would make Alabama look flat-out idiotic — not to mention unfair.

2.Sentance already has earned the admiration of top officials in the Trump/DeVos federal Department of Education (DoE). They have told me so, in person.

Never have I seen so many mis-statements crammed into so few words.

Mike Sentance is NOT a nationally recognized reformer.  In fact, I can’t find anyone on the national education stage who has ever heard of him.  I happen to know some folks who are well-known in this arena.  Such as Diane Ravtich in NYC; Linda Darling-Hammond at Stanford; Bill Mathis of the National Center for Education Policy: David Berliner former president of the American Education Research Assn. and Professor Emeritus at Arizona State.  I asked them if they had ever head of Sentance.  None had.

Mike Sentance NEVER oversaw the Massachusetts school system.  From mid-1995 to mid-1996, Sentance had the title of Secretary of Education in Massachusetts.  This is a pure policy position appointed by the governor.  The person who oversees K-12 schools is the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education.  This is who is comparable to the Alabama state school superintendent.  Sentance NEVER had this position, in fact, when he tried to get it in 1998 he was unsuccessful.

In the mid-90s Massachusetts WAS NOT the highest performing system in the country. According to scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in 1996 they were number six in 4th grade math and number ten in 8th grade math.

(Speaking of NAEP scores, had Hillyer done his homework he would find that in the last two decades, Alabama scores have improved just as much as those in Massachusetts with the exception of 8th grade math.  And the achievement gap between “poverty” and “non-poverty students is less in Alabama than in the Bay State.  But since such facts don’t support Hillyer’s narrative, they are ignored apparently.)

As to the relationship to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, if she admires Sentance so much, why didn’t he know she was visiting schools in Mobile a few days ago?  Sentance found out about her visit after the fact.  Gosh, imagine such an oversight from one of your bosom buddies.

The occasion where I heard Hillyer was a debate about Common Core standards sponsored by the South Baldwin Republican Women.  Hillyer was a panelist opposed to them.  One of those supporting them that day was state school board member Mary Scott Hunter.

Yet in another Hillyer post bemoaning the fate of Mike Sentance, he praises Mary Scott Hunter (who supported Sentance to the end) saying she “was trying to do the right thing here.”  So he is suddenly praising someone who supports Common Core?  Or has Mary Scott switched her own position since she is running for Lt. Governor?

I will give Hillyer credit for one thing, he clings tenaciously to whatever position he has.  So I don’t think he flipped.

I admire passionate people.  This includes those in the Tea Party.  We need more people who will stand fervently for what they believe.  But being zealous about things that have been proven untrue helps no one.



2 Responses to Tea Party Spin Machine Short On Facts, Long On Hot Air

  1. Earning “the admiration of top officials in the Trump/DeVos federal Department of Education (DoE)” is certainly no
    desirable recommendation for any public school advocate!

    Privatization of public schools is a systematic priority of Republican lawmakers who want to further enrich their cronies and destroy the great leveler of society. Educating children is the furtherest thing in their minds, getting their hands on public school funds is their goal.” They are determined to destroy public education, the cornerstone of success. Public schools are the foundation of liberty, equality, justice, and the middle class, all reasons that Republicans hate them. Plus, of course, greed, because education is expensive but ignorance costs more in the end. It’s the “starve the beast” plan of the TEABAGGERS! Whittle away at funding until public schools are unable to succeed, then attack them for their failure, and offer private and charter schools operated by their rich supporters.

    Mr. Lee, while you have given credit to a couple of groups for influencing the State Board of Education and the Governor to
    rid Alabama’s students and educators of Sentance, You really deserve that credit by frequently pointing out the underhanded way in which he was hired and his inadequacy in the office of state superintendent. Thank you!