Early on the afternoon of last Dec. 8, state superintendent Mike Sentance told the state board of education that fire and brimstone were about to be hurled at Alabama by people in Washington because we had mis-reported high school graduation rates. In his most grave voice, Sentance intoned, “This is the hard part…not just smoke, there is in fact fire.”
He then painted a picture of a rogue state department of education that defied the demands of the Federal government and purposefully distributed false information about high school graduation rates in an effort to mislead the public. For 30+ minutes Sentance talked darkly about the U. S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General checking records in Alabama, about misleading the public and giving a “black eye” to the state department.
You can hear and see it all here.
Notice the reaction from certain board members. Mary Scott Hunter seemed to choke back tears while saying, “I can’t speak. We’ve been lied to.” Betty Peters referred to the episode as a “cancer” and said she “felt betrayed.” Sentance vowed that from that day forward, any report issued by ALSDE would be accurate.
And the state department issued a news release Dec. 8 announcing “that the graduation rate was misstated to the people of Alabama–policymakers, educators, parents, students, all citizens–and to the USDE.”
So let’s fast forward to the present. After we finally get accurate data after a couple of false starts..
(In spite of Sentance’s pledge Dec. 8, when ALSDE did release 2016 grad rates the first time, all hell broke loose since data was seriously flawed. This was shortly pulled from the state website and Sentance did what he does best, hire a consultant to explain what went wrong. In the meantime, he put administrator Linda Felton-Smith on leave as a way of putting the blame on anyone but the guy in the front office. She has now retired, even though the consultant’s report concluded no single person was to blame.)
At last a comprehensive and accurate 2016 graduation rate was made public August 14.. Here is the most recent AL.com article about it. (There was also a release about the state rate on July 11 at a state school board meeting.)
The primary point of contention previously was that Alabama has been awarding “Alabama Occupational Diplomas” to special needs students who completed required course work and counting them as graduates. The folks in Washington say you can’t do this.
At the end of the day, when apples were compared to apples and those 1,202 AOD students in 2016 were counted as they were in 2015, our grad rate dropped from 89.3 to 89.2. A whopping one tenth of one percent. And eliminating these students gives a “:federal” grad rate of 87.1%.
This exceeds the national average.
But where is Mike Sentance? Has he said a word about the new rate? If he has, I’ve missed it.
Is this just another example of him being delighted to talk about bad news while seldom acknowledging anything we do that might be worthwhile or noteworthy? He has repeatedly taken shots at programs like Career Tech, AMSTI and ARI, he has said we have math teachers who can’t work in other states, he has thrown rocks at our university teacher training programs.
Apparently Sentance’s rule is: Bad news is good and Good news is bad.
It is an act that has grown very wearisome.