Recently I asked educators across the state what they would tell Governor Kay Ivey if they had 15 minutes to meet with her. Answers came from retired superintendents, current superintendents, principals, teachers and school board members.
They were well thought out and several concerns emerged over and over.
The impact of poverty was mentioned often, as was mental health. Things like too much attention to testing and misuse of test scores by politicians and lack of input from educators when legislators are crafting education policy.
One superintendent said she would invite the governor to spend an entire day in one of her classrooms. “Witness children with severe behavior issues, students who could care less about being in school and the hard work that teachers put in. Don’t bring the media, come alone and stay all day.”
“Even though the governor was once a teacher, that was 50 years ago. A LOT has changed since then,” she added.
A teacher added, “I would like Governor Ivey to sit down with teachers, without administrators or recorders, and have a discussion.”
“Many teachers struggle working with violent children with mental health issues, said a just-retired superintendent. “Alabama has far too few mental health workers,” said another former superintendent. “And schools are expected to take up the slack.”
Editor’s note: Alabama has 91 mental health professions for every 100,000 people. This is the lowest concentration of any state in the nation. Massachusetts has over six times as many.
“There should be more funding for special education,” said a principal.
A former superintendent said he would stress to the governor the “perils of poverty” and its affect on educational outcomes. “Until we address the needs of the whole child in many schools, we will continue to see poor results,” said another retired superintendent.
The lack of input from education professionals came up time after time. “Educators should be kept in the forefront of all education decisions,” said a former superintendent. “Education should not be used as a bully pulpit by politicians. A starting point would be requiring that educators vet and provide feedback and guidance on all bills and action regarding education.
“Had Amendment One passed, the governor would have been required to appoint an advisory team of educators and others to make recommendations on education issues. Though the amendment failed, this is a great idea and the governor should do this anyway.”
“Quit painting school systems, teachers and students as failure on an assessment (NAEP) that does not reflect our curriculum or the abilities of all our children,” said a former superintendent. “Public education needs to be respected and supported by political leaders in Alabama. Collaboration and teamwork are needed to move education forward in this state,” said another superintendent.
“All the propaganda put out to pass Amendment One was a slap in the face to every teacher in the state. And we wonder why there is a teacher shortage? Why would anyone want to become a teacher when special interests spend $500,000 to say how bad teachers are?”
Many respondents would like to give the governor a quick lesson about testing, what it is and what it isn’t.
A teacher said, “We are worried about a damn test score that does not mean a thing other than how good is this kid is at taking a test. I teach a bunch of students who have no business in an academic class room all day long. They need a real vocational school to work program, not instruction on how to pass the ACT.”
Another teacher said, “Too much mandated testing. And what good is it when we keep changing the assessment? We lose way too many instructional days on testing.”
A former superintendent was especially critical of National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests. “This is being used incorrectly, yet it was the basis for why some thought we should pass Amendment One. This was a joke.”
Others would like to tell the governor about the need for smaller class sizes and expanding dual enrollment opportunities
“Dual enrollment has given students the opportunity to accelerate completion of high school and also exposed them to valuable technical programs that turn into career paths for them when they graduate.” said a former superintendent.
Finally, one current superintendent said his teachers need a time out from all the new stuff thrown at them each year to integrate into what is already a too heavy workload. “We’re asked to deal with bullying, suicide prevention, mandatory reporting, civics tests, handwriting, literacy rules and Lord knows what all. All we end up with is a patchwork of favorite issues that somebody has borrowed from some other state. It’s no wonder teachers don’t stay with us.”
Education today is extremely complex. It can not be accurately evaluated with a handy little set of numbers. Nor can it be “fixed” by rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic as Amendment One wanted to do.
As chairman of the state school board, Governor Ivey would be well served to spend face time with educators like those I talked to.