For the most part, most state school board meetings are rather bland (unless they deal with selecting a new state superintendent). Business is conducted in a routine manner without much disagreement, resolutions are passed commending different people and programs, retirees may be saluted, etc.
But the Oct 13 one, the first for new superintendent Michael Sentence) was a bit more lively because of two issues. One was to adopt new Alabama administrative code, rule 290-4-1-03 pertaining to education accountability. Better known as A-F school grades.
This law was passed in 2012 by Rep. Terri Collins of Decatur, who now chairs the House Education Policy Committee (she did not hold this position in 2012). The legislation has been a source of contention from the outset. Educators contend that it serves no useful purpose other than to try to shame schools that receive low grades. They also point out the extreme difficulty of capturing all the nuances that make up a school in a single letter grade.
A number of states have tried A-F, with extremely mixed results. Virginia passed an A-F law and then repealed it before even giving it a try. Collins says after Florida began using school grades in 1999 “schools improved dramatically.”
But as this report points out, the changes in Florida were more because officials kept tinkering with the grading system than about academic improvement.
Alabama put together a task force to come up with a grading system. I know several members of this group well. Truth is that we spent thousands of dollars and thousands of hours on this exercise without coming up with a system that everyone could agree on. Finally the task force threw up their hands and disbanded. Members of this group tell me that the most recent grading system they have seen bears little resemblance to their original work.
So when it came time to pass the agenda item, it hit a snag and was rejected by all board members except Matt Brown of Baldwin County. Here is the AL.com report by Mike Cason. It is obvious that Collins is not a happy camper with the board’s decision.
I have contended that the Collins’ bill is suspect because Alabama Code Section 16-3-4 says the state board of education has responsibility for grading public schools, not the legislature.
The other resolution that got attention at this meeting was one authorizing an investigation into the unauthorized and potentially illegal dissemination of confidential information.
This deals with the “smear sheet” given to board members on July 12 anonymously claiming that state school superintendent applicant Craig Pouncey did not write his own doctoral dissertation in 2009.
The resolution says, in part:
WHEREAS, the Alabama State Board of Education has found and determined the following regarding the information believed to have been disseminated to the Alabama Ethics Commission: (1) Said information was of a ‘private’ and ‘confidential’ nature and due to be protected from unauthorized disclosure; (2) Said information was obtained by potentially unlawful means; and (3) The manner in which said information was obtained and disseminated to the Ethics Commission was, possibly, in violation of state laws concerning the handling of privileged, confidential, and/or sensitive personal information:
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, By the Alabama State Board of Education that the Board hereby requests an investigation by the Alabama Ethics Commission and the Alabama State Attorney’s General’s Office into the unauthorized and potentially illegal dissemination in 2016 of information concerning the position of Alabama State Superintendent of Education
Again, board member Matt Brown of Baldwin County was the only dissenting vote.
No one seems to know just how this matter will proceed from this point, but at least a long overdue first step, has been taken.
Among questions waiting for answers are: since the Ethics Commission does not consider anonymous complaints, why was this info sent to them? Who sent it? Who directed that it be sent? How did someone access the state education department’s computer system to retrieve emails from 2009 that were used to “support” the contention of the complaint?
Stay tuned as this issue may get very interesting before the dust settles. Especially considering that Senators Gerald Dial and Quinton Ross passed a resolution in the August special session to convene their own investigation and that Pouncey has retained a Montgomery attorney in an attempt to clear his name.