We Need To Stop Drinking The Florida Kool-Aid

“He could sell snow cones to Eskimos.”   Nothing could be more true if some of the Eskimos are a handful of Alabama legislators and “he” is Jeb Bush.  They gobble up any and everything Bush or his Foundation for Excellence in Education foundation peddles–no questions asked.

However, there are people in Florida who are not so gullible.  They have reviewed the last two decades of Bush’s so-called education reforms and see them for what they really are, mostly smoke and mirrors.

One of these realists is former University of Florida professor and researcher Sue Legg.  And with a doctorate in Educational Research, Measurement and Evaluation, she is well-qualified to dig through mountains of data and burst the Bush bubble.  Her latest report is “Twenty Years Later: The Jeb Bush A+ Plan Fails Florida’s Students.”  You can find the 66-page report here.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said in 2018 that Florida’s educational system was a model for the nation.  (That should be all the warning any sane person needs since DeVos is the most unqualified person to ever head the U.S. department.)  But according to the Network for Public Education, the reality in Florida is that large numbers of students are enrolled in an unstable charter sector, nearly half of which are run by for-profit companies, combined with no less than four different voucher programs with another on the way, NPE says Florida is poised to be the first state in which public education collapses.

Here is Dr. Legg’s summary of what is really going on in Florida.  And instead of continuing to embrace what doesn’t work in Florida, this should be a warning of Alabama.

“The A+ Plan is a failed attempt at a solution to the wrong problem. The problem is not low test scores. It is whether we value the children we have with all their diversity. It is common to hear the lament…”but what can be done to help children succeed?” There may be no single right answer. There are, however, better choices than those offered over the last twenty years. Local communities can insist on a balance between choice for the individual and access to a quality education for all children. As John Dewey said a hundred years ago, “What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all of its children. Any other ideal for our schools is narrow and unlovely; acted upon, it destroys our democracy.”

The trappings of school choice: test driven curriculum, school grades, and bonus systems should be replaced.  Options for schools must be based on inclusion, not exclusion if all children are to thrive. Educational policy must ensure that public schools have public oversight. And finally, the A+ Plan has shown that there are no ‘cheap’ choices. The assertion that high quality can be achieved with ‘little monies’ is false. If Floridians want more from their schools, they must do more for their schools.

There are seeds for constructive changes in public schools everywhere. Take for example, magnet programs that are selecting students not on test scores but on talents and interests. Consider schools based on collaborative learning strategies where teachers work together in teams to build hands-on experiences for student teams. Community schools are being created to bring into the schools the social services children and their families need. Adapting to change can be energizing if Floridians chose to work together.

Parents have the right to expect that the schools they choose represent high quality with good management oversight. Consider the alternative offered by the A+ Plan. First, student achievement can be increased not by appropriate funding of services, but by rising expectations and the consequences for failure. This view demoralizes teachers and students and creates more social inequities. The conclusion on the success of the A+ Plan to boost student achievement is:

Florida’s average student achievement is no better and no worse than in 2002. Retained fourth grade students lost their initial gains over time. Eighth graders were at the national average then and are now. The achievement gap for twelfth grade black and white students is wider than in 2002. Florida’s graduation rate is below the national average and one half of its graduates do not read at grade level.

The second assumption that the system of rewards and punishments will create competition and motivate teachers and students to meet higher academic standards is false. The conclusion on the effectiveness of this strategy is:

Bonus plans, school grades, and teacher evaluations based on student test scores are so unstable that they are not only ineffective, they are invalid and harmful. They reward those who are already successful. They create ‘choice churn’ in schools and communities.

Finally, the A+ Plan supposedly promotes choice to create competition. The lack of regulation and variable quality standards, which are integral to this view of school choice, promotes exploitation, self-interest and corruption.The conclusion regarding the impact of choice on raising student achievement is:

Proliferating cheap, low-quality private and charter schools spreads funding too thinly. It is creating serious problems that threaten to undermine all schools.

Reforming the neglect and abuse in the private sector alone will not solve basic inequities in our educational system. Funding to support additional services for low performing students and reasonable salaries for teachers is essential. Florida’s funding effort was ranked 43rd in the nation based on U.S. 2016 federal data. Improvements in funding will be hampered by the 2018 constitutional amendment that requires a super majority vote of 60% in both houses of the legislature to increase state revenue, taxes and fees. Early signals from the 2019 legislative session point to an effort to increase funding for the charter and private sectors and to continue the attack on public schools. It is a route to bankrupt our schools and rob our students of opportunity. Florida has some choices to make.”

Alabama public school students would be far better served if some of our legislators attended fewer out-of-state meetings to be brain-washed, did more homework, and talked to more teachers who understand the challenges and limitations we have in Alabama schools.

State Senate Tells State School Board And State Superintendent To “Hit The Road Jack.”

In the strongest rebuke possible, the Alabama senate told the state school board and state superintendent Eric Mackey, last week that it is time to have an appointed state board, not an elected one.  The vote was 30-0.  Not a single, solitary soul said they wanted to stick with our present system,  which has been in place about 50 years.

And somewhere in the back of the senate chamber Ray Charles must’ve been humming one of his all-time favorites, “Hit the road Jack and don’t you come back no more, no more.”

While some may not have seen this coming, it was only because they didn’t have their finger in the air to check the way the wind was blowing in the statehouse.  I know most of the members of our current state board, some much better than others.  I have been telling them that no one at the statehouse separates individual board members from the state superintendent and everything that goes on at the state department.  Everything is lumped together.  That’s just how things work in politics.

Tommy Bice retired as state superintendent March 31, 2016.  That was just a few days shy of 50 months ago.  It’s been 50 months of turmoil, missteps and uncertainty–just to put it mildly.

Here is what happened in those 50 months: 1) Mike Sentance, 2). Mary Scott Hunter and 3) Eric Mackey.  In a nutshell, this is why any senators who may have once supported the state department changed their minds.  The fact that NO ONE voted against the bill supports this contention for sure.

Sentence, a Boston attorney with no experience as a teacher, principal or local superintendent was a disaster from day one.  He had applied for the Alabama job in 2011 and did not even get an interview.  He applied for jobs in at least nine other states without success.  But we ignored all of this and on a 5-4 vote brought him to Montgomery.  He had no people skills, looked down his nose at Alabama and refused to try and understand why Alabama ain’t Massachusetts.

He was the beginning of the end with the legislature.

Mingled amongst all of this was state board member Mary Scott Hunter from Huntsville,.who was never a team player and will stand trial in Montgomery in August because of her meddling in the selection of Sentance.  A joint Senate-House committee held a number of hearings trying to find out what went awry with the selection process and how info turned up at the Ethics Commission.  Hunter was the primary focus of this inquiry.

Then in April 2018, again on a 5-4 vote, the board chose Mackey over two other finalists, Kathy Murphy superintendent of the Hoover city system and Craig Pouncey, superintendent of the Jefferson County system.  Mackey’s only experience as a superintendent was directing the small (1,700 students ten years ago) Jacksonville city system.

No doubt one of Mackey’s huge missteps was terminating long time education department legislative liaison Tracey Meyer in his first week as superintendent.  He said her position was being eliminated.  No one believed him because it is critical this department works constantly with legislators.  Especially since they handle the Education Trust Fund budget of billions and billions of dollars.

Meyer was in her position for years, was respected by people in the statehouse and had worked with many legislators through a number of sessions.  She had tremendous institutional knowledge.  To many in the statehouse, her dismissal made no sense.

The state board released their first year evaluation of Mackey at their May 9 board meeting.  It left much to be desired.  His composite score was only 3.67 on a 5 point scale.  Especially revealing was the score of Governor Kay Ivey.  Even though she was one of the five votes who picked him to be state superintendent, her composite score for him was only 3.82.  She has been a strong supporter of the legislation to go to an appointed board that will select the state superintendent.

The senate bill now goes to the house.  There is little doubt it will easily pass and go to the governor for her signature.  Since the legislation is a proposed amendment to the state constitution, it will be placed on the ballot for a statewide vote in the March 2020 presidential primary.

Will voters approve it?  While we hear people say they do not want to see a vote taken away from the public, my friend, Tallapoosa County superintendent Joe Windle, makes a valid point.  “If we were telling people in Tallapoosa County they could not vote for school board members we would run into a buzz saw,” says Windle.  “But this is because they have an emotional tie to the local school board and this is not the case with the state board.”

He makes a good point.  Go to the nearest Wal-Mart and ask 100 people who their state school board member is and it is unlikely you would get one correct answer.  Yes, this board is important.  But far removed from the average voter.

The argument for elected vs. appointed can be debated vigorously both ways.. But the mood of the Alabama senate can not be debated.  They are sick and tired of what they have seen for the last four+ years.  And for me, that is not a surprise at all.

Editor’s note:  Bad, bad timing. The senate vote  was on Thursday, May 16.  And in what can only be called terrible timing, apparently the state department of education had planned for some time to have a western themed party on Friday, May 17 as part of “employee appreciation day.”.  Pictures from the event, including one of Eric Mackey riding an inflatable horse, quickly showed up on the internet.  As one emailer said to me, “Mackey must have been practicing riding off into the sunset.”



Once Again, Woodland Prep Charter Puts Out Bogus Info

We’ve told you before how Woodland Prep charter supporters (as well as people at the state department of education in Montgomery) have tried to support their case by using numbers that are dead wrong.  Read about this here.

This time it is their high-priced management consultant, Soner Tarim of Sugarland, TX, who is trying to pull the wool over the eyes of people with “data” that no one can verify or substantiate.  Tarim just sent an email to some of the people opposing Woodland Prep in which he cites math proficiency levels for the five high schools in the system.

Just one problem though.  Where the hell did he get them?  They certainly did not come from data kept by the state department of education for the last five years.  For instance, he claims the math proficiency rate at Millry high school is two percent.  This is a far cry from the 40 percent most recently reported by the state.

Tarim claims math proficiency at Washington County high is two percent, Fruitdale high is three percent, McIntosh high is four percent, Millry high is three percent and Leroy high is eight percent.  I checked data from the state going back to the 2014-15 school year.  Tarim’s numbers don’t come close to anything the state shows.

While it’s true math numbers could be higher in all the Washington County high schools (and which school system couldn’t say this?) but what Tarim wants people to believe is a complete and total misrepresentation.  As any good educator will tell you, the true purpose of data is to measure growth over time.  In this regard, Washington County is doing well.  All five high schools had higher scores in 2017-18 than they did in 2014-15.

Most recent data (like real data  (not something conjured up by someone whose ultimate goal is to make money) show Fruitdale at 25 percent, Leroy at 37 percent, McIntosh at 32 percent, Millry at 40 percent and Washington County high at 31 percent.

Academic growth and graduation rates shows Washington County improving steadily.  Growth numbers are: Fruitdale 76 percent, Leroy 86 percent, McIntosh 96 percent, Millry 84 percent and Washington County high 87 percent.  Grad rates range from 88 percent to 97 percent.  All but one of these exceeds the state graduation rate of 89 percent.

By Tarim’s logic, since Nick Saban won seven and lost six games in his first game at the University of Alabama, they should now hire a new coach.  Ignore the national championships since then.

And this is the guy some folks want in total control of charter schools in Washington County and Montgomery?  Someone who is obviously more interested in deception and lining his pockets than anything else.  How did we sink this low?

Time For A Full-Scale Investigation Of The Charter School Commission

If you are an old-timer like me, or maybe just someone who listened while your daddy told you about the “good old days,” you know that Dick Tracy was the square-jawed detective in the comic books and Sergeant Friday was the star of Dragnet back in the days of black and white TV.  Like all good detectives, they always got to the bottom of things.

Which is exactly what we need right now in the case of the state charter school commission.  We need to find out why they have ducked and dodged and failed to look out for the best interests of students and school systems in their unabashed zeal to sprinkle the landscape with charter schools–whether the local community wanted them or not.

Unfortunately, we tend to pass laws in this state and then never look back to see if they are working as we thought they would.  We just create things, forget about them, and have no oversight.

Would we buy a new car and then expect it to run forever without changing the oil from time to time, getting new tires, checking the air filter, getting new brakes and on and on?  Why don’t we treat legislation the same way?

And goodness knows, if we have learned anything from the Washington County charter debacle, it is that we need to ask lots and lots of questions about how the state charter school commission operates.  In other words, is their oil running low?

Either the Senate or the House education policy committee needs to open an investigation and interview all the players from both sides.

Here are some of the questions that need to be asked:

The law says before a charter is approved, the commission will look to see what the current situation is in regards to the quality of local schools.  In this case, Washington County schools got a B on the last state report card.  That is as good as any county system in southwest Alabama and better than several.  In addition, there is not a private school in Washington County, which speaks volumes as to how the local community feels about its public schools.

The law says the commission should determine how much local support there is for a charter school.  One of the ways they do this is by holding community meetings to hear from the pros and cons.  The commission did this.  One of the meetings was at the Chatom library.  I have been told that about 50 people came.  Those who  opposed the charter greatly outnumbered those in support.  A commission staff member videoed the meeting and said she would show the video to commission board members.  Was this done?

This same staff member later said the commission was unaware of opposition.  Yet, prior to the commission taking up this application on May 14, 2018, opponents sent several hundred postcards to commission board members expressing their view.  (And then were rebuked for having done so when they came to the meeting.)

Why did the commission ignore the recommendation of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers to deny the application of Woodland Prep and approve it instead?   NACSA tells me they have reviewed at least 500 charter applications in the past 10 years so it would seem they should know what they are doing.

NACSA was hired by the commission to review applications from the beginning.  Records show the state paid them $113,000 for their work.  However, the commission no longer uses them and instead, uses the Auburn Center for Evaluation.  Try as I might, I can not find out if this group has any experience in evaluating charter applications.

Does the commission do their due diligence on applications?  The were 22 “support” letters submitted with the Woodland Prep application.  But a review  of them calls several things into question.  Why were some not signed?  Is an unsigned letter legitimate?  One of the letters never mentions Woodland Prep, or even charter schools.  How is this a support letter?  At least one of the writers of a letter has documentation that they asked the Woodland Prep folks to not use their letter.  But it was submitted any how.

The application lists someone as a “team partner” without their knowledge.  This was posted on the charter website for a year before this person discovered what was done.  They are beyond irate now.

Since the charter commission is a public body, why are not all their meeting minutes posted on the commission web site?  Minutes from meetings in 2018 and 2019 are posted.  But not ones from 2015, 2016 and 2017.  The commission had held 17 meetings since August 2015.  More than half of them have been teleconferences, including five of the last six?.  How conducive is this to being open to the public?

Where is state superintendent Eric Mackey?  For months now he has said over and over that he is powerless to monitor the state charter commission.  However, on page 25, line 18 of the original charter law it plainly states; “The department shall oversee the performance and effectiveness of all authorizers established under this act.”

I have shown this to a number of lawyers, without fail, each has agreed that it DOES gives the state department jurisdiction over the charter commission.  Yet Mackey’s lawyers can’t seem to figure this out.

State board member Ella Bell, whose district includes Washingt9on County, recently asked the superintendent to give her the status of Washington County.  Here was the written reply she got, done by state department staff members.

“There have been many questions posed regarding the department’s oversight of Woodland Prep in Washington County.  At present, Woodland Prep is not a school, therefore, we have very little oversight nor can we hold them accountable for any action thus far.  Based on our review of its recent actions, Woodland Prep has not violated any of the Charter Commission rules.  A retired superintendent (Dr. Bobby Hathcock) has been contracted to provide assistance to the Washington County School System.”

That’s it.  One paragraph. Four sentences.  Seventy-five words.  How did they reach this conclusion?  Apparently by asking the charter commission.  They certainly did not talk to anyone in Washington County because they have documentation of deadlines missed and other non-compliance issues.  And the mention of Bobby Hathcock is definitely disingenuous because he is working with the county on another matter.  In fact, when someone with the school system there asked him about the charter school he quickly told them that he knew nothing about it.

Yes, we need both Dick Tracy and Sergeant Friday working to get to the bottom of this.  But since they are both now in retirement, we need to ask the legislature to get  involved.  After all, they are the ones who enabled this stuff to all happen.

Both the Senate and House have education policy committees.  This is the logical place for an inquiry to begin.

In the senate Senator Tim Melson  (tim.melson@alsenate.gov) chairs this committee, Senator Donnie Chesteen, a former educator (dchesteen@panhandle.rr.com) is Vice Chair and Senator Vivian Figures (vfigures@gmail.com) is ranking minority member.

In the House, Rep. Terri Collins (Terri@terricollins.org) is chair, Rep. Danny Garrett (dannygarrett44@gmail.com) is Vice Chair and Rep. Rod Scott (rodhscott@gmail.com ) is ranking minority member.

Send them each an email and politely ask them to open an investigation into what the charter commission and the state superintendent are doing–or not doing.  Or just forward this article to them.  Who knows, they may know where to find Dick Tracy.





State Superintendent Eric Mackey’s First Evaluation Leaves A Lot To Be Desired

Eric Mackey has now been on the job for one year.  Which means it is time to grade his performance.  So the last thing on the agenda at the May 9 state board meeting was giving him and all board members the results of his first evaluation.  There was no discussion.

Trish Crain with AL.com took an extensive look at his scores and how each board member rated Mackey.

Here is my summary.  What jumps out is that if you took this report card home to mama, you would probably hand it to her and run.  Because after all the numbers are crunched and sorted, his composite score on a scale of 1-5 was only 3.67.   If 5 is an A, 4 is a B and 3 is a C, he got a C+.  This does not get you on the honor roll or in the Beta Club.

Generally the scores fell into two groups, those who voted for Mackey to become superintendent and those who did not.  Of the present  board, only Jeff Newman, Cynthia McCarty and Governor Kay Ivey voted for him last year.  Both Betty Peters and Mary Scott Hunter who supported Mackey, are no longer on the board.

Tracie West, who replaced Peters and came on the board in January, participated in the evaluation.  Wayne Reynolds replaced Mary Scott Hunter.  However, due to a lingering illness he did not participate.  He did not attend the May 9 meeting.

Newman gave Mackey the highest rating of anyone, 4.62.  Next was McCarty with 4.46, Yvette Richardson with 4.38, Trace West with 4.04,  Governor Ivey with 3.82, Jackie Zeigler with 3.38, Stephanie Bell with 1.33 and Ella Bell with 1.0.  Obviously Mackey has done a poor job of mending fences with Zeigler and Stephanie Bell and Ella Bell.  And were I him, I would be very concerned that at this point, the governor doesn’t think he is worthy of the honor roll or the Beta Club.

Mackey was rated in six categories: Goals; Personal qualities; Performance and key job responsibilities,; Relations with the public; Reflective assessment individual and Reflective assessment, board as a whole.

His strongest score with 4.41 was Personal qualities and weakest with 3.32 was Performance and key job responsibilities.  In other words, the board has less confidence in him to do his job than anything else.  That is certainly a cause for concern.

However, as pointed out by the Montgomery Advertiser here. we do know he likes hotdogs.  Though for the life of me I can’t figure out how going to lunch is press worthy or has much of anything to do with making schools better.