Once Again, Alabama Policy Institute Gets It Wrong

Former state senator Phil Williams of Gadsden is Director of Policy Strategy for the Alabama Policy Institute.  He recently sent an article to state media pounding his chest about how Alabama has fallen behind Mississippi on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test scores.

Unfortunately, most of what he said was fiction, rather than fact.

For example, he exclaims, “School choice is evil they said!  Well, Mississippi has put in new choice measures and other reforms in leadership and approach in education with, obviously, strong effect.”

The only thing obvious about this statement is that Williams made no attempt to find out what has really happened in Mississippi.

So, I sent Williams’ article to Nancy Loome, executive director of the Parents Campaign in Jackson, MS and asked for her thoughts.  (The Parents Campaign is a non-profit that has done amazing work in Mississippi to help the legislature understand what is really important to move education forward.)

Here is what she told me:

Ha! Crediting school choice with Mississippi’s gains is absolutely laughable, and it is incredibly offensive to the PUBLIC school teachers who worked so hard to move their students forward. We have the most restrictive charter school law in the country. Because of that, we have authorized only six charter schools in the four years our state has allowed them (less than a quarter of one percent of Mississippi public school students are enrolled in charter schools), and their performance has not been stellar..

Our only voucher program is for children with special needs. It serves very few children and none of them participate in NAEP.

Mississippi’s gains are due to targeted funding for teacher training in LETRS (research-based literacy instruction methodology) and for literacy coaches in grades K-3. The gains track directly with spending in early-grade literacy instruction.”

In other words, Williams has absolutely no clue what he is talking about.  His suggestion that charter schools account for Mississippi’s success is like saying a football team began winning because they changed their water boy.

As to be expected, the once senator goes on to attack and blame the Alabama Education Association, the elected state school board and universities that train teachers.

Williams’ implication in all of this is that somehow the challenges of Alabama education lie solely at the feet of liberal Democrats who only want to keep the status quo.

Again, he is wrong.

At this moment we are surveying people across the state in regards to the vote on March 3 as to whether we should switch from an elected school board to an appointed board.

More than 600 people have now responded.  Some 38 percent identify themselves as Republicans and 38 percent say they are Independent.  Exactly the opposite of who Williams wants to blame.

And 57 percent believe our education is going in the wrong direction.  So, they are not clinging to whatever the heck Williams thinks the status quo is.

But get this.  Why are we not progressing?  Because no one has faith or confidence in the legislature that Williams was a part of for eight years.  When asked to give the legislature a letter grade, 73 percent handed out either a D or F.  Only 20 percent gave them a C.

As to Williams’ plea to switch from an elected board to one that is appointed (like we had 50 years ago that was deemed to be failing). 97 percent say they will vote NO on this amendment.

Why are they voting no?  Some 72 percent say they do not trust the state senate to appoint the state school board.  In addition, 96 percent say they have very little confidence in senate majority leader Del Marsh to act in the best interest of our schools.

(Under the proposed amendment, the governor will appoint members to the state board—but they must be confirmed by the state senate which Marsh runs with an iron hand.)

Rather than continuing to bellow about what he obviously knows nothing about, Phil Williams would be well-served to go spend four hours as a teacher’s aide in a high poverty classroom to get a taste of the real world.  Who knows, he might even figure out why all those republican teachers don’t like the legislature where he used to serve.

He would certainly find it far different than the fantasy world in which he now lives.

Why Go Back To A Failed System?

So the legislature wants us to vote on March 3 to switch from an elected state school board to an appointed one.  But you have to wonder how many supporters of this change know that we once had an appointed state board that was deemed to be failing us–so we changed to what we have now.

Why did we change?

To put more control of education in the hands of voters across the state and to eliminate too much politics in decisions made as to how to run education.  In other words, we lost confidence in a hand-picked state school board–which is exactly what senate majority leader Del Marsh now wants.

The legislature created the Alabama Education Study Commission in 1967.  Governor Lurleen Wallace appointed Auburn University president Harry Philpott to chair this group.  When Albert Brewer became governor on May 7, 1968 he made the work of this commission one of his top priorities.

This report was released on Jan. 16, 1969.  Part of this effort was two days of public hearings in Montgomery in November 1968.  Among the many recommendations was to go from an elected state school superintendent and appointed state board to an elected state board who  would appoint the superintendent.

It was reasoned that an elected board would be more responsive to voters–rather than to a single appointing authority–and that an appointed superintendent could devote full time to education, instead of constantly campaigning to keep their office.

The appointed  board served six-year terms and was appointed by the governor.

Governor Brewer called a special session of the legislature in May 1969 to deal with study commission recommendations.  Part  of his “call” for the special session was, “Legislation to provide for the selection and qualifications of state superintendent of education, local superintendents of education, state board of education and local boards of education.”

Such legislation was passed and an election to vote on this, and a number of other issues, was held on Dec. 9, 1969.

The amendment to switch from appointed to elected passed with 54% of the vote.  (66,078 to 56,420)

The education community was solidly in favor of this change.  Back then, the Alabama Congress of  Parents and Teachers (PTA) was a real power and strongly supported the switch.

The first vote for an elected board was in November 1970 with members taking office in January 1971.

This move was not a rush to judgment   It was a very deliberate process with input from many people around the state.  But compare this is what the legislature has now done.  As best can be determined, a handful of folks decided they know more than anyone else about how to best govern our state school system and they cobbled together this legislation.  It was anything but a deliberative, reasonsed approach.

Given their track record in passing such things as the A-F school grading system, the Alabama Accountability Act and the charter school law (which is governed by an appointed board) it’s very difficult to put much faith in education policy cooked up in the Alabama statehouse.

It’s also doubtful that many supporters of Amendment One have bothered to learn the history of why we now do what we do.

If they had, why would they be saying we should go back to a failed system?

 

Fixation On Test Scores Results In Confusion And Just Plain Nonsense

Within the last few weeks, Alabama educators have been bombarded by test score results that do precious little to advance progress in our schools and have given politicians and non-educators ample opportunity to wring their hands and declare the sky is falling.

First came the annual school letter grade report that indicated significant improvement for many schools.  This prompted some educators to put out press releases and past themselves on the back.

This bill was passed in 2012 and sponsored by Rep. Terri Collins of Decatur.  Most educators saw it then for what it really is–virtually meaningless since it concentrates on only math and reading.  To prove this point, remember that then state superintendent Tommy Bice appointed a blue-ribbon committee to work with Collins on developing a formula to determine school grades.  This was chaired by then Mobile superintendent Martha Peek, who retired in 2018 with 47 years of experience.

Only one problem.  They could not please Collins and after two years the committee disbanded.  After several more efforts, a formula that satisfied Collins was cobbled together.

I am as guilty as anyone else of bragging about schools making improvement in their scores.  But like any good educator, I know we are just playing games.  I have talked to countless educators and they all agree that these scores are practically meaningless.  Teaching students how to be better test takers is NOT education.

Just how foolish are these scores?

Another creation of the legislature shows us.

We passed the Alabama Accountability Act in 2013, the one that diverts money from the Education Trust Fund to give students scholarships to private schools.  This law directs us to declare that the bottom six percent of all schools in the state should be labeled as “failing.”

Where I come from if you are “failing” you get an F.  But not in Alabama.

The latest list of failing schools is now public.  There are 75 schools on the list, including a charter school in Mobile.  But did all 75 get an F on the school report card?  Not even close.

Only 19 of them got an F, while 43 were D, 11 were C and two were B.

That’s right.  A few weeks after being told they were a B school, J. F. Shields high in Monroe County and R. A. Hubbard high in Lawrence County were told they were “failing” schools.

No wonder educators get frustrated when they have to contend with this kind of politically created nonsense.

And now, fresh on the heels of such foolishness comes all the weeping and wailing about Alabama’s ranking on NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) scores.  As we said here many times, NAEP scores are surely the most mis-understood and mis-interpreted measures in education.  Go here and here.

So overnight here we go again.  All the politicians and non-educators rush to decry the state of education in Alabama.  It is as predictable as the sun coming up in the east every morning.

The best example of the silliness of giving too much credence to NAEP came in 2016 when Governor Robert Bentley cast the fifth and deciding vote to hire Massachusetts native Mike Sentance as state superintendent because Massachusetts had the highest 4th grade math scores in the nation according to NAEP.  Bentley was convinced that somehow Sentance could push Alabama to the top of the pile because he had roots in Massachusetts.

And we all know how that experiment worked out.

Of course we must do better in Alabama.  That has always been the case and always will be.  But we need to listen to our best educators for how to go about it and ignore the politicians and non-educators who have proven over and over that they are clueless.  And can’t make up their mind if J. F. Shields and R.  A. Hubbard are good schools or terrible schools.

Once Again, Del Marsh Shows How Little He Knows About Education

Bless his heart, senate majority leader Del Marsh just can’t stop talking to reporters and proving that he is clueless abut our public education system.  You can read his latest examples of just plain dumb statements in this article.

As expected, Marsh tries to explain why he wants Alabama voters to give up their right to vote for members of the state school board and let him and his cronies in the state senate handpick board members.  Let’s take a closer look at some of his statements.

“I don’t know if it’s personalities, I can’t really say. But at the end of the day, we should all want what is best for the kids of this state and to produce the best education system we can.” Marsh said. “What we’ve got right now does not appear to be functioning and it’s definitely not giving us the results in education, in terms of reading, mathematics, and ACT scores; it’s not happening.”

Senator, what is “not functioning” is you and other legislators passing education laws that make absolutely no sense and simply burden educators with more hoops to jump through for no good reason.  Take the charter school law you sponsored for beginners.  And don’t forget, charter schools are governed by an APPOINTED commission, you know, like you want to govern all of K-12 education.  How is this working?

Take a trip to Washington County and look at the disaster of Woodland  Prep charter and the antics of their conman “education consultant” Soner Tarim.  Talk about something “not functioning.”  And all because of a law you sponsored and put in place.

Marsh also said he does not believe this is taking away the voters right because they will still be able to have a voice in the process through the confirmation process that each appointee has to go through.

“It allows citizens to come down and sit in on that process and to find out what these people’s background really is and their philosophy in education,” Marsh said. “It is a better process to put people in governance for the long-term benefit for the state of Alabama. I firmly believe that.”

Sweet Jesus.  Did Senator Marsh really say this?  This is another classic example of a politician thinking voters are morons and will fall for anything.

So the public can come to Montgomery and sit in on a confirmation process in which they have ZERO input and this is better than attending a political forum where you can ask questions of candidates for state school board what their positions are?

This makes as much sense as saying I can go to an Auburn football game and boo when Gus Malzahn makes another bone-headed decision and he will change.

“You have to look at the big picture,” Marsh said. “Yes we had some improvement but we’ve got a long way to go.”

The real problem we have is that Senator Marsh does not see ANY picture, much less a big one.  He does not understand that when you are dealing with 700,000 students who all have different needs and challenges, improvement of any sort is very, very slow.  For him, the BIG picture is focused entirely on test scores, which are hardly a measure of what is going on in a classroom.  Teaching a child to become a better test taker is NOT education.

I recently attended an awards ceremony in Gadsden where various people and organizations were celebrated for their work with students with disabilities.  It is amazing to see what is being done to prepare these students to become productive, taxpaying citizens.  This is not easy work.  It takes extremely dedicated educators to do it.  But in the senator’s world, none of this counts.

“We’re going to continue to push accountability because the tax payer demands that, and they should,” Marsh said. “And it’s our job to be as accountable as we can.”

So how about Senator Marsh taking a look at his very own Alabama Accountability Act, passed in 2013, with the promise that that it would improve the lives of some of our most challenged students in some of our most challenged school systems?  We have now diverted $145 million from the Education Trust Fund so that 3,600 students can get scholarships to private schools.  A program that the University of  Alabama has studied and says has negligible benefit to those getting scholarships.

In my visits to schools around the state and conversations with countless educators, I have yet to find just ONE who has praise for Senator Marsh and his misguided efforts to impact our schools.

Instead, I remember the conversation with a principal who spoke with Marsh last spring when he wanted to do away with the Alabama College & Career Ready standards.  The principal asked the senator what standard did he most object to.

Marsh replied that he had no idea what these standards are all about.  The principal told me, “And I wasted 12 minutes of my life talking to this guy.”

Senator, you are a smart man.  But you embarrass yourself every time you talk about education.

 

 

Jackie Zeigler Launches Campaign To Stop Amendment One

Jackie Zeigler serves on the state school board from District 1, which includes seven counties in southwest Alabama.  She is adamantly opposed to Amendment One, that would replace the elected state board with one appointed by the governor and approved by the state senate.  The amendment will be on the ballot on March 3, the date of the presidential election.

She has a Facebook page titled: “Vote No on CA1: Keep your right to vote on State School Board.”

“As representative for State Board of Education District One, I am vehemently opposed to any attempt to take away the voice of the people. Elimination of your elected State Board of Education Constitutional officers would be one step closer to having the Educational Trust Fund fall into the hands of individuals whose main intent may not be our students’ best interest. We must continue to be aware of the consequences that will result from this attempt to take away the power of the citizens.

I find it extremely insulting that our Governor and legislators think it is OK for citizens to vote for them–but not state school board members,” says Zeigler.

When a vacancy occurs on the state school board, the governor appoints someone to fill the remainder of that term.  Zeigler had an up close and personal look at how well this works, when Governor Robert Bentley appointed Matt Brown to District 1 in 2015.  Brown had never  attended a public school and played a leading role in defeating a tax vote to fund Baldwin County schools.  Yet Bentley ignored this and appointed him any how.

Zeigler handily defeated Brown in the Republican primary in 2016, even though the Business Council of Alabama spent well more than $100,000 on Brown’s campaign.

“Campaign ads will be launched by those wishing to squash our rights and our voice. It is vital to remain steadfast and strong in the knowledge that Amendment One is not in the interest of our citizens. Alabama needs to vote NO on Amendment One to protect the right to vote for our own elected officials,” says Zeigler.  “Won’t you join me?”

Zeigler’s Facebook link is:  https://www.facebook.com/events/549529362452048/

Zeigler can be reached: jzeigler3071@gmail.com

If The Past Is Prologue, Appointed State School Board Will Cost Female Leadership

If the voters of Alabama decide we should have an appointed, rather than an elected, state school board, all signs indicate that the voices of women will be muted to a certain degree.

There are eight elected members of the state school board.  Six of them are female.

A case in point is the appointed Community College Board of Trustees that was created in 2015.  Prior to this, the state school board had jurisdiction over the community college system.  In 2015 the state school board had six female members.

However, today the community college board, which also has eight members, has six male and two female members.  All are appointed.

Truth is, even though the state is 51.4 percent female and 48.6 percent male, when it comes to elections, we lean heavily toward males.  (Governor Ivey is the first ever female elected to lead the state in her own right.  Lurleen Wallace was just a stand in for her husband, George Wallace.)

Our legislature has only 22 females out of 140 members.  This is 15.7 percent.  Only three states have a lower percentage, Mississippi, West Virginia and Wyoming.  By comparison, five states have 40 percent or more females in their legislature with Nevada leading the pack with 52.4 percent.

The majority of females serving in the Alabama statehouse are Democrats.  Of 27 Republican senators, none are female.  Of 77 Republican house members, only seven are female.

I have long encouraged women to seek public office as I feel they bring an entirely different perspective to public service.  A perspective that is definitely needed when education matters are under consideration.

But this is likelyto be lost to some degree with an appointed state board  of education.