Apparently there is a rule of thumb in education that “when in doubt, invent a crisis.” And after we identify one, we quickly follow with an “initiative” to solve it.
The problem is that we too often claim that what is only a symptom of a greater issue is a crisis. For instance, state superintendent Mike Sentance says we have a crisis with 4th grade math scores. So we wage war on these as if 4th grade math is the sum total of what education is about. Which, of course, is hardly true.
We do have a crisis in education in Alabama, but it is much deeper than just how 4th graders do in math. Our crisis is the total lack of confidence and trust our education community has in those who are supposed to be leading education efforts.
This is starkly pointed out in an online survey this blog did in December. As of today, 978 people have responded. (While this is not what many call a “scientific” poll where the demographics of respondents are closely monitored to reflect a particular universe, like a senate district, a sample of this size is certainly indicative of trends.) And in this case, the fact that 70 percent of respondents are either a teacher or school administrator mean responses strongly show how the education community feels.
(See all survey results here.)
Let’s begin with the Governor Robert Bentley. He doesn’t fare well. .
Given his track record on public schools, which letter grade would you give Governor Bentley?
Some 92.2 percent give him a D or an F.
Do you believe Governor Bentley is pro public schools or anti-public schools?
The governor fails again with 87.2 saying he is anti-public schools.
Overall, do you approve or disapprove of the job Governor Bentley is doing?
Only 1.5 percent approve. Honest, I have never heard of an approval rating this low.
So the governor has almost zero credibility with educators. And remember, he is president of the State Board of Education.
What about the state school board, the entity that oversees K-12 schools? Turns out they are not viewed much better than the governor.
What grade would you give the Alabama School Board?
A whopping 95.7 percent give them a C, D, or F or have no opinion. No doubt the well-publicized mis-steps the board engaged in last summer in picking a new state superintendent factor significantly into this poor showing. This is borne out by responses to this question.
The recent search for a state superintendent was very political. Do you think such action is in the best interest of our 740,000 public school students?
A total of 91.2 percent said it was not.
The majority of state school boards are appointed. The one in Alabama is elected. Do you think this board should be appointed or elected?
While 62.9 percent say elected, this is a drop of 20 points from when the same question was answered by more than 1,200 respondents to the same question last summer. Then only 7.9 percent felt the board should be appointed. But this hasd more than doubled to 19.1 percent.
OK, what about the body that handles the state Education Trust Fund and passes laws like the Alabama Accounting Act and A-F school report cards–the legislature?
They get a C, D, F or don’t know from 97.4 percent of respondents. Why do low? Here’s a clue.
How confident are you that legislators with no education background can make good decisions about education?
It is hardly a surprise that 95.0 percent don’t believe lawmakers listen to educators enough.
Which brings us to the position of state school superintendent.
Some 70.9 percent believe this person should have previous experience in Alabama schools and 75.5 percent believe they should have experience as a local school superintendent.
In August 2016 the governor and four members of the state school board voted to hire someone from Massachusetts with no formal education training as state superintendent. Do you agree with this decision?
In light of the experience respondents think a state superintendent should have, it is no surprise that 92.3 perecent disagreed with the hiring decision of the state board.
In summary, we do have a crisis on our hands. A crisis of CONFIDENCE and TRUST in the very people who are supposed to be leading our education process. And when you have no confidence in them, why would you believe them when they conjure up a classroom crisis, or another piece of education policy legislation or set priorities on how scarce funds should be spent.
Until we restore trust at our highest levels of education governance, anything else we do is basically re-arrangng the deck chairs on the Titanic.