Connect with us

Guest Columnists

What Does Success Look Like?

Terri Michal



By Terri Michal

“What does success look like?” That’s the question Sacramento, CA, Mayor Kevin Johnson posed to a roomful of Birmingham citizens that had gathered in the 16th Street Baptist Church last Tuesday morning to discuss charter schools in Alabama. The event was sponsored by the Black Alliance for Educational Options and featured Michelle Rhee Johnson of StudentsFirst. Unfortunately, we never really received an answer to the question Mr. Johnson posed. Actually, not one minute was spent talking about what a successful charter looks like. Not. One. Minute.

Why is that?

Are there no success stories for the corporate-owned charters that the BAEO and StudentsFirst represent?  Could it be because the public is becoming more aware that many ‘charter success stories’ actually involve manipulating data? Let’s take a look at Foundation Academies in Trenton for example. Their test scores are the highest in Trenton, but Jersey Jazzman, a highly respected teacher blogger from New Jersey, exposes…


…the truth behind the population that is enrolled there and how they manipulate the data to show high graduation rates.  One way to cheat the system: take special need kids but make sure none of them have profound learning disabilities.

Yes, charter schools, in many instances, cherry pick their students which invalidates its comparison to public schools. “Open access” is a term charters love to use, but how open is it when you have to write seven essays and an autobiography just to get into the lottery? That’s what students have to do…

…in Santa Rosa, California.

The public is educating itself, that’s one thing you can’t deny, and as time passes by these corporations and foundations can no longer hide the fact that charters just aren’t performing at the level they first suggested.  As a matter of fact, only 17 percent perform better…

…than traditional public schools. It is evident, when comparing the underlying tone of Michelle Rhee Johnson’s September 2013 Town Hall meeting in Birmingham to last Tuesday morning’s summit, that the shiny promises of the charter movement are starting to tarnish.

So, it appears that instead of discussing what success looks like, they decided to tap into their audience’s fears. Failure after failure after failure was discussed. From student test scores to high incarceration rates to low graduation rates it was a constant barrage of negativity. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that those aren’t real concerns. What I am saying is, if charters were really the answer, why did they not then follow up the gloom and doom with facts about how charters will help? How will charters address these problems? If they truly believe in their charters they could have, and should have, been creating excitement over their potential, instead of spending so much of their time discussing failures.

The time that wasn’t spent talking about failing students and bad teachers was spent talking about how white people have oppressed people of color. I know this has happened, and I know this is, indeed, part of the equation. I’m just quite exasperated with organizations, like BAEO, that come from out of state and represent white-owned and operated corporations and foundations, talking to us about civil rights to further their agendas. These agendas are decimating public schools in high poverty urban districts all across this country.  It’s almost incomprehensible when you hear them use such tragic events as the 16th Street bombing to further their cause as BAEO board chairman Howard Fuller did at the beginning of this summit.

In this summit, they told us the “belief gap” is a huge problem. I completely agree that society’s lack of faith in the intellectual abilities of our children of color is a very real problem. Yet, organizations like BAEO are in bed with such folks as Eli Broad, the billionaire that published an instruction manual on how to close urban schools, and the Waltons, who are more than happy to fill school systems like Chicago’s with non-professionally-certified, fresh-out-of-college, Teach-for-America teachers.  What are the “beliefs” of those foundations and corporations concerning our high-poverty kids I wonder? They must believe that closing neighborhood schools and hiring lesser qualified teachers are better for those students than life-long educators that are committed long term to the surrounding communities in which they teach.

You really have to wonder what qualifies an organization like BAEO to say what a civil rights issue is when they are cozying-up with the likes of the Friedman Foundation. The Friedman Foundation is known to be on the opposite side of the table from those that fight for civil rights. Here is just one example: Milton Friedman had this to say…

…about a market economy and discrimination in relationship to fair employment practices legislation: “Such legislation clearly involves interference with the freedom of individuals to enter into voluntary contracts with one another…. Thus it is directly an interference with freedom of the kind that we would object to in most other contexts.” 

Seems the BAEO may be suffering from its own “belief gap.”  Don’t you think it’s time we talk about that?

So, what does success look like? It looks like adults putting aside their personal agenda to sit at a table with others from all political parties and backgrounds, to talk about the real issues affecting our high poverty kids. Until we have true discussions about poverty and race, brought about by people acting independently of any financial or political benefits, our high-poverty kids are going to continue to suffer in Alabama. You may think my definition of success is nearly impossible but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s true, just like ignoring the absence of data about these corporate charters successes won’t make them, or our students in Alabama, successful.

Parents, educators, and stockholders, you deserve a place at the table when it comes to our public schools in Alabama. Write your legislator today and tell them that there needs to be more transparency concerning decisions about vouchers and charters in Alabama. There is something terribly wrong when Michelle Rhee and Howard Fuller are at the table deciding the fate of our students’ education and parents and educators are left in the dark.



Terri Michal believes strongly in the power of the citizens voice. She is a community organizer and founder of the non-partisan grassroots organization SOS – Support Our Students.  She is also an administrator for both the national BATA (Badass Teacher Association) and the Alabama BATs. From Washington DC to Montgomery Alabama she has sat on panels and participated in rallies to raise awareness about the privatization of our public schools. She has called Alabama her home for over 27 years.  Her four children all attended public schools in Alabama, two went on to become public school teachers, a third is attending UAB and will also become and educator. If you would like to host a community conversation about charters, the corporate reform movement and what it means to Alabama, or if  you’d like more information, please contact her at [email protected] or visit


Continue Reading

Guest Columnists

Opinion | Let us give thanks

Bradley Byrne



On October 3rd, 1863, President Lincoln issued a Proclamation on Thanksgiving establishing the fourth Thursday of November as a national holiday, encouraging every American – at home and abroad – to give pause and give thanks.

Thanksgiving had existed before in America. There was the First Thanksgiving celebrated by the Pilgrims and Native Americans in Massachusetts in 1621, of course, and Presidents George Washington, John Adams, and James Madison also issued proclamations encouraging the celebration of Thanksgiving.

It is interesting that during a time as perilous as the height of the Civil War, President Lincoln entrenched this holiday of gratitude and togetherness into the American year.

1863 was a time of divisiveness and uncertainty, and yet people throughout the country could still find things to be thankful for.

Only two months after this proclamation, on December 3rd, 1863, the final symbolic decoration was added to the outside of the Capitol Dome in Washington: a 19-foot tall statue known simply as Freedom.


The freedoms we enjoy today are some of the greatest things we can be thankful for. For many throughout the world, the freedoms we enjoy do not exist for them.

As we gather with friends and family, I hope you will take time to answer this simple question: what are you thankful for this year?

For myself, I am extremely thankful for my family, my friends, and for the opportunity I have to serve you in Washington.

I am thankful for the many pieces of landmark legislation we were able to pass this year, including fully funding our military for next year, providing funds for vital water infrastructure projects, and enacting meaningful change to the G.I. Bill and the Veteran’s Choice Program.

I am also thankful for all of the positive economic news this year: our thriving economy and jobs market are creating more opportunities for people in Alabama and around the country.

With good news there is also bad. The acts of violence we have seen over recent months in Pennsylvania and California demonstrate the amount of evil there is still to combat in this world. The extremely deadly wildfires currently raging in California causes our hearts to ache for all those affected so unexpectedly and so close to the holidays.

But even in these tragedies, there are things to be thankful for. The first responders who risk their lives to help those in need; the medical professionals who provide service to the sick and those in pain; and perhaps the thing for which we as Americans can be most thankful is our interminable spirit to come together as one, help our neighbors, and make the world a better place to live through one small act of kindness at a time.

More personally, I am thankful to be a child of a loving, forgiving, and all present God. I’m also thankful to call Southwest Alabama home.

Of course, I am thankful for my wonderful family; every moment I get to spend with Rebecca, our children, and our grandchildren is a moment I feel truly blessed.

Lastly, I am eternally grateful for the opportunity I have again to serve the people of Southwest Alabama over the next Congress.

There is a memorable verse from the book of John: “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)

One of the truths we can hold firmly to this Thanksgiving is this: we in the United States are richly blessed with life, prosperity, and freedom. Knowing that, we can be very thankful indeed.

From my entire staff, family, and myself, we wish you a very happy Thanksgiving.


Continue Reading

Guest Columnists

Opinion | Role model statesmanship showcased in the public square

John W. Giles



Americans got their fair share of hand to hand combat politics in the 2018 general election, which is still going on in Georgia and Florida. As we approach Thanksgiving; there is a national story buried in the heart and soul of Crenshaw County Alabama politics that needs to be shared. In a county that voted 72 percent for Trump, the centerpiece of this story lasers in on local Democrats and Republicans putting their county first, let me explain.

For decades, Crenshaw County was a Democrat stronghold in all of the county elected positions. In fact, many stated for years there is no way to get elected in Crenshaw County unless you ran as a Democrat. Over the past three quadrennial election cycles, Republicans have picked up the Probate Judge office, Sheriff, and three of the five County Board of Education seats. In this recent election, Republicans earned four out of five commission seats; here in lies the role model statesmanship showcased in the public square.

Reverend Charlie Sankey is a black Democrat Commissioner who was re-elected from the north end of the county. He is also a bi-vocational Pastor serving at Rockwest Baptist Church just inside Pike County and is a full time officer at First Citizens Bank. In this election cycle, the other four county commission seats were won by white Republican men. Sankey had served as Chairman of the County Commission for the last four years. With the Republicans clearly holding a majority of power now, the chairmanship over the next four years has certainly been a kitchen table discussion since the election.

Yesterday; all five commissioners were sworn in for their new term. The first order of business was to nominate and elect a new chairman. The county attorney statutorily opened the floor for nomination for chairman three times; and only one name surfaced; Charlie Sankey. In a unanimous vote, Charlie Sankey a black Democrat was just elected as Chairmen by his four white Republican colleagues. What a testament of bi-partisanship. There are so many takeaways from this historic move; I don’t know where to begin.

In my discussions with Sankey over the years, I have found him to be an economic, moral, social and constitutional conservative. We still have our minute differences, but he always puts the county first, makes one dollar do the work of three dollars; and if something is right he stands firm and if it is wrong, he fixes it. He has a common sense approach to governing and will not allow little, agenda driven side shows cloud the focus of what is best for the county. The county is in strong fiscal shape under his watch.


In an environment where politics are highly charged, it is refreshing to see these four Republicans demonstrate such great statesmanship and bi partisanship in this historic decision. They looked at the content of Sankey’s character, rather than the color of his skin or party affiliation. They put what was best for the county rather than nominating someone who has not yet been seasoned for the job. On the other hand, Sankey has demonstrated over the past four years to be a steady handed competent leader. After months of observing Sankey in the chair, newly elected Commissioner Raymond McGough showed great leadership; and without equivocation, nominated Charlie Sankey and got the vote through unanimously.

Most who know me understand I do not vote for Democrats and in some remote cases; I will not vote for a wayward Republican. The Republican National Committee and the Alabama Republican Party platforms espouse the core issues that drive my heart, vote and support. Setting aside my party affiliations for one moment; these four Republicans made the right decision and have my greatest and profound respect.

While this is a win win win for the citizens of Crenshaw County, it should be a shining example from the courthouse to the Whitehouse to always do the right thing and the hell with the consequences.


Continue Reading

Guest Columnists

Opinion | Words cannot express our gratitude

Bradley Byrne



One hundred years ago, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, the world’s largest, deadliest, and costliest war to that date drew to an end. The guns that boomed over field and forest in Europe fell silent.

World War I was over.

Over 116,000 Americans had lost their lives.

One year later, President Woodrow Wilson issued a statement to the nation in celebration of the first Armistice Day, expressing his thoughts on the war’s end: “To us in America the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service, and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of nations.”

In 1938, twenty years after the Armistice, Congress formally recognized Armistice Day as a national holiday “dedicated to the cause of world peace.”


Unfortunately, the “war to end all wars” was only the precursor to an even deadlier, costlier war.

The next year, World War II broke out across Europe, a war that would cost the lives of over 400,000 American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines.

For a particular Alabamian and veteran of WWII, the celebration of Armistice Day was not quite recognition enough for the service and sacrifice of veterans who had served, not just in WWI, but for all those who had worn the uniform of our nation.

Raymond Meeks, a native of Birmingham, brought the idea of a national Veterans Day, to be held on what was then Armistice Day, to General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Gen. Eisenhower greatly supported this idea, and in 1947 Weeks led the first national celebration of Veterans Day right here in Alabama.

In 1954, President Eisenhower signed into law the formal celebration of Veterans Day here in the United States, dedicated to the memory of all those who served our country in the armed forces.

To this day, words cannot express our gratitude for that service.

Today, as I serve in Congress, it is an incredible honor to know that I am able to represent a free people thanks to the service, dedication, and sacrifice of our veterans.

That is why I advocate so strongly for our nation’s veterans. We need to provide them with proper access to educational and workforce opportunities, we must work towards a health care system that actually gets them the care they need, and we must help them get the benefits they earned.

Just this year, I voted to provide greater funding for programs in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), positive reforms to the G.I. Bill, and better access to career and technical education for veterans to reenter the civilian workforce. Additionally, my office has helped to resolve hundreds of cases for veterans and their families right here in Southwest Alabama.

Service in the military is so much more than just a job. It is a dedication to support and defend the Constitution and the people of the United States, both at home and abroad. That service is immeasurable, and I am humbled to represent so many of those who have fought for our freedoms.

The words of President Eisenhower on the first official Veterans Day stand as a charge for today: “Let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting and enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.”


Continue Reading

Guest Columnists

Opinion | Alabama board of education member says school choice is trying to “destroy a whole race of people”

Rachel Blackmon Bryars



Alabama board of education member Ella Bell, D-Montgomery, spoke out during a work session Thursday claiming that Alabama’s landmark tax credit scholarship program for low income families was part of an effort to “destroy a whole race of people.”

“They took money from the poorest counties in the state to send kids to private school,” Bell claimed, after accusing the program of “stealing” from the state. “That’s just awful.”

Trouble is, that’s just not true.

The small yet popular program created by the Alabama Accountability Act only amounts to one half of one percent of the state’s multi-billion-dollar education trust fund – a fund that has grown well beyond the minuscule cost of providing the scholarships, according to state budget data.

And more than 80 percent of the parents who received scholarships last year from the two largest providers are minorities, according to an report. All made at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty level when they applied, as required by law, which is also the eligibility requirement to receive free or reduced priced lunches.


Disabled veteran Dalphine Wilson of Montgomery, who is African-American, is one of those parents.

The single mother of two uses the scholarships to send her children to private school instead of the city’s troubled public school system.

Wilson’s children dropped to one knee in protest during a recent Montgomery County School Board meeting after its members approved a resolution demanding a repeal of the scholarship program.

Her daughter wept after the meeting, afraid she’d lose her scholarship. Her son asked if they could leave Alabama.

“Parents deserve a choice,” said Wilson, 44, who applied for scholarships after seeing what she described as the “overwhelming” and chaotic culture in her daughter’s elementary school classroom. “And your choice should not be, ‘Gosh, I really hope my child can get into a magnet school, and if they can’t, their only option is this failing school that is under state intervention.’”

She said if anyone is stealing, it’s those who want to take away the scholarships.

“Why rob us of a choice?” Wilson asked.

Ryan Cantrell, a school choice advocate in Montgomery who was an aide in the State Senate when the act passed in 2013, said the program was specifically designed to provide parents like Wilson with a choice that was once only available to higher income families.

“We’re talking about families who absolutely had no other option,” he said. “For the life of me, I don’t understand how an elected official could consciously vote to take that away from a low-income child. It boggles the mind.”

Cantrell said the “heart of the problem” is that opponents of the scholarship program are primarily concerned with the public education system itself, not the students it was established to serve.

“We are so focused … on the adults in the room, and our education system is not built to serve adults,” he said. “Our education system is built to serve students, and whatever it is that works for kids ought to be what we’re doing.”

Cantrell also disproved Bell’s claim that the program has been “stealing” from public school systems. On the contrary, he said, public schools have more funding and less students now than when the scholarship program began.

Montgomery’s school system, for example, has seen its funding increase by more than $8 million, up 5 percent since 2014, even while the overall student population has decreased by more than 7 percent, according to Cantrell.

During the board meeting, Bell also said the program “is absolutely horrifying to me because already I’m black and I grew up in Montgomery County 70-years ago and I know all the tricks.”

But the scholarships aren’t a trick. They’re a lifeline, a choice, for thousands of kids who otherwise wouldn’t have one. Alabama shouldn’t allow that choice to be taken away because of past wrongs.

The plain fact today is that the Alabama Accountability Act is a tiny fraction of our state’s education budget, it gives low-income families a sometimes life-altering choice, and almost all of the students receiving scholarships are minorities.

We should all be proud of that.

Because in the end, this is about what we believe education dollars are for – the system or the student.

Please call your state legislator and local school board member today and let them know what you think.

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is a senior fellow at the Alabama Policy Institute. Contact her at [email protected].


Continue Reading






What Does Success Look Like?

by Terri Michal Read Time: 6 min