By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Tuesday, April 18, 2017, Alabama School Board member Mary Scott Hunter (R) addressed the Alabama Federation of Young Republican who were at the State House for their Annual Legislative Day.
Mary Scott Hunter warned that for too many in Alabama “the American Dream is in Crisis.”
Hunter cited a number of statistics showing that home ownership, children in poverty, joblessness, etc. were worsening across the State and for many Alabamians achieving the American dream is becoming much more difficult.
Many of the Young Republicans agreed with Hunter’s supposition that they are giving up some career success by choosing to stay here rather than taking their talents to other states.
Hunter said that Massachusetts is a model for Alabama. Massachusetts is in the top four for education; but it only spends 25 to 30 percent more per student than Alabama; but not as much as Rhode Island and Vermont.
There is a new Superintendent. Michael Sentance was hired after Tommy Bice left.
Kay Ivey came to the board meeting with prepared notes. That shows some effort. Kay Ivey gave a very nice presentation. Governors have a vote on the Board.
Hunter was optimistic about the ESSA law and said that we have a strategic plan in place: Plan 2020 which is a collection of strategic goals
Hunter said that there was a graduation rate scandal where the schools had been claiming an over 89 percent graduation rate. The actual rate is 85 percent. The problem was that diplomas were being awarded to students with special needs and to students with credit recovery
“We have a requirement to do school grading. We don’t like to use the term ‘failing schools.’ ”
Hunter asked: “How can we have unemployment and unfilled jobs especially in the skilled trades?”
Hunter said the Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was a controversial appointment. “I personally think she did very poorly in her congressional hearings where she gave poor answers; but by all accounts the staff at her department like her.”
On why Alabama schools historically underperform, Hunter said that our teachers are mostly Alabamians and they were educated in a system that is largely deficient. Are our teachers well prepared to teach their subject matter especially in STEM subjects?
Hunter said that the workforce makes it difficult to attract companies here. We have two flag ship universities: Alabama and Auburn that are in the top 100, but not in the top 50. That is a problem. We have no flag ship education department in any of our colleges and that is a problem for us.
“Hunter said, Our older teachers don’t work well in groups. But this is how young people are working today, in a more collaborative style. They don’t teach with all the students spread out in desks, students sit in four squares”
Hunter, speaking about the importance of professional development and generational differences in work styles, was self deprecating. “I’m 44 years old. My generation doesn’t work as as well in groups as millennials do today.”
Hunter said, “We are getting our lunch eaten by Mississippi for national board development.” Mississippi offers incentives to get those national board certified teachers to go to low performing schools.”
Hunter said that she visited Selma’s Hudson Middle School. “They needed a math teacher and the principal said that she got no applications. Not bad applications, but no applications. They can’t hire a single math teacher so are moving their math teacher around from school to school.”
Hunter said that more money for education would help.
The Alabama Political Reporter asked: Is it time to admit that the Alabama College and Career Ready Standards are not working?”
Hunter said, “how so?”
APR said recent testing showed that we have the dumbest bunch of fourth graders in the entire country and even Governor Bentley admitted that: “Our schools suck.”
Hunter said, “Math. That was math.”
APR said that the new math teaching methods clearly are not working.
Hunter said, “what standards would you use.”
APR said why not go back to the old standards we were 26th in the country now we are worst in the nation. Go back to memorization on math. It is the oldest method and it is proven. I know 12 times 12 is 144, 11 times 11 is 121. I don’t calculate that in my head it was memorized 40 years ago.
Hunter said, “this is a really hard subject for me. The old standards were like a very badly built house. Teachers had no creativity. I could not make head nor tails of the old standards. I wanted to have better standards. Most of the academic people in the State recommended the new standards. When there was all this controversy over the standards I could have made a political decision. Hunter suggested that some of our teachers have not done a good job of teaching the new methods.”
Hunter said, “No, I don’t think we should jettison the standards and go back to the olds standards which weren’t serving us well. Hunter said We have changed them several times already and are presently rewriting the science standards. “But I would not want us to go back to that stack of phone backs that I could not understand.”
Hunter said that if you are born in the bottom in Alabama you tend to stay in the bottom. After the 2020 census we will lose a congressional seat. We can’t have this lack of upward mobility
Hunter said that the era of Dr. Spock is over and today we have helicopter parents with a very involved parenting style and the schools have to be able to work with that.
Hunter suggested that better education would even decrease terrorism: Most of ISIS’s fighters in Syria have fifth grade educations.
The Alabama Federation of Young Republicans are highly influential in GOP politics. Their group even has a voting seat on the Alabama Republican Steering Committee.