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The red hot mess politicians have heaped on our schools

Larry Lee

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By Larry Lee
Education Matters

While I will never claim that I don’t cuss, I work hard to refrain from doing so on my blog.  But in this case, it’s damn hard not to.

Politicians, particularly Senate majority leader Del Marsh and Rep. Terri Collins, seem to have gone out of their way to tear down our public schools and paint a picture that is no where close to accurate.

P. T. Barnum could never have created the circus we now have throughout the state thanks to legislation these good folks sponsored in 2012 and 2013.

In 2012, Terri Collins passed a bill to give every school in the state a letter grade of A-F.  And unfortunately, she got a bunch of both  Republican and Democrat friends to go along with her. Go here to see a list of the folks who serve in the House and Senate today who voted for this bill in 2012.

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I have looked and looked at research and have yet to find any worthwhile reason to give letter grades to schools. The fact that only 14 states do it is telling.  And almost none of the top state school systems in the country use such grades. That should tell us something.

And the fact that a blue ribbon group of Alabama educators worked for two years with Collins to come up with an equitable grading system without success is also insightful.  They finally just threw up their hands and went home.  And as best I can tell, none of their carefully considered recommendations were used to determine school grades released Feb. 1.

Then in 2013, Del Marsh got the Alabama Accountability Act passed, the shenanigans used to pass this bill have been well-documented. This bill requires that the state department of education annually release a list of the lowest performing six percent of all schools.

Here’s where things get really funky.

The AAA “failing” list was released last week. And Feb. 1, the first ever A-F report cards were made public.

Now, it is hardly unreasonable to think that if we have 75 “failing” schools, they must all be “F” schools.  Sorry to disappoint you, but that is not the case.  Instead, of the 75, 36 got F, 37 got D and 2 got C.

None of this makes any sense.  There are a total of 104 schools that got an F.  But only 36 of them are considered “failing.” It’s a joke. A huge, high-flying triple-header joke.

And get this, the majority of the scoring used for the A-F reports cards comes from a test called ACT Aspire that the U.S. Department of Education said was not properly aligned with our standards and which the state school board has voted to not use again. That’s about like me getting on a bathroom scale I know is not accurate and then bragging about how much weight I have lost.  It defies logic.

But unfortunately, the real joke is on our schools, principals, teachers and especially students.  Instead of doing our best to lift them up–we’re doing our best to tear them down.  To make them feel second class.  Complete and absolute failures if you will.

Naturally there will be people who say that all I’m doing is making excuses and trying to maintain the status quo.  But those folks generally have no clue what is going on in our public schools today and the challenges our teachers face.  Yes, we have schools that need improvement.  But how do you give a simple grade to something as complex as today’s education reality.  Part of the scoring system for A-F involves “chronic absenteeism.” A student at a Mobile high school had lupus last year and unfortunately died. He was counted as being chronically absent and counted against the school’s score.

This makes sense? Not in my world.

The state used to have an awards program called “Torchbearer Schools.”  These were schools judged to be doing an excellent  job.  There were 20 of them in 2013.  I helped the state celebrate their success  by driving thousands of miles around the state to shoot pictures at each school and put together a video about them.  I saw with my own eyes what they were doing.

Out of curiosity, I looked at the new report card score for each of these schools.  Four were given an F, four were given a D, seven got a C, four got a B and only one an A.  So according to the report card, the majority of these schools have gone from the penthouse to the outhouse since 2013.

Pardon me, but I don’t believe this is the case any more than I believe that the A-F report card legislation or the Alabama Accountability Act bill is good for our public schools.

 

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | Hitting the road

Bradley Byrne

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Each August, the House of Representatives typically enters a period of recess known as the August District Work Period. This is time set aside for Members of Congress to travel across their home districts visiting with the people they represent.

For me, this is incredibly valuable time that I can spend listening to my constituents and gaining a better understanding of the issues impacting our area. Here is just a quick highlight of my August District Work Period so far.

As you probably already know, I love to hold town hall meetings throughout the First District to hear directly from the people I represent. This August, I am holding a “Better Off Now” Town Hall Tour with twelve stops in all six counties that make up the First District. So far, we have held town hall meetings in Salipta, Atmore, Brewton, Dauphin Island, Millry, Citronelle, and Mobile. Later this month, we will make stops in Grand Bay, Monroeville, Seminole, Loxley, and Spanish Fort. You can get all the details about the town halls online at Byrne.House.Gov/BetterOffTour.

Visiting local businesses and talking with employees is another priority for me in August. For example, I have already visited Olin in McIntosh, the Louisiana Pacific facility in Clarke County, Serda Brewing in Mobile, and Metal Shark Boats and Master Marine in Bayou La Batre, just to name a few. The visits help me learn firsthand how federal issues are directly impacting employers and employees in Southwest Alabama.

A really special opportunity was being able to ride along with UPS to help deliver packages on the Eastern Shore. I dressed up in the full UPS uniform, rode in the truck, and personally delivered packages. It really helped to step in the driver’s shoes and see the difficult work they do every day. I am especially grateful to Chris Dorgan for showing me the ropes.

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Just last week, I hosted Chris Oliver, NOAA Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, down on Dauphin Island for a Red Snapper research trip. As one of the leading federal officials responsible for our fisheries, I welcomed the opportunity to show off the health of the Red Snapper stock in the Gulf, as well as the very impressive research being done locally by the University of South Alabama and the Dauphin Island Sea Lab.

Also last week, I traveled to the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System in Biloxi to meet with the director and get an update on services for our veterans. As you may know, the Biloxi VA oversees most of our local VA facilities. It was a productive visit as I work to hold the VA accountable and ensure our veterans receive the care they deserve.

We had the annual Women’s Forum in downtown Mobile, which is organized by the Community Foundation of South Alabama. We had another outstanding crowd as local women had the opportunity to network and hear from speakers and panelists about issues important to them.

I find great value in holding roundtable discussions to hear directly from leaders about specific issues. With this in mind, we held separate roundtables with local school superintendents, economic developers from our area, and community leaders from Chatom. Each of these roundtables were very informative, and we have more scheduled later this month.

As you can probably tell, this August District Work Period has already been a huge success. The good news is that we are just getting started! I look forward to spending more time around Southwest Alabama throughout August to help me be the best Congressman possible.

 

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | A thank you note to Alabama’s teachers


Cam Ward

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My oldest daughter just turned sixteen. She’s driving, and as a dad, it’s a thrilling, but scary moment in life — this week, she started the tenth grade, and the reality is that during the school year, she spends nearly as much time at school as she does around her mom and me. For young people like my daughter, those hours at school are shaped primarily by their fellow students and their teachers.

If everything turns out right, a young person will enter Alabama’s schools around the age of five or six, and by the time they graduate at seventeen or eighteen, they will have a solid grasp of the fundamentals of mathematics, history, American and English literature, biology, and chemistry, among other subjects. We entrust teachers with the awesome responsibility of educating our young people about the basic structure of the universe – to understand and reason through, for instance, the process of photosynthesis – so that they can think analytically when confronted with any type of problem. That’s an incredible responsibility; and to teach such important knowledge to students who, well, haven’t yet achieved full impulse control, is no small task.

We trust our teachers to impart knowledge and facts, but we also expect our teachers to model virtuous behavior before our young people, because knowledge isn’t the same thing as wisdom, and we want our kids to become responsible adults. The best teachers can not only clearly communicate lessons on the history of the Civil Rights movement, but can also talk about, and model in person, the virtues of courage and perseverance that animated heroes like Rosa Parks.

Facts are stubborn things, as the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once said, and what she meant by that is that the world is governed by certain unalterable truths, including, for instance, the truth that a free market economy lifts more people out of poverty than socialism does. Teachers turn this knowledge into wisdom by showing students the link between effort and reward: the harder you work, the better grades you will get, and the harder you work once you graduate, the more opportunities you will have in the workplace.

Great teachers impart knowledge and model wisdom, and often they do so at a great cost to themselves: growing up, the best teachers I had were the ones who were willing to stay a few minutes after class to answer my fifteenth question how to solve a quadratic equation. Many teachers often sacrifice time and effort beyond what’s required — the clock often begins before eight, rarely stops at five, and every hour in-between is dedicated to their craft.

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As a state senator, I am committed to ensuring that our schools are well-funded and that our teachers are competitively paid. Nothing is more important to the future of Alabama than supporting education policies that work — and as in business or sports, personnel is policy. I am grateful to the great teachers we have, and I promise to always have your back in Montgomery. Thanks for all that you do — the impact that you will have this school year on my daughter and thousands of other students is life-changing.

Cam Ward represents District 14 in the Alabama State Senate, which includes all or parts of Shelby, Bibb, Chilton, Hale, and Jefferson counties. He serves as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Follow him on Twitter: @SenCamWard

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | Summer interns served AL-02 with distinction

Martha Roby

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It’s hard to believe that summer is winding down and most students are already back in school. As the mother of two school-aged children, I know firsthand how precious the summer months are and how quickly they always fly by. The Roby family is geared up and ready to take on another school year, and if you have children in school, I wish your family a happy and healthy school year, too.

As a member of Congress, each summer I have the privilege of offering internship opportunities to college students from our district. Students have the choice to intern in my Washington, Montgomery, Dothan, or Andalusia office. Typically, we offer four-week internship opportunities during the months of May, June, July, and August, but we do our very best to accommodate students’ and universities’ varying schedules.

This internship program is a competitive experience designed for those students who are interested in learning more about our nation’s legislative process, constituent services, and the general day-to-day operations of a congressional office. Interns’ tasks vary, but they include conducting tours of the United States Capitol building, drafting and presenting a policy proposal on a legislative topic of their choosing, assisting constituents with their various needs and requests, attending committee hearings, and more.

This summer, I was fortunate to have quite a few outstanding students serve as interns in my offices, and I’d like to take this opportunity to share with you more about these young men and women and their hard work on behalf of the people of Alabama’s Second District.

In my Washington, D.C., office, over the summer we enjoyed having several impressive students join our team for a few weeks:

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Agnes Armstrong is a graduate of the Montgomery Catholic Preparatory School. She is a junior at Auburn University where she studies Accounting and Nonprofit Studies.

Ford Cleveland is a graduate of the Montgomery Academy. He is a sophomore at the University of Virginia where he studies Chemistry.

Noah McNelley is a graduate of Trinity Presbyterian School. He is a junior at Auburn University where he studies Political Science, Business, and French.

Meredith Moore is a graduate of Trinity Presbyterian School. She is a junior at the University of Alabama where she studies Marketing and English.

Hayden Pruett is a graduate of the Loveless Academic Magnet Program (LAMP). She is a sophomore at the University of Alabama where she studies Political Science and Social Welfare.

Brandon Redman is a graduate of Prattville Christian Academy. He is a senior at Faulkner University where he studies Political Science.

William Chandler is a graduate of the Montgomery Academy. He is a junior at Sewanee where he is pursuing double majors in Politics and English.

Bates Herrick is a graduate of the Montgomery Academy. He is a senior at Sewanee where he studies Economics with double minors in Political Science and Business.

Hunter McEntire is a graduate of Houston Academy in Dothan. He attended Birmingham Southern College where he earned a degree in history with a minor in Political Science.

I was also glad to host some bright young men and women in my district offices over the summer:

Allyssa Morgan, a native of Opp, worked in my Andalusia district office. She received an Associate’s degree from Lurleen B. Wallace Community College and is now attending Troy University.

Kimberlee Perry served as an intern in my Dothan district office. She graduated from New Brockton High School earlier this year, and she now attends George Wallace Community College.

Tyrese Lane, Savannah Williamson, and Spencer Andreades all held internships in my Montgomery district office. Tyrese, a Prattville native, is a graduate of Marbury High School and is currently a student at Marion Military Institute. Savannah, from Troy, is a graduate of Pike Liberal Arts and currently attends Auburn University. Spencer is a graduate of the Montgomery Academy and now attends the University of Alabama.

These students worked very hard for our district, and I really appreciate their dedication and eagerness to serve their communities. I’m confident they will be successful in whatever paths they pursue.

You can find out more about my internship program and the application process on my website: roby.house.gov/student-resources/internships. If you know a college-aged student who might be interested in being part of the legislative process for the summer, I hope you will pass this information along to them. I truly believe a congressional internship is a valuable way to gain firsthand exposure to the innerworkings of our nation’s government.

Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama, with her husband Riley and their two children.

 

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | Marion Mayor uses tools to prep residents for AlabamaWorks Success Plus Initiative

Dexter Hinton

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When I was elected in late 2016 as Mayor of Marion, I knew there were certain areas in which our town needed to improve. One was education and work preparedness for those who did not want to attend a four-year college. We had gaps that needed to be filled.

As an Industrial Maintenance and Robotics Instructor at the Career Center in Greene County, I know what resources are available to assist those seeking a job or a skills education. When people come to the center, our team has a plethora of tests, assessments, job listings, resume-building sessions and other items at our disposal to help folks get the right position or training that matches their needs or abilities.

As Mayor, I realized we needed to get educational tools to Marion residents, especially after Moller Tech announced that it would be locating in Bibb County, adjacent to Perry County, and bringing 222 jobs with it. But with a small town like Marion (population 3,432) not having a dedicated resource center, we didn’t quite know how to unite the two. Then one day, I attended a Central AlabamaWorks meeting and saw AIDT’s mobile unit, which is the Department of Commerce’s skills education center on wheels.

I spoke with Mikki Ruttan, director of Central AlabamaWorks, after the meeting and asked her about the possibility of getting the unit to our area. I learned it could be customized for the needs of its audience. After numerous discussions with other local leaders, we selected basic resume building and a Ready-to-Work course as the initial offerings. I knew the mobile unit would be key in obtaining career readiness for the citizens of Marion. I also felt that our citizens would welcome the chance to improve their skills and knowledge base.

After dozens of conversations, we got the mobile unit scheduled this past April. We posted and delivered flyers all over the city, announcing when and where the unit would be located, and we created a Facebook page. We had no idea what kind of response we would have for this type of educational opportunity. But, our citizens realized how such training could give them a leg up in the job market. As a result, they turned out in droves to learn more and better position themselves for entry into the job market, or to simply upgrade their skill set.

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With Gov. Kay Ivey’s Success Plus initiative rollout a few months ago, I knew we had to get our citizens more training to help them, and our state, reach the goal of 500,000 people with post-high-school credentials by 2025. The mobile training unit seemed like the perfect way to deliver those opportunities to our residents.

After some discussion, we were able to get the unit at The Lincoln School. We focused the training on Ready-to-Work. The classes filled immediately, and a waiting list soon formed. Our people were eager to gain knowledge to improve their lives and that of their families. Once they completed the course, they received credentials as an Alabama Certified Worker; a Career Readiness certificate; a free three-credit-hour course at Wallace Community College Selma (if they had a high school diploma); three credits toward a high school diploma (if they didn’t have one); and a referral to the Selma Career Center for free certificates or degree information from WCC in welding, industrial maintenance, electrical technology or nursing.

The unit has been so popular with our citizens that two classrooms are now being refurbished at The Lincoln School specifically for AIDT courses. This means we will have a permanent place for our people to get not only Ready-to-Work training, but also training in other much-needed professions offered by Wallace, such as cosmetology, carpentry, welding, automotive technician and others.

The excitement continues to build for our city. In fact, AIDT has already completed one Ready-to-Work training with several graduates who have received employment.

With the extra effort by Central AlabamaWorks, AIDT, the Career Centers and the Alabama Community College System – combined with the excitement and work ethic of our citizens – I know Marionites can and will be a valued part of the Success Plus endeavor. I look forward to seeing what our citizens can achieve for themselves, their families and our community.

Mr. Dexter Hinton is Mayor of Marion, Alabama

 

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The red hot mess politicians have heaped on our schools

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