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Being National Champs Should Expand Beyond Football

By Lieutenant Governor Kay Ivey
January 2011 Op-Ed Column

For three years in a row, the state of Alabama has been home to the number one team in college football – the University of Alabama in 2009, Auburn University in 2010, and then on January 9th, Alabama triumphed over LSU for another national championship. Even the commentators covering the Alabama-LSU contest remarked what a feat it was for one state to produce national football champions three years in a row.

Alabama has many high performing school systems that do an outstanding job of educating our students, but we must require that same high water mark for all our schools. According to a Quality Counts study conducted by Education Week magazine, Alabama is ranked 13th for its education standards, but 44th for its K-12 achievement. The magazine also noted, “…although Alabama’s fourth graders performed worse in reading than those in 32 other states, they had the greatest amount of improvement nationwide between 2003 and 2010.”

If we want to translate our high educational standards into actual high performance, the time to act is now! As lawmakers, we must encourage educators to refocus their efforts in educating our young people. Just as we expect our football teams to perform at high levels we should have the same expectation for superintendents, principals, counselors, classroom teachers, and parents to produce graduates who are adequately prepared to meet employment needs in the future. That means we have to encourage performance in our school systems to meet acceptable academic standards kindergarten through PhD or we will watch from the sidelines while other states run away with the ball.  The 21st century is not some distant point away, giving us time to adjust and make improvements. The 21st century is here and now.

Additionally, we should revamp our curriculum to make sure the requirements we impose will have real world application once a child leaves the system. I have recently become involved in two key initiatives, the Real World Design Challenge and Alabama Forestry Association’s Black Belt Initiative. Both of these programs encourage student participation in math and science in order to prepare them for real world job opportunities once they graduate. Every school should consider programs such as these to show students how they can follow an educational path that leads to a successful career in Alabama.

Another possible alternative is to establish charter schools in Alabama with local consent, which will provide parents and students with a choice to help fulfill their educational goals. A viable charter school component will enhance Alabama’s educational opportunities and have a positive impact on our overall performance. I anticipate the upcoming legislative session will include charter school legislation that can be discussed and considered for implementation.

The onus isn’t just on those who develop the curricula and instruct our children. Parents have a responsibility to be involved by making sure their children are rested and ready for the classroom challenges each day of school. In addition, they should monitor whether or not their children are working on their homework, and if so, if they are performing satisfactorily or struggling to meet those assignments. When I was a pupil, my parents were very involved in my education, and they knew my teachers and school administrators. Their involvement made me a better student.

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Education improvement is not something that happens overnight; it happens over time and in increments with the full support of parents, community leaders, educators, and lawmakers throughout the state. It is a matter of keeping our eyes on the ball and being focused on the game plan. And I say if we can excel on the playing field, we can do so in our classrooms as well.

Just as we have some of the best college football coaches and athletes in the country, we have some of the best teachers in the country as well. Alabama’s educational opportunities are endless. If you know teachers who are doing an excellent job then be sure to contact them and thank them. We must not forget to encourage and appreciate those who are willing to do one of the most challenging and yet meaningful jobs in this nation.

I am honored by the confidence you vested in me by electing me as your lieutenant governor. I am well aware that public service is not a right, but a privilege. My office stands ready to welcome your comments and prepared to respond to your concerns. Please feel free to contact us at 334-242-7900.

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Gov. Kay Ivey is the governor of the state of Alabama.

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