By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Let’s face facts: Alabama has some excellent schools, Alabama has some good schools, Alabama has a lot of average schools, and Alabama has some bad schools. The bad schools are a drain on the state of Alabama because they churn out generation after generation of students who don’t finish high school with the skills to go on to college, learn a trade, or to find or hold a job. Students who drop out of school are far more likely to go on to commit crimes and go to prison than those students who finish with a high school diploma. According to some national studies 65% of the prison population are high school drop outs. In Alabama’s worst schools 30% of the students (or more) who begin High School never finish and many of those that do lack the basic skill set necessary to compete in the job market. Far too many of the students who start school in Alabama will spend the rest of their lives in and out of prisons and welfare programs.
The state needs to find and recruit new employers; but part of luring new employers is being able to supply them with skilled labor. Sadly, too many of the unemployed in Alabama lack the basic job skills to learn a trade so that they can work for Airbus or Kia or Thyssenkrup. Turning the Alabama economy around is going to have to involve cleaning up the human wreckage being routinely produced by the bottom 10% of schools in Alabama.
There are serious problems structurally with how we educate Alabama children, especially poor children from fatherless homes. In a bold attempt to actually do something about the situation, Republicans in the Alabama Legislature presented and passed the Alabama Accountability Act of 2013. First the Alabama Accountability Act offers school systems the opportunity to make meaningful reforms by offering them the opportunity to apply to the state for some flexibility from the myriad of state laws which box in administrators and hamstring any effort to make meaningful improvement in the school at the local level. School systems are encouraged to come up with some sort of a plan to improve the outcomes for the students entrusted to their care.
Second if school boards are unable or are unwilling to take action to improve the lives of the children in Alabama’s worst performing schools then the legislation would give parents who are trapped in the nightmare that is the reality of those schools the option to apply to transfer somewhere else. This applies only to the worst performing schools in the state. If you are a teacher or administrator working in one of these worst schools and you want to retain your students, then somehow come up with a plan to do a better job. The legislature is not demanding excellence here or even that every school rise to the level of the average school in Alabama, but no school should have a 30% drop out rate and consistently fail to meet even the most basic standards of academic achievement.
The defenders of the Alabama status quo are (as always) more concerned about protecting their status, their power, and their little political fiefdoms than they are with actually improving the lives of Alabama’s children. Alabama Democrats (understandably) see the Alabama Accountability Act as a bad thing, because teachers, janitors, and cafeteria workers in those worst performing schools could potentially lose their jobs if they fail to perform well enough so that their students can’t and don’t leave. If Democrats want to be taken seriously however they can’t be content to simply attack and criticize the Republican plan. They also need to present their own plan for improving those worst schools. If the very limited school choice offered by the Republican super majority is not the solution, then what is?