By Ron Crumpton
In a recent trip to Pell City (District 11), Alabama Governor Robert Bentley made several statements that could lead someone to wonder exactly what the Republican plan for education in Alabama really is.
Statement 1: Not everybody needs Algebra II, but they do need to know consumer math. They do need to know how to read a ruler.
I personally believe that every child in Alabama can learn to read a ruler and pass Algebra II, but, apparently, I have a greater belief in the intelligence of the children of Alabama than the state’s governor does.
It is true. Not all students will grow up with a need to know how to do Algebra II, but the simple fact is that more and more jobs from engineering, computers, and medicine, among others, do require a strong math background.
How does the Governor plan to look into the future and see which of the students will need Algebra II and which will not?
Does his crystal ball tell him that the evolution of the 21st century job market will see a decrease in the need for strong math skills instead of an increase?
Algebra is a prerequisite for college and necessary for most college level studies. I have always thought that the goal of public education was to provide our children with education necessary to pursue all of the opportunities available to them, but, apparently, I was wrong.
Children should be equipped to pursue the options available to them.
Statement 2: “Most of these kids are not going to get a four year liberal arts degree and if they do, they are not going to get a job.”
Once again, a member of the Republican Party wants to spuriously malign the education system rather than seriously looking at the problem.
The facts are students who go to college have more opportunities available to them than students who do not. Findings show that there is a $1 million difference in high school graduates’ earnings and those whose highest education is a bachelor’s degree. There is another $1 million difference between those with a bachelor’s degree and those with a doctorate (Census, 2011).
If you want to address the biggest problem with the university and college system in Alabama, it is the graduation rates. The 4-year graduation rate for public colleges and universities is 22.9%, which is 8.4% below the national average, and the 6-year graduation rate is only 47.5%, which is 8.5% below the national average. (2010).
Alabama is currently 38th in education spending per pupil (2010), 34th in education (2011), and 36th in 4-year graduation rates (2011). Do you think that is a coincidence?
Our children deserve a well-rounded education.
Statement 3: Bentley told the St. Clair Economic Development Board that the purpose of education should be about developing skills necessary for jobs. Anything else is just entertainment.
What should we teach our children under the Governor’s plan? Apparently, advanced mathematics is off the list. Should we teach our children history, literature and philosophy, or are these the entertainments that the Governor is referring. Surely, the arts are not included in his plan.
Apparently, the governor wants our children to be mindless cogs in the industrial machine because if that is all that we teach our children to be then that is all that they will become.
Is this the education the people of District 11 want for their children? To learn just the basic skills necessary to make a living, or do we want to provide our children with a roadmap for career, intelligence and reason. In other words, do we want to prepare our children to make a living or do we want to prepare our children to have a life.
This is just another issue that Governor Bentley and the Republican leadership in Montgomery refuse address. The reason that Alabama’s youth is not qualified for the job market is that we have not provided them with a proper education necessary to fill the jobs in the current market.
We currently have a growing population of adult workers who do not have the skills to compete in the current job market. We need to increase our efforts to retrain displaced workers; we certainly do not need to reduce the options of our young people to compete in the job market of the future.
Alabama Four-Year Completion Rates. (2010). From The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Census, B. (2011). Work-Life Earning by Field of Degree and Occupation for people with a Bachelor’s Degree.