By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
The Alabama State School Board recently gave State Superintendent Tommy Bice a massive $52,000 raise for the stellar that work he has been doing running the State’s schools.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has a much different opinion of Alabama schools. On Monday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce gave the State’s public schools a failing grade of F. Alabama’s struggling public schools system joined nine other states in receiving the failing grade of F.
The Chamber broke it down into categories which they also graded. On academic achievement the chamber gave Alabama an F. The Chamber wrote: “Despite improvement since our last report, student performance in Alabama is very weak—the state ranks among the lowest in the nation. Only 20 percent of 8th graders are deemed proficient or above on the NAEP math exam. The National average is 34 percent.”
Academic Achievement for Low-Income and Minority Students in Alabama is even worse. Only six percent of African-American and Hispanic 8th grade students score at or above the proficiency level on the NAEP math exam.
On Return on Investment the State got another F grade. According to the Chamber, the student achievement in Alabama is low relative to State spending even after adjusting for cost of living.
On Truth in Advertising: Student Proficiency the Chamber gave Alabama another F. The Chamber gave Alabama very poor marks on the credibility of its student proficiency scores.
In Post-Secondary and Workforce Readiness Alabama earned yet another failing grade. Only 75 percent of students who make it to the 9th grade walk away with a diploma in four years.
Reportedly only 11 percent of students pass an advanced placement (AP) exam.
On developing a 21st Century Teacher Force, the Chamber wrote, “Alabama does an average job of creating a strong teacher workforce. The Yellowhammer State does well training teachers and providing alternative routes for teacher certification, but it does very poorly identifying and retaining effective teachers and removing ineffective ones.” The Chamber gave the State’s schools a C-.
Efforts to weaken Alabama’s tenure law have not advanced far in the State legislature.
In offering parents options, the State got another F grade. The Chamber wrote, “Alabama does a very poor job providing parents with strong school choice options. The state is one of only eight in the country with no charter school law and has limited choice options.”
In 2011, a very limited charter schools bill that passed the Alabama House was gutted in the Alabama Senate. The House never even bothered bringing the weak Senate version to a vote. In 2012, the legislature passed the Alabama Accountability Act which would give parents whose students are zoned to failing schools an option to transfer out. That remains very controversial with some educator groups claiming that it costs public schools money, even though the Accountability Act would apply to just six percent of students and then only to those who apply for it and can find a school (public or private) who is accepting transfers.
In Data Quality, the State received another F. The Chamber said that Alabama earned a failing grade in collecting and reporting high-quality education data. The Chamber also said that the State does not ensure that data can be effectively accessed and used by stakeholders.
In Technology, Alabama was awarded yet another F. The Chamber wrote, “Alabama receives a very poor grade employing technology to provide quality instruction and personalized learning. Students have limited access to high-quality digital learning options.”
Efforts by Rep. Jim McClendon (R from Springville) and Senator Gerald Dial (R from Lineville) to jump-start Alabama’s schools embrace of technology with a billion dollar bond issue to get tablet textbooks to every high school child in the State has failed in the legislature for three years in a row. There is no dedicated funding stream for technology, thus computers and tablets are part of the curriculum in suburban systems with strong local funding, while rural systems grow further and further behind in the adoption of new technology.
In International Competitiveness, Alabama received one more F. The Chamber gave the state a very low grade preparing its students to compete in a global economy. Only about 20 percent of students are proficient in reading and math compared with an international standard. Only 6 students out of 1,000 are able to pass an AP foreign language exam.
In fiscal responsibility, Alabama got a B. Two-thirds of the State’s pension is funded, and the State’s most recent pension contribution was 100 percent.
In 2012, the Republican Supermajority passed new rules requiring teachers and education employees to contribute more towards their own retirements and requiring that new hires retire at an older age than their older co-workers. The controversial actions cost Alabama teachers take home pay, but resulted in shoring up the pension plan, resulting in the high grade on the Chamber’s report card.
The U.S. Chamber of commerce wrote, “In our increasingly globalized world, an effective, first-class education is more and more critical. For businesses to compete globally and for the U.S. economy to continue to grow, access to high-quality talent and a skilled workforce is essential. While the numerous benefits of an educated society are well documented—higher earnings, reduced inequality, and improved health and well-being, to name just a few—solutions to the challenges facing business will be solved by those countries that can access the best and brightest human capital and thereby gain a competitive advantage. Failure to compete will not only exacerbate unemployment, poverty, and inequality, but it will put the nation at risk of long-term economic stagnation.”
According to the report, over the course of his or her lifetime, a high school graduate can expect to make almost $500,000 more than a high school dropout and a college graduate can expect to make about $800,000 more than a college dropout.
According to ACT only 25 percent of American students taking the ACT college admissions test produce college-ready scores in all four tested subjects (English, mathematics, reading, and science).