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Politicians Offer Band-aid for Hemorrhage

Education Matters
By Larry Lee

Let’s say that Santa brought you a new chainsaw and in your haste to put it to work you gashed your leg severely. With blood gushing everywhere, do you holler for someone to bring you some band-aids?

It’s doubtful. And more likely that after you scream for help, you immediately start trying to get some kind of tourniquet on the leg to stop the blood flow.

Too bad we don’t do the same thing when tackling education issues in Alabama. Instead of doing the meaningful work of trying to understand why schools are most likely to fall short of expectations and addressing such systemic issues, we look for band- aids like vouchers and charter schools and then brag about our “education reform” measures.

We don’t acknowledge that more than 90 percent of all the students in our so-called “failing” schools are on free-reduced lunches; we keep quiet about the fact that we have more than three times as many high poverty schools as those considered low poverty and we ignore research showing that children in such situations enter school far behind their counterparts living in leafy suburbs.

Instead we pass legislation like the Alabama Accountability Act and then brag that educators were excluded from developing it. We have rallies at the State Capitol, bus in hundreds of school kids for a backdrop and listen to folks from Washington tell us how to fix our schools. We have press conferences to announce an “Alabama First” agenda that promises to bring back the electric chair, bring in charter schools and stop gay marriages in the next legislative session.

Interestingly, as we get ready for the next press conference we fail to talk about a lot of things that the public doesn’t generally know.

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Such as:

That there are first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth graders in Alabama who have never seen a new library book because the education trust fund has not funded libraries since 2009.

That the Accountability Act has now removed $50 million from the education trust fund to pay for perhaps a few hundred scholarships so that kids from failing schools can attend a private school. In other words, we have taken resources away from all the 733,000 students in public schools to benefit little more than a handful.

That study after study shows vouchers have a poor track record. Programs in Milwaukee, Cleveland and New Orleans have shown very mixed results; certainly nothing to justify the amount of money Alabama is devoting to them.

That while it is called the Alabama Accountability Act; there is little transparent about this bill. While school systems with failing schools like Barbour, Bullock, Chambers, Lowndes, Marengo and Sumter are not aware of any students utilizing an AAA scholarship; a scholarship granting organization says they have awarded more than 100 scholarships in these counties.

That while the public was told the AAA was meant to help students attending failing schools, we now know that a great number of scholarships have gone to students already attending private schools or attending non-failing schools.

That the proposed legislation to allow charter schools in Alabama will set up a new nine-member state bureaucracy that will be able to overrule local school boards and will take more money away from classrooms for “administrative” expenses.

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That nearly half of all charter schools in the U.S. are operated by private education management organizations (EMOs) which means key decisions are made at corporate headquarters, often out-of-state.

That there have been more than 80 independent studies about student achievement in charters schools and, at best, they have shown little benefit for charter students. The most highly-regarded is from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University that pointed out, “less than one hundredth of one percent of the variation in test performance is explainable by charter school enrollment.”

But hey, why do something with long term benefits when it’s so easy to kick the can down the road?

Besides, I made money last year on my Johnson & Johnson stock, the people who make Band-Aids. And it looks like Alabama will be using some more of them.

Larry Lee led the study, Lessons Learned from Rural Schools, and is a long-time advocate for public education. [email protected] read his blog:

Larry Lee
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