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Did The Tea Party Get Beat At Their Own Game?

Education Matters
By Larry Lee

My friends involved with Tea Party politics in Alabama decidedly favored either Michael Sentance of Massachusetts or Bill Evers of California as the next school superintendent. The reason? They said both were against Common Core standards.

Sentance was selected.

On Aug. 10 board member Matt Brown sent an email across the state saying he had heard a rumor that Tea Party supported state board members were going to support Craig Pouncey. He was directly pointing his finger at board members Betty Peters and Stephanie Bell and not so subtly encouraging people to put pressure on them. Bell and Peters were two of Sentance’s five votes Aug. 11. (Along with Brown, Mary Scott Hunter and Governor Bentley.)

Aug. 15 Eunie Smith, President of the Alabama Eagle Forum emailed all members of the state board praising their choice of Sentance.

Of course the education community in the state has been anything but supportive of the choice of Sentance. The fact that 3,000 people signed this petition opposing Sentance within 48 hours of it being posted is ample evidence.

Here’s where all of this gets funky.

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Michael Sentance only opposes the use of Common Core in Massachusetts. He believes the state already had more rigorous standards in place and that they took a step backward when they switched. He DOES NOT oppose Common Core in other states, especially ones in the south. Listen to this interview he did with a Massachusetts radio station.

You will hear him specifically mention Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana and talk about the use of bad tests, low standards and no progress in the south. In fact, he says that Common Core is “great news for southern states.”

So the Tea Party may, or may not, have their guy.

But what they do have is a very disgruntled education community, one that has lost a lot of faith in the present state board of education.

And now all signs point to an effort during the special session beginning today to pass legislation to go from an elected state board of education to an appointed board. This was talked about earlier this year in the regular session and Rep. Terri Collins had a bill to allow the governor to appoint the state school superintendent–instead of the state board.

The Tea Party is dead set against this. But their allies to battle such are far fewer today than they were a week ago. I have already had communications from superintendents saying that after SBOE did what they did last week, they will not oppose an appointed board. If this all plays out as many suspect it will, the Tea Party may have won the battle and lost the war.

There is no doubt that some lawmakers would like to drastically alter the governance of K 12 education. Remember, Michael Sentance’s education background is policy and process as directed through the office of governor. While he spent a year as Massachusetts’ “Secretary of Education.” this is a position appointed by the governor who answers to the governor. It is not comparable to the superintendent of the Alabama State Department of Education.

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We may have taken a first step in that direction. And the Tea Party may have unwittingly been part of the effort.

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