By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Thursday, September 8, 2016, the Alabama State School Board approved the contract of Michael Sentance of Massachusetts to be Alabama’s next State School Superintendent. The decision on August 8 to make Sentence, who has never actually been a school superintendent anywhere before, has been wildly controversial. On Friday, September 9, State School Board member Betty Peters (R) defended the decision to select Sentence in a column on the anti-Common Core blog site: Truth in American Education.com.
Peters wrote that, “One of six finalists, Sentance won my support during his 55-minute interview on August 4. I don’t think anyone in the crowded room was expecting what he said. Sentance gave us a brief but clear outline for his vision of education, modeled on the highly successful reform effort he had been part of in Massachusetts back in the early 1990s.”
Peters said that, “As he answered our questions, I looked around the room and saw the expressions on people’s faces and noticed a light of hope in the eyes of fellow board members. When the governor passionately asked him, “Why hasn’t anyone else told me this before (regarding AL’s assessment system),” it dawned on me this man from Massachusetts had a real chance of being selected. For the first time in my 13 plus years on the state school board, I believed Alabama could be successful in turning around our educational system and improving students’ lives as Massachusetts had done. As Sentance had explained about Massachusetts’ success, I knew an endeavor this massive would require years of close cooperation among k-12, 2 and 4 year institutions, colleges of education, pre-k, business and industry, and of course parents, the Governor and the Legislature.”
Peters called Sentance, “One of the nation’s most competent K-12 leaders and a Federalist.”
Growing dissatisfaction with Alabama’s controversial College and Career Ready standards, which are aligned with Common Core also played a role in the decision.
Peters wrote that, “Sentance has since 2010 valiantly objected to the misguided Common Core regime. He argued for rigorous, proven standards that are developed by teachers and academics in a state. He believed “the states should be doing this work as it allows for creativity and the pioneering innovation that states can provide…. It’s why we were able to introduce engineering into our science standards in 2000—something still lacking in any depth in the Next Generation Science Standards. So I believe that standards should always be established by states without the coercion from the federal government.”
Many members of Alabama’s education establishment preferred Jefferson County Superintendent Dr. Craig Pouncey for the post.
The Board however questioned whether someone so entrenched in the Alabama education could bring meaningful reform to the state’s education system which is ranked a disappointing 41st nationally. Alabama’s educational rankings have been consistently dropping since the adoption of the College and Career Ready Standards.
Sentence told the Associated Press, “My goal is to raise the achievement of students in Alabama so whatever people think about Alabama, they know that their schools are good and improving…. I’m excited about the challenge… It’s going to take a lot of work. It’s going to take the trust and faith of educators to work with me. So that is something I have to earn. I understand that.”
Peters stated, “I have faith that Alabamians will indeed work together and turn our schools around. Our students don’t deserve the status quo. We must turn back to the time when we were progressing in order to march toward true progress.”
Sentence succeeds Tommy Bice, who retired in February.