By Larry Lee
“Hyperbole” should be the middle name of most all politicians. They are masters of embellishment, of overstatement, of stretching the truth and tall tales both big and small.
As we’ve all be told from birth, “take it with a grain of salt” is super advice when listening to a politician pontificate. I was reminded of this a couple days ago when I read an article in the Gadsden Times titled: “State board member addresses superintendent hire, other issues.”
The article pertained to a recent speech given by state school board member Mary Scott Hunter of Huntsville to the Etowah County Republicans. You can read it here. Ms. Hunter was trying to explain her justification for voting to hire non-educator Mike Sentance from Massachusetts to run the Alabama Department of Education.
Having written extensively on this topic, talked to many educators and done a lot of research, I read the article carefully. She said when the board was searching for a new state superintendent, Sentance was in impressive candidate. She talked to him on the phone and liked what she heard. “He knocked it out of the park in his interview,” she said.
Of course, since beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, “knocking it out of the park,” is certainly open for speculation. But I will say that Mr. Sentance was more impressive in his interview than the board members who conducted the interview. Six candidates were interviewed and NONE were asked questions germane to only their background and experiences. Instead, each board member asked all six a pre-selected “canned” question.
For instance, Sentance applied for the Alabama State Superintendent’s job in 2011 and did not get an interview. Yet no one asked him why he is more qualified now than he was five years ago. And five of the board members, plus the governor, were on the 2011 search committee. Did they even know he was a former applicant? Was the vetting process thorough enough to turn up this fact?
Sentance also withdrew in writing on June 27 (the deadline for applications was June 7.) Why did no one on the State Board ask him about this? Why did he withdraw? Why did he change his mind by June 28?
Back to the article in question.
Looking at Sentance’s tenure in education in Massachusetts, Hunter said, the board found that Alabama spends about 72 percent of what Massachusetts does on education.
“We don’t get 72 percent of their results,” she explained.
According to the Census Bureau, in 2014 Massachusetts spent $15,087 per pupil in public schools, Alabama spent $9,028. So these numbers show Alabama only spent 59.8 percent per pupil as Massachusetts did in 2014.
What was the return on investment? The 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores shows on 8th grade reading for all students, the Bay State scored 274, while Alabama was 259.
Divide these scores into how much was spent per pupil and you discover Massachusetts spent $55.06 for every NAEP point, while Alabama spent $34.87. In other words, we got a lot more for our money than they did.
As to the 72 percent of Massachusetts results Ms. Hunter says we don’t get. She is right as 259 is 94.5 percent of 274. So we are doing much better than 72 percent.
She also said in her remarks, “Professionals in the classroom always have to be part of the solution.” This is a fascinating statement considering that the voices of educators at all levels were completely ignored during this search process. If a single Alabama educator endorsed Mike Sentence, I haven’t found him/her. And to claim we should include educators when in reality they are ignored, is dumbfounding.
Articles such as this make it easy to understand why 64 percent of the 1,286 respondents to this survey give the state school board a failing score of D or F.