By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
Gov. Bentley made headlines a few weeks ago when he told an audience at a public forum that our public school system “sucks.”
But Gov. Bentley is wrong about our public school system.
Alabama’s high school graduation rate rose 18 percent between 2011 and 2015. Today, 89.3 percent of students graduate high school in Alabama: the third highest graduation rate in the country!
Our increase in the number of graduating students who take an AP exam in high school also outpaces the national rate, and our statewide math proficiency on the ACT Aspire test is up across all grades.
Alabama’s state-funded pre-k program is one of only six in the entire country to meet all 10 of the National Institute for Early Education Research standards of quality. We are also one of only 10 states to require school districts to offer full-day kindergarten programs.
And it was a team of students from Alabama’s Russellville City School system that won first place in the world’s largest rocketry competition, and went on to represent the United States at the Paris International Airshow last year.
These are only some of the many successes we have seen from our state’s public education system. But all of that was ignored when Gov. Bentley made the unfortunate decision to tell hundreds-of-thousands of kids, parents, teachers, school administrators and support personnel that they “suck.”
While there is certainly room for improvement in our public school systems, and some systems are struggling to meet basic standards, it is wrong for the governor to label our entire public school system as “sucking.”
And even if he were right, how would saying they “suck” make anything better?
Yes, it is true that Alabama’s student test scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, are at the bottom of the nation. But the NAEP standards are not aligned with our curriculum. That means that students in the 4th grade may be getting tested on things that aren’t taught in Alabama until the 5th grade.
The NAEP also doesn’t take into account things like improvements that particular child or school has made over the last year or two. And our own state testing has shown improvements across all grades in math proficiency on the ACT Aspire test.
I would also remind the governor that he is the chair of the state’s Board of Education. The buck stops with him.
If we want to see more improvement in our children’s education and test scores, we should start by turning away from these failed “reforms” that have been forced on our public schools the last six years and get back to investing in programs we know work.
Instead of wasting money on charter schools (which have defrauded other state governments out of more than $100 million dollars and still failed to show any significant improvement in students’ test scores), we should be expanding programs like the Alabama Reading Initiative, our pre-k program and the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative.
Instead of diverting millions of dollars away from our public schools to fund the Accountability Act (which has only helped 39 kids in the entire state who weren’t already in a private school to transfer from a failing school to a private school), we should be hiring more teachers so we can lower the student-to-teacher ratio in our classrooms.
Instead of leading the nation in budget cuts to our K-12 schools, let’s try leading the nation in per-student funding and see what results we can achieve!
As long as the state continues to take resources out of classrooms, gamble on “reforms” that in other states have failed or been hotbeds for corruption and waste, cut educators’ pay and benefits, and demand higher expectations without the resources or moral support to achieve them, we won’t see any change in our state’s national rankings.
No, governor, our public school system does not “suck.” But you know what does? Our state leaders ignoring our children’s academic successes and undermining their education at every turn.
Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.