By Rep. Craig Ford
Last week, our State Superintendent of Education announced a decision that is so spectacularly stupid you almost have to assume the intention is to hurt our schools.
That decision is to replace the ACT preparation exam, called the ACT Aspire, with the actual ACT as a measure of school accountability.
Think about that for a second. Replacing the preparation exam with the actual exam is like sending a minor league baseball player who has a low batting average up to the major league and expecting him to start knocking balls out of the park.
When half of all kids from Alabama never attend college, and half of those who do leave before graduating with a four-year degree, do we really expect the majority of them to score highly on the ACT?
In fact, the whole point of college is that the standards are supposed to be above average. If everybody had a four-year degree, then that college degree wouldn’t be any more valuable than a high school diploma is today. The reason a degree often means more money is because not everyone has the degree and that level of training.
Yes, government should make sure that no child misses the chance to go to college because they can’t afford it or weren’t given the resources they needed while in K-12 to be successful. That’s why I have pushed every year for a lottery to fund college scholarships for at least the first two years of school.
But expecting every child to be college ready is unrealistic! This plan of using the ACT to measure whether we are meeting Federal accountability requirements is only setting our schools up for failure because the college standards are supposed to be above average.
It is not the job of the government and the public schools to make sure that every child goes on to get a four-year degree. What is the government’s and the schools’ job is to make sure that every child is prepared for life after high school. For some kids, that is a college degree. For others, it’s a trade certification or lower level degree.
Somebody has to be a plumber. Somebody has to be an electrician. Somebody has to work in the Gadsden Goodyear plant.
Even Registered Nurses don’t have to have a four-year degree (many nurses have an Associate’s Degree from one of Alabama’s Community Colleges). Most jobs, in fact, don’t require a four-year college degree. And the problem we have in this State is not that we don’t have enough people with college degrees to do the jobs that require a degree. Our problem is that we have too many people who don’t have that middle level of education and experience that is required to do the jobs that are available – jobs that pay well (sometimes even better than some of the jobs that require a college degree) but require specialized experience and training, such as construction, welding or machine automation.
This unrealistic goal of having every child ready to earn a four-year degree is leaving the vast majority of our kids without the education and experience that employers are actually looking for.
When the recession happened, employers did what they always do during recessions: they replaced human workers with computers and machines where they could, and started requiring higher levels of qualifications from the workers they did hire. As the recovery has continued, employers have kept these higher standards and haven’t gone back to hiring less qualified workers.
The result is that the middle class is shrinking, and it will continue to shrink until we start providing our children and those already in the workforce with the skills and education they actually need to get one of the thousands of good-paying jobs that are available in Alabama but aren’t currently filled because employers can’t find workers who can do the job.
This decision to use the ACT exam as a measure of Federal accountability standards is about as foolish as it gets. I can tell you right now that the majority of kids will not meet the standard because that’s the whole point of the exam!
The problem isn’t the test, educators or students. The problem is the philosophy coming out of Washington and Montgomery. It’s a philosophy that can’t see the forest for the trees, and is being pushed by bureaucrats (some of whom haven’t spent a single day in the classroom as a teacher) instead of actual educators and employers.
Rep. Craig Ford represents Gadsden and Etowah County in the Alabama House of Representatives. He served as the House Minority Leader from 2010-2016.