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The red hot mess politicians have heaped on our schools

By Larry Lee
Education Matters

While I will never claim that I don’t cuss, I work hard to refrain from doing so on my blog.  But in this case, it’s damn hard not to.

Politicians, particularly Senate majority leader Del Marsh and Rep. Terri Collins, seem to have gone out of their way to tear down our public schools and paint a picture that is no where close to accurate.

P. T. Barnum could never have created the circus we now have throughout the state thanks to legislation these good folks sponsored in 2012 and 2013.

In 2012, Terri Collins passed a bill to give every school in the state a letter grade of A-F.  And unfortunately, she got a bunch of both  Republican and Democrat friends to go along with her. Go here to see a list of the folks who serve in the House and Senate today who voted for this bill in 2012.

I have looked and looked at research and have yet to find any worthwhile reason to give letter grades to schools. The fact that only 14 states do it is telling.  And almost none of the top state school systems in the country use such grades. That should tell us something.

And the fact that a blue ribbon group of Alabama educators worked for two years with Collins to come up with an equitable grading system without success is also insightful.  They finally just threw up their hands and went home.  And as best I can tell, none of their carefully considered recommendations were used to determine school grades released Feb. 1.

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Then in 2013, Del Marsh got the Alabama Accountability Act passed, the shenanigans used to pass this bill have been well-documented. This bill requires that the state department of education annually release a list of the lowest performing six percent of all schools.

Here’s where things get really funky.

The AAA “failing” list was released last week. And Feb. 1, the first ever A-F report cards were made public.

Now, it is hardly unreasonable to think that if we have 75 “failing” schools, they must all be “F” schools.  Sorry to disappoint you, but that is not the case.  Instead, of the 75, 36 got F, 37 got D and 2 got C.

None of this makes any sense.  There are a total of 104 schools that got an F.  But only 36 of them are considered “failing.” It’s a joke. A huge, high-flying triple-header joke.

And get this, the majority of the scoring used for the A-F reports cards comes from a test called ACT Aspire that the U.S. Department of Education said was not properly aligned with our standards and which the state school board has voted to not use again. That’s about like me getting on a bathroom scale I know is not accurate and then bragging about how much weight I have lost.  It defies logic.

But unfortunately, the real joke is on our schools, principals, teachers and especially students.  Instead of doing our best to lift them up–we’re doing our best to tear them down.  To make them feel second class.  Complete and absolute failures if you will.

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Naturally there will be people who say that all I’m doing is making excuses and trying to maintain the status quo.  But those folks generally have no clue what is going on in our public schools today and the challenges our teachers face.  Yes, we have schools that need improvement.  But how do you give a simple grade to something as complex as today’s education reality.  Part of the scoring system for A-F involves “chronic absenteeism.” A student at a Mobile high school had lupus last year and unfortunately died. He was counted as being chronically absent and counted against the school’s score.

This makes sense? Not in my world.

The state used to have an awards program called “Torchbearer Schools.”  These were schools judged to be doing an excellent  job.  There were 20 of them in 2013.  I helped the state celebrate their success  by driving thousands of miles around the state to shoot pictures at each school and put together a video about them.  I saw with my own eyes what they were doing.

Out of curiosity, I looked at the new report card score for each of these schools.  Four were given an F, four were given a D, seven got a C, four got a B and only one an A.  So according to the report card, the majority of these schools have gone from the penthouse to the outhouse since 2013.

Pardon me, but I don’t believe this is the case any more than I believe that the A-F report card legislation or the Alabama Accountability Act bill is good for our public schools.


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