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Opinion | Montgomery’s struggles will be Alabama’s future if public education funding isn’t addressed

Josh Moon

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The report cards for Alabama’s public schools dropped this week, and once again, we’re all failing.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, Alabama’s public schools are doing a fine job educating the overwhelming majority of students who enter their doors each day. There are fantastic teachers in those schools, great administrators and some of the finest academic programs in the country.

But a state school system should be judged first and foremost on how well it educates its most needy students, in its most poverty-stricken areas. And in that regard, Alabama is failing mightily.

Mainly because the system we have in place is flawed.

Intentionally flawed.

According to numbers from former Montgomery County school board member and education reporter Larry Lee, in 2017, as part of the Alabama “accountability” act, the state identified 75 schools (6 percent) that were failing based on various criteria dreamed up by the geniuses in the Alabama Legislature.

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In those 75 schools, Lee said, there were more than 42,000 students. Over 90 percent of those students are black. Nearly 70 percent of those students received a free or reduced lunch, meaning their parents are some of the poorest people in America.

Most of those students reside in economically depressed areas. Many lack access to reliable broadband internet access at their homes. Many of those students don’t know where their next meals will come from.

The schools most of them attend are some of the poorest in the country, lacking in basic resources and technology.

In short, each year, Alabama’s Department of Education identifies the most needy students in the state.

And it then does absolutely nothing to help them.

Actually, let me take that back.

Alabama then goes about hurting those students even more.

Because instead of doing the obvious — and dumping money and resources into those “failing” schools — the state instead removes money.

It incentivizes student transfers for the wealthier students by providing tax breaks to any students wishing to transfer to a non-failing school or a private school. Those tax breaks are often more than the per-pupil allotment the public school received for that same student.

There is no transportation money provided. And schools are not required to accept students who wish to transfer from the “failing” school.

Which leaves the poorest, neediest students — often the special needs students — stuck in the “failing” school, while their classmates with resources head elsewhere.

Which leaves some 40,000 of the poorest, neediest kids stuck in a perpetual cycle of hopelessness.

Their only chance out of extreme poverty and crime-riddled lives is a decent education. And the state of Alabama has implemented a system that ensures they’ll never receive one.

If you’re wondering how this will end, let me help: The entire state will be Montgomery.

For decades now, Montgomery has operated one of the most segregated school systems in the state. And it has pretended that everything was fine, as it marginalized its black and poor residents into traditional public schools and shuffled its affluent white students off to private schools and a magnet system that was five times more likely to accept a white student than a black student with the same test scores.

Montgomery’s leaders have tried it all — up to and including simply changing kids’ grades to make things look better — to keep from properly funding their schools and addressing the growing issues that always, always, always come from high-poverty school districts, whether they be predominantly black or white.

And now, they’re in a full-blown crisis.

Because the schools have been filled with poor students and an extremely high number of special needs students, and their test scores and attendance numbers (a completely bogus measure of achievement included only to ensure high-poverty schools score lowest) are pitiful.

As the schools failed the students, the students became criminals, turning to the only skills they were learning that might put food in their stomachs.

It is so bad that businesses won’t locate to the state capital. Military officers won’t move their families to Montgomery. Businesses and young people are fleeing the city in droves.

And deservedly so. Montgomery’s leadership long ago knew there were problems in their schools, but instead of addressing them they chose deception and sugarcoating. Instead of helping the students who needed it the most, they chose to focus on creating more pathways for privileged students to leave them behind. And the cost of those sins is crippling the entire city.

Pay attention, Alabama. This is your future.

 

Education

State releases failing schools list

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday, the Alabama Department of Education released its annual list of failing schools. According to U.S. News and World Report, Alabama has the 47th ranked education system in the entire country. Only the states of South Carolina, Louisiana, and New Mexico do a poorer job of education their children than the state of Alabama.

The failing schools represent the 76 worst performing schools in the entire state. According to the State Department of Education these schools are the poorest performing six percent of schools in the state.

The worst performing schools are:

  • Barbour County Schools system, Barbour County High School
  • Bullock County Schools’ South Highlands Middle School and Bullock County High School
  • Chambers County Schools’ John P Powell Middle School
  • Choctaw County Schools’ Choctaw County High School
  • Dallas County Schools’ Keith Middle-High School, Southside High School, and Tipton Durant Middle School
  • Escambia County School’s Escambia County High School
  • Greene County Schools’ Greene County High School and Robert Brown Middle School
  • Hale County Schools’ Greensboro High School
  • Jefferson County School’s Center Point High School
  • Lee County Schools’ Loachapoka High School
  • Lowndes County Schools’ Calhoun High School and Central High School
  • Mobile County Schools: C Rain High School, Booker T Washington Middle School, Calloway Smith Middle School, Mobile County Training Middle School, Morningside Elementary School, Pillans Middle School, Chastang-Fournier Middle School, CF Vigor High School, and Lillie B Williamson High School
  • Monroe County Schools’ Monroe County High School
  • Montgomery County Schools: Bellingrath Middle School, Capitol Heights Middle School, Chisholm Elementary School, Davis Elementary School, Highland Gardens Elementary School, Jefferson Davis High School, Johnson Elementary School, Lanier Senior High School, Nixon Elementary School, and Southlawn Middle School
  • Perry County Schools’ Francis Marion School and Robert C Hatch High School
  • Sumter County Schools’ Kinterbish Junior High School, York West End Junior High School, and Sumter Central High School
  • Wilcox County Schools’ Wilcox Central High School and the Camden School Of Arts & Technology
  • Bessemer City Schools’ Bessemer City High School
  • Birmingham City Schools: Bush Hills Academy, Charles A Brown Elementary School, George Washington Carver High School, Green Acres Middle School, Hayes K-8, Hudson K-Eight School, Huffman Middle School, Huffman High School-Magnet, Inglenook School, Jackson-Olin High School, Parker High School, WE Putnam Middle School-Magnet, Ossie Ware Mitchell Middle School, Robinson Elementary School, Smith Middle School, Arrington Middle School, Washington Elementary School, Jones Valley Middle School, Wenonah High School, and the Woodlawn High School-Magnet
  • Dothan City Schools have the Honeysuckle Middle School
  • Fairfield City Schools’ Fairfield High Preparatory School and Robinson Elementary School
  • Huntsville City Schools’ Jemison High School, Lakewood Elementary School, and Ronald McNair 7-8
  • Linden City Schools’ George P Austin Junior High School
  • Midfield City Schools’ Midfield High School
  • Selma City Schools’ Selma High School and R.B.Hudson Middle School
  • Tarrant City Schools’ Tarrant High School
  • Tuscaloosa City Schools’ Westlawn Middle School

Again these are the lowest performing 6 percent of public schools in the entire state of Alabama and they have formally been identified as such by the state of Alabama’s Department of Education.

If your child is zoned to one of these schools then under the Alabama Accountability Act of 2015 you have a right to ask for a transfer to another public school within the system. You also have the option of applying for a transfer to a school in another public school system if there is one that is willing to take your child or your child may be eligible for a scholarship to attend a private school. Hundreds of Alabama children have received scholarships out of their failing schools thanks to the Alabama Accountability Act. Taxpayers who want a portion of their state income taxes to go to a scholarship granting organization (SGO) need to opt in on their state income tax returns.

The Alabama Accountability Act was sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Del Marsh (R-Anniston). Marsh has been an outspoken proponent of expanding school choice in Alabama including charter schools.

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This is school choice week in the state of Alabama.

Alabama Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan said, “The Alabama Republican Party fully supports school choice. We believe that parents, not the government, know their children’s needs best and should have the opportunity to choose a quality education for their sons and daughters. Zip codes should not be part of an educational formula that defines where a student must attend school – unless the parent agrees.”

“Our children are tomorrow’s leaders,” Lathan added. “School choice empowers parents to make those decisions resulting in a stronger and more confident America. From charter schools, public, magnet, private or parochial schools to homeschooling- a parent should be first and foremost in the decision-making process of what is best for their child/children. While we celebrate National School Choice Week, we also honor our teachers and the incredible influence they have on our students and their futures. As a former public school teacher, the joy of watching a young person grow and learn is unforgettable.”

“As taxpayers, it is imperative that parents make the most important educational decisions for their precious ones- their children,” Lathan concluded.

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Education

Opinion | An open letter to Rachel Bryars of the Alabama Policy Institute and the people of Alabama

David Tarwater

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Dear Ms. Bryars,

I read your criticism of the Baldwin County school board’s resolution calling for a repeal of the Alabama Accountability Act (AAA). Having been a member of this board at that time, I felt the need to respond.

I recently retired after six years of service to Baldwin County schools. It was a great honor to serve. I was mentioned in your article as I was the one to initially offer this repeal resolution.

Your article was titled,School boards are choosing systems over students by calling for scholarship repeal.

While running my own business, I put in countless hours in my board position, all to benefit the children of our county. This could be said about any other member of the board as well. I point this out to strongly disagree with your suggestion that our resolution was offered for any other purpose than to benefit students, and the idea that we are choosing “systems over students” is categorically false.

It’s important to note that the Alabama Policy Institute says one of their main goals is school choice.  For example, a letter from a private school principal on API’s website illustrates how “school choice” leads to school privatization, or at very least public funding of private schools.

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When considering your position, I feel as if there are very important  details that readers need to consider. I also offer a response on a few of your other points.

First, to address your data on school funding for Mobile, Montgomery, and Baldwin Counties, there are other factors when looking at these statistics. First, let me point out that school systems received less state monies in 2018 on a per pupil basis than they did in 2007. Over a decade has passed and public education professionals are receiving less resources to move our children forward. When we consider inflation, state funding has been cut by 20 percent. Less than ten years ago Baldwin County Schools had to release 1,100 employees because of drastic reductions in state funding. Alabama continues to be way behind in the country in education funding. Our funding per pupil is over $2,000 less than the national average and our K-12 achievement Index ranks 45th in the nation.

To suggest that education funding is where it needs to be for Alabama, and that we should be happy with recent tiny increases, is an insult to our great teachers and faculty. Anything that decreases our already deficient funding of education, which the AAA does, is unacceptable for the students and people of Alabama.

Baldwin County, like the vast majority of school systems, does not have a “failing school”. I have a hard time agreeing that students and teachers in our great schools pay for a $9,000 voucher to the Mobile County  private school you listed in your article. The AAA has meant $5 million less in funding for Baldwin County alone since its adoption.

Five million dollars could mean more teachers, support staff, technology, and extracurricular programs for our students, the type of things that will allow our schools to be truly world-class places. The AAA has siphoned in excess of $146 million from the Education Trust Fund for the state. These are real numbers that have real effects on our children.

I called for the repeal of the AAA because the law means our tax dollars fund large amounts for private schools just so they can take a few of our students, when instead we should be making the improvement of these struggling schools our greatest emphasis and priority.

While the three interviews you share from parents of students utilizing the scholarship are very compelling, my concern is what the effects are to the “failing schools” left behind. What happens with the rest of their student body? What does this do to teachers and students morale? My other concern with the AAA is the lack of accountability. Public Schools must report academic success but there are no such requirements for vouchered students.

In response to your biblical example and idea that  those opposed to the law do not want students to have the “best learning environment possible”,  I feel as if we cannot honestly say that we are caring for ALL of our children if, instead of investing heavily in the schools and communities that have the greatest need, we are choosing to brand them as failing and leaving the vast majority of their students at a disadvantage.

The children of my community deserve better than the Alabama Accountability Act, and that is why I will continue to call for its repeal. I hope that others, whether they are private individuals, institutions, or other school boards will also continue to speak out against it. The Alabama Accountability Act’s stated purpose was to identify and fix “failing” schools, but the reality of the law is that it is actually only failing our students and the future of education in our great state.

Our children deserve the best, and I hope you will join me in reaching out to your local Board of Education and state legislators and letting them know it is time to repeal this law.

 

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Education

Trump to appoint Dr. Annette Shelby to Kennedy Center advisory committee

Chip Brownlee

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The White House said Wednesday that President Donald Trump plans to appoint Dr. Annette Shelby, an academic and Alabama native, to a key post as a member of a John F. Kennedy Center advisory committee.

Dr. Shelby, a graduate of the University of Alabama, is married to U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama.

With the appointment, Dr. Shelby will serve on the prestigious Advisory Committee on the Arts of the JFK Center for the Performing Arts, a board appointed by the president whose members are chosen based on their knowledge and expertise in the arts.

Dubbed a key post by the White House, the committee’s members serve as ambassadors to and from their home states and advise the center’s board of trustees. The Kennedy Center is known as the nation’s official cultural center and as a national home for the arts.

Rene I. Augustine of Maryland was also appointed to the committee Wednesday.

“I am very proud of my wife, Dr. Shelby, for her nomination today by President Trump to be a member of the Kennedy Center Advisory Committee,” Sen. Shelby said in a statement to APR. “She spent her career as an academic, teaching at both the University of Alabama and Georgetown University for more than 30 years.  Dr. Shelby has been widely recognized for her distinguished career of teaching, research, and service.  She has worked diligently to earn this honor.”

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The committee is largely charged with making recommendations to the center’s board of trustees about existing and prospective cultural activities that are carried out by the Kennedy Center.

Dr. Shelby, who was born in Kinston, Alabama, in Coffee County, was the first woman to become a full tenured professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of business. She obtained a Ph.D. in speech from Louisiana State University and her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Alabama.

Well known as a leading academic and a dedicated public servant in Alabama, in 1991, Dr. Shelby was named professor emerita at Georgetown University. She also has been a visiting professor at the University of Pittsburgh and the Helsinki School of Economics.

At Georgetown, she also served as the school’s director of graduate and undergraduate programs at Oxford University. A member of Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Kappa Phi, two of the most prestigious multidisciplinary academic honor societies in the country, the University of Alabama at Birmingham honored Dr. Shelby with an honorary doctoral degree in humanities in 2003.

Throughout her academic work, Dr. Shelby has specialized in management communication and has focused her research on theories of influence and corporate advocacy. Her long and distinguished academic career has led to numerous research and service awards including the Leavey Award for Excellence in Private Enterprise Education, the Danforth Association Program Award for Excellence in Teaching, the Joseph F. LeMoine Award for Undergraduate and Graduate Teaching Excellence, the University of Alabama’s Julia and Henry Tutwiler Award, and Georgetown University’s Ronald L. Smith Distinguished Service Award.

Dr. Shelby is also a fellow and distinguished member of the Association for Business Communication.

She has held fundraising responsibilities for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the Lombardi Cancer Center in Washington. Working on behalf of the March of Dimes in Washington and as a member of the Honorary Advisory Committee for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and the Honorary Advisory Board for the National Osteoporosis Foundation, Dr. Shelby has a history of philanthropy.

She was also a member of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Healthy Women 2000 Advisory Committee.

Back home in Tuscaloosa, where she and Sen. Shelby reside, she’s been an active member of the Tuscaloosa County Mental Health Board. In Montgomery, she serves on the Alabama Shakespeare Festival Board.

Continuing her commitment to academia, Dr. Shelby serves on the University of Pittsburgh Global Studies Board of Advisors, the Stillman College Board of Trustees and the University of Alabama President’s Advisory Board.

 

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Opinion | What the new Carnegie classifications mean for Alabama universities

Allen Mendenhall

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The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Chip Brownlee/APR)

The new Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education is out. Once operated by the Carnegie Foundation, the so-called “Carnegie classifications” are now run by the School of Education at Indiana University.

The classifications are by university type or category: doctoral universities, master’s colleges and universities, baccalaureate colleges, baccalaureate / associate colleges, associate’s colleges, special focus institutions, and tribal universities. When you hear people refer to the coveted R-1 status, they’re referring to a sub-classification within the “doctoral universities” category, which until this year trifurcated into “highest research activity” (R-1), “higher research activity” (R-2), and “moderate research activity” (R-3).

Under this taxonomy, Auburn, Alabama, UAB, and UAH were classified as “Doctoral Universities,” whereas Troy, Samford, Faulkner, Montevallo, and Alabama State were classified as “Master’s Colleges & Universities.” Huntingdon, Stillman, Tuskegee, and Talladega were designated “Baccalaureate Colleges.”

The many universities in Alabama fall into different classifications.  I have mentioned only a few universities not to suggest favor or quality, but to illustrate the spectrum of classification possibilities.

Not long ago, I wrote that “Carnegie should drop the phrases ‘highest research activity,’ higher research activity,’ and ‘moderate research activity’ that accompany the R-1, R-2, and R-3 label because they are misleading: the Carnegie rankings do not measure research activity but research expenditure.” Carnegie has corrected this flaw to some extent, relabeling its R-1 and R-2 categories as “Very high research activity” and “High research activity,” respectively—thereby eliminating the “er” and “est” suffixes (in “higher” and “highest”) that indicated the comparative and superlative degree (i.e., that made certain universities sound better than others).

So where do Alabama universities fall in the new 2018 classifications?  

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Auburn, Alabama, and UAB are the only Alabama universities in the R-1 category. UAH is an R-2. Troy, Faulkner, Montevallo, and Alabama State remain “Master’s Colleges & Universities.” Tuskegee entered that category. Samford is now classified under the heading “Doctoral / Professional Universities” that did not exist in earlier classifications. This category accounts for professional-practice degrees like juris doctorates or medical degrees.

Huntington, Stillman, and Talladega remain “Baccalaureate Colleges.”

If you’re curious about the classification of your alma mater or favorite Alabama university, you can search the listings here.

It would be a mistake to treat these classifications as a hierarchal ranking of quality.  They are, rather, descriptive differentiations that inform the public about the size and spending of universities. The only category in which universities receive something like a vertical ranking is “Doctoral Universities,” which tier universities according to their alleged “research activity.”

Eric Kelderman points out that “critics wonder whether going for more research money and a higher Carnegie classification really has more to do with elevating institutional image, and comes at the expense of academic quality—particularly for undergraduates.” This is a profound concern.

The Carnegie classifications could incentivize malinvestment in doctoral degrees and number of faculty members. The job market for humanities faculty is shrinking while the number of humanities doctorates is rising, but to achieve their desired Carnegie classifications, universities continue to churn out humanities Ph.Ds. who have diminishing chances of landing tenure-track positions.

The Carnegie classifications don’t measure research quality, either. One university could spend millions on research with negligible outcomes while another could spend little on research yet yield high-quality, groundbreaking scholarship.

The Carnegie classifications are not perfect, but they command attention among administrators in higher education and can involve public funds. For that reason alone, anyone who has a stake or interest in a university in Alabama should pay attention too.

Allen Mendenhall is associate dean at Faulkner University Thomas Goode Jones School of Law and executive director of the Blackstone & Burke Center for Law & Liberty. Visit his website at AllenMendenhall.com.

 

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Opinion | Montgomery’s struggles will be Alabama’s future if public education funding isn’t addressed

by Josh Moon Read Time: 4 min
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