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Opinion | Rebuttal to Phil Williams

Larry Lee

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Former state senator Phil Williams of Gadsden is Director of Policy Strategy for the Alabama Policy Institute.  He recently sent an article to state media pounding his chest about how Alabama has fallen behind Mississippi on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test scores.

Unfortunately, most of what he said was fiction, rather than fact.

For example, he exclaims, “School choice is evil they said!  Well, Mississippi has put in new choice measures and other reforms in leadership and approach in education with, obviously, strong effect.”

The only thing obvious about this statement is that Williams made no attempt to find out what has really happened in Mississippi.

So, I sent Williams article to Nancy Loome, executive director of the Parents Campaign in Jackson, MS and asked for her thoughts.  (The Parents Campaign is a non-profit that has done amazing work in Mississippi to help the legislature understand what is really important to move education forward.)

Here is what she told me:

Ha! Crediting school choice with Mississippi’s gains is absolutely laughable, and it is incredibly offensive to the PUBLIC school teachers who worked so hard to move their students forward. We have the most restrictive charter school law in the country. Because of that, we have authorized only six charter schools in the four years our state has allowed them (less than a quarter of one percent of Mississippi public school students are enrolled in charter schools), and their performance has not been stellar..

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 Our only voucher program is for children with special needs. It serves very few children and none of them participate in NAEP.

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 Mississippi’s gains are due to targeted funding for teacher training in LETRS (research-based literacy instruction methodology) and for literacy coaches in grades K-3. The gains track directly with spending in early-grade literacy instruction.

In other words, Williams has absolutely no clue what he is talking about.

As to be expected, the once senator goes on to attack and blame the Alabama Education Association, the elected state school board and universities that train teachers.

Williams’ implication in all of this is that somehow the challenges of Alabama education lie solely at the feet of liberal Democrats who only want to keep the status quo.

Again, he is wrong.

At this moment we are surveying people across the state in regards to the vote on March 3 as to whether we should switch from an elected school board to an appointed board.

More than 400 people have now responded.  Some 40 percent identify themselves as Republicans and 38 percent say they are Independent.  Exactly the opposite of who Williams wants to blame.

And 57 percent believe our education is going in the wrong direction.  So, they are not clinging to whatever the heck Williams thinks the status quo is.

But get this.  Why are we not progressing?  Because no one has faith or confidence in the legislature that Williams was a part of for eight years.  When asked to give the legislature a letter grade, 73 percent handed out either a D or F.  Only 20 percent rated them as a C.

As to Williams plea to switch from an elected board to one that is appointed (like we had 50 years ago that was deemed to be failing). 97 percent say they will vote NO on this amendment.

Why are they voting no?  Some 72 percent say they do not trust the state senate to appoint the state school board.  In addition, 96 percent say they have very little confidence in senate majority leader Del Marsh to act in the best interest of our schools.

(Under the proposed amendment, the governor will appoint members to the state board—but they must be confirmed by the state senate which Marsh runs with an iron hand.)

Rather than continuing to bellow about what he obviously knows nothing about, Phil Williams would be well-served to go spend four hours as a teacher’s aide in a high poverty classroom to get a taste of the real world.

He would find it far different than the fantasy world in which he now lives in.

Larry Lee is a public-school advocate and co-author of the study, Lessons Learned From Rural Schools.  He is a former member of the Montgomery County school board.[email protected]

 

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