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Support for online education is growing among both Republicans and Democrats

Brandon Moseley

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The 2020 Education Next Survey revealed that support for online education is growing sharply, according to new results released this week. Approval of school choice recorded its highest level of support across both political parties.

The 14th annual Education Next survey shows that parents are willing to let their high school students complete nearly half of their courses online. Support for public school remains near the all-time high despite the problems with coronavirus last spring.

The survey is conducted annually by Harvard researchers and measures populist sentiment among Americans. Populism spans both the Republican and Democratic parties. The most populist Americans, regardless of political party, assign lower grades to public schools locally and nationally and express greater approval for measures to expand school choice.

The 2020 Education Next survey had more than 4,000 respondents including a nationally representative sample of adults as well as representative oversamples of teachers, Black, and Hispanic respondents.

Seventy-three percent of parents say they are willing to have their child take some high school courses via the Internet. This is a jump of 17 percentage points since 2009. On average, Americans say that high school students should be allowed to take 11 courses online toward the 24 courses typically required for graduation. This response represents a 22 percent increase from the average response of 9 courses in 2017.

Americans’ approval of public schools remains at or near the peak confidence recorded by the Education Next survey since it began in 2007. Fifty-eight percent of respondents give their local public schools a grade of A or B, which is down 2 points from last year and 30 percent give the nation’s public schools a similar grade, this is the highest level the survey has ever recorded.

The public also gives teachers high marks during this difficult time. On average, respondents rate 61 percent of local teachers as either excellent or good, which represents a five percentage point increase since 2018. They rate 14 percent of teachers as unsatisfactory.

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Populism is a distinctive brand with adherents in both parties. Though 56 percent of Republicans rank above the median in terms of populism, so do 46 percent of Democrats. Moreover, populism is a strong predictor of education-policy views: The most populist Americans assign lower grades to public schools locally and nationally and express greater approval for measures to expand school choice.

Support for teacher pay hikes remains nearly as high as it has been at any point since 2008, when the survey first surveyed the public on the issue. Among those given information about current salary levels in their state, 55 percent say teacher salaries should increase. This is essentially the same as last year and a jump of 19 percentage points over 2017. Among those not given salary information, 65 percent back an increase.

Americans are split on whether to increase overall investment in public schools. Among those told current expenditure levels, 45 percent say that K–12 school spending should increase. This level of support is 5 percentage points lower than last year’s, but it still registers 6 points higher than in 2017. Democrats support a boost in education spending by 56 percent, Black people 63 percent and Hispanic people 55 percent. Just 31 percent of Republicans support more education spending and 39 percent of white respondents.

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Support for school-choice reforms either holds steady or declines modestly since last year. The policy of giving tax credits to fund private-school scholarships for low-income students, a concept backed by the Trump administration and recently given a boost by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, draws the most support, with 59 percent support from Republicans and 56 percent support from Democrats.

Attitudes toward charter schools are divided along party lines with 54 percent of Republicans support charters, compared to only 37 percent of Democrats.

Vouchers to help pay private-school tuition continue to command strong support among Black respondents with 60 percent supporting universal vouchers and 65 percent supporting low-income vouchers. Hispanics had 62 percent support for universal vouchers and 59 percent support for low-income vouchers. Universal vouchers are more popular among Republicans than Democrats (56 percent to 47 percent), but the reverse is true of vouchers targeted to low-income students (45 percent to 52 percent).

Neither type of voucher polarizes public opinion as much as charter schools do. The Alabama Accountability Act established scholarships for students assigned to Alabama’s worst-performing schools.

Fifty-five percent of Americans endorse the idea of making public four-year colleges free to attend. This is a drop of 5 percentage points since last year. The concept divides Americans along party lines, with 74 percent support from Democrats, but just 29 percent support from Republicans.

On five issues — Common Core, charter schools, tax-credit-funded scholarships, merit pay for teachers and in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants — information about Trump’s positions polarizes opinion, moving Republicans toward the president and pushing Democrats away.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Alabama’s First Class Pre-K a bright spot in state’s Black Belt, report finds

Eddie Burkhalter

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Alabama’s Black Belt communities continue to be hard-hit when it comes to unemployment and a declining population, but according to a report released Tuesday, the region’s Pre-K program is a bright spot. 

The University of Alabama’s Education Policy Center released its latest report in the center’s “Black Belt 2020” series, each looking at different aspects of the majority Black counties that make up the state’s Black Belt.

Tuesday’s report — entitled “Access to Early Childhood Interventions and First Class Pre-K in Alabama; the Black Belt Region“ — shows that the state’s First Class Pre-K program is improving educational outcomes for students in the Black Belt and across the state.

Hunter Whann, a graduate student and research associate at the Education Policy Center, told reporters during a briefing Monday that Black Belt counties have a much higher percentage of single-parent households and, in general, higher percentages of participation among 4-year-olds in Pre-K programs.

Exceptions are Escambia, Lamar, Lowndes and Pike counties, which have less than 37 percent participation. 

“Some counties outside the Black Belt still have low access, so a lot of progress has been made, but of course, as always, there’s more progress to be made,” Whann said.

Noel Keeney, another graduate student and lead author of the center’s latest report, said he believes that because there’s a greater percentage of single-parent households in the Black Belt, and higher rates of participation in Pre-K, it’s evidence there’s a need for the resources that Pre-K provides to families. 

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Stephen Katsinas, director of the university’s Education Policy Center, noted that the National Institute of Early Childhood Education Research in April 2020, ranked Alabama’s First Class Pre-K as the highest quality state-funded pre- kindergarten program in the country for the 14th consecutive year. 

Katsinas said that from the very beginning of the state’s First Class Pre-K in 2000, and especially under Gov. Kay Ivey, the focus has been to develop Pre-K in the Black Belt. 

“And I would suggest these data show that that has been a successful approach,” Katsinas said. 

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Barbara Cooper, Alabama’s Secretary of Early Childhood Education, speaking to reporters during the briefing Monday said that from the beginning, officials knew there were some counties and some students that should be the focus of those resources. 

“We’ve been able to really see the type of gains in the Black Belt communities because the department has been so purposeful about making sure that we’re serving our most vulnerable populations,” Cooper said, adding that work continues to reach those counties with lower participation rates. 

Pamela Truelove-Walker, Region 3 Director for the Office of School Readiness, said Monday that the Black Belt is seeing Pre-K funding of almost $20 million during fiscal year 2020-2021, which employs approximately 466 teachers in those counties. 

“So we are excited about the intentionality and the purposefulness with which we are targeting those areas,” Truelove-Walker said. “Because we do know that what it is that we are providing for those children, those families, those homes, and even with workforce development. It is very important.” 

The data is clear, both Truelove-Walker and Cooper said Pre-K boosts school readiness skills, reading and math scores, social emotional development, but it is also closing achievement gaps for children living in poverty. 

“We are very excited that children who actually attend First Class Pre-K are making gains that are, in many instances, even double the gains that their peers are making who were not able to actually have a First Class Pre-K experience,” Truelove-Walker said. 

Additionally, First Class Pre-K allows families the ease of mind to know their children are receiving high-quality education while they themselves enter the workforce. 

“Those families are able then to seek jobs and have opportunities for workforce development that they would not have had if their children were not able to be enrolled in a high quality learning environment,” Truelove-Walker said. 

Parental involvement in a child’s education, a critical factor in future educational attainment outcomes also gets a boost through participation in Pre-K, Truelove-Walker said, and that involvement is then carried forward as the child progresses in school. 

Jinping Sun, assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership, Policy and Technology Studies at the University of Alabama, said Monday that research shows that family participation in children’s early learning is twice as predictive of a student’s academic success as family socioeconomic status.

“The earlier parents become involved in their children’s literacy practices, the more profound the results and the longer lasting the effects will be,” Sun said. 

Data also shows that the benefits of Pre-K last well into a child’s later school years, Copper said. 

“We have children that have been in Pre-K from its inception, and they continue to outperform their peers in both reading and math,” Cooper said. “We also see long-term benefits of children not having as many behavior referrals, disciplinary referrals in elementary school. Having better attendance, because we tackle attendance from day one in Pre-K.”

To learn more about the Education Policy Center’s previous reports on the Black Belt, visit the center’s website here.

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Brock Kelley appointed as interim president Lurleen B. Wallace Community College

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Chancellor Jimmy Baker announced Monday the appointment of Dr. Brock Kelley as interim president of Lurleen B. Wallace Community College. Kelley will serve in the role until a president is named at the completion of a presidential search. Kelley succeeds Dr. Chris Cox, who served as interim president since December 2019.

Kelley’s career is focused on education and workforce development. Most recently, he served as regional director of workforce development for the Alabama Community College System. Prior to his role with the ACCS, Kelley served as director of workforce development for the Alabama Department of Education.

“Throughout his career, Dr. Kelley has proven to be a dynamic and innovative leader committed to the success of the students he served,” Baker said. “Brock’s experience marries the worlds of academics and workforce development, which is a tremendous asset to Lurleen B. Wallace Community College.”

An Opp, Alabama, native and Lurleen B. Wallace Community College alum, Kelley began his career as a special education teacher at Enterprise High School in Enterprise. He later served as a behavior specialist for Enterprise City Schools and principal at Charles Henderson High School in Troy.

Kelley also serves as an adjunct professor for Troy University. Kelley earned an associate of science at Lurleen B. Wallace Community College in Andalusia, where he was a member of the Saints baseball team. He earned a bachelor of science in Collaboration (K-6) and a master of science in collaboration (6-12) from Troy University.

He completed the education administration endorsement at Auburn University-Montgomery and earned his Ph.D. in adult and continuing education from Auburn University.

“As an LBW graduate I know just how special this college is and have experienced firsthand the commitment of the faculty, staff, and administration,” Kelley said. “It is an honor to serve the Andalusia, Opp, Greenville, and Luverne communities in this capacity and I’m eager to hit the ground running to create the best possible experience for LBW’s students.”

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Kelley’s tenure at LBW will begin Oct. 1.

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Governor announces the Alabama STEM Council

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Gov. Kay Ivey on Monday announced that she has signed Executive Order No. 721 establishing the Alabama STEM Council. The council will advise state leadership on ways to improve STEM-related education, career awareness and workforce development opportunities across the state.

“Alabama has continued to grow into an advanced manufacturing, aerospace engineering and cybertechnology center of excellence and as a result, the demand for qualified labor in these sectors has skyrocketed,” Ivey said. “The Alabama STEM Council will play a vital role in ensuring that our state’s future leaders have the opportunity to learn STEM-based skills that will help them transition into successful career pathways upon graduation.”

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics workers play a key role in the sustained growth and stability of Alabama’s economy. As companies continue to relocate or expand in Alabama, the state must develop an adept workforce that is prepared to adequately meet growing labor demands.

Ivey has appointed Dr. Neil Lamb, vice president for educational outreach at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, as chairman of the council.

“Our great state is home to several quality STEM-focused education and workforce initiatives. However, we lack a common system to weave these initiatives together into a network that reaches all learners across the state and expands the workforce pipeline,” Lamb said. “Establishing a statewide Council was a key recommendation from the Governor’s Advisory Council on Excellence on STEM, and I am thrilled to see that recommendation become reality through the Alabama STEM Council.”

State Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, who chairs the House Education Policy Committee, sponsored a bill in the 2020 Regular Legislative Session that sought to create the Alabama STEM Council as an independent state entity within the Alabama Department of Commerce. Although HB293 passed in the house with unanimous consent, it failed to advance in the Alabama Senate due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m extremely pleased the governor is taking the lead with the Executive Order to form the STEM Council,” Collins said. “Having the math and science experts from Alabama set high quality standards and guiding student growth in achievement will make a positive difference. Thank you, Governor Ivey, for prioritizing education!”

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Deputy Commerce Secretary Ed Castile, who also serves as the director of the Alabama Industrial Development Training Agency, has played a substantial role in the development of the council.

“The state of Alabama is rapidly evolving in science and technology with new job opportunities developing daily that require a STEM education as a basic foundation. So, STEM education is rapidly becoming the new ‘basic education’ that Alabama jobs require,” Castile said. “With new tech companies developing, manufacturing moving to digital ‘smart factories’ and numerous job opportunities that support these businesses, we must have a workforce that will meet the demands.  The STEM Council will be crucial in working with K-12 education as they develop their STEM programs to align with Community Colleges and Universities to assist students move along the STEM pathways needed by our developing businesses. We, in the Department of Commerce are excited to assist with administrative support of the STEM Council and will be a natural link to the business and commerce of our state.”

The council will hold an initial organizational meeting within 90 days after the issuance of this order.

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Members of the council include:

  • Dr. Neil Lamb, Vice President for Educational Outreach, HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology
  • Dr. Charles Nash, University of Alabama System
  • Terry Burkle, Baldwin County Education Foundation
  • Dawn Morrison, Alabama State Department of Education
  • Charisse Stokes, Montgomery Chamber of Commerce
  • Dr. Vicky Karolewics, President, Wallace State Community College
  • Sheila Holt, AMSTI Director, University of Alabama in Huntsville
  • Liz Huntley, Lightfoot, Franklin & White
  • RaSheda Workman, Stillman College
  • Dr. Eric Mackey, State Superintendent of Education
  • Dr. Barbara Cooper, Secretary, Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education
  • Jimmy Baker, Chancellor, Alabama Community College System
  • Dr. Jim Purcell, Executive Director, Alabama Commission on Higher Education
  • Fitzgerald Washington, Secretary, Alabama Department of Labor
  • Greg Canfield, Secretary, Alabama Department of Commerce
  • Tim McCartney, Chairman, Alabama Workforce Council
  • George Clark, President, Manufacture Alabama
  • Dr. Ken Tucker, President, University of West Alabama
  • Dr. Kathryn Lanier, STEM Education Outreach Director, Southern Research
  • Dr. Tina Miller-Way, Dauphin Island Sea Lab
  • Amy Templeton, President and CEO, McWane Science Center
  • Kay Taylor, Director of Education, U.S. Space and Rocket Center
  • Dr. Mary Lou Ewald, Director of Outreach, Auburn University College of Sciences and Mathematics
  • Paul Morin, Alabama SMART Foundation
  • Dr. Adreinne Starks, Founder and CEO, STREAM Innovations
  • Dr. Calvin Briggs, Founder and Director, Southern Center for Broadening Participation in STEM
  • Josh Laney, Director, Alabama Office of Apprenticeship
  • Keith Phillips, Executive Director, Alabama Technology Network
  • Jimmy Hull, Career and Technical Education Director, Alabama State Department of Education
  • Sean Stevens, Career Coach, Alabama State Department of Education
  • Tina Watts, Community Investor, The Boeing Company
  • Daryl Taylor, Vice President and General Manager, Airbus America 
  • K-Rob Thomas, Power Delivery General Manager, Alabama Power 
  • Dr. Lee Meadows, Associate Professor, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Alabama at Birmingham
  • Dr. Tim Wick, Senior Associate Dean, School of Engineering, University of Alabama at Birmingham
  • Dr. Robin McGill, Director of Instruction, Alabama Commission on Higher Education
  • Elisabeth Davis, Assistant Superintendent of the Division of Teaching and Learning, Alabama State Board of Education
  • Dr. Jeff Gray, Professor, Department of Computer Science, University of Alabama
  • Dr. Cynthia McCarty, District 6 Representative, Alabama State Board of Education
  • Dr. Andre Harrison, Vice President, Cognia
  • Brenda Terry, Executive Director, Alabama Mathematics, Science, Technology, and Engineering Coalition for Education
  • Tammy Dunn, Program Director, A+ Education Partnership

A copy of Executive Order No. 721 is available here.

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Wide variance in educational attainment between counties

The top ten counties in Alabama for educational attainment are Madison, Shelby, Lee, Jefferson, Baldwin, Montgomery, Tuscaloosa, Autauga, Coffee and Elmore.

Brandon Moseley

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A recent analysis by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama shows a wide variance in educational attainment between Alabamians residing in different counties.

According to the PARCA research, across the state, 10 percent of Alabamians over the age of 25 have earned a master’s or higher-level degree. Sixteen percent of the adult population has just a bachelor’s degree. Just 9 percent of adult Alabamians have an associate’s degree.

Nearly 22 percent of Alabamians have attended college but did not earn a degree, and 31 percent of Alabamians have earned their high school diploma or GED but did not receive any education beyond that.

Ten percent of adult Alabamians have finished the ninth grade or higher but have not gotten a diploma or GED. Just 4 percent of Alabamians 25 or older dropped out of school without at least finishing the ninth grade.

At least 35 percent of Alabamians have at least an associate’s degree. By comparison, 20 percent of the adult population in Massachusetts has a master’s degree or above and 24 percent have at least bachelor’s degree. Factoring in the 8 percent with associate’s degrees, 52 percent of Massachusetts adults have some sort of degree versus just 35 percent of Alabamians.

Alabama is 44th in educational attainment. West Virginia is 51st with 30 percent — 22 percent with a 4 year degree or above. Georgia, largely due to the success of the HOPE scholarships, has 40 percent of the population with a degree two year or above. Mississippi is at 33 percent. The national average is 39.9 percent.

The PARCA study also breaks it down into county-by-county differences. The top ten counties in Alabama for educational attainment are Madison, Shelby, Lee, Jefferson, Baldwin, Montgomery, Tuscaloosa, Autauga, Coffee and Elmore.

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In Madison County, 8.1 percent of adults have an associate’s degree, 25.7 percent have earned at least a bachelor’s degree and 16 percent have a master’s or higher degree. More than 20 percent have some college but no degree, 20.8 have a high school diploma with no education above that, 5.9 percent finished the ninth grade and 2.9 percent dropped out in the ninth grade or earlier.

Nearly 50 percent of adults in Madison County older than age 25 have earned at least a two-year degree. Madison County is followed by Shelby County with 49.5 percent, Lee with 43.1 percent, Jefferson with 40.7 percent and Baldwin at 40.7 percent. These are the only five counties that are above the national average.

The bottom 10 counties for educational attainment are Wilcox, Bibb, Greene, Coosa, Cleburne, Bullock, Lawrence, Conecuh, Barbour and Washington. Wilcox is in 67th place for educational attainment and is also regularly one of the state leaders in its unemployment rate. Just 3.6 percent of adults in Wilcox County have a master’s degree or above, just 8.9 percent have completed their four-year degree and only 4.8 percent have even an associate’s degree. Just 17.3 percent of the adult population in Wilcox County has any sort of degree. That is 22.6 percentage points below the national average. Nearly 20 percent of adults in Wilcox County have attended college but did not finish, and 40.3 percent has a high school diploma or the equivalent but no college. More than 16.5 percent finished the ninth grade but did not get a diploma or GED. Nearly 10 percent did not finish the ninth grade.

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Educational attainment is a concern because the fastest growing professions generally require more education than simply a high school diploma. Gov. Kay Ivey is trying to increase the percent of the workforce with at least a two-year associate’s degree or the technical training equivalent of a two-year associate’s degree.

Many high-paying technology jobs require a two year or even a four-year degree or above. It is difficult for the state to recruit those sorts of employers to counties where the workforce is not competent to fill the positions. Those sorts of employers often have to recruit employees from far outside the county or even the state.

Even manufacturing jobs are increasingly high tech as new factories use more robotics and automation than the factories of the past. Today’s high-paying jobs require more knowledge, skill and technical competence than the factory jobs of the past.

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