Alabama became the 43rd state to endorse the creation of privately managed, publicly funded charter schools.
In average, charter schools do not get better academic results than public schools and are usually more segregated than public schools.
Alabama became the 43rd state to endorse the creation of privately managed, publicly funded charter schools.
In average, charter schools do not get better academic results than public schools and are usually more segregated than public schools.
This video, shown on PBS, documents a wonderful story: Two high schools in Birmingham, Alabama, collaborate to produce “To Kill a Mockingbird.” One high school is all-black, the other is all-white. We are reminded that desegregation peaked in the 1980s, according to the UCLA Civil Rights Project.
The video shows high school students working together to present the play. The video devotes more time to the historical setting of the book, the realities of life in Birmingham and the segregated South than to the production. This is not a disadvantage but a strength because the play and the novel are set in time. The video includes film footage of the segregated South in the 1930s (which the book portrays) and the 1950s (when the book was written and the civil rights movement was on the march). It includes film footage of civil rights protests in Birmingham, when the police loosed dogs on black demonstrators. It interviews black and white adults about life under segregation. It includes clips from the film that starred Gregory Peck and home-made films from local families. It interviews the actors who appeared in the 1962 film and the students who appear in the play today. It raises the irony of white families who trusted black servants to raise their children yet would not allow black children to attend the local schools or universities.
It is a must-see, partly for the ideas of the play, but mostly for its realistic portrayal of segregation then and now and for the reactions of today’s students. It is an important story about our history, our past and our present.
Senator Tom Harkins of Iowa, who is retiring this year, has long been known as a liberal and a champion of students in higher education. However, he recently proposed to cut the Pell grant program for low-income students while increasing payments to loan contractors. This is bizarre, to say the lease.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate education committee and the appropriations subcommittee in charge of federal education expenditures, has proposed taking $303 million from the Pell grant program to increase revenues for some of the nation’s biggest student loan specialists, according to a July 24 version of a 2015 fiscal year spending bill now being negotiated by congressional leaders.
Student advocates and congressional aides largely missed Harkin’s move last summer — partly because the full text of the spending bill wasn’t publicly released until six weeks after Harkin’s subcommittee approved it. They only noticed it in recent days as congressional negotiators work off his bill in the rush to finalize discussions on the federal government’s 2015 spending plans….
Student advocates said they’re outraged.
“I am appalled that Senator Harkin would put servicers — who profit by hundreds of millions of dollars a year — over the needs of low-income students,” said Alexandra Flores-Quilty, vice president of the United States Student Association. “Taking funding out of Pell and using it to pay private student loan servicers goes directly against the interests of students.”
Harkin has also floated the possibility of taking $2 billion out of the Pell program to use for other federal programs, according to Democratic and Republican congressional aides. Harkin reportedly dismissed concerns that such a move would affect students, according to Politico.
It was unclear Friday whether congressional negotiators were still discussing the $2 billion cut. Student advocates warned that if it were to occur, the Pell program would face a $3.6 billion deficit in the fiscal year beginning next October and the likelihood of deep cuts.
For Harkin, a longtime liberal who retires from Congress in January after a 30-year Senate career, the move risks damaging his reputation as an advocate for college students struggling to afford rising tuition.
“Senator Harkin has built a legacy on being a champion for students trying to afford college. We’d be deeply disappointed to see his subcommittee abandon its support for the Pell grant and jeopardize the aspirations of millions of low-income young people,” said Jennifer Wang, policy director at Young Invincibles, an advocacy organization that represents 18 to 34 year-olds.
Michelle Rhee is determined to see that every legislature is taken over by hard-right Republicans who support her campaign against teachers and public schools.
One of her current targets is Alabama.
Here is where she is sending money. All but one of those listed below are Republicans, except Patrick Sellers, who challenged a Democratic incumbent and lost. Governor Bentley returned the $5,000 contribution.
As of current reporting, StudentsFirst has contributed a total of $100,000 to nine candidates in Alabama this year. The recipients, as pulled from AlabamaVotes.gov, are here:
Contributor Amount ContributionDate RecipientName
STUDENTSFIRST $15,000.00 05/23/2014 BARRY RAMON SADLER SR. (Sadler outspent incumbent state school board member Betty Peters10-1, and he lost.)
STUDENTS FIRST $20,000.00 11/15/2013 CHARLOTTE BORDEN MEADOWS (Meadows ran for a house seat. She lost.)
STUDENTS FIRST $15,000.00 05/21/2014 CYNTHIA MCCARTY (McCarty ran for open seat on state school board. She won.)
STUDENTSFIRST $10,000.00 06/02/2014 GERALD DIAL (Dial is incumbent state senator. He won primary, faces opposition in November.)
STUDENTSFIRST $10,000.00 05/09/2014 JIM H MCCLENDON (incumbent house member who challenged incumbent Republican state senator and won.)
STUDENTS FIRST $15,000.00 06/01/2014 MARY SCOTT HUNTER (Incumbent state school board member. She won.)
STUDENTSFIRST $5,000.00 04/24/2014 MICHAEL G. HUBBARD (Speaker of the House. He spent more than $1 million on his re-election in june and beat a Republican primary challenger. Faces Democratic opponent in November. Not a friend of public schools or teachers.)
STUDENTSFIRST $5,000.00 05/22/2014 PATRICK SELLERS (aDemocrat who challenged aDemocratic incumbent in Birmingham and lost.)
STUDENTS FIRST $5,000.00 10/11/2013 ROBERT BENTLEY (Incumbent Governor running for re-election. Returned the money.)
STUDENTSFIRST $10,000.00 05/21/2014 STEVE DEAN (Republican challenger to Republican incumbent. Dean lost.)
STUDENTS FIRST $2,500.00 02/21/2013 STORMING THE STATE HOUSE POLITICAL ACTION COMMITTEE (this PAC is operated by Mike hubbard, speaker of the house. Studentsfirst gave him money on feb. 21 of 2013, and the House passed the Alabama Accountability Act (Alabama’s voucher bill) on Feb. 28, 2013.)
STUDENTS FIRST $15,000.00 05/30/2014 WILLIAM E HENRY (an incumbent Republican who won his race.)
A circuit court judge in Alabama ruled that a law to give public dollars to private schools is unconstitutional.
“A program that pro-public education activists have called a throwback to the 1950s–a time when Alabama tried avoiding integration by directing public school funds to private schools–has been ruled unconstitutional by a Montgomery County circuit court judge.
“The Alabama Accountability Act of 2013 targeted students attending public schools that the state deemed “failing.” Instead of providing real solutions to help all students gain access to a quality public education, the Accountability Act starved public schools of critical funding.
“The law created a tax-credit program that used public dollars to reimburse the cost of tuition to those parents who pulled their children out of public schools and enrolled them in private or religious schools. Tax credits were also given to companies and individuals who gave money to certain organizations to fund scholarships for low-income students to attend private schools.
The program cost taxpayers $40 million during the 2013-14 fiscal year, yet, studies show that voucher and tuition tax-credit schemes don’t result in a better education for students.”
The law was challenged by the Alabama Education Association. It is sure to be appealed.
Jaisal Noor and Nikole Hannah-Jones report on the alarming return of segregation in the schools of the south. Hannah-Jones describes a high school in Tuscaloosa that was successfully desegregated but then resegregated as the result of political decisions intended to attract white students by isolating black students. For many black students in Alabama, it is as though the Brown decision never happened. As they note, New York State now has the most segregated schools in the nation, and segregation is deeply entrenched in New York City, especially in its charter schools.
Has the Brown decision been completely forgotten?
I encountered this article on Twitter, and a reader was kind enough to forward it in the comments section.
I Just Want to Teach…..Not Give Useless Tests: The Current Plight of Alabama’s Hoover City School Teachers
Part One: Changes in the Elementary Program
by Deborah G. Camp, Ph.D
K-5 teachers at Hoover City Schools began the 2013-2014 with not only a classroom of new students but with new central office administrators espousing Draconian practices and attitudes, especially with regard to the use of what they call “formative assessments.” Prior to this year, an elementary assessment schedule had been in place for several years and had been constantly tweaked to provide the most bang for the amount of time taken for classroom-based assessments to avoid wasting precious instructional time that can never be replaced. . The assessments consisted of interview-type instruments that were administered individually by teachers since research indicates these type tests to be superior with regards to getting the most valuable information from students especially the youngest ones. Some math assessments consisted of a sample of paper-and-pencil computation problems so teachers could study student errors to diagnose how children may be thinking. A quick-scoring oral language assessment had been added at the lower grades since teachers reported that this area of the language arts seemed to be a trouble spot with many students.
At kindergarten teachers’ requests two years ago, the amount of testing at the beginning of the year had been significantly reduced so that teachers could better acclimate children to this thing we call school rather than wasting those valuable first weeks of school individually administering assessments. Only those students whose teachers’ judgments caused them to suspect serious learning problems were assessed early in the school year. Otherwise, classroom-based assessments began in the middle of the year, giving children time to adjust to kindergarten and teachers time to observe the children as they went about their classroom activities.
All decisions about classroom tests from grades K to 5 were made collaboratively with the district curriculum director, principals, teacher leaders such as reading coaches and math facilitators, and teachers at large. The assessment schedule was revisited every summer based on teacher feedback. Sounds pretty fair, huh?
Well, elementary teachers and principals were told – not asked – that these teacher-administered and scored instruments would be replaced with computer-based assessments at each grade level: easyCBM for grades K-2 and Global Scholar for grades 3-5. Both tests would measure reading and math. At the first reading coach meeting, one reading coach commented that her teachers liked the results that the former interview assessments yielded. One of the new district administrators commented, “Well, those teachers can continue to give those tests in addition to easyCBM, but if I hear any complaining from them about it taking too much time away from instruction, they will incur my wrath.” Wow! Great way to build relationships and rapport.
Suddenly kindergarten children were herded into computer labs during the first few days and weeks of school and expected to not only manipulate a computer (regardless of whether they had any experience with technology or not) and push keys on an inanimate object that could not look into their eyes to see if they understood the question, whether they were timid, or whether they were too restless to perform such a task. Teachers were told the easyCBM for both reading and math would be administered mid-year and end-of-year as well with the strict warning that “Your students better benchmark on the mid-year administration or else.” Again, really? This is how district administrators are treating teachers?
On January 23, 2014, one first grade teacher expressed her frustration this way. “This is probably the most discouraged I have ever been as a teacher. Doing the ‘easy’CBM testing this week on 6/7 year olds has absolutely killed me and more importantly my precious children. They hated every minute and it DOES NOT measure anything worth looking at in my opinion. Simply getting them logged into it is not a DAP (developmentally appropriate practice) for K, 1, or 2nd graders. How did we get here? I feel like this is a bad dream and even though they say they won’t put emphasis on our test scores, I know they will. I have already started to see signs of that. I have never once been questioned about my teaching or any method of instruction. However, if things appear a certain way to others, that is when noise will start being made. I am just exhausted. I have a constant stomach ache right now and feel so much pressure it makes me want to stop teaching.”
Another kindergarten teacher commented that some of her students did not understand what to do at all at the beginning of the year, so they just sat there the entire time and stared at the monitor. She also commented that easyCBM is nothing more than DIBELS on the computer. Research conducted by many educators suggests DIBELS is just a big ol’ waste of time. A 2nd grade teacher made some general as well as specific comments, “We have a lack of leadership outside the schools, and no value is placed on teacher opinions as professionals. Central office administrators are losing sight of the children and what is or is not developmentally appropriate just for the sake of obtaining a score/number. Teachers are being asked to do more than is humanly possible in the school day. EasyCBM and Global Scholar are being used as performance indicators rather than as formative assessments intended to give us diagnostic information. We teachers have been ‘silenced’ and are unable to voice our thoughts, opinions, and ideas. The people making the decisions are distant from the classroom and don’t spend time in them or talking with us teachers. There has been a massive shift in philosophy in the system, and no one at central office has any early childhood or elementary degrees or experience.”
Here’s another kindergarten teacher’s take on easyCBM. “The overwhelming opinion is that it is horrible for young children, particularly kindergarten. The expectations are unrealistic, the questions are deliberately confusing, and asking 5-year olds to take it in a computer is ridiculous. For example, my class performed particularly low, so I re-administered the test using paper and pencil, and the results were immediately and drastically higher – even on bad questions. Taking the computer out of the mix made a big difference. One of my student’s parents reported that her child came home and said, ‘I’m not smart.’ When the mother probed further, the child said, ‘I took a test on the computer today and I didn’t know many of the answers.’ In one hour time period this test managed to damage the child’s self esteem and taint his view of school.”
The 3rd – 5th grade teachers have expressed frustration with the Global Scholar computer-based assessment and question the results it yields. The central office administrators have provided little information about “how the test works” or item specifications of the assessment, but yet again kids are herded into computer labs to take a test neither they nor their teachers know anything about. The teachers know the standards that are tested but have no idea how the test questions are structured.
One 3rd grade teacher stated, “I hate Global Scholar with every fiber of my being. The questions are completely ridiculous and not grade level appropriate. For example, my 3rd graders had questions about algebraic equations with variables. This is not even in our curriculum. These questions basically stress these kids out because they have no clue what they are asking. How is that really assessing what they know? They don’t even learn it at this grade level! They ‘say’ the reading passages adjust to their reading level based on their answers. Well, I have a student who can barely read her name and she gets the same degree of difficulty and length passages as my kiddo reading on a 6th grade level. She doesn’t even read it! She looks long enough to keep it from kicking her out and then guesses. These are not appropriate for her to even be reading! And it frustrates her! The Fountas and Pinell Assessment is MUCH more accurate for me to ‘find their reading level.’ I just hate the whole testing thing! Every bit of it. These poor babies are just trying to do the best they can every day and we have to make them sit down and take hours long tests and tell them ‘just do the best you can.’ When in fact, some of their bests aren’t good enough. I think it’s another one of these one-size-fits-all tests that does not reflect true student performance. And to be completely honest, my kids do not take the computer assessments as seriously as paper and pencil ones. They just start clicking!!”
Another 3rd grade teacher said, “When I gave the test in the fall I was appalled at the level of the questions as reported by the students after the test. I knew the chances of my children performing well was slim. Several of my students who struggle (based on what I know and how I assess) scored in the high average range so I knew they guessed really well. Also, one of my students who is in the enrichment program and scored the highest score in 2nd grade when being screened for enrichment scored in the below average range. This is clearly an example of her freezing up and the test not looking at her as a whole. The ONE thing that I can say about Global Scholar that is somewhat positive is it does allow for some critical thinking and reasoning in the multiple choice answers. Many of the questions included two completely unrealistic answers so if the kids were able think logically about the question they had a better chance of succeeding. On the winter assessment my students performed a little more true to what I was seeing. I would like to think that this was because they have been taught to think and spent more time thinking about the questions! Or it could be because I told them before we went in that many of the questions would have unrealistic answers and for the students to eliminate them first! Having said all that, I obviously put very little stock in what those scores say. The number attached to the child tells me nothing about what that child knows/doesn’t know, and/or what that child is capable of.”
To add insult to injury, the central office administrators have been meeting with teachers and administrators to share the growth students have made on the easyCBM and Global Scholar since the beginning of the year. Any college measurement and evaluation course will teach you to NEVER judge student performance on merely one test or indicator but consider multiple measures, including, yes, teacher judgement. But obviously Hoover does not believe teachers have enough sense to determine on their own how well students are performing.
On March 4th, the central office administrators met with the elementary teachers to publicly share each school’s grade level scores on either the easyCBM or Global Scholar. The scores were shared in a PowerPoint, so teachers knew which teams’ students across the district scored well or not. You won’t believe this…..the teachers whose students had shown the most progress from fall to spring were given candy. Cadbury Easter egg because those schools did “EGGsactly what they were supposed to do,” said the curriculum administrators. One teacher reported, “In 20 years of teaching I have never been made to feel so small!! I am just sick to my stomach. I sent my husband a text and told him he had to find a way for me to leave because I cannot be a part of this!!” Only the candy teachers were identified by school and grade level. The rest of the scores were shown by grade level and if there was growth made and if it was enough growth. 4th grade was just barely on the edge of staying in the “high average” category.
Another teacher commented, “There were LOTS of people there, and I know many who felt the same as I did. And I was already prepared to turn down the candy should I or my school had been one of the ‘most improved’ schools. Lots of people are upset and contacting each other besides me. As I was looking around the room I kept thinking that I wasn’t the minority in the room. So many teachers in there that I have taught with and respect and feel and share the same thoughts. It was just so belittling!”
One teacher commented that the presentation was “creepy. She (the curriculum administrator) was like a preacher. She’d get really loud and then whisper. This was done to make people laugh and people were encouraged to clap. She said she was very concerned about 4th grade. I do love those darn Cadbury mini eggs though. I guess I should stop and grab some candy for my class for when they do well on an assessment since we’ve time traveled back to 1982.”
Stay tuned for Part 2: Changes in the Secondary Program
Deborah Camp served in public education for 30 years in Alabama before recently retiring. She obtained a bachelor’s degree in special education from the University of Alabama, and a master’s degree in elementary education, an Educational Leadership certificate, and a doctorate in Early Childhood Education from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her work experience includes 17 years of teaching assignments in special education, elementary, middle school, and reading specialist in Jefferson County Board of Education and Hoover City Schools. She served as the district director of curriculum and instruction in Hoover for 13 years. She was selected as the Alabama Elementary State Teacher of the Year in 1998 and inducted into the Jacksonville State University Teacher Hall of Fame, Middle School Division, in 1999. In 1997 she obtained National Board Certification in English Language Arts/Early Adolescence and was one of the first 25 teachers in the state to earn National Board certification and was one of the first 900 teachers in the nation. She has conducted workshops on numerous topics in education at the local, state, national, and international level. She has authored several professional articles and books. Although retired, she continues to advocate for fair work conditions for teachers and equitable education for all children.
Dr. Camp is also a proud Alabama BAT. Find out more about the BadAss Teachers at http://www.badassteacher.org
Larry Lee, a native Alabamian who is devoted to public education, is an admirer of State Superintendent Tommy Bice. Here he explains why:
By Larry Lee
How many legislative hearings have I attended in my life? Too many is probably the correct answer. But I recently witnessed something in one that I’ve never seen before. A standing ovation.
It was a joint meeting of the Alabama Senate and House education ways & means committees. Dr. Tommy Bice, state superintendent of education was making his presentation.
He took the members of the legislature and the audience through a day in the life of the Alabama K-12 public school system. With a power point he put faces to numbers. For instance more than 50 percent of the state’s 740,000 students ride a bus to school. More than 7,500 buses cover nearly 500,000 miles a day with many routes beginning before daylight.
He explained that our schools provide more than 90 million lunches annually and that 64 percent of them are free.
At one point he was so emotionally involved in discussing one particular student that he had to stop and gather himself.
When he finished, the room rose to their feet in applause and Senator Trip Pittman, chair of the senate committee, told him it was the best presentation that committee had ever heard.
As I read about superintendents around the nation and share info with friends in other states, I’m often struck by the fact that there is an adversarial relationship between their chief education official and other education “players.” It appears that too many are chasing the latest rabbit sent their way by another Washington think tank or scrambling after the blessings of another giant foundation.
Each time this happens, I say thank God for Tommy Bice.
For any kid growing up in Alexander City, AL in the 1960s, like Bice, there was always the thought that their career might lead them to Russell Mills. After all, many considered that Alex City was Russell Mills and vice versa.
When Bice received a four-year scholarship to attend Auburn University and study textile engineering on his high school graduation night it looked as if his future was on that path. But throughout his freshman year and all the pre-engineering classes, something kept tugging at him.
That “something” was the connection he made with students as a volunteer in a special education class in high school. “For whatever the reason, I just related to them,” recalls Bice decades later. “And I still do to this day.”
By the end of his first year, Bice knew that his heart was not in textile engineering and he switched to the school of education. Little did he imagine that this change would one day lead to him being named Alabama State Superintendent of Education as of January 1, 2012.
One thing is certain, Bice paid his dues on the way to the top. He has held almost every position in the education field. From classroom teacher at the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind, to alternative school director, to high school principal, to superintendent of the Alexander City school system to Deputy State Superintendent.
“I loved the classroom,” says Bice, “but I realized I could have broader influence on more students if I became an administrator.” Dr. Jack Hawkins, longtime president at Troy University and then president at AIDB, encouraged Bice to go to graduate school.
Bice hit the ground running when he became state superintendent. And it has quickly become apparent that each of his stops along the education ladder left their mark and his decisions are guided by what is best for students, schools and teachers. At a time when well-funded foundations are buying a seat at the education reform table and a deft way of churning out “sound bites” is given more credibility than classroom and school administration experience; Bice trusts his own instincts and listens to those he knows share a common background.
For example, in 2009 the U.S. Department of Education dangled millions upon millions of dollars before states to get them to jump on the Race to the Top bandwagon. Like dozens of other states, Alabama went through the extensive application process. The application was denied and editorial writers and politicians seized the opportunity to decry the condition of our education system.
But like many things that sound too good to be true, for the most part so was RTTT as “winning” states have had to agree to implementing programs that experienced educators consider questionable at best.
“Not getting selected was a blessing,” says Bice. “Too many folks failed to remember that the one who pays the fiddler gets to call the tune.”
Instead, Bice and his staff have crafted a well-thought out, well-researched document called Plan 2020 that details the objectives and strategies for Alabama K-12 education into the foreseeable future. The four components of the plan lay out what is expected of students, support systems, teachers and administrators and school systems.
Bice has the whole-hearted support of the State Board of Education in this effort. In fact, one board member recently called the plan “brilliant.”
“We have to rethink how we’ve been doing some things,” says Bice. “We must redefine what a high school graduate should know, we must have collaboration among the end users of our product, whether it is businesses or universities.
“We’ve been preparing kids to take a test, instead of preparing them for real life,” he continues. “This has to stop.”
Tommy Bice still lives in Alexander City where Russell does not cast the shadow it did when he was growing up there. From 1930 to 1970, the Alex City population increased 173 percent. But since 1970, about the time Bice was discovering his connection to special children, growth slowed to less than one percent annually.
And fortunately for Alabama, Dr. Tommy Bice decided to be an educator, rather than an engineer.
Larry Lee led the study, Lessons Learned from Rural Schools, and is a long-time advocate for public education and frequently writes about education issues. email@example.com
This is a beautiful story by Larry Lee about what happened when he told the story of a woman and her children living in a mobile home in rural Alabama.
It is a story of kindness and the spirit of Christmas. Our country should not have so many people eking out a bare existence. There shouldn’t be such glaring inequality. But in the meanwhile there is spontaneous kindness.
“Don’t you believe them. Not for even one minute. You know, those folks on TV cable news sitting there in their makeup telling us how terrible the world is. Those faceless voices on talk radio that rant and rave that no one in this country cares anymore and that the end is just around the corner.
“They don’t have a clue. Their world is so focused on gloom and doom and blame that it’s unlikely they would know a good deed if they saw it.
“Why do I know they are wrong?
Because I’ve been down a dirt road in Clarke County.”
Larry Lee is a native Alabamian who has been writing about education in his home state for many years. He has been writing about rural schools, in particular, which are often forgotten and greatly in need. This is his review of “Reign of Error.” It appeared in the Anniston Star.
His study, “Lessons Learned from Rural Schools,” is a powerful testament to the children, families, communities, and educators who struggle to provide good schools under difficult circumstances. Larry Lee is a member of the board of the Network for Public education.