Archives for category: Alabama

Pasi Sahlberg, the great Finnish educator, was in Birmingham, Alabama, last night, where he patiently explained how to make schools great. There is a summary of his advice here.

Thursday night (tomorrow), he will speak at Wellesley College at Alumnae Hall at 7:30 pm.

He will be introduced by Howard Gardner.

I will be there too because I endowed the lecture series to make sure there was one great campus that sought out the best minds in education and presented them each year in a public event. The series is called the Diane Silvers Ravitch 1960 Lecture on Education and the Common Good.

Come early, as parking will be limited. Chelsea Clinton is conducting a rally for her mother (class of 1969) from 3-5. I wish she would stay to hear Pasi’s lecture. She would learn a lot.

Larry Lee is one of the staunchest supporters of public schools in Alabama. A few years ago, he criss-crossed the state and identified 10 rural schools that were doing everyday miracles for their children and their communities because of the hard work and dedication of teachers, principals, and families, all doing their best for their children.

He sent me the following urgent message:

These are dark days for public education in Alabama. Since the legislature changed hands in 2010, things have gone steadily downhill.

Take a look:

* A bill to have A-F school grades, a practice intended solely to be punitive and a practice that research does not support.

* The Alabama Accountability Act that has now diverted $72 million from the Education Trust Fund for vouchers for private schools. A law that failed utterly in its stated mission to “help; poor students stuck in failing schools by their zip code.

* A bill to establish charter schools which cuts into already under-funded public schools funding.

* A bill known as the RAISE Act that would have forced teachers to be evaluated with the highly controversial Value Added Model.

* A bill intended to set up Education Savings Accounts that would have diverted more funding from the Education Trust Fund.

Instead of seeking input from professional educators, legislators are listening to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Jeb Bush foundations and Alabama special interests. In fact, the Senate majority leader boasted after passing the Accountability Act in 2013 that this bill was purposely hidden from educators because “they would have opposed it.”

Now, to add insult to injury the state board of education, the body that should be the first line of defense for public education, has turned its back on our children by hiring an attorney from Massachusetts to be state school superintendent. They ignored Alabama code and even their advertised required qualifications and put their own ideology and political ambitions ahead of the 740,000 children in Alabama public schools

Because of this, a group of 40 plaintiffs, including former local superintendents, principals, teachers, school board members, parents, local elected officials, a former college president and a former U.S. Congressman have joined together to seek legal action against the state school board.

They have said ENOUGH IS ENOUGH and formed the Alabama Public School Defense Fund to wage this battle.

Please join in standing up for our children by going to this site and contributing today.

Larry Lee
334-787-0410 (blog)

Education Is Everyone’s Business

Larry Lee reports here about the departure of StudentsFirst and the Black Alliance for Educational Options from Alabama.

They set up camp in Alabama to advocate for charters and vouchers. Not to advocate for children, but to advocate for alternatives to public schools.

They met with some success. The appeal of charters and vouchers in the Deep South is a restoration of segregation, while claiming it is “all about the children.”

They left. They packed their bags and went away. They had no roots in Alabama. They didn’t stay to advocate for the children.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley allegedly had an affair with his top staffer, but he insists it wasn’t “physical.” 
Not many people believe him, and the resignation watch is on. 
He is a “family values” guy, but hypocrisy is dangerous. 
Worse, the whole state government is looking incompetent. 
And to think these phonies complain about teachers! 
Alabama passed an academic accountability act. How about a politicians’ accountability act? 

Michelle Rhee was a failure in D.C.: despite nearly nine years of Rhee-Henderson policy, it remains one of the nation’s lowest-scoring districts. Rhee created StudentsFirst, funneled money to hard-right a Republicans, then supposedly retired from the organization.


Like a robot programmed to demolish public education and teachers, StudentsFirst keeps moving along, doing what it was created to do. Now it is active in Alabama, spreading campaign cash to rightwing politicians. Read Larry Lee’s account of their Alabama activities.


Behind StudentsFirst lies a foundational lie. That lie is the claim that they know what should be done to improve education. Their example: Washington, DC.


Why does anyone listen to them?



Larry Lee reports on pending legislation intended to create a state framework for evaluating teachers.


He cites an analysis of Alabama’s proposed legislation by Audrey Amrein-Beardsley. She says that it is apparent that Alabama’s lawmakers did not inform themselves about research on teacher evaluation measures.


Amrein-Beardsley writes:


Nothing is written about the ongoing research and evaluation of the state system, that is absolutely necessary in order to ensure the system is working as intended, especially before any types of consequential decisions are to be made (e.g., school bonuses, teachers’ denial of tenure, teacher termination, teacher termination due to a reduction in force).

To measure growth the state is set to use student performance data on state tests, as well as data derived via the ACT Aspire examination, American College Test (ACT), and “any number of measures from the department developed list of preapproved options for governing boards to utilize to measure student achievement growth.” As mentioned in my prior post about Alabama, this is precisely what has gotten the whole state of New Mexico wrapped up in, and quasi-losing their ongoing lawsuit. While providing districts with menus of off-the-shelf and other assessment options might make sense to policymakers, any self respecting researcher should know why this is entirely inappropriate.

Clearly the state does not understand the current issues with value-added/growth levels of reliability, or consistency, or lack thereof, that are altogether preventing such consistent classifications of teachers over time. Inversely, what is consistently evident across all growth models is that estimates are very inconsistent from year to year, which will likely thwart what the bill has written into it here, as such a theoretically simple proposition.

Unless the state plans on “artificially conflating” scores, by manufacturing and forcing the oft-unreliable growth data to fit or correlate with teachers’ observational data (two observations per year are to be required), and/or survey data (student surveys are to be used for teachers of students in grades three and above), such consistency is thus far impossible unless deliberately manipulated.


In short, Alabama legislators are considering a measure that is very likely invalid and unreliable. They really should do some more homework and go back to the drawing board.

The Washington Post profiled Tim Cook, CEO of one of the world’s most valuable companies. Cook graduated from the high school in Robertsdale, Alabama, in 1978.


It was there, faced with stark racism, that Cook developed his sense of social justice.


Cook is gay, and he knew he was different. He is not celebrated in Robertson, as he should be, probably because he is gay. No, because he is gay.


Cook’s experiences growing up in Robertsdale – detailed by him in public speeches and recalled by others — are key to understanding how a once-quiet tech executive became one of the world’s most outspoken corporate leaders. Apple has long emphasized the privacy of its products, but today Cook talks about privacy not as an attribute of a device, but as a right — a view colored by his own history.


For Cook, it was in this tiny town midway between Mobile, Ala., and Pensacola, Fla., that a book-smart boy developed what he calls his “moral sense.”


On the surface easy-going and popular, according to former classmates, Cook seemed too aware of the injustices around him.


“I have to believe that growing up in Alabama, during the 1960s and witnessing what he did, especially as someone who is gay, he understood the dangers of remaining silent,” said Kerry Kennedy, a human-rights activist who has met Cook several times and whose father, Robert F. Kennedy, Cook considers one of his heroes.


“He’s not afraid to stand up when he sees something wrong,” she added.



Cook’s chance to stand up came early, when he was in just the sixth or seventh grade.


In the early 1970s, he was riding his new 10-speed bicycle at night along a rural road just outside Robertsdale when he spotted a burning cross. He pedaled closer.


He saw Klansmen in white hoods and robes. The cross was on the property of a family he knew was black. It was almost more than he could comprehend.


Without thinking, he shouted, “Stop!”


The group turned toward the boy. One of them raised his hood. Cook recognized the man as a local deacon at one of the dozen churches in town, but not the one attended by Cook’s family.


The man warned the boy to keep moving.


“This image was permanently imprinted in my brain and it would change my life forever,” Cook recalled in a speech in 2013, an incident that he also has recounted to friends.


A few years later, at age 16, Cook won an essay contest sponsored by a rural electric company and, as part of the prize, met Alabama Gov. George Wallace, the segregationist who resisted the federal government’s attempts to integrate the state’s public schools during the ’60s.


Cook shook Wallace’s hand that day, but described it as “a betrayal of my own beliefs,” he said in a speech last year. “It felt wrong. Like I was selling a piece of my soul.”


On the same trip, Cook met President Jimmy Carter at the White House. To Cook, the difference between the two men was impossible to miss — “one was right and one was wrong.”


Knowing Tim Cook’s moral center is strong, I wonder if he would stand with those of us who are trying to stop the privatization of public education, the effort by giant corporations to monetize the schools and turn them into “investments” with a sure “rate of return”?




Larry Lee writes here about Matt Brown, a candidate for state board of education in Alabama who says he is proud to take money from the billionaire DeVos family of Michigan.


As Lee points out, the DeVos family is devoted to replacing public schools with vouchers and charters. Their organization, American Federation for Children, funds choice proponents across the country. They favorite cause is vouchers. A few years back, AFC honored Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Michelle Rhee for their efforts to push privatization of public schools.


As Larry Lee writes:


“Someone who wants a seat on the governing body that is supposed to advocate for public schools is proud to take money from folks who do not support public education. Just how does that work?


“(And the irony of his statement about having adequately-funded public schools is that just 12 months ago he was working hard to make sure a tax vote to fund Baldwin County schools was defeated.)


“Brown went on to say that he is not familiar with the DeVos family.


“OK, since he’s not done his homework, let’s help. Betsy DeVos has been called the “four-star general” of the effort to privatize public schools across the country. In the just-released best seller, Dark Money. The hidden history of the billionaires behind the rise of the radical right, author Jane Mayer links the DeVos family with the on-going efforts of Charles and David Koch to radicalize the United States.


“In 2006 Dick DeVos ran for governor of Michigan, and even though he spent $34 million of his own money, was unsuccessful. In 2000 the couple spent $2 million on a Michigan vote to approve vouchers. The vote was handily defeated. A PAC run by Betsy DeVos was fined $2.6 million by the Ohio Elections Commission for violating that state’s election laws.


“Of course, it is common for politicians to claim that where they get campaign contributions will have no bearing on how they vote. How honest is a statement like this? Betsy DeVos tells us on page 235 of Dark Money when she says, “I have decided, however, to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect some things in return.”


“Truer words were never spoken.


“And that’s why Matt Brown being proud of money from the DeVos family is a scary thought.”


Will the people of Alabama enable these billionaires from Michigsn to buy a seat on the state board of education? Or will they insist on someone who wants to improve the public schools and help the children of Alabama?

Alabama is certainly an innovative state. Its political leaders seem to want to take the “reform” drivel about innovation to the very depths. “Reformers” have been saying that teachers don’t need added degrees; they don’t need certification; they don’t need any professional education. Of course, they were promoting TFA.


But Alabama took the claim to an extreme, according to this parent in Huntsville:



It’s even worse now. The state boe passed a resolution on jan. 14, 2016 stating that anyone with a high school diploma can be an adjunct teacher.


This is worse because the subs with a hs diploma couldnt work in a single classroom for longer than a certain amont of time (5 weeks maybe?) But now they can be assigned a class and work indefinitely, as long as it’s part time.


Next, the “reformers” will tell us that we don’t need teachers at all, that computers can teach kids just as well as live humans with an education. Oh, wait, that’s what they are doing already, and they call it “personalized learning,” just you and your computer, face to face.

Mercedes Schneider calls our attention to Ann Marie Corgill’s letter of farewell to her students. As you may recall, Corgill is Alabama’s teacher of the year for 2014-15. She decided to resign after she was informed that she needed to get new certification to teach the grade she was teaching when she won the award. She had taught for 21 years in grades 1-6. Her salary check was delayed for two months. She got the message, and she resigned.


Here is a small part of her letter to her students:


Rules and regulations and certification requirements can separate us physically, but they will never be able to separate your hearts from mine. I will help you, learn with you, write you, and even talk on the phone with you (even though I hate talking on the phone).


I want each of you to always remember that YOU are more important than tests, scores, federal laws, teacher certifications, or hurtful words that others say. It’s your hard work, your never-give-up-attitude, your determination to become a team, your willingness to apologize and forgive others, and your character that matter most….not just now, but forever.


Please remember that I know what it is that makes each of you special and unique, and I want you to promise to continue to learn, live hopefully, and tell the complete and wonderful story of you. Once a Corgill kid, always a Corgill kid. Don’t ever forget that.