Here we go again. I will attempt some combination of live-blogging and live-tweeting….
Rather than live-tweet, here’s the live blog. Meeting starts at 8:30 a.m. The live broadcast can be seen here.
We have a new State Board of Education (SBOE) leader: Dr. Charles Elliott. Elliott’s technical title is Vice President, as Governor Bentley serves as President. Bentley rarely attends, which means Elliott serves as President in Bentley’s absence. Ella Bell was re-elected to the President Pro Tem position.
Here is the Storify version (all tweets sent from the meeting).
Both the meeting and work session were filled with discussions of rules that must be approved to administer the Alabama Accountability Act (AAA), the Educational Intervention Act, the new High School Diploma requirements, and changes to areas of Special Education.
In addition, an overview of the accountability portion of Plan 2020, how student achievement will be measured and how schools will be held accountable for student achievement, was shared at the work session.
The first item of real discussion pertained to a textbook that was recommended for adoption for English Language Arts, specifically for Kindergarten through 1st grade. Board member Betty Peters questioned whether content was age- and ability-appropriate. That is not my area of expertise, but the ensuing discussion highlighted (at least for me) how few members of the public really take the time to review the textbooks that are being used in Alabama’s public schools prior to their adoption.
Textbook adoption is done at the state level, but also at the local district level. Every board of education adopts textbooks for purchase and use. The public is given the opportunity to review any proposed textbooks and give input to school officials about them. I can honestly say that I have never once reviewed a textbook prior to its adoption by my local school district. I knew when the opportunities were provided, and simply chose not to take the time to review the proposed textbooks.
And while I know my own reasons for not doing so (mostly that I didn’t feel I was qualified to review and comment), I encourage you to find out when your local boards of education are adopting textbooks and make the effort to poke around in a few to see what they cover. Your local board should announce the intent to adopt textbooks in their board meeting agendas.
A Resolution to change some passing scores for the Praxis (teacher certification tests) and add some tests was approved. Board member Ella Bell asked if there was evidence of correlation between scores on the Praxis and effectiveness in the classroom. Here’s an interesting look at what scores different states consider passing on various Praxis exams, current as of May 2013. Not every state uses every test, but it’s interesting to view Alabama’s passing scores compared to other states.
Calhoun County’s Innovation/Flexibility Plan Waiver Request was up next. Here are the main points of their request. To get the full picture of what their request entailed, you really need to view their presentation at the Work Session on June 27. Their presentation is a little more than 25 minutes long. The Request was approved.
Next up were many of the rules I mentioned. These rules were all approved as Emergency Rules. Rules can be approved temporarily (on an Emergency basis, hence the name) while new rules are going through the full adoption process.
Rules pertaining to flexibility for students in failing schools – Approved. No surprises.
Rules pertaining to Educational Intervention – Approved. Short and sweet.
Rules pertaining to how state monies are divvied up for FY14 – Approved. This is done every year at this time, updating the language to include the budget approved by the legislature and any changes to the Foundation Program that may have occurred. No surprises.
All of the rules pertaining to Private School Licensure were removed from the agenda by State Superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice. Bice said he wanted to wait until after meeting with private school administrators before he brought those to the board for approval. Bice plans to meet on two separate days, July 11 and 12, with private school administrators. The second meeting is a repeat of the first, and the first meeting is scheduled to be broadcast live on ustream on the ALSDE’s channel. Not sure what time the meeting will start.
Much was said about the opportunity to “partner” with private schools. Bice reminded the Board that they are responsible for oversight of public, private, and church schools in the state. The licensing process is nothing new, but needs to be updated, according to Bice.
Toward the end of the Meeting, Board member Stephanie Bell asked about an article from The Tuscaloosa News published that morning that quoted a Tuscaloosa County school official saying that the district would purchase iPads rather than offer children the opportunity to transfer out of a “failing” school in the district.
The official stated that they would use the money that would have been spent busing students from the “failing” school to other schools on iPads instead. “The state allows us that option of not accepting students into our other schools. We feel like this will better serve the students,” the official said.
Bell asked Bice if a district could choose not to allow students to transfer. Bice said no, that the parent has the choice to transfer the student.
But it does create a dilemma if school officials make the deliberate choice not to allow students in the “failing” school to transfer to other schools in the district.
Bice promised to look into it. The meeting adjourned at 11:08 (by my watch). They took a brief recess and began the work session at 11:20 a.m.
Bice stated that another agency needed to use the auditorium at 1, so the work session must conclude by 12:30 p.m. He urged all presenters to be brief.
The Plan 2020 accountability model overview was just that: brief. It was a whole lot of information to digest, presented very quickly. Feel free to look through the presentation for more details. Here is the video of just the presentation and discussion regarding the accountability model under the waiver.
The main focus of the presentation was to discuss the various labels now given under the waiver: Priority, Focus, and Reward. These labels were dictated by the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE). The USDOE did not dictate what measures should be used to place these labels on schools, though. The ALSDE was allowed to make that determination.
Priority Schools are those schools that are the lowest performing schools in the state.
Focus Schools are schools with large gaps between subgroups of children as measured by the ARMT (soon to be the ACT Aspire), the AAA (test for children with severe cognitive disabilities) and the graduation rate.
Priority and Focus Schools will be given support at the district and state level, differentiated based on what is needed, as determined by school, district, and state folks. These determinations last at least three years. The waiver sets forth the process by which schools “exit” the status of Priority or Focus.
Reward Schools are those schools that are showing great success. They are akin to our Torchbearer Schools. For 2013, 2014, and 2015, Torchbearer Schools will continue to be named using criteria already set.
Beginning in 2016, the criteria will change to include not only Title I schools, but all schools that meet the criteria.
During the discussion of the School Performance Index (SPI), Bice stated that the end number translates nicely into a “grade” for the school. The Legislative Grading Systemwill be implemented in the fall of 2016.
Board member Stephanie Bell asked Bice about the Grading System and what kind of progress is being made. Here is the video of that discussion. Bice said that the internal committee has done their work and that it is now time to share this with parents to determine what information will be helpful to them. (Yay! Stay tuned for your opportunity to share your thoughts!)
Bice then addressed what he termed “a bit of misinformation” about Annual Measurable Objectives (AMOs) being set by race and other demographic characteristics. (Here is my take on it.)
You really just need to hear Bice say it for himself. So here is his minute and a half explanation of what those different AMOs are all about as he views it.
The expectations for all children are the same, he said. “100% proficiency.” But setting these achievement measures differently “forces us to own” the gap and accelerate the achievement of children who are farther behind at a faster pace.
Here is the summary of the differences between the old way (AYP) and the new accountability model:
That last line about school choice and “SES” (Supplementary Educational Services) being replaced means that the students who have chosen to transfer to schools that have not “failed AYP” from schools that have “failed AYP” will no longer be given that option. It is unclear what will happen to students who have transferred…will they be sent back to their zoned school or will they be allowed to continue their education where they are?
The next few items pertained to proposed changes to the Alabama Administrative Code (AAC).
Here is the presentation regarding the changes needed to address the new Alabama High School Diploma, which is in effect with this year’s entering 9th graders. (Here’s some background information on the new diploma changes.)
Then, a proposed new chapter in the AAC for treatment facilities. This is being added in an effort to enhance the education standards and expectations for facilities that serve children with certain special needs. These facilities (approximately 90 facilities across the state) will be required to obtain an educational endorsement from the ALSDE before being able to obtain state education funding for children in their facilities. If adopted, the requirement will go into effect August 1, 2014.
The work session adjourned at 12:15 p.m.
The next Board meeting is August 8. The next Board work session is August 22.
School starts for most (if not all) districts on August 19.
Here are the materials shared with the public, minus the resolutions. No proposed rules (items 10 through 17 on the agenda) were shared.
Here is the Storify version of the work session, which is a compilation of any information I shared during the work session via Twitter, plus information tweeted out by others. I must admit that there are just times when I simply cannot get all of it written up in a timely manner. Storify hits the high points.
The next meeting is a combined work session and board meeting and is set for July 9.
If you have any questions, please contact me at asc(at)alabamaschoolconnection.org, or comment on the ASC facebook page.
I don’t usually write about local meetings, I know. But this school stuff is personal for me, and my visit to my local school board meeting reopened old wounds, reminding me of the important battles I have lost throughout years of advocacy and how difficult it is for members of the school community to affect meaningful change in a school system.
And how important it is to not give up trying.
Hoover City is my local school system. It is to this system of schools that my property value and community’s culture are inextricably intertwined.
My school system has an excellent reputation in the state of Alabama and beyond. It is not my intent to bash my local school system in writing this. Test score data is only one indicator of student achievement. But when this system broke off from the county schools in 1988, the talk was of being the best school system academically in the state. Evidence suggests that goal has become too elusive.
You know how I encourage y’all to take the test data and start a conversation with your school leaders? Well, that’s what I did in 2004. Back then, we used the Stanford Achievement Test, 10th edition (SAT-10) to measure student achievement on an annual basis. (We no longer use the SAT-10. Now we use only the state-developed, state-course-of-study-aligned ARMT+.)
Sure, I know that a great school is more than the sum total of better-than-average test scores. I also know that measures of student achievement, albeit imperfect, are necessary when we spend nearly $8 billion of the public’s money on public education in Alabama. Yes, we need better measures of student achievement. But for a long time now, test scores are the only objective measures we have had.
Back then, in 2004, I was alarmed at how low our school’s SAT-10 test scores were, not just from “I thought they would be higher” prideful view, but how low they were compared to other elementary schools in the system. I reached out to the principal, who tried hard to blame the kids and tell me that test scores really didn’t matter. I reached out to parent leaders at our school district PTO council, who laughed it off and said it didn’t matter, that our scores were low because of a “demographic shift”. I was told by the superintendent to only be concerned with my children’s scores, that they, the professionals, the experts, would handle other people’s children.
Those answers didn’t sit well with me. I did my best to call attention to the decline in test scores, holding neighborhood meetings to spread the news, seeking support for after-school tutoring programs from school and district officials (we didn’t have any money, I was told). With the principal’s permission, I helped develop a parent-staffed in-school tutoring program for students on both ends of the achievement spectrum, to give our teachers additional help on a twice-weekly basis. I begged for summer school programs and aides and learned how to read school district budgets in my search for any small amount of funding that could be sent our way.
See, this was the elementary school I had attended from first through seventh grade, and I refused to allow school and district leaders to ignore the increasing academic needs of the children zoned to attend my neighborhood school.
The district’s answer to declining test scores was to rezone children in apartment-based homes, spreading them out, blaming the transient nature of apartment-based families for the low test scores that besieged our formerly pristine school system achievement record.
I fought alongside our teachers for resources for struggling students. To improve student achievement. And I know now that I lost that battle. So did too many children.
I recognized early on that what people think is happening in their local schools and what actually is happening can be two very different realities. Most folks felt like their children were getting an excellent education at our elementary school. I was rebuffed by many parents for pointing out our low achievement on standardized tests.
As the years passed, I found that too many of the children who were in our elementary school in 2004 were surpassed academically when student populations combined with the two other elementary schools at the middle school level. They were further surpassed when the two middle schools combined at Hoover High School. I didn’t see our elementary school’s faces in the Honor Society tappings nor the excellent-score-on-the-tests celebrations nor the Award Ceremonies.
So did those test scores actually tell us something after all?
Nearly a decade later, my neighborhood elementary school’s overall achievement on standardized tests has continued to trail those of other elementary schools in my system, and still it appears that no effective plan is in place to positively impact student achievement. Our neighborhood elementary school has the highest percentage population of children in poverty (as measured by free and reduced lunch qualifications) in our system, 49.3%. And because of that there is still the tendency to blame the children and their families for not caring about their children’s education, though that tired refrain has been disproven time and again.
It is because of these battles that I encourage parents and families to seek the details about their school districts, not just by looking at test scores, but by learning how to read a school district budget, how to read financial statements and check registers, and learning what you should expect from a school board member, among other things. We parents and families have to be informed so that we can engage.
So, back to the meeting. After a couple of blows in the past couple of weeks, and little community reaction, I decided to take my own advice and take test data from the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) to share with my local school board members to re-start that old conversation from 2004.
I compiled this packet of information, taking just a representative sample of the schools that appeared to suffer the greatest decline from then till now. The meeting was packed, standing-room-only. I cynically wondered which coach was about to be fired, because that was about the only reason I ever saw parents and families pack a school board meeting anymore.
As I approached the podium, ten years of effort flashed through my mind, and I wondered why I was there, addressing our five-member, City-Council-appointed board, when their efforts over the past ten years resulted in no improvement in student achievement.
Why would anything be different now?
I began my remarks by asking for their help…that we must refocus our efforts on student achievement because too many of our children are not even scoring at state levels. Boom. Deja vu all over again.
The President of the board acknowledged my concerns; the Vice President acknowledged my concerns. Boom. Deja vu all over again.
I made two requests: (1) please ask PARCA to dissect and analyze their academic and financial data as they have for other school systems across the state (check out Dothan’s progress…very impressive) and (2) please attend an Alabama Association of School Board (AASB) training being held this Saturday entitled “Governing for Higher Student Achievement”, sponsored by the Birmingham Business Alliance and the Birmingham Education Foundation.
While I was received warmly, the board did not respond to the two requests. I stepped away from the podium feeling defeated, unconvinced that any plan will be put in place to focus on improving student achievement, even though two new Central Office academic-officer administrators had just been hired moments before I stepped up to speak.
What was best about last night’s meeting was what happened next. I learned why the school board meeting was packed, standing-room-only, with citizens. It had nothing to do with anybody’s job being on the line.
These dozens of citizens, from another of Hoover’s elementary schools, are deeply concerned about the level of student achievement at their neighborhood school. This is an organized group, with a spokesperson and everything!
They expressed worry over too many families moving their children to private schools and too many children from the more-transient apartment communities placing too much of a load on their teachers and their classrooms. They asked for a plan…specifically what would school leaders do to improve student achievement…because they needed to make plans, too (presumably whether or not to re-enroll their children in Hoover schools).
Here they were…just when I had given up hope that the citizens in my community would ever express concern over student achievement again! In the crowd of parents, I even saw an old school-warrior friend of mine who had conducted her own battles with school leaders through the years. This was her neighborhood back on the front lines.
And then, in all of the excitement, it struck me: why are we still having the same discussion that first began more than ten years ago? Seeing the agony and concern on these parents’ faces took me back to the days when I was a young mother and had to make the tough decisions about whether my youngest child would be able to reach his potential in my neighborhood elementary school.
My heart breaks for these parents, these families who so badly want to be a part of a great public school system. They believe in the idea of neighborhood schools and recognize their impact on their surrounding communities. And sadly, they are getting the tired assurances that the experts have it all under control and change is coming….just hang on. Trust us, they say. Boom. Deja vu all over again.
Even in the face of these deja vu moments, though, their endeavor is a beacon of hope. Hope of parent and family engagement in the care and keeping of our school system. My sincere thanks to those parents and community members for that glimmer of hope.
In a late-night phone call with a friend after the meeting, I was asked my thoughts on the following questions: is it that school leaders don’t want to do anything to improve student achievement? Or is it that school leaders don’t know what to do to improve student achievement?
I didn’t have an answer.
As I put this post together, I remembered this quote from Ron Edmunds, posted as the last slide in State Superintendent Dr. Bice’s Plan 2020 presentation and often recited by Bice:
“We can whenever we choose successfully teach all children whose schooling is of importance to us. We already know more than we need to do that. Whether or not we do it must finally depend on how we feel about the fact that we haven’t so far.”
So how do we feel about the fact that we haven’t so far?
Any and all thoughts are appreciated. Please post here or on the facebook page.
Wish I had more time to write it up in detail. Very interesting discussion about proper conduct for state board members who disagree with the state board’s decisions. Here’s the Agenda:
So much to say about this training session from the Alabama Association of School Boards (AASB). Held at the Wynfrey in Birmingham on March 15 and 16 , speakers included Dr. Craig Pouncey, Chief of Staff, Policy and Budget (a.k.a., chief finance guy) and Liz Killpack on Friday and a panel discussion on Saturday to share “how to get the most bang for your bucks”. There were breakout sessions as well, but as a member of the media, I attended only the General Sessions.
First up on Friday was Dr. Bice, who spoke about Plan 2020. But I wasn’t there, so I can’t tell you about it. Sorry.
Legislative Update from AASB’s Sally Howell
When I joined the group, Sally Howell, the Executive Director of the AASB, took the stage and shared with the somewhere-around-350-maybe-400 school board members in attendance how the Alabama Accountability Act (AAA) came to pass. It was a thrilling tale, one which I won’t share in detail, but I will hit the highlights of what Howell shared:
- The passage of the AAA arose from the “perfect storm” of opportunity and issues.
- The “Flex Bill” (what we knew as the Local Control School Flexibility Act) was in trouble in the Senate, and earlier in the week that it was passed, it was known to be in trouble.
- The House and Senate versions of the Flex Bill differed slightly, with the House version more favorable to the school community and the Senate version more favorable to the Alabama Education Association (AEA).
- No one outside of the few who hatched the plan earlier in the week knew about the tuition tax credit part of the bill that was added in Conference Committee.
- As to the question of whether it is legal, Howell stated that yes, the Conference Committee can make the change.
- If the bill had gone through the normal vetting process, it probably wouldn’t have passed.
Howell added that the AASB is not optimistic at all that the law will be overturned. She acknowledged that trust among the legislators and the stakeholders that were left out of the loop (including the AASB, the School Superintendents of Alabama, Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools, among others) has been broken, but encouraged attendees (all school board members themselves) to work to repair the relationship because it is “critical” that board members have ongoing relationships with political leaders. Continue reading
Because I have fallen behind in writing up notes of meetings from December, I am going to approach this a different way. Because I now tweet live from state-level meetings, I am going to simply present those notes through a program called Storify. Storify is a tool that allows you to gather tweets into a collection and add notes and other information along the way. Follow me at @ALSchoolConnect for live meeting updates.
Here is the agenda.
Here is the Storify version of the State Board work session.
The next Regular Meeting is on February 14, 2013. The next Work Session is February 28, 2013.