A Superintendent Has His Say

John Mullins is superintendent of the Arab city school system in Marshall County.  Like most Alabama educators, he feels strongly about Senator Del Marsh’s effort to repeal the Alabama College & Career Ready academic standards.  Mullins is opposed to Marsh’s plan.  Here are his thoughts as first reported by AL.com.

In 2009 to accommodate a mobile society, especially with military families in mind, our nation’s governors and state commissioners of education initiated the Common Core Standards. With public input, a large committee of teachers and content experts studied and critiqued the best state standards in existence. From the work of this committee, the Common Core Standards were created and adopted by 45 states.

The Arab City School System is a district of approximately 2,500 students. We are very blessed to be located closely to Huntsville and the Redstone Arsenal. Our district is socioeconomically diverse. We literally enjoy the pleasure of educating the children of rocket scientists and the children of those who live in poverty. Even though we are a district with a history of being successful academically, the introduction of the more rigorous Common Core Standards challenged our students and teachers greatly. Unlike the previous state standards, recall and memorization are not sufficient for mastering the Common Core Standards. Our students and teachers both had to adapt and grow.

Arab City Schools embraced the new standards and delved deeply into understanding what students were expected to know and do. The standards are not how to teach; they are what to teach. New methodologies that foster active learning and focus on higher order thinking had to be cultivated. To help us be successful in this seismic shift, our district converted four of our master teachers into instructional coaches, who led us to understand the standards and how to teach them effectively.

Thanks to our wonderful students and remarkable teachers, Arab City Schools’ commitment to the Common Core Standards has paid tremendous dividends. According to data from the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama in 2013, 25% of the graduates from Arab High School had to take remedial or developmental courses upon enrolling in college. Thankfully by 2017, that percentage had decreased to 5%, the second lowest in Alabama. This significant reduction is proof that applying the Common Core Standards with fidelity benefits Alabama’s students.

So why is Alabama’s state-wide achievement data low? It is not the Common Core Standards. Research indicates two factors that negatively impact student achievement are poverty and the lack of educational attainment of parents. According to the US Census Bureau in 2017, Alabama is the fifth poorest state in America. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, 31% of Alabamians have a four-year degree, which ranks us 46th among the 50 states. These are facts, not excuses. In Arab, 39% of our students live in poverty, and approximately 25% of our students’ parents have a four-year degree. However, through handwork and dedication, our students and teachers have excelled while embracing the Common Core Standards.

The Alabama public education system faces many challenges including marginal funding, politicization, and legislative meddling. Thankfully, many business leaders, chambers of commerce, high-ranking military officers, and professional associations are supportive of the Common Core Standards. More importantly, many Alabama public school parents support the standards. Unfortunately, the standards face opposition from various people and groups; some of which are misinformed and/or ill informed.”

Well done.  We need more educators like John Mullins who are willing to speak up




What Impact Do Standards Have On NAEP Scores?

As we listen to the phony info about NAEP scores put out by those who support Del Marsh’s politically-motivated attempt to repeal the Alabama College & Career Ready standards, we have to wonder SO WHAT?

Like in SO WHAT do standards have to do with how a state scores on the tests known as National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)?

Fortunately, several reporters have asked the same question and come up with some good answers.  One is Bryan Lyman with the Montgomery Advertiser.  Go here to see his entire article.  Trish Crain with AL.com also weighed in.  Here is her piece

Let’s look at excerpts from Bryan’s article.

“Supporters of the Common Core repeal moving through the Alabama Legislature cite the state’s poor performance on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) as a reason for doing away with the standards, with an implication that the Common Core is responsible.

Education experts say: Not so fast.

“I’m not a Common Core advocate or opponent,” said Tom Loveless, a retired educator and education policy analyst who analyzed NAEP scores following implementation of Common Core at the start of the decade. “All the evidence I have, even though it’s not conclusive, it pretty strongly suggests Common Core does not make any difference.”

While the effects of Common Core generally are still under study, most experts who have studied the issue agree with Loveless’ assessment. In short, they argue, even if Common Core is having an effect, it’s likely one of many factors and not the sole one. Alabama’s NAEP results were already below national averages before the state implemented Common Core eight or nine years ago, and experts note NAEP scores nationwide have stagnated in the last decade, in states that adopted Common Core and in states that didn’t.

Common Core has long been a target of conservatives who associated it with the Obama administration. The federal government did not develop the standards for Common Core, though it encouraged their implementation in the Race to the Top program in 2009 and 2010.

The impact of the standards on student performance is uncertain. A 2017 survey of studies on Common Core’s effect found several difficulties in determining the impact of standards against the impact of other factors, such as existing budgets; state and local school policies and how quickly states implemented standards. Michael Hansen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, said in a phone interview that there were no “strong, convincing” studies of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) until it had been in place for 10 years.

“Where we are now, we are four, five years removed from Common Core implementation,” he said. “We’ve had (only) two, maybe three iterations of NAEP in this period.”

Texas, which never implemented Common Core, saw its math scores for eighth-graders fall from 288 to 282 from 2013 to 2017. Its eighth-grade reading scores also fell that year, from 264 to 260.

Experts caution that NAEP on its own will not prove or disprove the value of education policy. Matthew Di Carlo, a research fellow at the Albert Shanker Institute in Washington, D.C., said NAEP scores are valuable in showing the performance of students between states, but added that “there are many, many options for policy changes that might improve those scores or other types of student performance.”

NAEP scores are changing over time, or how high or low they are, that happens for any number of reasons, both school-related and non-school related,” he said. “It’s extraordinarily difficult to pin down whether NAEP scores did improve or didn’t improve because of a specific policy or small set of policies.” 

In Alabama, where the state provides most of the money for public education, cuts after 2009 were significant. From a budgeted amount of $6.2 billion in 2007, the state’s Education Trust Fund budget fell to $5.2 billion in 2010. The budget did not return to its 2007 levels until 2017.”

And once again we see facts vs. political rhetoric.  Which do you believe?


Are You Ready To Go To Work?

Now that the latest “Marsh Monster”, otherwise known as SB119 has passed the state senate, it will move downstairs to the House of Representatives.  As you probably know, this is the bill to repeal the Alabama College & Career ready academic standards and insure that this great state is in no way, shape or form, tainted by anything that does not spring from our own soils.

(Does this mean the University of Alabama’s football team should denounce all those national championships since they involved competing against non-Alabama teams?  And what about all those Federal tax dollars that pour into Alabama at a far more rapid rate than we send dollars to Washington?  Surely this money is tainted and should not soil the hands of anyone in the Heart of Dixie.)

But I side track myself.

There is an Education Policy committee in the house, chaired by Republican Terri Collins of Decatur.  Vice-Chair is Danny Garrett of Jefferson County, a one-time member of the Trussville city school board.  There are 14 members of this committee with six of them being freshman.

Since this committee will be the first group of house members to debate SB119, they should also be the first people contacted by those who believe Senator Marsh is on the wrong track.  (Last week a principal talked to Marsh and asked him specifically what standard or standards does he object to.  He admitted that he had never looked at any of them.)

Here are the members of the Education Policy committee and the best email address I have for each.  I urge you to contact them and express your concern about the Marsh bill.

Republican Terri Collins, chair, Morgan County.    Terri@terricollins.org

Republican Danny Garrett, Jefferson County    dannygarrett44@gmail.com

Democrat Rod Scott, Jefferson County     rodhscott@gmail.com

Democrat Anthony Daniels, Madison County     rodhscott@gmail.com

Republican Will Dismukes, Freshman, Autauga County     will.dismukes@alhouse.gov

Democrat Barbara Drummond, Mobile County     drummondbarbara@att.net

Republican Brett Easterbrook, Freshman, Washington County     brett.easterbrook@yahoo.com

Republican Tracy Estes, Freshman, Marion County     jtracyestes@gmail.com 

Republican Bob Fincher, Randolph County     rsfincher77@gmail.com

Republican Wes Kitchens, Marshall County     weskitchens@mclo.org

Democrat Tashina Morris, Freshman, Montgomery County     tashinamorris1@yahoo.com 

Republican Kerry Rich, Marshall County     kerryrich@bellsouth.net

Republican Proncey Robertson, Freshman, Lawrence County     proncey.robertson@alhouse.gov

Shane Stringer, Freshman, Mobile County     shane.stringer@alhouse.gov

Del Marsh And His Standards Repeal Farce

One of the definitions of “farce” is “an empty or patently ridiculous act, proceeding, or situation.”

I can think of no better example than the effort by Senator Del Marsh to repeal the Alabama College & Career Ready standards.

First Marsh was a staunch supporter of these standards.  In an article by the Business Council of Alabama on April  23, 2013 describing a capitol rally in support of the standards, Marsh is quoted as telling reporters that any repeal effort was “off the table.”

And there were repeal efforts aplenty in the Alabama Senate.  Senator Scott Beason introduced SB403 to repeal the new standards in 2013.  The first paragraph of this bill says, “Under existing law, the Sate Board of Education is directed to establish a core curriculum for every student in grades kindergarten through twelve in the state’s public schools.”  This effort went nowhere because Majority Leader Marsh, who controls the flow of legislation in the senate, was opposed.

Then in the same session Senator Dick Brewbaker had a resolution calling for the state board of education to take action regarding the new standards.  He wanted to insist that the board make sure our new standards were not soiled by any input whatsoever from any entity not in Alabama.  This got out of the senate, but was killed by then Speaker Mike Hubbard in the house.

Beason was back in 2014 with SB360.  This time the first paragraph read: “Under existing law, the State Board of Education is required to establish curriculum standards for all K-12 public schools.”  So he dropped the wording of kindergarten through twelve.  But again, Marsh would not budge.

Next up was Senator Rusty Glover in 2015 with SB101.  This time he didn’t bother to change the first sentence.  For all intent and purposes, his bill was the one Beason introduced.  Again, Marsh opposed and the bill went no where.

Glover was back in 2016 with SB60.  Again virtually the same bill as he had the year before.  It met the same fate because of Marsh.

Next in the batter’s box was Senator Harri Anne Smith with SB415 in 2017.  She got hers out of committee but told me that Marsh would not allow it to come up on the floor for a vote.

So now we are in 2019 and lo and behold, the steadfast supporter of more rigorous standards, Senator Del Marsh has found religion and has SB119, which is practically the same wording as all those before it, which again calls for repeal of the standards.

What changed?  Senator Marsh got stars in his eyes and began eyeing the U.S. Senate race in Alabama in 2020.  Desperately looking for some way to draw attention to himself, he forgot his support of the Alabama College and Career Ready standards and turned on his former allies like the Business Council of Alabama.

He did it by basically plagiarizing the work of senators of the past.  (Brewbaker, Beason, Glover and Smith are no longer in the senate.)  Where I come from, plagiarism gets you kicked out of class.

Last week a principal talked to Marsh and asked him what specific standards he objects to.  He said that he had not seen them.  A few weeks ago a reporter asked him the same question and was told, “I will leave that to the educators.”

So he supported the standards.  Now he objects to something he has never seen.  Plus, the standards were developed by Alabama educators he says should be in charge.

How do you NOT call this a farce?

The fact that he is doing all of this at the expense of the 722,000 students in public schools in Alabama makes it all the more so.

Rep. Terri Collins Raises Valid Questions About Standards Repeal

Rep. Terri Collins of Decatur chairs the Education Policy committee in the Alabama House of Representatives.  This means she will have a lot of input as to how Del Marsh’s attempt to repeal the Alabama College & Career ready standards proceeds when it comes across the aisle.

In an article in the Decatur Daily, Collins expresses major concerns about the bill and indicates that it will be studied much more carefully than it was when Marsh rammed it through the Senate.  Collins said that there is “still a lot wrong” with the bill and believes there are unintended consequences.

Though not mentioned by Collins, one of the major issues with this bill from educators is that it requires any standards adopted must also be approved by a legislative committee.  In other words, after standards were developed by professional educators and approved by the state board of educators, final say as to adoption would be up to a group of non-educators.

Talk about one scary thought.

I emailed Ms. Collins and told her how much I appreciate her stance on SB119.  But we need a LOT of folks to do the same.  Will you join me?



This Is Impossible. Numbers Don’t Support Del Marsh’s Claims

As we have mentioned repeatedly lately, Senator Del Marsh has declared war on the Alabama College & Career standards.

Why?  He says it is because Alabama students are going backwards and we have to blame it on something.  (Even though he admitted to a principal this week that he has no clue what any of our standards are.)

Widespread rumor says that Marsh hopes to run for the U.S. Senate in 2020 and this latest move is nothing but political pandering.  Among those taking Marsh to task for this move are three retired Army generals in Huntsville who called it “crazy.”  (An extremely well-connected political type in Huntsville told me this week that if Marsh does run for Senate, he can kiss Huntsville goodbye because of his stance on standards.)

The Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama is highly-respected and puts out a lot of info about education in Alabama.  Politicians love to quote them.  In fact, Marsh referred to PARCA in a “talking points” memo about why we should repeal ACCR.

But he has been so dog gone busy that he apparently failed to note that PARCA has just released info showing the number of college freshman from Alabama public schools who need remediation in math and English has been dropping in recent years.  Of course, this kind of news shoots a hole in the senator’s argument that with our present standards we are going to Hell in a hand basket.

Here is the PARCA release of March 27:

The percentage of first-time college students assigned to remedial education before embarking on college courses continues to drop, according to the latest data provided by the Alabama Commission on Higher Education (ACHE).

“The data follows Spring 2017 graduates of Alabama high schools who enrolled at Alabama public colleges in the fall after graduation. The data indicate that 28 percent of those who enrolled in higher education were required to take a course in either remedial math or remedial English or both.

A remedial course is designed to bring students up to the educational level needed to succeed in a college course. That percentage needing remediation is down from 34.6 percent in 2011. This drop in remedial rates is occurring at a time when high schools have driven up graduation rates and have sent additional students to college.

Remediation rates are calculated for two subjects: math and English. The most progress has been made in decreasing the percentage of students having to take remedial English. In 2017, the percentage of students needing remedial courses in English dropped to 14 percent, down from 17 percent in 2013.

The percentage of enrolled students taking remedial math also declined to 24 percent in 2017, compared to 26 percent in 2013.”

PARCA adds:

“The continuing progress on rates of remedial education is noteworthy since it has come during a period in which high schools are charting higher graduation rates. Those higher graduation rates have prompted concern that, in some instances, schools might be lowering standards for graduation in order to show higher graduation rates. However, this data suggests that the students who are going on to college are entering better prepared.”

So PARCA says one thing, Del Marsh says the opposite.  How could this be?  Maybe it is because no one at PARCA is running for statewide office.