State school superintendent Mike Sentance set tongues to wagging and editorial writers to editorializing on Dec. 8 when he told the state board of education that the education folks in Washington were looking at graduation rates in Alabama.
While some members of the state board were quick to cry that they were blindsided by the news, they weren’t the only ones. Superintendents across the state felt the same way. Suddenly they were getting calls from reporters about something they knew nothing about. One superintendent read an on-line news item that implied her system was under investigation and it was news to her.
According to a state department press release of Dec. 8, there were two issues under investigation. 1) How the Alabama Occupational Diploma (AOD) given to some special education students was being counted. 2) How a credit recovery program that allows some students to make up needed credits for graduation was being handled.
The state board had approved both AOD and credit recovery in years past.
But here are questions local superintendents don’t have answers to:
Why did Sentance tell the governor and some legislators about the investigation before he told the state board? (Apparently one of the legislators told a reporter about one system involved. This resulted in that system making the news and catching the superintendent off guard. The system was Mobile.
(On Monday, Dec. 12 Sentance put out a statement trying to “walk back” the info about Mobile. The statement said, “Mobile County Public Schools was not chosen for any particular cause.”)
Does Mike Sentance work for the state school board or the governor and the legislature? As one retired superintendent told me, “Since Sentance has never worked for a local school system, he does not seem to have any concept of the problems a state superintendent can cause with mis-statements. The state department of education is supposed to help local systems with problems, not create new ones.”
Since the USDOE has not released their findings in this matter, why was this issue even brought before the state board and others? Officials from the Birmingham school system were told by folks in Washington that they had never heard of a state putting out a press release without having specific information of erros that were found.
If there is a problem with how Alabama has been calculating graduation rates, EVERYONE I have talked with wants to find out what it is and have it corrected. And if there has been any mis-use of data in order to inflate numbers, these should certainly be handled ASAP.
But right now, educators are wondering why newspapers and TV stations and radio talk shows were given fodder to feed the anti-public school crowd. Given what has happened to public schools in Alabama since 2010, it is easy to understand why superintendents, principals and teachers are leery of anything coming from Montgomery.