Jefferson County Senator Shay Shelnutt, who cast the deciding final “yea” vote last Tuesday to pass the RAISE/PREP bill out of committee, has apparently reconsidered his position and posted on the Facebook page of Teacher of the Year Jennifer Brown, “I have let it be known that I am a No on SB316.”
This is certainly welcome news to those educators and researchers who have been saying for months that this bill is not in the best interest of students, school systems and teachers. According to a recent article in the Trussville Tribune, both Senator Shelnutt and Senator Slade Blackwell had concerns about the VAM (Value Added Model) process SB316 uses to evaluate teachers.
Both the American Statistical Association and the American Educational Research Association have cautioned about how various VAM processes are unreliable and erratic. Yet, the RAISE/PREP bill requires that 25 percent of teacher evaluations be based on this methodology.
Senator Shelnutt is to be commended for keeping an open mind and listening to educators who have voiced their concerns. He is certainly commended for having the courage to change his position.
At this point in Alabama politics, the Business Council of Alabama is arguably the most powerful political “player” in the state. They are definitely one of the best funded as their PAC spent more than $2 million in 2014 on campaigns. BCA supports SB316. Their CEO, Billy Canary, testified last Tuesday in support of it. Senator Shelnutt was one of the many candidates who got BCA money in 2014–$26,000 in all.
To be honest, the good senator was in a tough position at the hearing. He was the last, and deciding vote, as he broke a four to four tie. And all the while he was having to face an audience that included one of his chief contributors in his campaign for senate.
So the decision he shared with Jennifer came obviously after a lot of thought. And he should be congratulated for the choice he made.
And this small episode brings into sharp focus the overwhelming flaw with RAISE/PREP from its inception months ago. Del Marsh, the bill’s sponsor, NEVER asked Alabama educators for input when SB316 was in its formative stages. He never reached out to those same teachers, researches and superintendents who spoke against the bill on Tuesday. Sure, he now says that he has sat down with various education groups in the last couple of months to discuss the bill. But this was too little, too late. You don’t ask your wife where she wants to go on vacation when you are halfway to the location you have picked out without her.
So you end up with the fine mess were are now embroiled in. You waste precious resources, energy and effort on needless battles simply because a politician would rather flex their political muscle than do what is right.
Ann Monroe teaches at Bryant junior high in Jackson County. For those who might not know, Bryant is a stone’s throw from both Tennessee and Georgia, just south of Chattanooga. It is 220 miles one way from Bryant to Montgomery. Last Tuesday Ann Monroe took a day off from school and drove more than 400 miles and nearly seven hours so she could speak at the hearing for three minutes.
That is dedication and conviction for certain and I so admire her. But had Senator Marsh been willing to call on experts in Alabama to begin with, she could have been teaching her students last week instead of trying to open the eyes of some who sometimes refuse to see.