A tip of the hat to Decatur Daily reporter Mary Sell for keeping her ear to the ground and discovering that state school superintendent Mike Sentance is moving ahead with a consulting contract for $536,000 to a company in Massachusetts.

See her article here.  This is how she begins.

The Alabama State Department of Education says the state superintendent had nothing to do with awarding a $536,600 contract to a company with which he was formerly associated.

Massachusetts-based Class Measures Inc. was recently selected by the department to review schools and data that can be used to benchmark their progress.

According to the Class Measures website, it is the U.S. subsidiary of a United Kingdom-based company, Tribal Group. Michael Sentance, originally from Massachusetts and selected the state superintendent in August, was U.S. president of education reform strategies for Tribal Group, according to his resume.

Some background.  Sentance is taking over the Montgomery County school system.  This move has now been formalized.  As part of the intervention he plans do an in-depth assessment of the system’s poorer forming schools.  The RFP requires that the consulting firm have experience in conducting Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skill) reviews.  Work is to begin this month..

Ofsted is used extensively in the United Kingdom  Learn more here.

The official word is that this contract will include work in other systems.  And while that may well be true, no doubt it will first be devoted to Montgomery.

Like Mary, I have also been in touch with the State Department of Education about this contract and the bid process.  Four companies submitted proposals, one from Georgia, two from North Carolina and one from Massachusetts.  The Massachusetts company, Class Measures, Inc. is a subsidiary of a U.K. company, the Tribal Group.  Sentance was employed by the parent company from January 2011 to August 2011 when he was terminated.

I too was told that Sentance had nothing to do with the selection of Class Measures, Inc.  But taking this statement at face value is really, really hard to do.  Especially in light of all the controversy of the last few months surrounding his hire.

The contract went before the legislative contract review committee last Thursday.  It was not approved.  (This committee can not stop contracts, but they can delay them until more information is provided about what they are supposed to accomplish.)

At present, the state board of education does not have to approve contracts let by the department, regardless the amount.  Some board members believe this policy should be changed.

This episode certainly leaves unanswered questions.  For instance, with a state department full of expert educators, why is there not someone who could provide school assessments?  For another, what experience does a company in Massachusetts have in working with Alabama schools?

A good friend has her Ph.D in education.  She has extensive experience in working with the Ofsted methodology and while she says it is good, it is also extremely expensive to implement their findings.  “What good does it do have an assessment and no money to go forward?” she asked.

Let me add that as an Alabama taxpayer who sees lots of needs with his own eyes in our schools, it pains me to send $536,000 to an out-of-state vendor.