Alabama Elects to March Toward True Progress in Education


On August 11, 2016 the Alabama State School Board selected Michael Sentance of Massachusetts for State School Superintendent; September 8, we approved his contract. One of six finalists, Sentance won my support during his 55-minute interview on August 4. I don’t think anyone in the crowded room was expecting what he said. Sentance gave us a brief but clear outline for his vision of education, modeled on the highly successful reform effort he had been part of in Massachusetts back in the early 1990s.

As he answered our questions, I looked around the room and saw the expressions on people’s faces and noticed a light of hope in the eyes of fellow board members. When the governor passionately asked him, “Why hasn’t anyone else told me this before (regarding AL’s assessment system),” it dawned on me this man from Massachusetts had a real chance of being selected. For the first time in my 13 plus years on the state school board, I believed Alabama could be successful in turning around our educational system and improving students’ lives as Massachusetts had done. As Sentance had explained about Massachusetts’ success, I knew an endeavor this massive would require years of close cooperation among k-12, 2 and 4 year institutions, colleges of education, pre-k, business and industry, and of course parents, the Governor and the Legislature. I wondered hopefully would we in Alabama be willing to join together to take advantage of this unique opportunity, one that might not come along again for a long time?

As I researched his work in Massachusetts, I really liked what I learned. For example, in the fall of 2001 when Sentance left his position as senior education advisor to the governor, the state’s upward trajectory had begun. It culminated by 2007 when Massachusetts ranked first on the NAEP scores on all four assessments – a status never previously attained. Called one of the nation’s most competent K-12 leaders and a Federalist, Sentance has since 2010 valiantly objected to the misguided Common Core regime. He argued for rigorous, proven standards that are developed by teachers and academics in a state. He believed “the states should be doing this work as it allows for creativity and the pioneering innovation that states can provide…. It’s why we were able to introduce engineering into our science standards in 2000—something still lacking in any depth in the Next Generation Science Standards. So I believe that standards should always be established by states without the coercion from the federal government.”

I read that Mr. Sentance also recognized that while the 1993 Massachusetts Education Reform Act focused on the academic aspect of school improvement, the career-tech sector was largely ignored. As he worked through the issue of improving career-tech programs, there was pressure from some sources to set up something like the European model for determining a student’s work future. but he resisted such moves and they did not accept that model. He said, “The focus was to provide a strong academic education for all students. While there was initial resistance to increasing the academic requirements in career-tech programs, eventually a group of career-tech superintendents courageously embraced the challenge of our standards and significantly improved their programs. And, this was done without tracking or pre-determining the destiny of any student.”

In an interview with AP after the vote, our new superintendent explained, “My goal is to raise the achievement of students in Alabama so whatever people think about Alabama, they know that their schools are good and improving…. I’m excited about the challenge… It’s going to take a lot of work. It’s going to take the trust and faith of educators to work with me. So that is something I have to earn. I understand that.”

The AP article quoted Gov. Bentley: “I am not excited that we are 40th in 4th grade reading…46th in 8th grade reading and 50th in 8th grade math.” I join with the governor who asked the public to give Sentance a chance because our school scores must improve.

As C. S. Lewis once wrote, “If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”

I have faith that Alabamians will indeed work together and turn our schools around. Our students don’t deserve the status quo. We must turn back to the time when we were progressing in order to march toward true progress.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley’s Awful Executive Order on Data Collection

Robert_BentleyAlabama Governor Robert Bentley issued an executive order related to student data collection that established the state’s longitudinal database system.  He signed this on May 21 and it flew under the radar until recently.

In a word this executive order is awful, absolutely awful.  It amps up student data collection and does nothing to protect student data privacy considering how FERPA has been relaxed.

Here is the text of the order:

WHEREAS, the State of Alabama desires to leverage the strengths of education and industry to improve educational outcomes and to promote workforce and economic development;

WHEREAS, the State of Alabama has a vital interest in improving the productivity of state resources by maximizing the use of the state’s existing assets;

WHEREAS, the appropriate use of data is essential to accelerate student learning, program and financial effectiveness and efficiency, and policy development;

WHEREAS, each of the following Alabama departments and entities separately collect and maintain data relevant to student progress from early learning through postsecondary and into employment: the Department of Children’s Affairs, the Department of Education, the Alabama Community College System, the Four-Year Public and Independent Colleges and Universities, the Alabama Commission on Higher Education, the Department of Labor, and the Regional Workforce Development Councils of Alabama;

WHEREAS, each of the foregoing bodies works to advance education and/or workforce outcomes in the State of Alabama through segmented efforts that do not efficiently utilize state resources;

WHEREAS, the Governor’s College and Career Ready Task Force (the “Task Force”) was established pursuant to Executive Order No. 36 on January 15, 2013 to evaluate means of closing the gap between the knowledge and skills of the workforce and the needs of business and industry;

WHEREAS, the Task Force recommended the establishment of the Alabama Workforce Council, which was created by the Legislature pursuant to Alabama Act No. 2014-16, to promote collaboration across prekindergarten-12, two-year college, four-year universities, and business and industry;

WHEREAS, after consideration of the structure of Alabama’s education, social and workforce programs and consultation with experts in the fields of education and workforce data, the Alabama Workforce Council recommended the establishment of a P-20W statewide longitudinal data system, which is a program to collect and match personally identifiable records of Alabama students from early learning through postsecondary and into employment;

WHEREAS, integrating the state’s education and workforce information into a P-20W system is critical to ensuring that all Alabama students graduate from high school being college and career ready, improving decision-making on educational programs, making decisions based upon validated and objective measures of student outcomes, and permitting qualified researchers to collaboratively evaluate the success of state programs;

WHEREAS, the P-20W system would improve student achievement and help close the skills gap through a focused, integrated, and comprehensive approach to data sharing and research statewide;

WHEREAS, developing a P-20W system would enable students and parents to make better decisions to ensure student success; help teachers and education leaders to identify best practices, scale them within schools, and allocate resources toward such programs; allow transparency of the use of tax dollars for taxpayers; assist industry to better understand the development of skilled talent; enable business and philanthropy leaders to target their resources towards programs with proven outcomes; and help state policymakers to allocate state resources to effective programs; and

WHEREAS, the State of Alabama recognizes that protecting and safeguarding the privacy and security of students’ personally identifiable information is of utmost importance.

NOW, THEREFORE, based upon these considerations for other good and valid reasons thereto, I, Robert Bentley, Governor of the State of Alabama, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the State of Alabama, do hereby order and direct the following:

(1) A statewide longitudinal data system (hereafter known as the Alabama P-20W Longitudinal Data System) is hereby created to match information about students from early learning through postsecondary education and into employment. The purposes of the Alabama P-20W Longitudinal Data System include developing a state talent pipeline capable of ensuring that all Alabama students graduate from school being college and career ready, improving decision-making on educational programs, making decisions based upon validated and objective measures of student outcomes, and permitting qualified researchers to collaboratively evaluate the success of state programs.  All student information will be protected, safeguarded, kept confidential, and used only by appropriate educational and workforce authorities in order to serve the best interests of students, in accordance with state and federal law.

(2) The Alabama Office of Education and Workforce Statistics (hereinafter referred to as the “Office”) is hereby established as a separate office under the Department of Labor and shall be headed by a Chief Policy Officer who will be appointed by the Governor from nominations made to the Governor by the Advisory Board of the Office. Subject to the availability of funding, the duties of the Office shall be to:

(a) Develop an implementation plan to phase in the establishment and operation of the Alabama P-20W Longitudinal Data System and the Office in coordination with the Advisory Board;

(b) Oversee and maintain the Alabama P-20W Longitudinal Data System;

(c) Develop de-identification standards and processes using modern statistical methods;

(d) Identify and prioritize critical policy questions to improve education and workforce outcomes;

(e) Create a process for collecting, managing and reporting data;

(f) Develop requirements and definitions for data to be provided to the Alabama P-20W Longitudinal Data System to ensure interoperability;

(g) Hold providers of data accountable for data quality and integrity;

(h) Link education and workforce data from multiple sources through quality matching;

(i) Ensure adherence to data security and privacy policies;

(j) Evaluate public education and workforce development programs at all levels, from early learning through postsecondary and graduate school;

(k) Conduct and support research studies designed to improve instruction or to develop assessments for or on behalf of schools or school districts in the state;

(l) Ensure compliance with the federal “Family Education Rights and Privacy Act,” 20 U.S.C. § 1232g (“FERPA”), and all other relevant state and federal privacy laws, including the
governance policy established by the Advisory Board of the Office;

(m) Respond to approved research data requests in accordance with the data access and use policies established by the Chief Policy Officer and the Advisory Board of the Office;

(n) Enter into contracts or other agreements with appropriate entities to the extent necessary to carry out the duties and responsibilities of the Office;

(o) Employ staff as necessary to carry out the Office’s functions, as provided in the State budget; and

(p) Pursue all available funding for the development and maintenance of the Alabama P-20W Longitudinal Data System, including federal grant funding.

(3) The Advisory Board of the Office (the “Advisory Board”) is hereby established.

(a) The Advisory Board shall consist of:

(i) the Commissioner of Labor, who shall serve as the Co-chair of the Advisory Board;

(ii) the Secretary of Information Technology, who shall serve as the Co-chair of the Advisory Board;

(iii) the Governor’s Education Policy Advisor;

(iv) the Chair of the Senate Education Budget Committee;

(v) the Chair of the House of Representatives Education Budget Committee;

(vi) a representative of the State Board of Education, who shall be appointed by the Governor to serve no more than two consecutive three-year terms;

(vii) the State Superintendent of Education, or his or her designee;

(viii) a representative of the Alabama Community College System Board of Trustees, who shall be appointed by the Governor to serve no more than two consecutive three-year terms;

(ix) the Chancellor of the Alabama Community College System, or his or her designee;

(x) the President of the Alabama Council of College and University Faculty Presidents, or his or her designee);

(xi) the President of the Alabama Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, or his or her designee;

(xii) the Chairperson of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education, or his or her designee;

(xiii) the Commissioner of Children’s Affairs, or his or her designee;

(xiv) the Secretary of Commerce, or his or her designee;

(xv) the State Service Commissioner of the State Department of Veteran Affairs, or his or her designee;

(xvi) one information technology expert representing private industry with expertise in large data systems and data security, who shall be appointed by the Governor to serve no more
than two consecutive three-year terms;

(xvii) one representative of local superintendents in the State of Alabama, who shall be appointed by the Governor to serve no more than two consecutive three-year terms; and

(xviii) one representative of the public, who shall be appointed by the Governor to serve no more than one three-year term.

All members of the Advisory Board shall serve at the pleasure of the appointing authority.  The members of the Advisory Board shall reflect the racial, gender, geographic, urban and
rural, and economic diversity of the state.  The members shall not receive any compensation or reimbursement for serving on the Advisory Board.

(b) The Governor shall have the authority to appoint additional members to the Advisory Board when necessary.

(c) The duties of the Advisory Board shall be to:

(i) Oversee the development of a detailed data governance policy before the implementation of the Alabama P-20W Longitudinal Data System, and to conduct an annual review of such policy thereafter;

(ii) Establish the research agenda of the Office; and

(iii) Oversee compliance with FERPA and all other relevant state and federal privacy laws.

(d) The Advisory Board shall meet at least semi-annually and at other times upon the call of a Co-chair. Half of the members of the Advisory Board then in office shall constitute a quorum
at any meeting of the Advisory Board for the transaction of business.  The act of a majority of the members of the Advisory Board present at any meeting at which there is a quorum
shall be an act of the Advisory Board.  Members of the Advisory Board may participate in any meeting of the Advisory Board by means of a conference telephone, video conference, or
similar communications equipment so long as all persons participating at the meeting can hear each other at the same time, and participation by such means shall constitute presence
in person at a meeting.

(e) The Advisory Board may form committees, work groups, and advisory councils to accomplish its duties and functions.

(4) Provision of Data to the Alabama P-20W Longitudinal Data System.

(a) To the extent permitted by law, the following entities shall provide accurate education and workforce data to the Alabama P-20W Longitudinal Data System:

(i) the Alabama Department of Children’s Affairs;

(ii) the Alabama State Department of Education;

(iii) the Alabama Community College System;

(iv) the State of Alabama’s four-year public and independent colleges and universities;

(v) the Alabama Commission on Higher Education;

(vi) the Alabama Department of Labor;

(vii) the State Department of Veteran Affairs;

(viii) the Alabama Industrial Development and Training Institute;

(ix) the Federal Employment Data Exchange System; and

(x) the Regional Workforce Development Councils of Alabama.

(b) The Office, upon approval of the Advisory Board and to the extent not prohibited by law, may request education data and workforce data from any additional public agency or entity.

(c) The education and workforce data to be submitted to the Alabama P-20W Longitudinal Data System should include:

(i) Data relating to student performance, including assessments; course-taking and completion; grade-point average; remediation; retention; degree, diploma or credential
attainment; enrollment; and demographic data;

(ii) Workforce data, including employment status, wage information, field of employment, employer information, and geographic location of employment; and

(iii) Other student and workforce data deemed necessary by the Advisory Board to achieve the state’s educational goals.

(d) Any private institution of higher learning, private school, or parochial school, upon approval of the Advisory Board, may provide education and workforce data to the Alabama P-20W
Longitudinal Data System.

(e) The providing entity must certify that the data provided to the Alabama P-20W Longitudinal Data System is accurate. Each providing entity shall retain ownership of the data provided
to the Alabama P-20W Longitudinal Data System.

(5) Data Governance Policies.

(a) The Chief Policy Officer, with the approval of the Advisory Board, shall develop statewide governance policies (“Governance Policies”) regarding the use, privacy, and security of data,
consistent with state and federal law, including FERPA, which policies shall govern the Alabama P-20W Longitudinal Data System. The Chief Policy Officer and Advisory Board shall
review the Governance Policies at least annually and make any necessary revisions.

(b) The Governance Policies shall include:

(i) Procedures for data collection, use, storage, retention, destruction, and protection, requiring collection of limited and appropriate data and prohibiting selling or using the data
from the Alabama P-20W Longitudinal Data System;

(ii) Process by which researchers can propose studies of de-identified information for approval by the Office;

(iii) Inventory of data collected, with descriptions in plain English;

(iv) Strategies to promote transparency and public knowledge;

(v) Security plan with administrative, physical, and technical safeguards; internal accountability processes; periodic audits, reviews and risk assessments; and security clearance
requirements for individuals with access to personally identifying information;

(vi) Penalties for violations of the Governance Policies, including possible suspensions and terminations for employees and contractors of the Office;

(vii) Prohibition on the use of data for non-educational and non-workforce purposes;

(viii) Recordkeeping plan; and

(ix) Third-party vendor and contractor access and use requirements.

(c) The level of access to information in the Alabama P-20W Longitudinal Data System shall be restricted in the Governance Policies as follows:

(i) Direct access to personally identifying information in the Alabama P-20W Longitudinal Data System is restricted to staff and authorized representatives of the Office. Information
that has not been de-identified may not be reported or disclosed in any form by the Office.  Information is not considered de-identified if an individual is reasonably identifiable
based on the size or uniqueness of the population under consideration.

(ii) De-identified information may be used in analyses and research activities by the Office and qualified third parties who meet the criteria established in the Governance Policies.

(iii) Aggregated data may be released to the general public in reports and in response to data requests.

(iv) Notwithstanding anything contained herein to the contrary, the Office may not release information that may not be disclosed under FERPA or any other applicable state or
federal privacy law or policy.

(d) The Governance Policies shall apply to all third-party vendors and contractors that are given physical or electronic access to the Alabama P-20W Longitudinal Data System and shall be
incorporated in the applicable contract documents.

(e) The Governance Policies must be published online and made available to the public.

(6) The Office shall report annually to the Governor and the Legislature on or before January 31 of each year, which report shall include:

(a) An update on the implementation of the Alabama P-20W Longitudinal Data System and the Office’s activities;

(b) A list of data initiatives begun or being planned, including a list of all studies performed by or on behalf of the Office during the reporting period;

(c) A list of currently warehoused data;

(d) Any proposed or planned expansion of data maintained in the system; and

(e) Any other recommendations made by the Advisory Board.

(7) The Office may receive funding from the following sources:

(a) State appropriations;

(b) Grants or other assistance from local education agencies and institutions of higher education;

(c) Federal grants;

(d) User fees; and

(e) Any other grants or contributions from public or private entities received by the Office.

BE IT ORDERED, that the State of Alabama shall make every effort to seek federal funding to support the creation and establishment of the Alabama P-20W Longitudinal Data System and the Alabama Office of Education and Workforce Statistics.

BE IT FURTHER ORDERED, that this Executive Order shall become effective immediately upon signing and shall remain in force until such time as it is modified or rescinded by the Governor.

DONE AND ORDERED this 21st day of May, 2015.

Robert Bentley

Alabama Senate President Pro Tem is the Roadblock to Common Core Repeal


It was reported in late November that legislative efforts will be difficult in Alabama and Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh will likely be the primary roadblock.

An excerpt:

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh said legislative efforts to repeal the Common Core education standards likely won’t make it to the Senate floor in the upcoming legislative session.

"I’ve made it very clear, I’m not bringing Common Core into the body," Marsh, R-Anniston, said in an interview Tuesday about the legislative session that begins in Jan. 14.

Marsh, R-Anniston, said the complicated and contentious debate over exactly what the Common Core standards do — and don’t do — should not be thrust into the midst of a busy regular legislative session.

"If you bring it up in this legislative session, it gets mixed in with everything else and you can’t focus totally on that issue. That issue is so complicated, in my opinion it takes total dedication to that specific issue," Marsh said.

Marsh said the only way he saw the Senate dealing with Common Core was if Gov. Robert Bentley called a special session "where we can dedicate all of our time on that issue."

So he’s deflecting on Governor Bentley who should call his bluff and call a special session if nothing is done during the general session.  Time is of the essence and shouldn’t wait until summer.

He’s receiving some pushback within the state as reported by Mary Chastain:

“Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh has become the “Harry Reid” of Alabama,” said Deanna K. Frankowski, coordinator for Alabama Legislative Watchdogs and member of RDP. “This is why the Alabama Legislative Watchdogs and Rainy Day Patriots as well as voters throughout his district and state are speaking out.

“The voters deserve to have their legislators take an up or down vote. Will they support this hostile takeover of our education system or will they stand with Alabama families? Senator Del Marsh is standing in the way of that vote. Rest assured, we will not back down until we have an answer as to who is pulling the strings and why!”

…RDP did find a letter Marsh signed to Bentley, which requested the repeal of Common Core. Other state senators who now do not support the repeal also signed the letter. They want to know what happened to make them change their minds.

Other Republican senators are determined to bring up Common Core. Sen. Scott Beason (R-Gardendale) will lead the efforts to defund and repeal the program in the next session.

Governor Bentley and the Alabama Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard support the repeal so Marsh is the sole roadblock.  Pressure needs to be applied on Senator Del Marsh, he needs to represent his constituents not the education establishment and related special interests.

Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Kills Anti-Common Core Bill

alabama-state-capitolThe Alabama Anti-Common Core bill dies, more accurately was killed by a State Senator who is confused.

EdWeek reports:

First, the legislative news. The Alabama Senate President Pro Tem, Del Marsh, a Republican, announced that he would not entertain any bills pertaining to the common core for a full Senate vote. That means Senate Bill 403, which passed the Senate Education Committee and would have required the state to drop the standards, has gone belly-up. Marsh’s announcement comes the day after a rally, reportedly consisting of about 300 people, at the capital, during which educators and others urged state lawmakers not to drop the standards.

For someone who killed a fellow Republican’s bill, Marsh had an interesting comment when discussing why he won’t give the bill any oxygen: “I truly have talked to educated people on both sides of this issue and I can’t tell who’s telling the truth … I have talked to people on both sides of this issue who make sense.”

Marsh said the issue could come up during next year’s legislative session. But GOP Sen. Scott Beason, who introduced Senate Bill 403, was fuming after Marsh’s decision, saying his “disappointment is unbelievable.” He added that Marsh initially told him that the bill would get a chance in front of the full Senate, only to see Marsh kill it. Gov. Robert Bentley, a Republican, has previously voted at the state Board of Education to drop the common core, but state Superintendent Tommy Bice supports it.

So because you can’t tell “who is telling the truth” you don’t let your members decide?  That’s his reason?  Isn’t this why it goes through the committee process and why you have debate?  One person’s confusion, albeit the Senate President Pro Tem,  leads to a bill getting dropped?

He said it can be picked back up next year, but that may be too late.  No a wishy washy position is essentially a position for the Common Core and that is something voters in his district should remember.

Photo credit: Jim Bowen via Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Alabama Pulls Out of PARCC and SBAC

Edweek reported late Friday that Alabama has pulled out of both testing consortia that it was involved in.

In an email to EdWeek, the state’s assessment director, Gloria Turner, confirmed that Alabama has bowed out of both the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. She said the department of education “has decided to go in another direction,” but didn’t offer any more detail.

The move wasn’t yet official within the two consortia, since the requisite processes haven’t yet been completed. The decision leaves PARCC with 22 members and Smarter Balanced with 24.

Alabama, you might recall, has been one of the dwindling number of states that have been playing “participating,” or “advisory” roles in each consortium. That means the state has been a part of discussions, but hasn’t had voting power. It also hasn’t had to choose one or the other group, which a state must do when it becomes a “governing” member of a consortium, with the accompanying voting power.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley who sits as President of the State Board of Education offered a resolution that would have repealed the Common Core back in the fall of 2011.  Unfortunately it lost on a 6-3 vote with Governor Bentley, Stephanie Bell and Betty Peters all voting in favor of rescinding the standards.

Unfortunately this doesn’t necessarily indicate that they will withdraw from using the standards.  They just won’t use these assessments.

Alabama Legislature Tramples on Local Control in Favor of Tourism and Tax Revenue

A school start date mandate was passed in Alabama as the Alabama Legislature overrode Alabama Governor Robert Bentley’s veto.  From the Montgomery Advertiser:

Most Alabama school children will be headed back to school later after the Alabama Legislature has voted to override Gov. Robert Bentley’s veto of a bill that proposes many school children returning to class later in the year after summer vacation.

The Alabama Senate voted 23-8 Thursday to pass the bill despite the governor’s veto. Bentley had also added an executive amendment that would have given local school systems the choice to opt out of the later school start date.

The sponsor, Republican Rep. Randy Davis of Daphne, says the law would extend Alabama’s tourist season and allow the state to collect more tax revenue.

Opponents complained the new law would take control of the school calendar from local school systems.

This is something that was tried and fortunately failed in Iowa.