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Spring of Tentative Hope

This post is written by NCTE’s P12 Policy Analyst for Alabama, Cindy Adams. 

CindyAdamsTo quote from Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity”—thus characterizing the 2016 Alabama state legislative session. In the months leading up to the February–May legislative session, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh warned the state that he would propose the RAISE Act as the first piece of legislature for the session. By early February, the bill had been revised seven times and morphed into the PREP Act. Opponents contended the following: (1) using value-added measures for teacher evaluations is unreliable at worst and misleading at best, and (2) using teacher evaluation for external accountability purposes (granting tenure and dismissing ineffective teachers) as opposed to using evaluation to promote teacher growth would pervert the original purpose of evaluations—to help teachers grow in their craft. The proposed bills would cost additional millions of dollars to implement and included stipulations to pay for outside-the-state “evaluators” to assess teachers—evaluators who did not know the state courses of study, the school communities, or the dynamics in buildings.

Alabama Teacher of the Year Jennifer Brown used her platform to rally teachers around the state while determined superintendents and school board members met with individual legislators. Brown asked legislators to visit their schools and ask students and teachers what they needed to be successful on the state-mandated assessments and NAEP tests. She also asked legislators to first visit the bottom 6 percent of schools (76 schools) that the legislature had labeled as “failures.” All were in high-poverty areas, not surprising in a state with a high-poverty rate to begin with. Her story aired on NPR. Legislators who heeded the call and toured classrooms were highlighted on school district social media pages and thanked for their concern.

Executive Director of School Superintendents of Alabama Eric Mackey urged legislators to consider that fifteen states are in the midst of lawsuits over value-added measures and said, “In no state has it been proven conclusively to work, and in some states it has been proven conclusively not to work, so why go there again?” He also pointed out that the $18 million worth of appropriations needed to implement the PREP Act were not in the proposed education budget for the state. The next question was “What will be cut?” in an already unfunded budget.

In a startling late-night announcement on April 12, 2016, as a legislative work session was closing, Senator Marsh announced he was “shelving” the PREP Act bill. It was dead. Marsh explained that not enough legislators or educators were supporting the bill. He took a moment to explain, however, that Alabama’s economic woes sat on the shoulders of its educators—perhaps a last attempt to find someone else to blame for Alabama’s lack of leadership in attracting more industry to a poverty-laden state.

So, to return to Dickens, the winter of despair has turned into a spring of tentative hope. Perhaps the foolishness has been replaced with a measure of wisdom. Educator voices made a difference, and our students showed their best efforts and full hearts to legislators when it counted.

Cindy Adams is a veteran literacy educator with 38 years experience in K-12 schools. She currently serves as the Chief Academic Officer for Literacy and Humanities in Hoover City Schools in Alabama.