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New Curriculum at Dothan Prep Challenges Some Teachers; Administrators Look to Get Involved, WTVY, November 12, 2019

DOTHAN, Ala. (WTVY) - We are now more than two months into the first year at Dothan Prep, and administration is ready to make some changes.

Assigning assistant principals, changing student movement patterns and reviewing curriculum, are on the agenda.

Principal Darius McKay told WTVY the second day of school that there was going to be a learning curve.

Looking back on the first nine weeks, that has certainly been the case.

One teacher has slid into her new role comfortably.

Keyanna Cole has had to integrate a new curriculum into her eighth grade English and language arts classes.

A+ College Ready, a signature program for Dothan Preparatory Academy.

"The novels that we read, all of the teacher resources that we use, all of those items are already provided, so my intake is that I have to do my personal homework to make sure I understand the lesson before I deliver it" Cole said.

Cole says she's adapted well to using A+ College Ready, and it helps hold students from different backgrounds, like magnet and non-magnet to the same level.

But not all teachers have adapted to the program as well.

"It is new. It was something they went to training on this summer to learn how to implement. Some people are having trouble implementing that" Assistant Principal David Tice said.

The principal and assistant principals at the school met to come up with a way to get over that hurdle.

Each grade will get its own assistant principal, essentially making each grade its own school within the school.

"This is going to be a chance for us and our instructional coaches and Dr. Hall, who's over curriculum, to get in there with them to help them to be better. They know how to teach, but just to be better at using the materials we have from this program" Tice said.

Chris Payne will take over as the 7th grade assistant principal, David Tice will be 8th grade, and Latesha Weatherington will be 9th grade.

They are encouraging parents with any questions or concerns to work with their student's grade's assistant principal.

Dothan Prep is also making some changes to how students go from class to class due to construction of more classrooms behind the school.

Watch video here.

State Legislators, Pre-K Advocates Visit Coleman Center to Examine Future of Early Education, Dothan Eagle, November 12, 2019

State legislators and pre-kindergarten advocates visited the Coleman Center for Early Learning and Family Enrichment on Troy-Dothan’s campus Tuesday to tour the site and discuss the future of early childhood education.

The Coleman Center is a first-of-its-kind program serving as a three-way intersection for high-quality learning for children, education opportunity for Troy University students studying early education and human services, and research.

While lawmakers, government, and advocate organization officials witnessed the facility and the day-to-day operations of the classrooms, they discussed he progress that has been made in early education in Alabama and a pressing need to expand accessibility to quality child care for younger children.

“We’re working right now to expand slots and quality in childcare,” Gail Piggott, executive director of the Alabama Partnership for Children, told lawmakers. “We cannot get to the fully employed workforce that we need if we don’t fix child care.”

Piggott pointed out that parents, who are at the lowest end of the earnings potential ever, are asked to pay 80-90% percent of the cost of care until their child turns 4 or 5, at which point the state pays for all of it.

“Greater investment has got to happen,” she said. “We also have to support these teachers.”

Another setback to providing quality care, Piggott said, is that backing good programs like “Read Right From the Start” and investing in professional development is wasted when employees leave a minimum-wage child care position to work at McDonald’s, where wages are higher.

Jeana Ross, secretary of the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education and a cabinet member for Gov. Kay Ivey, said it’s time that the state evaluates child care for its youngest.

“We know that it doesn’t start or end with 4-year-olds, but that was a good place for us,” Ross said. “So we can take that model that we created that we know works, that’s highly successful and now we can go scale it back. Let’s make sure that our children birth to (age) 3 have that high-quality program, because if it’s not high-quality, it could be doing more harm than good.”

“If we don’t promote that burst of development that happens from birth to (age) 3, we forever miss the train … but the early years, if we continue to ignore them, it will be at our peril and the good things we want at the other end of the spectrum are not likely to happen,” Piggott added.

The Alabama School Readiness Alliance hosted the event to thank lawmakers and advocates for pushing for increased funding for Alabama’s top-rated First Class Pre-K program, which resulted in nearly 200 additional classrooms statewide. Two are at the Coleman Center.

Allison Muhlendorf, executive director of ASRA, said the Coleman Center’s capability was a “shining example” to show what’s possible in early child care.

“They’re doing state-of-the-art things, training the next generation of teachers, so that we can inspire change and we can study and learn from what y’all are doing here,” Muhlendorf said.

Jeff Coleman, whose family’s $1 million donation made the center possible, said he believes early education is a substantial component of workforce development.

“We’ve got to get those half a million workers in the state of Alabama,” Coleman said. “That’s truly what it’s all about.”

Muhlendorf said it was important to gather at the Coleman Center because of its unique functionality for early learning, workforce development, and research ability and it being a place that uses funding from many different sources including federal and state levels and private tuition.

“Our state is poised to increase services and funding for child care for working families for children at birth to 5 years old,” Muhlendorf said. “There’s a long way to go, but the Coleman Center is certainly a start.”

Nancy Mitta, director of the Coleman Center, said the waiting list to get into the center is long, especially for the infant and toddler rooms. More rooms will be opening soon to accept additional students.

Alabama’s Dead-Last Test Scores Wake-Up Call for Officials,, November 1, 2019

Alabama’s drop to dead last in the nation in math and near last in reading is being greeted as a call to arms for state educators, as Alabama officials talk of refocusing efforts on early student learning.

“I am heartbroken for Alabama,” former state Superintendent Dr. Joe Morton said. “We must unite and become reinvigorated on teaching reading and math to every student beginning as early as possible.”

Morton served as the state’s top education official during the time when Alabama’s fourth-grade reading scores reached the national average for the first time. All of those gains were erased with this year’s results.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the nation's report card, is given every two years to fourth- and eighth-graders in math and reading at a statistically valid sample of schools and students in each state. The NAEP was first given in 1969 and state participated on a voluntary basis. All states were required to participate beginning in 2003.

Alabama’s math scores were rock-bottom for 2019, 52nd in the country behind all states, Washington D.C. and the Department of Defense schools. Alabama's reading scores slid to 49th in both grades.

Alabama’s rank among other states on most education measures historically has been low, but the latest NAEP rankings came as a blow.

“I would hope that this report gives us in Alabama a sense of urgency,” said Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, Collins chairs the House Education Policy committee and championed the passage of the Alabama Literacy Act, a law that will require all third-graders to read on grade level before graduating to fourth grade.

The passage of the Literacy Act is a source of hope for others, too.

“It really saddens me,” Rep. Barbara Drummond, D-Mobile, said, calling Alabama’s low ranking among states “unacceptable.”

“I don’t like to be 50th in anything,” Drummond said. “As policymakers, we have got to focus on a nonpartisan basis on how we can improve not only our math scores, but education, period. We’ve got to do things differently.”

Drummond, a House Education Policy Committee member, voted for the Literacy Act, which received bipartisan support in the House. Drummond said the law is a good step toward strengthening core education. “I am willing to try new things that we can do in Alabama to see if we can do better,” she said.

Drummond said she wants to see more resources flowing into schools, particularly in the early grades.

“(Lawmakers) are going to be dedicating the needed funding for reading coaches and whatever it takes to improve the reading capabilities of early learners,” Orr said, “which will pay dividends for the rest of their educational process.”

As to Alabama’s low NAEP rankings, Orr said, “It’s disappointing to say the least.” Orr said the Literacy Act raises the bar for minimum reading competency, which should drive improvements in NAEP scores in reading.

“We as a state have got to get serious about our performance and support our educators in raising the bar for all children to be the best that they can be,” Orr said.

Orr said he has talked with state Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey about implementing a similar minimum competency requirement in math. “The focus will be on fifth-graders,” Orr said, “to require students to have a basic understanding of math before they are allowed to proceed.”

Ryan Hollingsworth, executive director of the School Superintendents of Alabama, said some of the fault for low scores might lie with the test. “I believe our teachers and students are just as capable and talented as you will find in any other state,” he said.

He said he’s not sure the NAEP fairly measures what Alabama’s students are being taught. “If we believe our performance on this national assessment is important, and we want to seriously change how we perform on this national assessment,” Hollingsworth said, “then what we teach must be aligned to the assessment.”

The director of the state’s school board association, Sally Smith, said Alabama’s change of state tests every few years has had a negative impact on teachers’ ability to track student progress. The state school board dropped the ACT Aspire after 2017, gave the Scantron in 2018 and 2019, and will implement a state-created test, the Alabama Comprehensive Assessment Program next spring.

“There needs to be a call to action at the state level,” Smith said, “to look at how we are approaching reading and math instruction systemically. We already have plans in the works to make a difference.”

Smith said local school systems should work with communities to find ways to improve student outcomes and shouldn’t wait for a plan from state education leaders. “We always tell local boards,” she said, “not to wait on Montgomery.”

“We know we have a variety of issues we need to face in this state, including issues of equity and poverty, not as excuses but as issues we need to confront,” Smith said. “We have shown that we can improve these scores. It’s possible to turn this ship around.”

The charts below reflect scores on the NAEP since 2003. The first two charts reflect fourth-grade reading scores for (1) all students, and (2) for students eligible for free or reduced-price meals (poverty) or not eligible (non-poverty).

NAEP 4th grade reading scores

Alabama and national public school students' scores on the NAEP in 4th grade reading, over time.

4th grade reading NAEP scores

This chart shows NAEP scores for Alabama and national public school students in poverty and not in poverty, over time.

These two charts reflect fourth-grade math scores for (1) all students, and (2) for students eligible for free or reduced-price meals (poverty) or not eligible (non-poverty).

4th grade NAEP scores in math

This chart shows 4th-grade NAEP math scores for Alabama and national public school students, over time.

NAEP math scores over time

This chart shows 4th-grade NAEP math scores for Alabama and national public school students in poverty and not in poverty, over time.

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"Remember When We Could Say “Thank Goodness for Mississippi?",, October 31, 2019

This week’s release of the 2019 Nation’s Report Card came with alarming news: Alabama has dropped to last in the nation in math and significantly declined in reading.

Meanwhile, our neighbor Mississippi made significant gains, meeting the national average in 4th grade reading and math.The Nation’s Report Card is based on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), a test that is administered nationwide every two years to 4th and 8th grade students in math and reading.

1. Ensure that more resources are going to schools that need them most.

Schools with unique challenges, such as rural schools and those with high levels of generational poverty or high populations of English language learners, require greater support to meet student needs. These schools should receive more equitable funding, targeted teacher training, and other resources so every child has the opportunity to learn and succeed.

2. Fully commit to developing highly-effective teachers and principals.

3. Embrace the Alabama Literacy Act and support implementation with additional funding and training.

Our NAEP scores show that we are not adequately teaching children to read by fourth grade. Without this fundamental skill, children cannot succeed in future grades, much less graduate. Similar to successful efforts in Mississippi, the recently passed Alabama Literacy Act provides a unique opportunity to refocus our efforts on literacy. This legislation provides teacher training in the science of teaching reading, additional reading coaches, early identification of dyslexia and other challenges, and includes funding for implementation. Going forward, we must expand funding for intensive support for students who are behind and early interventions for students with challenges so they have every opportunity to succeed.

4. Start early with First Class Pre-K and then support students with innovative after-school and summer learning opportunities.

In addition to the continued expansion of Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program, we must also invest in high-quality after-school and summer learning programs. These programs provide additional instructional support in reading and math to students who need it and combat summer learning loss that students experience while out of the classroom.

5. Pass the new proposed Math Course of Study and ensure students are being challenged in the classroom.

In order to compete nationally, Alabama students need to be challenged more in the classroom and learn real-world problem-solving skills. As a first step, the State Board of Education should approve the new proposed Math Course of Study (the set of standards that define what students need to learn) and provide teacher training and instructional resources essential to successful implementation of the standards.

Click here to read op-ed.

More Pay, Better Retirement Part of Pitch to Solve Alabama Teacher Shortage,, October 12, 2019

Alabama is suffering a serious teacher shortage.

“Nearly every district---it’s easy to say every district---has been impacted by this shortage,” Alabama Deputy Superintendent Jeff Langham told state school board members Thursday in Montgomery.

A statewide task force composed of 18 education officials—mostly superintendents—has been working since January to make recommendations on how to deal with the shortage.

“Everything seemed important, so it was hard to prioritize,” Langham told board members during the work session. Getting new teachers in the pipeline isn’t the only problem. Keeping them in teaching is difficult, too. According to the task force, 8% of teachers leave the profession every year.

Roanoke Superintendent Chuck Marcum chaired the task force and told the set of recommendations is “a tool kit” and a variety of steps are needed. “I don’t think there’s a silver bullet,” Marcum said.

State board member Dr. Cynthia McCarty, R-Jacksonville, said the problem has grown.

When she joined the board in 2014, she said, “(the shortage) was primarily upper-level math teachers, physics and chemistry teachers and special education.”

“Now, it’s not just those teachers,” McCarty said. “It’s even elementary school teachers.”

Traditional paths to becoming a teacher—through a college-level teacher preparation program—aren’t providing enough teachers to replace those leaving, Marcum said.

“A lot of teachers are going to have to come from alternative routes,” Marcum said, like those who want to become teachers after working in a different field. The task force recommended easing the path somewhat for those on alternative pathways.

Marcum said the task force isn’t trying to make it easier to be a teacher but removing barriers for those who want to teach is important with a dwindling pool of candidates.

“You don’t just want a warm body,” he said. “But you still have to have someone at the head of the class.”

Recommendations also include improving the public image of teachers. “Sometimes we’re our own worst enemy,” Marcum said, “because we don’t do a good job promoting the good things teachers do."

The committee also suggested recruiting students while they’re in high school through dual enrollment, allowing them to earn college credit toward becoming a teacher.

The full report with all recommendations can be seen at the end of this article.

Marcum said his district in Roanoke is feeling the shortage, too. “We’re at the tipping point because of the age of our faculty,” he said. Of the 100 certified people working in the district’s schools, he said, 19 have enough years under their belt to retire. If they all retire, he’d be hard-pressed to replace them, he said.

Another problem, Langham said, is the number of teachers teaching a subject they don’t have a major or minor in themselves, known as teaching “out of field.”

According to state data, during the 2017-18 school year, nearly 2,800 teachers were teaching out of field. That’s nearly 6% of the state’s 46,565 teachers. Male teachers are more than twice as likely to be teaching out of field as female teachers. Statewide, 9.5% of male teachers are teaching out of field, while 4.4% of female teachers are.

More evidence of the shortage, Langham said, is that nearly every Alabama school district has hired teachers who are working under provisional or emergency certificates, meaning they aren’t certified but are working toward full certification.

Such provisional or emergency certificates can be used to help find teachers for hard-to-fill subjects, like chemistry or foreign languages, or remote geographic areas.

In the 2017-18 school year, 441 teachers were teaching through an emergency certificate, and 665 were using provisional certificates. That’s 2.4% of all teachers in Alabama.

The 70 schools where 10% or more of the teachers were using emergency or provisional certificates during the 2017-18 school year were all middle and high schools, according to state data.

Marcum said one of the task force’s recommendations was to extend the length of time a teacher could work under an emergency certificate. Lawmakers did that last spring while the task force’s work was underway, allowing an emergency certificate to be held for up to four years.

Lawmakers raised the starting salary for Alabama teachers above $40,000 for the first time this year. The task force didn’t recommend any specific amount by which to raise teacher salaries.

If the board votes in November to accept the recommendations, a new group, the Teacher Quantity and Quality Roundtable, will consider how to put the recommendations into action, Marcum said.

Click here to go to article on

West Limestone, East Limestone named Schools of Distinction, The News Courier, September 17, 2019

  By Jessica Barnett

West Limestone and East Limestone high schools were recently named A+ College Ready Schools of Distinction, with Ardmore High School earning its first title as a School of Excellence.

As of this year, all six Limestone County high schools are part of the A+ College Ready program, which provides training for educators, stipends for Advanced Placement teachers and incentives for students. Limestone County Schools Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction Brad Lewis said East Limestone and West Limestone high schools each increased the number of students who took AP exams and earned qualifying scores of 3 or better on a 5-point scale.

The schools have also been named Schools of Excellence for multiple years in a row, which earned them each the title of "School of Distinction." This is the first year Ardmore has earned the "School of Excellence" title.

Ardmore recently recognized some of its 45 participating students, including 20 that earned qualifying scores and college credit through the program, at an AP Scholars ceremony Sept. 10.

"It's really making a difference," Lewis said. "Both my boys attended Ardmore High School and took AP courses, and now they're both at Auburn (University). I can tell you, it makes a difference, the rigor they receive and the dual enrollment program. Both boys participated in that, and it reduced the number of hours they take at Auburn."

Superintendent Tom Sisk said LCS is "thrilled" to be home to three of only a handful of schools in the state receiving such honors. West and East are the only two Schools of Distinction this year in Alabama, while Ardmore was one of only six Schools of Excellence.

"The teachers have done a marvelous job," Sisk said. "I want to thank our board for giving us the opportunity to proceed into this program. Now, with Clements and Tanner coming on board, all six of our schools are A+ College Ready, which is awesome. That's an area we've been working really hard to improve in."

Click here to go to article in The News Courier

Sen. Doug Jones: Teacher Shortage is ‘Very Complicated’,, August 24, 2019

Sen. Doug Jones heard from educators on Saturday afternoon about the multiple ways Alabama’s teacher shortage is causing problems and what might be done to improve it.

Jones said the teacher shortage problem here and nationwide is “very complicated,” and there are multiple things communities need to consider in addressing the problem.

“Teachers are really one of the backbones of society,” Jones said in opening remarks to around 50 people at the University of Montevallo. “We’ve got a shortage not just of teachers,” he added, but also the problem that there are 1,700 uncertified teachers in Alabama’s classrooms.

There is a long-standing, chronic teacher shortage in areas like math, science, special education and foreign language, Birmingham Education Foundation’s J.W. Carpenter said. Increasingly, he said, the shortage is extending to teachers of English learners, too.

Selma City Schools Superintendent Dr. Avis Williams said those aren’t the only areas with shortages. “We have a difficult time attracting and retaining elementary teachers now,” she said. And with fewer people going into the profession of teaching, she added, there’s a “much thinner pool from which to choose.”

Tanesha Childs is in her second year of teaching art in a Birmingham City school. From her viewpoint, the problem is teacher retention. During her first year of teaching, Childs’ students repeatedly asked if she would be back this year. “They’re used to teachers not coming back,” Childs said.

Childs said the two fifth-grade classrooms at her school don’t have full-time teachers ⁠— only long-term substitutes.

Williams said when she started in Selma two years ago, none of their seventh-grade teachers were certified.

Alabama lawmakers recently extended the emergency certificate from one to two years, she said. “And that can be renewed once,” she added, “for up to potentially four years.”

“That means we can have someone in the classroom,” Bentley said, “with no preparation or support, or not seeking any development, for up to four years.” State law only allows emergency certificates to be issued when a certified teacher is not available.

Bentley said it “de-professionalizes” teaching to put untrained teachers in a classroom. It’s not enough to know the content and subject, she said. “You have to know how to teach.”

Ruth Busby, dean of education at Troy University, said when a teacher receives full state certification, it means that teacher has been thoroughly vetted and has proven she can teach.

Non-traditional pathways to becoming a teacher, like Teach for America or the use of emergency certificates, aren’t as rigorous, Busby said.

Williams said she has a lot of teachers working in Selma schools that used a non-traditional pathway to become teachers and those teachers “bring a lot to the table.”

Low teacher pay is an issue, too, Williams said, and pay should be increased significantly. Recent pay raises of 2% and 4% aren’t enough, she said. “To make the teaching profession more attractive,” she added, “the raises have to be much more significant than that.”

The pay for first-year teachers in Alabama will top $40,000 for the first time beginning Oct. 1 when a 4% pay raise goes into effect. Teachers received a 2% pay raise in 2018.

A+ Education Partnership Executive Director Mark Dixon said one way to improve teacher pay is to create career pathways for teachers. Pay could go up for teachers who become master teachers and mentor other teachers, he said. That would allow them to stay in the classroom, he said, rather than going into administration, which is one way to increase salary.

But, Bailey said another problem is the narrative around being a teacher just isn’t attractive, and that will take some time to fix. Dixon said teachers used to encourage their students to be teachers, but that’s not happening as much these days.

Bentley and Busby said teacher preparation programs in colleges are changing to adapt to today’s learners. Busby said Troy University sends college faculty to local schools to provide graduate programs to teachers from 3:00 until 5:00 in the afternoons.

While providing education is primarily a state function, Jones said, there are ways the federal government can positively impact the teacher shortage, including improving the economy. More wealth in a community means more local support and more state support, he said, to provide more education funding. Jones said improving health care and expanding Medicaid can also help schools.

Jones said the purpose of Saturday’s roundtable was primarily to raise awareness about the teacher shortage.

Communities aren’t aware, Jones said, that teachers might have different levels of certification and training. “They don’t know that these school systems are struggling to find teachers,” Jones said.

“And when they find teachers, so many of our school systems in this state are struggling to keep teachers, especially our poorer systems.”

Jones also called on parents and communities to get engaged in education. “We can’t completely shift the burden of education simply to teachers,” he said.

Click here to go to article in

A New Challenge: A+ Making AP Classes Available for Every Morgan County Student, Decatur Daily, July 10, 2019

By Deangelo McDaniel

Decatur High students Lucy Sedlak, Kate Bouchillon and Neelie Miller started their college plans two years ago when Decatur City Schools became part of the A+ College Ready network.

The first part of the plan was to take classes that would be as rigorous as college classes, something the trio said they accomplished.

Secondly, they wanted to take and pass classes that would earn them college credit. This, too, they accomplished.

West Morgan and Danville — the only schools not in the network — are joining the A+ program, which started with a $13.2 million grant in 2008 and gives students an opportunity to take classes that will count toward college credit if they achieve a qualifying score.

“This will be a game-changer for many of our students and something we have worked hard to make available for them,” said Morgan County Superintendent Bill Hopkins Jr.

Hartselle City was the first school system in Morgan County to join the program almost a decade ago, and students have earned college credits valued at more than $2 million, said Superintendent Dee Dee Jones.

Decatur and Austin were among 20 high schools statewide to join the A+ College Ready Program in 2017. More than 50 percent of the high school students in Decatur City Schools are now enrolled in at least one AP class.

The Decatur school system’s immediate success with the program is one of the reasons A+ made Decatur High a summer training ground for teachers statewide.

On Tuesday, more than 800 teachers and 100 administrators from every corner of the state came for what A+ calls E3 training, which is designed to equip, empower and expect more of teachers, said Tammy Dunn, vice president of academic affairs for A+.

Every room at Decatur High and five classrooms at Decatur Middle were occupied as A+ provided training for teachers in grades 6-11 in math and grades 6-10 in science, English, social studies and computer science.

Decatur High principal Johnny Berry, who first learned about the benefits of A+ when he worked in Hartselle City Schools, participated in the training and shared Decatur’s success with the program.

This past year, he said, Decatur offered AP World History to ninth-grade students for the first time and 13 of the 25 freshmen in the class earned qualifying scores on the AP exam, which is a four-hour test. He said they will receive college credit for the scores.

“We have 13 kids with college credit before they have their driver’s license,” Berry said.

Students in Decatur’s AP Computer Science classes also reached new heights. Berry said 25 of the 36 students earned qualifying scores.

Computer science teacher Karen Stephenson believes students can do better, and that is one of the reasons she signed up for this week’s training.

“A+ has equipped me with the support I need to be a better teacher,” she said, adding that someone with A+ is available anytime she needs them.

Berry said AP qualifying scores are not the only benefit Decatur High has seen. When Decatur City Schools joined A+, the district dropped its honors program, which offered classes tougher than students on the standard diploma track, but not as tough as AP classes.

“We’re challenging our students,” he said. “All of them.”

Sedlak, a junior, and seniors Bouchillon and Miller started when Decatur had the honors program in middle and high school. They prefer A+ classes because they are a challenge and require more in-depth work, Bouchillon said.

“I feel like I’m better prepared for college,” she said.

For the upcoming school year, Sedlak said she’s enrolled in AP statistics, environmental science, English and history, classes that are part of the University of Alabama’s early college program.

“I plan to attend Alabama, but I’m preparing now,” Sedlak said.

Miller, who is also enrolled in four AP classes next year and plans to attend Troy University when she graduates in 2020, has already made qualifying scores on two AP exams.

Dunn said A+ pays $60 of the $94 cost to take AP exams and gives students $100 for each AP exam they pass.

“We want every child going to college to take at least one AP class so they will have at least a taste of what to expect in college,” she said.

Click here to go to article in Decatur Daily.

Statewide Teacher Training Takes Place at Thompson High School, Shelby County Reporter, June 27, 2019

By Briana Harris

ALABASTER – A four-day program held at Thompson High School June 18-21 brought together educators from all over the state to participate in training sessions aimed at helping them provide students with more enriching and engaging academic experiences.

The program, offered by A+ College Ready, allowed 475 math, science, English, social studies and computer science teachers in sixth through 12th grade to participate in the training sessions at no cost to them. Mark Dixon, president of A+ Education Partnership, said the goal of A+ College Ready is to increase access to advanced placement courses in high school.

“With this training session, we’re training up teachers at the middle school level so the students can excel at the high school level,” he said. “They start learning analytical and critical thinking skills in sixth grade and continue using and building upon these skills on up through high school.”

Tammy Dunn, vice president of academic affairs for A+ College Ready, said the program takes a different approach to training teachers.

“With our training structure, the teachers take on the role of students,” she said. “They experience the lessons as is they were the student. There’s also time set aside to go over the teaching philosophy. So, they learn what to teach and how to teach it.”

The teachers are then charged with re-creating those lessons in their classrooms, Dunn said. A+ College Ready also provides support and resources to teachers throughout the school year.

The teachers said they could definitely see themselves incorporating the activity into their lesson plans.

“I really like that it incorporates arts and crafts and book work,” one teacher said. Another teacher said participating in the project from the perspective of the student allowed her to see how common mistakes are made.

Math content director Lee Ann Latta said math educators participated in a lesson where they created a line graph on the floor using tape and then they graphed coordinates using people.

Throughout the course of summer break A+ College Ready will have provided training to about 1,600 teachers. Each subject has teacher facilitators teaching the lessons.

“We have two content directors for each subject and while they are out in our schools providing support, they tap those with leadership potential,” Dunn said.

Content directors help identify outstanding teachers and recruit them to participate in the program. Those teachers take part in a leadership training program to prepare them to become teacher facilitators. There are about 100 teacher facilitators participating in the program.

Then, they work with the content directors to create the curriculums being taught to educators statewide.

“What is being taught is very specific to Alabama,” Dunn said. “We’re trying to raise expectations in the classroom. I believe that kids don’t ever really hate a subject, they hate the way they were taught a subject.”

Dunn thanked Thompson High School’s administrators and Alabaster City Schools for allowing the program to take place at the newly built high school. She also thanked the A+ College Ready team for organizing the program.

Click here to read article in Shelby County Reporter.

Mark Dixon: The Alabama Literacy Act is Good for Children, Alabama Daily News, May 21, 2019

By MARK DIXON, President, A+ Education Partnership

Last week, the Alabama House of Representatives voted 92-3 to pass the Alabama Literacy Act (HB 388) with bipartisan support. The Senate will consider HB 388 bill this week.

Every child deserves the opportunity and support to become an excellent reader. As a result, we support the core tenets of this bill:

  • Renewed focus on pre-k to third grade reading
  • Targeted funding and resources to improve reading instruction
  • Stronger teacher preparation in college to ensure new teachers are prepared for science-based reading instruction
  • Early identification and additional support for students with dyslexia and other specific needs

The bottom line is that children who cannot read on grade level by the fourth grade are unlikely to graduate.

Nationally, 13 other states have adopted similar laws requiring students to read on grade level in order to be promoted to fourth grade, and there is sufficient data to show this approach works.

North Carolina passed a similar law in 2012. Since implementing the law, their ranking for fourth grade reading scores on the National Assessment for Education Progress (NAEP) rose from 24th in the nation in 2011 to 19th in 2017. The results have been similar in Mississippi, which now ranks second in the nation in reading gains, since it passed its Literacy Based Promotions Act in 2013.

During that same timeframe, Alabama’s ranking dropped from 32nd in 2011 to 39th in 2017.

While some are understandably concerned about retaining students, promoting an unprepared child to fourth grade does not solve the underlying issue. This sets up students to continue falling further behind in reading and other subjects, like math, which requires more word problems as students advance. “Social promotion” has too often caused struggling students to be “passed up the chain,” ultimately graduating without the fundamental skill they need in the real world: literacy. Reading is the key to all other learning. Providing students with the resources and instruction they need in the early years ensures that every child has the foundational skills they need to succeed in school and life.

Moreover, a recent Harvard study of students retained in third grade under a similar Florida law performed better than their peers in middle school, had higher GPAs in high school, and took fewer remedial courses.

Finally, there are “good cause” exemptions in the bill to give educators discretion to make the right decision for students who may have disabilities or be English language learners. The bill would not let students be retained more than once, and parents have to be involved and kept informed throughout the process. (These exemptions can be read in full on pages 20 and 21 of House Bill 388 found here.)

Alabama made great progress in reading in the past when we were  laser-focused on improving reading outcomes for students. A+ has been and remains a long-time supporter of the Alabama Reading Initiative (ARI), which provided a solid foundation for driving improvements in reading instruction. Thanks to ARI, Alabama set a NAEP record for the fastest single increase by a state in reading gains from 2005 to 2007.

Alabama now has an opportunity to create similar improvements for today’s students. The Alabama Literacy Act (HB 388) is a first step to getting us there.

Click here to read the article in Alabama Daily News.

Local School Leaders Wary of Proposed Common Core Ban, Anniston Star, March 30, 2019

After years of debate, Alabama is close to dumping Common Core, the academic standards that have guided instruction in the state’s schools for the past eight years.

Some local school administrators say they wish educators had been consulted before the change was proposed.

“There has to be a better solution,” said Jon Paul Campbell, superintendent of Calhoun County Schools.

The Alabama Senate earlier this month voted 23-7, along party lines, to end the state’s use of the College and Career Ready Standards, a set of academic benchmarks the state school board adopted in November 2010.

Those standards were based on Common Core, created in the last decade by educators who wanted to make sure various states’ school systems were teaching basic subjects to K-12 students at more or less the same pace.

That seemingly bland goal met with a wall of opposition from activists, most of them social conservatives, who saw the standards as an under-the-table federal takeover of education. Much of the educational and political establishment —  state-level school administrators and business leaders — defended the standards change.

Chief among them was Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, who more than once opposed Senate efforts to ban the Common Core. When Marsh flipped on the issue earlier this month — announcing a new Common Core ban effort in a video from the Senate floor — the fate of the standards seemed to be sealed.

Keeping it simple

For opponents of the Core, returning to the state’s previous academic standards would take Alabama  back to a simpler time, when English courses were about the great novels and parents knew how to help their kids with math homework.

“You don’t really have to know why six times three is 18 in order to apply that rule,” said Eunie Smith, president of the Eagle Forum, a conservative group that was one of the most vocal opponents of Common Core.

Under Common Core, teachers began to emphasize mathematical concepts at earlier grades, teaching kids multiple methods for solving math problems at roughly the same age their parents were memorizing multiplication tables. That led to homework assignments that were sometimes as new to parents as they were to kids. Smith says the standards introduced kids to math concepts they weren’t ready for.

Common Core critics also drilled down hard into the Core’s suggested reading lists for English —  lists that weren’t adopted in Alabama, but included works such as Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, which conservatives found objectionable because of vulgar language.

Smith, in a Friday interview, didn’t mention those objections. Instead, she took issue with another focus of the Core: a push to get kids to read nonfiction and fiction in more equal amounts.

“How does it help their advanced reading skills to read an instructional manual on insulation?” asked Smith, citing instructional manuals as an example of nonfiction. She said students need to read great works to “learn about the struggle between good and evil.”

Retraining anticipated

For administrators, though, a return to the past isn’t so simple. No matter which standards are better, Campbell said, throwing out the College and Career Ready Standards means dusting off old books and retraining a generation of teachers. Younger teachers, he noted, have never worked under anything but Common Core.

“There are costs. At some point, we’d have to replace textbooks,” he noted.

Talladega City Schools Superintendent Tony Ball said he doesn’t understand why anyone would oppose a nationwide set of standards.

“We have standards across the state,” Ball said. “The opposition, I think, is really tied more to a political movement that doesn’t really have anything to do with education.”

A jumble of tests

Pell City Schools Superintendent Michael Barber said he, too, wanted to see the College and Career Ready Standards stay in place.

“We’re seeing the fruits of our labors with higher test scores,” Barber said. “I know nothing is perfect, but what are we going back to, or where are we going?”

Campbell, the Calhoun superintendent, said he couldn’t really tell whether students in the county —  or in the Jacksonville school system he once ran — had seen growth over the entire Common Core era. The reason: the frequent changes to the state’s standardized tests.

During the No Child Left Behind era, Alabama used a test called the ARMT. Then it switched to a test created by the company that produced the ACT college entrance exam. And shortly afterward, another switch to a test by Scantron, the company best known for making fill-in-the-bubble sheets.

The switches make it difficult to track scores over the years, Campbell said.

Test scores are the very reason Marsh cited in announcing his opposition to Common Core. After nearly a decade with the standards, he said earlier this month, the state still ranked 49th in academic performance.

Proponents of the current standards say that’s not as simple as it sounds. Alabama still ranks in the bottom tier of states on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, said Mark Dixon of the A-Plus Education Partnership, but raw test scores in most areas have seen slight improvement. The state’s improvement simply hasn’t kept pace with other states, he said.

Dixon noted that the NAEP, the best national measure of state-by-state progress, doesn’t include much information on students in higher grades —  though Alabama schools have seen a marked decrease in students in need of remediation when they get to college.

Asked if an end to Common Core would threaten college-readiness programs, Dixon said it wouldn’t help.

“If we keep changing the playbook, we’re not going to get students where they need to be,” he said.

Click here to go to article in Anniston Star.

Legislature 2019: It Ain’t All About the Gas Tax, Alabama Daily News, March 12, 2019

By THOMAS RAINS, VP of Policy and Operations, A+ Education Partnership

On the evening of March 5, Gov. Ivey stood in the Old House Chamber of the State Capitol and outlined her plan for the coming legislative session in her State of the State Address. Much of her address focused on issues like the gas tax and prisons, but education issues also played an important role.

Since taking office, Gov. Ivey and her staff have worked to implement her Strong Start. Strong Finish. education agenda. As she begins her first full term, we’re pleased that education continues to be an important focus of her administration.

Among the education items she mentioned in her speech, three in particular stood out to us at A+ as critical to building the education system Alabama students need to graduate prepared for college and career.

  • Expansion of First Class Pre-k: Ivey proposed increasing funding for the state-funded, voluntary pre-k by $25 million. This would add 193 pre-k classrooms across the state and raise the percentage of four-year-olds covered to about 38%. This is an important step in the plan to expand First Class pre-k to the point that any parent who wants to enroll his or her child in high-quality, voluntary First Class pre-k has that opportunity. For more on this increase, visit the Alabama School Readiness Alliance website.
  • Support for computer science education: According to, computing occupations are the top source of new wages in the United States. For the last two years, A+ College Ready has led the way training teachers in computer science across Alabama, and with the support of Gov. Ivey, Alabama is poised to put an emphasis on computer science education that will make us national leaders in that field. For more on the importance of computer science education, visit
  • Pay Raise for Teachers: Under the governor’s plan, pre-k, K-12 and community college teachers would get a 4% pay raise. Estimates are this would cost about $160 million in the Education Trust Fund budget. In a year when there is about $426 million in growth, a much-needed, big-ticket item like a pay raise makes a lot of sense. It’s important for Alabama to attract the best and the brightest to teach in our classrooms, and increased pay is certainly part of that equation. To read more on A+’s ideas for improving the teacher and leader pipeline in Alabama, check out our Oct. 2018 brief.

As the Legislature debates these and other education issues, we’ll be working to keep the discussion informed. Be sure to keep up with us during this legislative session here on our website, and also on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at @aplusala.

Click here to read article in Alabama Daily News

Former Gov. Riley Adviser, GE Leader Named President of Alabama Nonprofit, Birmingham Business Journal, January 4, 2019

An education-focused nonprofit has a new leader with a strong political background.

Birmingham native Mark Dixon will succeed A+ Education Partnership’s current president Caroline Novak, who co-founded the organization in 1991.

Home of the Alabama Best Practices Center and A+ College Ready, A+ was created to unite business, civic, government and education leaders in improving opportunity and achievement for Alabama students. The organization works to pair best policies with best practices, advocating for advancements in public education statewide.

Dixon currently is a senior manager with General Electric based in Washington, D.C. He previously was education policy adviser to former Alabama Gov. Bob Riley. Dixon advocated for Alabama students by restructuring and expanding the state’s First Class Pre-K program.

“Mark Dixon is uniquely prepared to lead A+,” Novak said. “He was instrumental in state efforts to develop or expand major initiatives with lasting impact, including organizing a teacher-led commission focused on improving teaching quality, leading the effort to establish A+ College Ready, and establishing Teach for America, Alabama. I am thrilled he is returning to take on a new role that will benefit from his passion and newly acquired skills and experience.”

Click here to read article in BBJ

Mark Dixon Tapped to Lead A+ Education Partnership, Alabama News Center, January 3, 2019

By Todd Stacy

The A+ Education Partnership has hired Mark Dixon as its new president.

A native of Birmingham, Dixon works as a senior manager with General Electric based in Washington, D.C. Before moving to Washington, Dixon served as education policy adviser to former Alabama Gov. Bob Riley.

Dixon succeeds Caroline Novak, who co-founded A+ in 1991 and built the organization to become a driver for improving student performance and a key influencer of education reform policies. A+ is home to the Alabama Best Practices Center, which helps teachers develop core competencies, and A+ College Ready, which aims to drive student performance through promoting rigorous coursework, including Advanced Placement.

The group’s efforts helped Alabama lead the nation in the number of new students taking Advanced Placement classes for six straight years.

“I have had a deep respect for A+ and its impact on Alabama students for many years,” Dixon said.

“Caroline Novak has been a tireless advocate for innovations that benefit students for nearly three decades, and I am humbled to be chosen by the board to continue the important work she and her colleagues have championed so well. The A+ team is made up of highly effective leaders in both the policy and practice areas, and I am honored to join their efforts. It is truly exciting to be given the opportunity to lead a team that I respect so much.”

Gordon Martin, A+ board chairman and senior vice president of Corporate and Administrative Services at Alabama Power, said Dixon’s combination of work in education policy and experience with a major corporation was the right mix to lead the partnership after Novak’s retirement.

“Dixon’s passion for the mission of A+ was fully evident during his time in state government. His experience since — earning his MBA and working for over six years in the U.S. and abroad for General Electric — has added to the value he can bring to what is already the most respected and influential driver of public education transformation across the state. The board is confident he will make a wonderful champion for the mission and will chart a successful course for expanding the impact of A+.”

“Mark Dixon is uniquely prepared to lead A+,” Novak said. “He was instrumental in state efforts to develop or expand major initiatives with lasting impact, including organizing a teacher-led commission focused on improving teaching quality, leading the effort to establish A+ College Ready, and establishing Teach for America, Alabama. I am thrilled he is returning to take on a new role that will benefit from his passion and newly acquired skills and experience.”

Dixon spent the past six years at General Electric, holding both corporate and business roles. A graduate of GE’s Experienced Commercial Leadership Program, Dixon helped build a commercial consulting organization and led teams on strategic projects for senior leaders on five continents. Most recently, Dixon led market development efforts for GE Power’s steam unit in North and South America to develop projects and drive value creation for customers.

Dixon will begin Feb. 1 in Montgomery ahead of the Alabama Legislature’s 2019 Regular Session.

Click here to read story in Alabama News Center

Now it’s Time for Alabama to Refocus on Education, Pre-K Program a Model,, March 18, 2019

With the special session behind us, it is time to refocus our efforts on education. Recent investments by Alabama state leaders are having an impact on student success.

Over the last decade, legislators passed budgets that strategically invested in the First Class Pre-K program, which ranks as the best in the nation, a proven means of boosting future student achievement. A 2018 study by the University of Alabama at Birmingham found students who participate in Alabama’s pre-K program saw higher achievement in both reading and math scores, even into 6th grade, compared to their peers who did not.

These examples of achievement prove Alabama can reach its potential. But there is still work to be done. In 2017, 87% of our students graduated, but only 71% of them were considered “ready” to enter college or the workforce by Alabama’s College and Career Readiness Indicators. This 18% gap between graduation and readiness must be closed to ensure students are prepared for real life.

In the 2019 Legislative session, it is imperative that legislators advance policies and investments to improve Alabama’s education system. In addition to continuing their consistent investment in pre-k and AP coursework, legislators should support these measures:

  • Ensure all students read on grade level: Refocus our efforts on the early grades to ensure all students have the support they need to read on grade level by fourth grade.
  • Expand computer science education: Support and require computer science education to prepare students for the changing workforce. Computing occupations are the number one source of new wages in the U.S, according to
  • Strengthen teacher recruitment and retention: Support the proposed 4% teacher pay raise as one aspect of strengthening the teacher pipeline and ensuring students are taught by the best and brightest.
  • Streamline Alabama’s public charter school process: Common sense updates to Alabama’s public charter school law will drive increased quality, efficiency and opportunities for students.

Implementing these manageable steps will continue to improve public education for students across the state. There is no quick fix to magically solve our educational challenges. We must implement a broad array of effective solutions that will build the education system our children deserve.

Click here to read article on

Alabama Power Foundation Marks 30 Years of Giving, Alabama News Center, December 6, 2019

It’s hard to imagine a time when the Alabama Power Foundation didn’t exist, especially for the many organizations throughout the state that have advanced with its support.

For three decades, the foundation has looked for ways to elevate Alabama and boost communities through charitable giving, giving back more than $230 million to the communities that Alabama Power serves.

“Since our founding 30 years ago, we have prided ourselves in being a catalyst for change and for service to the state of Alabama,” said Myla Calhoun, Alabama Power Foundation president and vice president of Charitable Giving at Alabama Power.

Organizations that focus on education, the environment, health and human service, civic and community, arts and culture and other areas have benefited.

“We really enable our partner agencies to do what they do best,” Calhoun said. “So, when we talk about our success, really it’s their success that we’re proud of.”

Success like that the Literacy Council of Central Alabama has enjoyed.

“Ever since (our founding), Alabama Power Foundation has been a really strong supporter,” said Katrina Watson, president and executive director of the Literacy Council of Central Alabama. “We couldn’t be where we are without the Alabama Power Foundation’s long-standing support.”

“Alabama Power Foundation and Alabama Power Company have been a big supporter of ours since day one and over the years provided a lot of funding that really allows us to grow our mission, which is to create great schools for every child,” Dixon said. “We do two programs in schools – the Alabama Best Practices Center and A+ College Ready – and part of that is expanding great training for teachers and advanced placement programs for students. Alabama Power helped us fund those as a partner from the very beginning.”

Calhoun said the foundation’s mission fits in with the history of Alabama Power, with the ultimate goal of elevating the state.

“We believe and it is our hope that what we do creates a platform that makes economic development and community development and, really, the health and vitality of the state a bit easier,” she said. “And that’s what gets us going every day and that’s what makes us think strategically about the work that we do. And that’s what helps us to empower the agencies who day in and day out are doing the hard work in the communities where we serve.”

To see the video, including A+ President Mark Dixon, click here.


State Board of Education Approves New Math Standards, WSFA, December 12, 2019

The State Board of Education approves new math standards aimed at improving the state’s low math scores.

The State Board of Education approves new math standards aimed at improving the state’s low math scores.

Alabama ranked at the bottom, 52nd, in the nationwide NAEP assessment. Some board members believe the new math standards will improve those scores.

“This is a good course of study that will certainly help our students," said Gov. Kay Ivey.

These new math standards are supposed to set what students need to learn in each grade level. It also added some high school courses. Here is a link to the draft version of the standards.

A task force comprised of Alabama educators spent about two years creating the standards. Earlier this year, the Governor asked to postpone the vote asking for careful review. On Thursday, the governor voted in favor of the standards, and said her concerns had been addressed.

Before the vote, several educators spoke in support of the new standards calling it “rigorous standards” and ones that will help students understand the math problems they are working.

However, other people petitioned the board to vote against the standards calling them Common Core standards. Eagle Forum of Alabama presented members with documents comparing the new course of study math standards to common core standards.

Ivey said she hopes they will improve the math scores, however, she said there are other steps that need to be taken. The governor wants the people to approve a ballot measure to pass a constitutional amendment doing away with an elected school board. Ivey said allowing the governor to appoint the members will take the politics out and allow members to focus on education.

Other board members said the state needs to fix its math teacher shortage in order to see significant improvements.

In Favor Opposed
Jeff Newman- District 7 Jackie Zeigler- District 1
Yvette Richardson- District 4 Stephanie Bell- District 3
Cynthia McCarty- District 6 Wayne Reynolds- District 8
Gov. Kay Ivey
Tracie West- District 2

To watch story on WSFA, click here.

Alabama Still Hammering Out Details for Third-Grade Reading Hurdle,, December 13, 2019

Alabama will soon require that all third-graders be able to read on grade level before they graduate, but state educators have yet to decide how to measure reading level or to how to best prepare young students for the coming hurdle.

This year’s first-graders will be the first to have to meet the new standard or risk being held back after they finish the third grade. And recent test scores suggest about half of students could struggle, as just over half of Alabama’s third-graders last year did not test as proficient in reading.

“There’s a lot of anxiety,” Alabama Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey said, referring to school officials. But that’s to be expected with a wide-ranging law like this, he said, adding that as educators learn more about the requirements the mood is shifting. “They’re becoming more on the excited side than the anxiety side.”

Mackey spoke to the 20-member literacy task force on Wednesday in Montgomery, encouraging them at the start of the full-day meeting held to hammer out more details of the law’s requirements. The task force includes classroom teachers, school administrators, as well as reading specialists and college professors from across Alabama.

“Things are moving forward,” Mackey said, “but time is progressing and there is still much work to be done.”

Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, championed the Alabama Literacy Act’s passage and attended the meeting to watch the work being done to implement a law she calls a game-changer for children in Alabama.

“While I know our local areas are anxious to get answers to every single question (about requirements of the law),” Collins said, “my goal has always been to get it right before we got it fast.”

“I think this group is the group that will help us get it right.”

The Alabama Literacy Act, passed by lawmakers last spring, requires school officials to identify struggling readers in kindergarten through third grade and offer multiple layers of supports to those students. If students aren’t reading on grade level by the end of the third grade, they can be held back.

Alabama is one of 17 states that now require holding back students not reading on grade level by the end of their third grade school year, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures.

“Good cause” exemptions, including students who have already been held back twice or students learning the English language, allow some students to move on without reaching grade-level benchmarks on tests.

Another eight states allow for holding students back but don’t require it.

The test that will be used to make the final determination of whether a third-grader can be promoted to the fourth grade is being rolled out for the first time this spring. Third-graders who do not reach a benchmark score in spring 2022 – which won’t be calculated until the spring 2021 tests are completed – could be held back.

Where that bar is set on the final test matters a lot. If the bar is proficient, based on 55,000 Alabama third-graders who took the reading test last spring, 52%, or nearly 29,000 were not proficient, meaning they scored at level one or level two.

If the bar is set lower, at level one, this year’s results would have left more than 13,000 in the third grade for a second year.

Students with limited English language skills and those with disabilities had the lowest levels of proficiency on the standardized test.

  • Produce a list of tests schools can use to determine whether students in kindergarten through third grade are struggling and why,
  • Develop a system of training teachers from when they are in college throughout their teaching years, and
  • Recommend core reading and intervention programs schools can use to get children reading on grade level by the third grade.

The task force took on the job of reviewing tests during their meeting, and spent hours discussing the merits of the tests vendors submitted in response to the education department’s request for proposal to serve as screeners for problems and adequately measure the reading level of students in kindergarten through third grade.

Their recommendations now go back to the state Department of Education for final consideration.

Officials said most schools are already using tests to do just that, but the law requires the task force to produce a list of vetted tests for schools and districts to use. That list should be produced in January, according to officials. State lawmakers provided funding for those tests this year, so they’ll be available to schools at no cost.

School officials will need to work quickly once those tests are known, though, as the law requires schools to offer summer reading programs to struggling readers – identified by tests on the as-yet-to-be-produced list. Summer program planning typically begins in late January and February, officials said.

Teacher training is a big part of the Literacy Act. Teachers in kindergarten through third grade are required to be trained in the science of how children learn to read. The task force will develop a continuum of training, grounded in the science of reading, for teachers while they’re still in college through their professional careers.

Dr. Antonio Fierro, a national reading consultant hired by the department of education, answered questions about LETRS training, a type of training that helps teachers use techniques proven by years of scientific study about how children learn to read.

Fierro said it’s important for teachers to receive the full two years of LETRS training, which takes about 100 hours. Teachers can use online resources while they wait to be trained in LETRS, he said, but there is no substitute.

Around 2,700 teachers are starting the first year of LETRS training this year, and about 250 are now in their second year. Around 600 teachers are on a waitlist, but there are more than 20,000 teachers statewide in those four grade levels, according to state officials.

LETRS training is administered through the Alabama Reading Initiative, the once-nationally-lauded program now being revamped and refocused on the early grades. Pre-K teachers are receiving LETRS training through the Department of Early Childhood Education.

Just under 200 school administrators are receiving LETRS training tailored to the needs of administrators, state officials said.

Task force members were given a draft of an implementation guide for the Literacy Act, modeled after Mississippi’s guide from 2016, officials said. The guide is a work in process, Assistant State Superintendent Dr. Elisabeth Davis said, but when completed should give school officials a clear pathway to meeting requirements of the law.

A+ Education Partnership President Mark Dixon moderated the task force meeting and said a lot of progress was made. “They’ve set their work for 2020,” Dixon said, “to focus on two areas: core reading and interventions – curriculum to support teachers – and developing a system of professional learning.”

To read article on, click here.


The Best of 2018: Advocates Nominate Network MVP, Game-Changing Policy & More, PIE Network, September 21, 2018

Each year, education champions across the country help advance policy and advocacy efforts that move the needle for students.

No matter the specific policy area, education advocacy is tough work. And while advocates might not take credit for game-changing policy decisions, they often play an important role that’s worth highlighting. The Eddies!—advocate-nominated awards—provide an annual opportunity to celebrate exemplar policymaking and advocacy campaigns from the past year. (Learn more about the Eddies! process here.)

Please join us in recognizing the slate of talented advocates nominated for this year’s awards—including the nominees for the final two Eddies! categories: Most Valuable Player and Game Changer of the Year. And, of course, the winners of each category (as determined by a selection committee made up of state advocates and national partners) will be announced Thursday, Oct. 4th at the PIE Network 2018 Summit. The Network MVP will be determined via live voting by Summit attendees.

  • Game Changer of the Year recognizes a member or partner state advocacy campaign that led to a truly game changing policy or protected a critical existing policy.
  • Network MVP highlights a team member of a PIE Network state-based member organization who has gone above and beyond to support advocates across state lines, or a team member of a national partner who has been exceptionally helpful to state-based advocates above and beyond that of their job description to move an issue forward.
  • Best Kept Secret honors big advances in (or defenses of) policy that didn’t get big press.
  • Most Actionable Research covers resources or tools that were widely applicable to state-level advocacy and broadly leveraged across the Network to help advocates make a compelling case for policy change.
  • Best Ensemble Cast features coalitions that were artfully organized to respond to particular opportunities or challenges in their states, contributed to a policy win, and are worthy of replication.

Top 2018 Nominees

Game Changer of the Year

  • America Succeeds: Age of Agility
  • DelawareCAN: Who Runs Our Schools?
  • Foundation for Florida’s Future and the Florida Charter School Alliance: Capital Outlay Funding for Public Charter Schools
  • Foundation for Florida’s Future and Step Up for Students and the Florida Coalition of School Board Members: Tax Credit Scholarships for Students Who Are Victims of Bullying
  • Tennessee Charter School Center, Low-Income Investment Fund: More Equitable Funding and Finance Opportunities Coming for Tennessee Charter Schools
  • Tennessee SCORE: Preserving Tennessee’s Student-Centered Education Reforms

Learn more about the 2018 nominees in this category.

Network MVP

  • Caroline Novak, A+ Education Partnership
  • David Mansouri, Tennessee SCORE
  • Patricia Levesque, Foundation for Excellence in Education
  • Todd Ziebarth, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
  • Chad Aldis, Thomas B. Fordham Institute-Ohio
  • Evan Stone, Educators for Excellence
  • John B. King Jr., The Education Trust

Learn more about the 2018 nominees in this category.

Best Kept Secret

  • Arkansas Learns: Aligning School Board Elections with Primary or General Elections
  • BEST NC: Crafting Placement Protocol to Ensure All Students Can Access Advanced Courses
  • Educate Nebraska and the Foundation for Excellence in Education: Creating Support to Improve Early Literacy
  • Parent Revolution, Teach Plus California, Center for American Progress: Establishing a School Performance Framework for LA Unified
  • ReadyCO: Education Reform through a Conservative Lens

See a complete list of all nominees in this category.

Most Actionable Research

  • A+ Education Partnership, Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, Mississippi First, Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, Tennessee SCORE: Accelerating the Pace: The Future of Education in the American South and Accompanying Education Poll of the South
  • Data Quality Campaign: Show Me the Data
  • EdBuild: Reports on School Finance
  • Educators for Excellence: Voices from the Classroom
  • Teach Plus Illinois: Reforming School Discipline
  • Thomas B. Fordham Institute: Charter School Deserts

Best Ensemble Cast

  • A+ Colorado, Urban League of Metropolitan Denver, NAACP Denver Branch, African Leadership Group, Together Colorado, Padres y Jovenes Unidos & Alpha Phi Alpha, Inc.: Defending the Integrity of Accountability
  • A+ Education Partnership: Implementation of School and District Letter Grades
  • Communities for Los Angeles Student Success (CLASS) Coalition, including Teach Plus California and Educators for Excellence-Los Angeles: Realizing the Promise for All: Close the Gap by 2023
  • Education Equity Delaware, including DelawareCAN and Rodel Foundation: Creating Fiscal Transparency
  • GeorgiaCAN, Foundation for Excellence in Education, American Federation for Children, the Georgia Center for Opportunity, Georgia Chamber of Commerce, Georgia Charter Schools Association & Georgia Independent School Association: Tax Credit Scholarships, and Operational and Capital Outlay Funding for Public Charter Schools

Click here to read the entire article on PIE Network website.

Leadership Matters: Showcasing the Value of Effective Leaders in Improving Education, PIE Network, August 24, 2018

A new report examines the crucial role leadership plays in shaping educational outcomes, in addition to showcasing examples where leadership is making a difference, supported by data showing students are achieving higher levels of success.

Network member A+ Education Partnership provided research support and consultation for Leadership Matters, a report from the Business Education Alliance prepared by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama.

According to Caroline Novak, president and co-founder of A+ Education Partnership, the report emphasizes the critical need for effective leadership and cites specific examples of what that looks like in practice. Six different leadership action plans are highlighted, including: statewide efforts to improve student achievement in Mississippi, business and industry leadership in the Tuscaloosa area, and effective strategies from four Alabama school systems.

“It’s an important resource we hope all education leaders in our state and beyond will use to impact the education of every student preparing now to enter the workforce,” Novak said. “Our future prosperity depends on the quality of education they receive now.”

As the report points out, effective education leadership includes not just school officials, but also the community, local business, higher education partners, and state leaders. And the report issues a call to action for bringing Alabama together under a new plan to improve education, “one that aligns with the needs of the state’s students and the demands of the modern economy.”

“It’s important to recognize, and to be encouraged that Alabama’s schools are improving, apparent by the data in this collaborative report,” Novak said. “It’s also important to acknowledge that there is still an urgent need to close the achievement and readiness gaps for all students.”

Click here to read article on PIE Network website.

Computer Science Education Expanding in Alabama, Travel Knowledge, Fall 2018

Every time you choose your smartphone and open an app, or positioned guidelines on your GPS, you’re profiting from computer technology.

Technology touches nearly every element of our lives now, and every career field, it’s why some Alabama instructors are pushing to make laptop technology part of every student’s training.

“When I first commenced teaching here in 2007 there have been two other schools in the country that taught computer science,” says Yarbrough. “I turned into truly bowled over that so few students in our nation got the threat to examine laptop technology.”

Now about 130 of Alabama’s greater than 1,600 high colleges provide laptop science instructions at some stage, however most effective about a dozen offer the superior publications. Teachers like Yarbrough are running to alternate that. She’s part of Governor Kay Ivey’s new Computer Science Education Advisory Council, that’s working to get pc science lessons in every Alabama excessive school.

“We have improved right away in the closing 10 years as a kingdom. We are some distance above a lot of the other states. We must get it in all of the colleges and feature that possibility there. I would really like for it to become a commencement requirement, but I suppose that’s down the street. Just an exposure to laptop technological know-how will assist college students irrespective of what discipline they pass into,” says Yarbrough.

She spent many years running in the corporate international as a laptop programmer. Now, her lessons are filled with college students with all distinct hobbies and backgrounds. One of the big name programmers right now is Arrington Harper. She’s an 11th grader at ASFA with a attention invisible arts. She says anyone should be uncovered to pc technological know-how.

“Even in case you aren’t interested in math and technological know-how, there are such a lot of other regions that computer technology touches. For example, I visit the humanities school. More and extra artists are transferring from traditional to virtual medium. So I suppose even in case you aren’t looking to cross into math technology it’s still a beneficial talent to have,” says Harper.

Jill Westerlund assist begin the program at Hoover High.

“I am so passionate I pick to do it past what I am paid to do. I am a co-op trainer,” says Westerlund. “I suppose that each activity, any modern-day students or even grownup, is trying to do goes to be impacted via technology. Someone has to write down the code to run the structures and the innovations that are popping out and a scholar goes to be more properly-rounded in the event that they have a historical past in how computing can resolve problems and create opportunities,” says Westerlund.

Her college students recognize that the elegance will help them, irrespective of what profession they pick out.

“It’s ever-evolving right now and it’s becoming increasingly more critical in the job market. Every unmarried employer out there has laptop science in a few shape in their enterprise,” says scholar Warren Griggs. He’s a senior in Westerlund’s elegance and plans to main in laptop science at The University of Alabama at Huntsville.

One of Westerlund’s first pc technology college students, Chris Rocco, is now an Applications Programmer at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He is helping organize a laptop programming competition on Feb seventeenth for high school college students, aimed toward growing exposure and excitement about pc science training. Students from both ASFA and Hoover have already signed up. Rocco says his instructions in high school, fashioned his profession.

“It turned into truly this route at Hoover High faculty that delivered me to the new principles that I did not realize have been available or a way to pursue them. It supplied path and publicity,” says Rocco.

Taking advanced pc technological know-how training in excessive school opens doorways to a hundred thirty distinctive profession fields, and 48 university majors in step with the AP College Board. Students with stages in laptop technological know-how have a number of the best-paid jobs of any industry.

“I think for many college students, specifically ones from economically disadvantaged backgrounds that getting to know laptop technological know-how is a tremendous pathway for them to get into nicely paying jobs, to have jobs they revel in,” says Yarbrough.

Westerlund concurs saying, “I sense like that if we are able to get extra faculties supplying those alternatives to college students as academic electives then we are going to be supporting our kid’s flow forward.”

There are numerous domain names and paths which you could take once you have an expert diploma in computer science. A degree is obligatory to sharpen your abilities as in line with the market necessities and put together you well for aggressive future. Research is the maximum advanced and prestigious career options in this area. You can work with the group of specialists concerned in creating better technologies and excessive quit laptop structures. You want to have masters or Ph.D. ranges to get work as the research fellow at institutes and R&D branch of big groups.

The subsequent interesting option for laptop technological know-how graduates is to enter the innovative field of programming. You will be liable for coding, designing and checking out of applications and codes for pc programs. The 0.33 choice is an again quit work which consists of handling database for computer packages. This process calls for talent in database layout and its structural language. It is the extraordinarily accountable process which requires excessive safety and records safety problems. Last however not the least is the activity of network administrator which calls for retaining computer hardware and software inside a corporation and guarantees their hassle loose functionality.

Educational Establishments

There are many universities which provide you guides in computer science. South Dakota country college is positioned in Madison and it is one of the first-rate schools for laptop science ranges. It offers masters and doctoral stages in conjunction with graduate degrees in all domain names like enterprise management, regulation, pharmacy, and engineering. It additionally offers several scholarship applications and economic resource centers for students. South Dakota nation college is widely known for its awards and prizes and its students get located in top multinational businesses every year.

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Top 40 Alabama Blogs & News Websites To Follow in 2019, Feedspot, Fall 2018

8. Alabama Best Practices Center

About Blog The ABPC works to ensure that every child in Alabama, has the opportunity for success in postsecondary education, the workforce, and citizenship. They help teachers and administrators develop the competence, commitment, and courage to do whatever it takes to improve student learning.
Frequency 1 post / week
Since Nov 2017


See entire list here.

Want to Curb School Violence?, Atlanta Journal Constitution, August 4, 2018

By Steve Dolinger and Diane Hopkins, Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education

The spate of this year’s deadly school shootings, from suburban Parkland, Florida, to rural Marshall County, Kentucky, and the urban landscapes of Chicago and Baltimore, is a heartbreaking reminder that schools are struggling to be what they once were: safe spaces where young people can freely learn and grow.

While it’s tempting to view school violence in the context of the gun-control debate, at its core, this issue is about more than politically charged topics like gun rights. It’s also about the growing need for schools to support the overall well-being of their students.

A recent report, Accelerating the Pace: The Future of Education in the American South, released by the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education and six other Southeastern advocacy organizations in the Columbia Group, spotlights this issue. It provides an overview of the perspectives of students, parents, educators and others across the South on how to improve schools and learning. Each group offers some valuable guidance on the issue for us as policymakers, business leaders, and parents.

In Kentucky, for example, student representatives from the Student Voice Team, a statewide leadership group for teens invested in improving education there, had sobering reflections on their educational experiences.

Many described having to overcome the low expectations of adults in their schools, families, and communities. Others expressed frustration about what they saw as adults’ general disconnect from the real issues students face. This was the reality of Amanda Wahlstedt, a courageous young woman from rural Knox County, Kentucky who now attends Wellesley College. She recalled how her schools were ill-equipped to handle common issues such as food insecurity or, in her case, domestic abuse. There was often a cultural and socioeconomic disconnect between her and her middle-class teachers. Amanda said, “I just couldn’t trust the community around me to let me feel like I was in a safe place (in school).”

Other students pointed to policies like “tracking,” which groups students by perceived academic ability, and inadequate resources for counselors and special education services, as core problems in their schools.

  • More rigorous, meaningful classes. Beyond concerns about low expectations, students and parents want stronger career-training programs and experiences such as community projects and interaction with businesses and nonprofit organizations;
  • Greater help with family and emotional health issues. Students are different from those in generations past. They use technology constantly, are from more diverse backgrounds, and a majority now come from low-income households. In Georgia, about 62 percent of our school-age children are from low-income households. Providing appropriate support can be the difference between success and failure for them.
  • Better school climates, fairer discipline. Georgia and many other states are beginning to use results of student surveys on their learning environments in school accountability efforts. With growing disparities in school discipline rates, educators need stronger support in adopting research-based strategies to intervene before problems arise.

Even more promising are several models of progress for schools, districts, and our state to follow.

Marietta High School, for example, is home to the Graduate Marietta Student Success Center. The Center, which is an extension of the high school, is a hub for students needing services including physical and mental health care, counseling and support groups, tutoring and college-preparation workshops, a food pantry and clothes closet, and a social worker and even a parole officer.

The Center’s array of services is in response to extensive surveys of what the students said they needed. In addition to after-school tutoring and help with college applications, students requested access services such as suicide-prevention support groups, opioid addiction services for themselves or relatives, help with finding their parents jobs, and health care referrals. Since its founding in 2016, the Center’s success has inspired other schools across Georgia to design their own student-support centers.

Even non-school-based organizations like Georgia Appleseed have begun to provide training and support for schools trying to improve student-discipline strategies. In Kentucky, Partners for Education based at Berea College is providing support staff, additional teachers, and summer programs for many students in some of the nation’s poorest counties.

These represent the types of successes we believe state leaders should be building on and investing in. Expanding access to preventative measures to address student challenges is a smart strategy to reduce problems such as crime, homelessness, and poor health, and is an effective strategy for creating safer schools, stronger communities, and improved life outcomes for students and their families.

There is more work to be done to ensure all students, regardless of race or socioeconomic status, have access to quality support services that can improve their academic outcomes. The blueprint for success, however, has never been clearer. Students, educators, policymakers, and business leaders must champion research-based practices and commit to ensuring they take root in our schools, school districts, and communities.

Click here to read article in Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Teachers Getting Trained for A+ College Ready Classes, Decatur Daily, July 19, 2018

HARTSELLE — In a hall at Hartselle High School, teachers Taylor Christopher of Decatur Middle, Julie Leonardi of Falkville and John Johnson of Sulligent discussed a method for teaching students how to include quotes in writings.

“We’re playing different roles and learning from each other,” Leonardi said.

They are also among more than 700 teachers from across the state who are receiving training through A+ College Ready’s new “E3” training sessions, which are designed to “equip, empower and expect more” for education.

“We’re raising the rigor and the process begins with training,” Morgan County Superintendent Bill Hopkins Jr. said.

Falkville and Priceville are joining A+ College Ready this year, and Hopkins said West Morgan and Danville will be in the program the following year.

Hartselle High was the first Decatur-area school system to join the program almost a decade ago, and Austin and Decatur became part of A+ last year.

The program, which started with a $13.2 million grant in 2008, gives students an opportunity to take classes that will count toward college credit if they achieve a qualifying score. AP exams are scored on a 1-5 scale, with 3 considered a qualifying score.

Participating schools receive comprehensive teacher training and support for Advanced Placement students and teachers, as well as training for teachers in grades 6-11 in math and grades 6-10 in science, English, social studies and computer science.

School systems do not pay to be part of the program, but are required to send teachers for training. Hartselle City Superintendent Dee Dee Jones said the number of college credit hours a student can earn depend on the number of AP classes offered.

Hartselle and Decatur City offer almost all the AP classes from AP music to AP statistics and AP chemistry.

"A few years ago, we had a student to graduate with an associate's degree and enrolled as a junior at Mississippi State," Jones said.

Hartselle has remained a partner school with A+ College Ready, which is why the training is at Hartselle High this week and why some of its teachers are presenters.

Erica Griffin, an AP language teacher for Hartselle, went through the training about a decade ago, but the requirements to teach AP has changed, and she is sharing her classroom experience.

She said teachers have to be equipped with the skills to not only teach AP students, but reach English as a Second Language students who may be in the same classrooms.

“We’re bringing what we have learned in the classroom and providing teachers with the foundations they will need to teach AP classes,” said Griffin, who is also a consultant with A+ College Ready.

Learning from peers is a critical component of the training, and that is what Christopher, Leonardi and Johnson were doing in the hall. They were playing various roles and using what they called the “TIE” approach to teaching students to use quotes in writing. TIE means to tag, introduce and embed.

“Very informative,” is how Leonardi described the training.

“It’s hands-on, and teachers are sharing their experiences,” she said.

Administrators such as Sheats attend the training because A+ has expanded into the middle-school grades to help students prepare for the rigorous coursework in high school, said Tammy Dunn, A+ vice president for academic affairs.

“Even students who choose not to take AP courses — or who have future plans other than attending a four-year college — will have access to instruction that supports the development of the foundational skills and knowledge needed to be prepared for success on any post-high school path they choose,” she said.

Hartselle historically has posted some of the highest scores in the state, and its high school students have been a leader in AP passing scores and ACT scores. Assistant Principal Jerome Ward said one of the reasons is training because it equips teachers with the skills to reach every student.

“Here at Hartselle we try to take down barriers and challenge students to do more,” he said.

But to do this, teachers need to know everything that is expected and be able to identify students with AP potential who may not be in AP classes, Ward said.

He said Hartselle’s alignment with A+ College Ready years ago helped change the academic culture at the school.

“We all expect more,” Ward said.

Click here to read article in Decatur Daily.

Op-ed: A Crossroads for Education in Alabama, Anniston Star, May 17, 2018

Alabama is approaching an education crossroads.

Many of the state officials in charge of education will begin new terms next year. Gov. Kay Ivey or her successor will begin a full term in office, and a record number of newcomers will be sworn into the House and Senate for the new quadrennium. The State Board of Education will have two members to replace Betty Peters and Mary Scott Hunter, who are not running for reelection.

With these elections on the horizon and Dr. Eric Mackey beginning his tenure as state superintendent, it’s time for Alabama to set new goals for education to ensure all students are college and career ready—to ensure they are ready for real life—by the time they graduate.

A new report from A+ Education Partnership and a coalition of its peers from across the South urges Alabama and the entire region to make a new commitment to improve K-12 education. A+ joined its counterparts in Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee to produce the report.

"Accelerating the Pace: The Future of Education in the American South" shows that while Alabama and the South have made major advances in education in recent decades, some “achievement gaps” between more affluent students and historically disadvantaged classmates have widened.

Alabama’s future depends on turning this around and building an education system that ensures every child can attain a high-quality education.

“If schools do not help more students catch up more quickly — even as they raise expectations for all children — the region’s economic prospects will worsen. In some areas, they already have. Now is the time for states to develop a long-term vision for improving education so that many more children can succeed in school and life,” Accelerating the Pace says.

The report calls for state leaders to focus on four main priority areas for improvement. These ideas came largely from interviews with fellow Southerners:

• Make the South the best place to teach.

We need even more teachers and principals in Alabama who have the talent, preparation and continued support to help students succeed.

• Provide new types of academic—and nonacademic—support for today’s students.

Students need more support systems than we are providing for dealing with family and emotional health issues that can impact their learning. All children can learn at high levels, but we must meet them where they are in their personal journeys, not where we as adults want them to be.

• Clear all students’ paths from high school into their next steps.

Some students don’t know what to do after high school. Alabama has begun remedying this by highlighting multiple pathways for students with its Six College and Career Ready Indicators. Let’s build a much stronger bridge from high school into college, career training or a good job by ensuring all students meet at least one of those indicators by the time they graduate.

• Ensure resources are adequate and targeted.

Invest in education programs to meet the needs of every child, and find additional support for students who need the most help. It’ll pay off for all of us.

Education is one issue that’s too important to fall into today’s rancorous political divide. This is about our children’s lives, the health of our communities and the future of Alabama.

Let’s work together to make new, substantial progress in improving schools for every child, no matter their background or zip code.

The report and complete poll results are online at

Click here to read article in Anniston Star.


A+ Education Partnership Urging Eric Mackey to Implement New Changes, Alabama Today, Alabama Today, May 16, 2018

Alabama’s A+ Education Partnership, a Montgomery-based non-profit, called on newly chosen State Superintendent, Eric Mackey to focus his efforts on implementing four new education policies the partnership believes will boost student achievement across the state.

Mackey, who beat out Hoover City Schools Superintendent Kathy Murphy and Jefferson County Superintendent Craig Pouncey for the position in late April, started working in his new position on Monday.

“We have worked closely with Dr. Mackey for many years, and we look forward to continuing this partnership with him as our State Superintendent of Education,” said president of A+ Education Partnership, Caroline Novak.

“Dr. Mackey is keenly aware of the challenges facing Alabama’s schools, and he knows that change will not occur overnight. Our proposals are commonsense steps that can make an immediate impact for all children. We encourage his consideration and support as he works to unite Alabamians for educational progress.”

In January, The Columbia Group, a network of organizations from several states across the Southeast who work to improve education in their respective states; released a new study detailing the four new education policies they believe will improve student learning throughout the South.

The A+ Education Partnership assisted six other groups in publishing the study, titled: Accelerating the Pace: The Future of Education in the American South.

Although the study found that the South has made progress in recent decades, achievement gaps between more affluent students and historically disadvantaged classmates became more pronounced between 2005 and 2015.

To address these concerns, A+ is encouraging Mackey to implement these four priority areas for student improvement:

  • Make the South the best place to teach in the nation: Identify, recruit and retain teachers and principals who have the talent, preparation and continued support they need to help students succeed.

  • Provide new types of academic—and nonacademic—support for today’s students: Students need an array of support systems to help them deal with physical and emotional health issues that can impact their learning.

  • Clear the path for all students to their next steps in education and work: Build a much stronger, supportive bridge from high school into college, career training or a good job.

  • Ensure resources are adequate and targeted: Invest in education to meet the needs of every child, and consider additional support for students who need the most help to catch up.

    Click here to read article in Alabama Today.

Alabama High School Students Prepping for Advanced Placement Exams, Fox 6 WBRC, May 18, 2018

JEFFERSON COUNTY, AL (WBRC) - Many Alabama high school students are preparing to take their Advanced Placement exams in hopes of earning college credit.

Since 2008, Alabama has seen a huge increase in the number of students that pass the exams.

In fact, the number has almost tripled since that time.

Educators say part of the reason why is there has been more of an emphasis placed on the program at both the state and local levels.

The A+ College Ready AP Initiative rotates through schools across the state and provides support for AP students and teachers.

"Some of them, they've had AP a long time, others it may be their first or second year. So you go and you help them start figuring out this is what you got to know, this is what you've got to do to get credit," said John Recke, Mortimer Jordan High School AP teacher, who is also a consultant for the program.

Click here to see article on WBRC.

A-F School Grading is a Conversation Sarter, Not a Condemnation,, March 7, 2018

By Thomas Rains, Vice President of Operations and Policy at A+ Education Partnership, an organization that works to ensure each child in Alabama has the opportunity for success. Learn more at 

Community engagement is essential to the success of our local schools. We all have a stake in public schools, because the future of Alabama sits in classrooms from Florence to Dothan and everywhere in between.

Alabama adopted school letter grades to comply with federal and state laws calling for more transparency and a simpler way of reporting school performance. This year's report cards are a prototype. Not only should they generate conversations about ways to better support schools, but also ways to ensure the report cards highlight the areas of needed improvements.

Letter grades for schools in Alabama should be conversation starters and not condemnation of any school. They are neither the only way we should judge schools, nor are they meaningless.

Nationwide, 44 states give schools a "summative" rating for schools, and letter grades are the most commonly used rating. Fourteen states use A-F school grading and have seen improvements in student outcomes after making the school grades public.

For parents, the letter grades offer an opportunity to ask educators: What can I do to help my child learn? What can I do to help the school serve its students well?

For community members, ask yourself and ask your local school: What can I do to help make sure every child in my community is supported and goes to school prepared to learn? What role can I play to help all students in my community become ready for real life when they graduate?

Our children in Alabama are as capable of academic excellence as any in the world. We need to make sure they get the support they need, not just so they can reach their potential, but so they can exceed their wildest dreams of what they thought was possible. This year's letter grades provide a conversation starter for us all about how to find that path forward.

Click here to read article in

A+ College Ready Program Gives County Students an Edge, The News Courier, May 1, 2018

Two more Limestone County schools have decided to better prepare their students for the future by enrolling in A+ College Ready, a program that helps schools and districts offer more Advanced Placement courses and prepare more Alabama students for the rigors of college.

During the 2017-2018 school year, both Clements and Tanner High School noticed how successful the program was at the other four high schools in the district and decided it was time to give their students the same academic edge.

After all, schools who have adopted A+ College Ready programs are reporting major gains. According to a brochure published by the college-readiness program, Alabama has ranked No. 1 in the nation since the program was founded in 2008 for percent increase in qualifying scores in AP math, science and English exams.

After one year in the three-year progressive program, 132 Alabama high schools showed an average of 105-percent increase in AP qualifying scores, or 17 times the national average. Since its founding until 2016, the number of Alabama students taking AP exams has quadrupled and students in the program have potentially earned three hours of college credit, saving an average of $1,806 per course.

Thanks to A+ College Ready, more Alabama students than ever are college bound and will successfully complete a four-year degree on time.

It was for these reasons that Tanner and Clements High School leaders jumped through the proper hoops to get A+ College Ready in their classrooms. Aside from undergoing a competitive selection process that requires schools to submit an application to A+ College Ready in early October, teachers have to be willing to go through a weeklong training program over the summer to prepare them for the rigors of teaching A+ College classes, often referred to as pre-AP or “Laying the Foundation” courses.

“A+ trains teachers a certain way subjects should be taught to get students to think critically and to get them ready for the rigors of AP course work,” Thomas Young, a guidance counselor at Clements High School, said. “Students who take the LTF courses are better prepared for the writing and thinking required in AP classes.”

Currently, Clements only offers students one AP course in history. With the support of A+ College Ready, they will add LTF courses in the core subjects for students in sixth through 10th grades and AP government politics for 11th- and 12th-graders. Thomas hopes there will be enough interest in an AP computer science class as well.

Eventually, as the program grows and more teachers undergo the intensive professional development required to teach AP-level classes, Clements will add AP biology, physics and chemistry classes.

Across the county, Tanner High School is also gearing up to add A+ College ready courses to their 2018-2019 curriculum, which currently includes an AP history class.

“This will add many academic opportunities for our students,” Tanner High School Assistant Principal Deborah Kenyon said. “I believe these opportunities will expand our student's educational experiences and enable all students to succeed in a challenging curriculum.”

Kenyon also plans on offering an AP computer science discoveries and AP English/language arts to juniors and seniors. Students in sixth through 10th grades will gain access to pre-AP courses in science, English, social studies and computer science. Pre-AP math will be available to students in sixth through 11th grades.

About the program

The A+ College Ready program is a division of the A+ Education Partnership and was created with a $13.2-million grant from the National Math and Science Initiative to prepare and encourage more Alabama students to take on AP classes and earn a passing score on the AP exam.

Working in partnership with the Alabama State Department of Education, A+ College Ready provided extensive training and support for teachers and students in high school and middle schools, including weeklong summer training institutes for teachers, additional professional development days throughout the year, ongoing support and coaching from expert content directors, financial stipends for teachers based on academic results and funding for supplies and and additional infrastructure to support the program.

In addition to getting more students plugged into AP classes, Thomas believes that the program “will help students understand that if they challenge themselves they can meet that goal instead of settling for just getting through school.”

He said students who take the LTF or pre-AP courses should score better on college prep tests such as the ACT and SAT, which translates into more scholarship dollars.

Click here to read article in the News Courier.

Alabama Seeks to Broaden Computer Science Education Opportunities, PIE Network, April 5, 2018

Though Alabama was previously one of the worst-ranked states in computer science education offerings per capita, the state has since risen to a #2 nationwide ranking. Recently, the state’s first-ever Computer Science Education Summit brought together educators, advocates, policymakers, industry representatives, and other stakeholders to discuss further broadening computer science education opportunities in Alabama.

A+ College Ready, a program of A+ Education Partnership, partnered with the Alabama Governor’s office and the Governor’s Computer Science Task Force to host the event, which featured speakers including founder Hadi Partovi.

As a regional partner of, A+ College Ready helps provide training and resources for Alabama teachers on how to incorporate the CSE standards and best practices into the classrooms. Alabama had 86 teachers prepared to teach AP Computer Science Principles in its inaugural school year, 2016-17, and increased that number to 111 for 2017-18.

During the Summit, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey discussed her goal for every Alabama high school to offer computer science classes by 2022. Additionally, Alabama recently became one of 15 states to have officially adopted Digital Literacy and Computer Science Standards as part of their statewide K-12 academic standards.

Find more information about the Computer Science Education Summit here, and reach out to connect with other advocates interested in computer science education.

Click here to read on PIE Network website.