An A+ Commentary on Troy University Studies
There has been so much focus on how we can better educate Alabama’s youth. It’s encouraging, because it is clear that improving education for all Alabama students is a high priority for ensuring our state’s prosperity. That’s the one idea that most sides of all debates agree upon.
The findings of two studies conducted by Troy University, commissioned by the university’s Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy, examined the benefits of expanding school choice and of privatizing more public school auxiliary services. The studies have reaped both positive and negative reactions, but that’s a good thing, because public civil discourse is critical. It’s important to listen with an open mind as we focus on the goal on seeking a better outcome for all students.
In its first year the Alabama Accountability Act (AAA) created school choice options for a limited number of students; and, it lifted up the discussion about school choice, which is a public conversation worth having in Alabama.
The AAA also allowed for all public schools and systems to rethink their school structure, culture and local priorities by providing flexibility for schools to be innovative. This flexibility gives our local public schools an opportunity some of the autonomy provided to public charter schools in other states, with the exception of personnel policies. Whether it is choosing a less traditional daily schedule, adding dual enrollment opportunities with local colleges, partnering with local industry to bring in more career-related educational opportunities, or allowing more focus and resources to be committed for special and gifted education programs – the sky is the limit according to State Superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice.
“It’s wide open,” Bice said. “As long as it’s based on what the needs of the children are and there’s expected outcomes that are aspirational, go for it.” (From AL.com, 9/13/13)
On the other hand, the hard truth is that even if some students are able to choose different schools, the majority of students will be in traditional schools. Making them work well for all students must remain a priority.
Studies continue to show that responsibly investing more funding in what works for students for the more under-resourced and high-poverty community schools can lead to greater education options for all students.
In Alabama, the State Board of Education’s “Plan 2020” strategies already in place are showing great improvements by encouraging all public schools to be more innovative with the funding they do get.
Schools have raised the bar for all Alabama students and they are being challenged to truly understand and apply what they are learning to their lives. Teachers in many systems are being provided with more opportunities to network, collaborate and share resources, materials and curriculum. Alabama’s College and Career Ready Standards, based on the Common Core State Standards, allow teachers to reach outside of our state to share more relevant, current resources – saving them time and money while choosing what best works for their students.
Still, the need in Alabama is so great that it should take advantage of all the educational “reforms” that many people often view as “either-or” proposals. Local schools are allowed more flexibility and control than ever, and local school leaders and teachers can take more innovative approaches to making creative changes, forging community partnerships, and developing their own ideas that work for their students. They can look into ways that privatizing certain services can help save more for instruction and professional development, or anything else they deem is most important for improving student achievement. Meanwhile, Alabama needs to continue the conversation about school choice –not as a replacement to traditional public schools, but as another option for students needing something different in order to succeed in life.
The most important thing to consider is what is best for all students and what is best for individual students. Those currently not being served as well as they should be in their local schools, those who are excelling in their traditional system, and those thousands in the gray area that often fall through the cracks. Every student has something authentically unique to offer. It’s up to each Alabama teacher to find the best way to foster each student’s growth, discover his or her unique abilities, and send each into the world confidently ready to be a productive part of the future.