Letter to the State Board of Ed | Standards Are Not the Issue

Written by
Jeremy Zelkowski, Ph.D. | Associate Professor

Co-Chair, ALSDE Mathematics Strategic Planning Committee

(Published with permission from author)


Good afternoon AL State Board of Education; Governor Ivey, Mr. Sentance, Drs. McCarty & Richardson, Ms.’ S. Bell, E. Bell, Hunter, & Peters, and Mr. Newman.

I hereby would like to comment on the resolution you will be considering on Thursday (August 9, 2017) regarding the ACCRS. Alabama’s problem the last four to six years has not been “Standards”. To scapegoat standards is just unprofessional and a lack of being informed regarding standards-based research and teaching. It has been funding and a myriad of issues related to funding for which some are malleable factors, and others out of this board’s control.

This board stated at the presentation the [ALSDE] strategic committees made on May 11th and I quote, “these committees have done just excellent work and we hope to keep your groups together (working)”. You all clearly valued the dedication that we all put forth over four months as experts statewide from all different walks of education. I can speak for the mathematics committee report, at NO point in time did we make a recommendation to revise or repeal or replace the current standards in mathematics. I will not speak for the Science or Reading committees.

Clearly outlined in our recommendation report that was well detailed and supported by research and best practices, we indicated that Alabama’s issues in mathematics achievement stem from (1) low requirements compared to national scores for certification, (2) the lack of long-term opportunities for high quality, sustained, and accountable professional development for math teachers statewide, (3) the lack of salary for math and science commensurate with BS degrees in those disciplines, (4) scholarship incentives for STEM teachers, (5) ….the list went on and on from there.

Nowhere in the document did we indicated the standards need any major overhaul other than to include statistics and calculus as courses of study (non-AP-based), and an advisement on pathways to Algebra-1 in grade 8.

LET’S BE FRANK HERE…Alabama’s issues lie with high poverty in rural and our blackbelt areas, as well as many central cities. Let’s ignore that strong evidence and move to this. Your legislature has not funded education back to 2008 levels. Since 2010, funding for education in Alabama is lower than every state in the nation except Oklahoma. In OK, I just recently read [in some placed] more than 15% of teachers near bordering states have left OK for teaching positions in TX, AR, KS, and MO. While this is less than 5% of teachers statewide, what would Alabama do if we lost 5% of our teachers in our most vulnerable schools? Funding has cut multi-year PD projects the state provides. Teacher units statewide have been cut while populations have grown. Schools are falling apart built in the 60s and 70s. Do you want to learn and attend a school that is looks like a refurbished warehouse? Students have to love being at school and these funding issues have long since cut any chance the last decade to continue progress. This is not about standards and a decision to repeal this week only adds to the loss of confidence by teachers and education professionals statewide.

Teachers have lost faith in this board with their policies and their hiring of Mr. Sentance. While there clearly is work to be done, there is work to be done in every state education system nationwide.

Standards are NOT the issue. Face the facts and address the issues. Use the research and recommendations of the strategic committees to push and lobby those interest groups pushing agendas unsupported by research. Push back with our reports. Push our legislators to fund education at least to pre-recession levels and adjust for inflation since. That would be between $3,000 & $4,000 per pupil. The little divisor our legislature changed this year for middle school units barely will add a teacher per school statewide which does some good, but will not produce results like we all hope to see.

Next year is an election year for some of you which I’m sure is prompting this resolution. Stop being political with our children’s lives and listen the strategic committees instead of special interest groups if you wish to address issues in Alabama education. Our committee was not political and spanned the entire spectrum politically by its makeup. STOP listening to extremist groups on the left and right who do not use research to guide their agendas, rather they use personal feelings and their own little world which very few fit into or live by.

Jeremy Zelkowski, Ph.D. | Associate Professor
Co-Chair, ALSDE Mathematics Strategic Planning Committee
Program Coordinator, Secondary Mathematics Education
The University of Alabama

[email protected] | UA.edu

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