A report on Ala. schools - Supt. Morton's opinion

Dr. Joe Morton, State Superintendent of Education
Dr. Joe Morton, State Superintendent of Education

Alabama School Supertintendent Dr. Joe Morton
Full Editorial on Alabama's Schools

Everyone gets graded. Students get report cards. Teachers and principals get evaluated. Local and state superintendents of education get evaluated. School board members get judged at the polls. There is no escaping a report card on K-12 education, no matter who you are or what you do daily. And this is good.

The most comprehensive report card in the nation is issued each year in January for all 50 states and Washington, DC, and their education performances. It is conducted by Education Week, the nation's largest and most widely read education publication, and it is entitled "Quality Counts."

It is the most thorough report in the nation because it looks at each state's progress and gives each state a grade on six different factors. Listed below are the six factors, the leading state's grade, the U.S. average for each factor, and Alabama's grade.

I. CHANCE FOR SUCCESS (includes indicators such as parent education, high school graduation, family income, reading and math scores, pre-K and kindergarten enrollments)

Massachusetts Grade A #1

U.S. Average Grade C+

Alabama Grade C #43

II. K-12 ACHIEVEMENT (includes percentage of students proficient in reading and math, changes in scores from 2003-2009, and the academic poverty gap between low-income students and non low-income students)

Massachusetts Grade B #1

U.S. Average Grade D+

Alabama Grade D #44

This factor deserves a little deeper look. Education Week points out that while Alabama overall is below the national average in achievement, it is a national leader in gains in reading and math over the years of 2003-2009. A REPORT CARD FOR ALABAMA SCHOOLS JOSEPH B. MORTON, PH.D., STATE SUPERINTENDENT OF EDUCATION

Alabama's fourth grade reading improvement is #2 in the nation, eighth grade reading improvement is #17, and eighth grade math is #17. Also, Alabama is #10 in the nation in closing the academic gap for students in poverty.

III. TRANSITIONS AND ALIGNMENT (includes school readiness, course credit alignment, work readiness, postsecondary decisions, career-tech diploma, college prep courses)

Arkansas Grade A #1

U.S. Average Grade C+

Alabama Grade B- #14

IV. SCHOOL FINANCE (includes four different equity indexes and four different spending analyses)

Wyoming Grade A- #1

U.S. Average Grade C

Alabama Grade C #22

These calculations were done on available data on all 50 states before the devastating cutbacks in state funding in Alabama and many other states due to the recession. Alabama has reduced state funding for all public education by $1.5 billion (-22%) since Fiscal Year 2008.

V. STANDARDS, ASSESSMENTS, AND ACCOUNTABILITY (includes academic standards, student assessments, and school and school system accountability)

West Virginia Grade A #1

U.S. Average Grade B

Alabama Grade A- #12

VI. THE TEACHING PROFESSION (includes teacher evaluations, teacher testing, data systems to monitor quality, alternative routes to certification, pay for performance, national board certification)

South Carolina Grade A- #1

U.S. Average Grade C

Alabama Grade C+ #18

So, what does all of this mean? Clearly, in some categories Alabama is above the national average (three categories), but in my opinion the most critical of the six categories is Student Achievement, and we must continue to pursue better student achievement with all available energy and resources. Nothing matters more than the ability of our students to perform well academically.

Alabama has historically been a 49th or 50th ranked state in student achievement. We are no longer bringing up the rear. In fact, as the data in the report indicate, Alabama is leading or close to leading the nation in gains made. However, when one starts at the bottom and the competition is not sitting idly waiting for you to catch up, the climb is difficult.

Fortunately, Alabama has the Reading Initiative; the Math, Science, and Technology Initiative; the Distance Education Initiative; and highly regarded Pre-K and Advanced Placement programs that are changing our placement forever. Regrettably, the Math and Science Initiative is funded for only 50% of our schools, and Pre-K and Advanced Placement are funded even less well than Math and Science. Teachers, principals, local superintendents, the State Board, local school boards, and parents realize Alabama's students must be competitive, and we are demonstrating they can be even under dire economic challenges. Tens of thousands of educators and supporters know Alabama can beat the odds. That's why we have our highest ranking ever.

Overall, Alabama's ranking in the "Quality Counts" report is above the national average—a first for our state.

Current Alabama Overall Ranking C+

U.S. Average C

Alabama's Current Rank 25th

Alabama's Previous Ranking 31st

Alabama public education is showing great progress and great promise. Is it fast enough, is it good enough to be 25th, is this the best we can do? Absolutely not! A REPORT CARD FOR ALABAMA SCHOOLS JOSEPH B. MORTON, PH.D., STATE SUPERINTENDENT OF EDUCATION

However, we are not 49th overall, or in the bottom 10, the bottom 20, or the bottom 25. We are on new ground and in good air. Our job as citizens is to see that we keep making progress and become a top 10 state in the nation in public education. Please help. It will take everyone pulling together to make it happen, but it can and must happen!

Dr. Joe Morton may be contacted at jmorton@alsde.edu.