Thursday, September 8, 2016

Michael Sentance Is Exactly What the BCA Ordered

By:  Terri Michal, Alabama BAT
Originally published on Left in Alabama here

What do appointed school boards, charter schools, high stakes testing and the (maybe) soon to be appointed Alabama State Superintendent, Michael Sentance, have in common?
They are all bad for our high poverty kids….and they are all exactly what the BCA (Business Council of Alabama), Sen. Marsh and Rep. Collins would like to have in Alabama.
I’m an edugeek. I admit it. My idea of a good time is reading education legislation, or researching charter schools, or compiling data on test scores and graduation rates.
I’m not the only one. I know teachers and advocates from all across this country that spend much of their free time just like I do, 57,754 of them to be exact. At any given time if I have a question about, oh I don’t know, let’s say Massachusetts education reform for example, all I have to do is log on to the BAT (BadAss Teacher) FB page and post my question. I then get answers from folks that have first-hand experience about what’s REALLY happening in their state.
So with all of the talk in Alabama about the Massachusetts Miracle that Michael Sentance helped kick off in 1993, I figured, who better to ask than actual TEACHERS from the state of Massachusetts?
Here is what I’ve learned:
Read this report, written by the Citizens for Public Schools, about the 20th anniversary of the ’93 reform. You will see it predominately affected three areas: standardized testing, charter schools, and funding. It failed in two out of the three areas.
In part the report states: “Massachusetts ranks 31st of 49 states for the gap between Black and White student graduation rates (with 1st meaning that the gap is the smallest) and 39th of 47 states for the size of the gap between Hispanic and White student graduation rates. For students with disabilities, Massachusetts’ four-year graduation rate is only 64.9 percent, which ranks the state at 28th out of the 45 states with available data in 2009.2 A significant reason for this low figure is the impact of the MCAS graduation requirement on this subgroup.”
It also finds that “Commonwealth charter schools have not contributed to equity of educational quality and resources.”
Here you can read about one teacher’s experience with the test and punish culture that Michael Sentence’s reforms brought.
In that article Amy Wolpin states “Fourteen years ago research showed that the MCAS test scores really just describe the demographics of our students. In 2001 the Donahue Institute analyzed the MCAS results and reported, ″ One of the consistent findings of this research is that demography explains most of the variation in test scores from district to district. Results from this year’s research are similar to results from last year’s work: about 84% of the variation in test results (scores for all of the test-taking students for the nine MCAS tests combined) is explained by demography. That is why Weston and Wayland have high MCAS scores and why Holyoke and Brockton have low MCAS scores. Thus, though demography is not destiny, it sets a strong tendency… In the end, the MCAS scores tell more about a district’s real estate values than the quality of its schools.″
David I Rubin, Assoc. Prof., Retired, College of Public and Community Service, UMass, Boston, stated this in a recent conversation I had with him about the Education Reform laws written by Sentence under Gov. Weld:
“Under the guise of reformer, he (Sentance) worked to undermine public education, at both the K-12 and college levels, and under the guise pressing for better performance outcomes, pushed the privatization agendas and standardized testing agendas at all levels.”
In 1996 Rubin expressed concerns about the legislation in an analysis of the 1993 Education Reform Law in Mass. It reads, in part:
“Governor William Weld unveiled a truly radical plan for reshaping K-12 education that could make Massachusetts the testing ground for every weapon in the privatization arsenal. Weld wants to voucherize the entire public educational system, putting an educational voucher in the hand of every low-income student in Massachusetts and radically expanding the idea of school choice by including parochial and private schools in the voucher program. He wants to remove the cap on the number of charter schools (currently set at 25 by law) and let them expand without limit to increase competition with public school systems throughout the state. He wants to eliminate all forms of teacher certification. He wants to limit the independence of the Board of Education, a body that has been strongly critical of Weld’s new proposals.
But Weld is too good a politician to be satisfied with “the having of bad ideas” (apologies to the title of Eleanor Duckworth’s wonderful book, The Having of Good Ideas). He has also placed fresh horses in key leadership positions in the hierarchy of public education, from kindergarten through graduate school, appointing Boston University President John Silber as the Chairman of the Board of Public Education, insurance industry magnate George Carlin as Chairman of the Higher Education Coordinating Council, and using his influence to make sure that the UMass Board of Trustees named the Massachusetts Legislature’s Senate President, William Bulger, as President of the University of Massachusetts system. All are on Weld’s ideological wavelength, all wield power ruthlessly, all are white males, and none has any significant experience in public education.
This leadership troika is best understood as Weld’s management team for a hostile takeover of all levels of public education.”
You will see a common thread through all of this…the Massachusetts reforms are aimed at, and fail, the high poverty students. With a childhood poverty rate 10% HIGHER than Massachusetts (It’s 26% in AL and 16% in MA) I don’t feel we can afford to appoint a person who not only wrote and endorsed those reforms, but has very little experience in K-12. (I am fighting the urge to say NO experience, because I see he did serve on a School Board for a short time. That, in my opinion, is still a far cry from someone who has earned the certification and has had the experience leading a classroom, or even as an administrator.)
  • 2010-2011 Free/reduced lunch Alabama – 55.78%
  • 2010-2011 Free/reduced lunch Massachusetts – 34.2%
  • 2006-2007 Alabama – 51.2%
  • 2006-2007 Massachusetts 28.9%
  • 1999-2000 Alabama 47%
  • 1999-2000 Massachusetts 24.3%
After looking at those numbers I am left wondering how we can even think that Mr. Sentance has the experience necessary to bring equity to our public schools.
I feel STRONGLY that Mr. Sentance was brought here for three reasons: To centralize power with the Governor through an appointed board as they did in MA (Although you know our Legislature will want to be in on the gig too), to get the Charter Law up and running (prepare for legislation in the next regular session that would benefit the charter operators), and to get the RAISE Act passed. (The RAISE Act failed in the last legislative session. Read what Larry Lee had to say about it:  The reforms Michael Sentance brought to MA mirror our RAISE Act almost exactly.
So I ask, with all of the evidence concerning his past policies (high stakes testing tied to evaluations, ending teacher tenure, independent charter operators with little to no oversight, and a huge emphasis on appointed boards leading to less local control) how in the world can anyone think he would NOT be influenced by the likes of Sen. Del Marsh, Rep. Terri Collins, Billy Canary, and the BCA?
The fact that he is from out-of-state does NOT ensure that he is not in cahoots with those that wish to destroy our public schools in the name of privatization.
I understand two board members, Stephanie Bell and Betty Peterson, voted for him in large part because they felt that he was anti-CC. I too am anti-CC and can understand the importance of having a State Superintendent that will push back against Common Core. HOWEVER, as Larry Lee pointed out, Mr. Sentance appears to be against CC for Massachusetts, but NOT for the southern states. I would also like to ask those anti CC board members this: How can someone be against Common Core but for national standards?
I’m wondering also-What good will it do our kids that live in poverty if we get rid of Common Core if they have under-qualified teachers in the room, their schools are being starved of resources, and they are forced to take high stakes tests that may result in their schools being closed? Let’s really take a look at the ENTIRE picture here, and see ALL of these reforms for what they are, a death sentence for our high poverty schools.
Based on all of these facts I urge our State School Board to reconsider the appointment of Mr. Sentance, and I urge the public to take the time to attend the State BOE meeting on Thursday at 10:00AM in Montgomery. You see, the State Superintendent’s job may be appointed, but our State Board of Education members are not. They need to vote the will of the people or they will risk being voted out.
If you cannot attend please send an email now to:
Jeffery Newman
Yvette Richardson
Matt Brown
Betty Peterson
Stephanie Bell
Ella Bell
Cynthia McCarty
Mary Scott Hunter
Terri Michal
Founder, SOS Support Our Students
Badass Teacher Association leadership team

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