Bentley keeps digging hole deeper

Published 2:43 am Wednesday, November 9, 2016

There is a long-held political adage that “When you are in a hole, you should stop digging.” Apparently neither Gov. Robert Bentley or any of his staff know of this.

After the governor stuck his foot in his mouth last week by saying our public education “sucks” and incurring the wrath of educators and concerned citizens far and wide, he followed up with a video that is a weak attempt at digging out of his hole.

He does acknowledge that his remarks drew a large number of comments and invitations to visit schools. Then he tries to pat himself on the back for upping interest in public schools. OK, if you want to think so. And again he proves that he has no understanding at all about National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores and continues to rant and rave about our 4th grade math scores.

Governor, take a moment and read the statement below in which Dr. Morgan Polikoff at the University of Southern California warns us about misusing such scores.

“Be wary of cherry-picked analyses that focus only on certain subjects or grades rather than presenting the complete picture across subjects and grades. This is most often employed by folks with ideological agendas.”

Yet, Gov. Bentley continues to refer to one grade without giving any context at all. While he loves to say that our 4th grade math scores went down from 2013 to 2015, he NEVER mentions that of the 50 states, scores also dropped in 36 others, remained the same in four and went up in only nine. Nor does he note that the decline in Alabama was EXACTLY the same as the decline in Massachusetts, the only state in the nation with a perfect school system according to him.

He never mentions that NAEP is a test taken every two years with random samplings of 4th and 8th graders, about 2,500 students in all. That is two percent.

The governor says in his video that “numbers do not lie.” But he needs to add that politicians who take numbers out of context do lie by presenting a false picture.

From 1992 to 2015, Alabama’s 4th grade math scores for all students climbed 23 points. This was a larger increase than the national average. So we have been closing the gap. It is important to note that even in 1992 the gap between scores for white and black students in Alabama was less than the national average. This is still true.

And let the record show that from 1992 to 2015 4th grade math scores in Massachusetts went up one point more than our own. A one or two point change in state scores is not statically significant. So we are progressing as quickly as Massachusetts and the gap in Alabama between white and black and poverty and non-poverty students in Alabama continues to better those in the Bay State.

The reality is that we have passionate, dedicated educators in Alabama who understand far more about the realities of the challenges in today’s classrooms than any politician   in Montgomery. Yet, these are the very same people we always ignore when coming up with some new way of how to “fix” education.

Larry Lee led the study Lessons Learned from Rural Schools and is a longtime advocate for public education.