JOE MORTON ON ALABAMA'S NATIONAL SCHOOL REPORT CARD:
Published: Sunday, January 30, 2011, 6:55 AM
From The Huntsville Times
By Dr. Joe Morton
Special to The Times
HUNTSVILLE, Ala _ Everyone gets graded.
Students get report cards. Teachers, principals and education superintendents 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 January for all 50 states and Washington, D.C., for 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 because it looks at each state's progress and gives a grade on six factors. Listed below are the six factors, the leading state's grade, the U.S. average for each factor, and Alabama's grade.
- 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, No. 1; U.S. average, C+; Alabama, C., No. 43.
- 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, No. 1; U.S. average, D+; Alabama, D, No. 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.
Alabama's fourth grade reading improvement is No. 2 in the nation, eighth grade reading improvement is No. 17, and eighth grade math is No. 17. Also, Alabama is No. 10 in the nation in closing the academic gap for students in poverty.
- Transitions and alignment (includes school readiness, course credit alignment, work readiness, postsecondary decisions, career-tech diploma, college prep courses).
Arkansas, A, No. 1; U.S. average C+; Alabama, B- No. 14.
- School finance (includes four different equity indexes and four different spending analyses).
Wyoming, A-, No. 1; U.S. average C, Alabama, C, No. 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 percent) since fiscal 2008.
- Standards, assessments and accountability (includes academic standards, student assessments, and school and school system accountability).
West Virginia, A, No. 1; U.S. average B, Alabama, A-, No. 12.
- 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, A-, No. 1; U.S. average, C, Alabama, C+, No. 18.
So, what does all of this mean? In some categories (three) Alabama is above the national average 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. 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, 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 half of our schools, and Pre-K and Advanced Placement are funded even less. Teachers, principals, superintendents, state and 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.
Alabama's current overall ranking was a C+ (the U.S. average was C) placing it 25th. It's previous ranking was 31st. Alabama public education is showing great progress and great promise.
Is it good enough to be 25th? Absolutely not!
However, we are not 49th overall not even in the bottom 25. We are on new ground.
Our job as citizens is to see that we keep making progress and become a top 10 state in the nation in public education. It will take everyone pulling together to make it happen but it can and must happen.
Dr. Joe Morton is Alabama education superintendent. He may be contacted at