By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
A new report shows that Alabama ranks 44th in the nation when it comes to educational opportunities and performance. The state received an overall score of 69.9 out of 100 points, a C-minus.
State Superintendent Eric Mackey told Alabama Daily News that the Education Department doesn’t get sidetracked by national rankings and instead wants to focus on fixing problem areas.
“Although I appreciate the work and methodology that goes into determining ranking systems, and reports like this often highlight areas we need to improve upon, we are laser-focused on creating positive educational outcomes for all students,” Mackey said. “We do not focus on reacting to individual rankings… rather maintaining a consistent, steadfast commitment to providing the best educational opportunities for all Alabama students.”
The Quality Counts report offers a comprehensive review of the nation’s K-12 system based on three factors: how much states spend on schools and how fairly that money is distributed; how well the state assures chances for success over a student’s career; and outcomes such as test scores and graduation rates.
The report is published by Education Week, a nonprofit news organization that covers K-12 education.
When it comes to the three factors the report grades the state on, Alabama is ranked 36th on school finance, 45th in the chance-for-success category and 43rd on K-12 achievement.
The nation as a whole was given an overall score of 75.6, a C.
As for school finances, Alabama received an F and is ranked 39th in education spending. For how the funds are distributed across the state, Alabama got a B plus and ranks 15th.
The state’s education funding formula is something Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, would like to look into further during the 2020 legislative session that starts in February..
“We know certain pieces of educating our children cost more if you are an English-language learner or at risk or if you’re gifted or if your special needs, and I would like us to look at changing our funding formula to include weighting those things that we know costs more,” Collins told ADN.
Collins, who chairs the House Committee on education policy, also said she wasn’t surprised to hear about the state’s ranking but thinks that the legislation she sponsored and passed earlier this year will help in lifting those numbers.
“That’s why we’re trying to do the things we’re doing, like the K-3 literacy bill and the computer science bill that create kind of a sense of urgency in our department of education to do the things that we know we need to do,” Collins said.
Collins’ literacy bill will require third-graders who don’t have sufficient reading skills be held back a year and all schools to provide a summer reading camp to all struggling students.
There are exemptions for special-needs students and students with limited English skills. No student can be held back more than twice because of the new law.
Gov. Kay Ivey told ADN that despite multiple rankings putting Alabama’s education numbers at or near the bottom of the nation, she is optimistic that her “Strong Start, Strong Finish” initiative will help.
“For years, Alabama has unfortunately become almost desensitized to the fact that the state ranks middle or bottom-of-the-pack in educational surveys,” Ivey said. “I cannot accept disappointing results seeing that we are a state who manages to set the bar for the nation in early childhood education and who has exceptional students and teachers.”
The six states ranked below Alabama in overall scores are Mississippi, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Louisiana, Nevada and New Mexico.
In order to evaluate the role education plays in promoting positive outcomes across an individual’s lifetime, the Education Week Research Center developed an index of 13 indicators that span a person’s life from cradle to career.
The indicators fall into three categories: early foundations, school years and adult outcomes.
When it comes to early foundations and how the state helps children get off to a good start, Alabama got its highest score, a B-minus, and ranks 39th in the nation. In the school years category, Alabama received a D-plus and a C in the adult outcomes section.
Another education policy bill that passed this year will allow voters to decide on a constitutional amendment to change the elected state school board to one appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.
Ivey said that she thinks changes in Alabama’s educational system need to first start with the leadership.
“We have already laid the groundwork for effective policy change though my ‘Strong Start, Strong Finish’ initiative,” Ivey said. “Now, we need a structure of educational governance that works in the best interest of our students and teachers, which is why I invite all Alabamians to support Amendment 1 on your March 2020 ballots.”