(Writer’s note: We use Survey Monkey for feedback on education issues. Unlike surveys used for political polling, responses are not sorted to reflect the general population of a certain area such as a state senate district where those polled reflect the district’s demographics. However, because the number of respondents is usually very large, we get a very good sense of trend lines. More than 6,500 companies worldwide use Survey Monkey, often to gather information on market share. LL)
In the presidential primary of March 3, 2020, Alabama voters will vote whether or not to adopt a constitutional amendment to switch from an elected state board of education to one appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Alabama Senate.
The first 1,000 responses to the survey we posted on July 2 were overwhelmingly supportive of keeping an elected board--to the tune of 89% in favor of our present system, to only 11% who will vote to change it.
But it is important to see who answered the survey. Some 44% are teachers, with an additional 31% employed in some capacity other than teaching, by a school system. Some 58% have children or grandchildren in a public school. Forty-nine percent say they are Republicans, compared to 20% Democrats. Respondents were 73% female, 86% Caucasian and 52% between the ages of 36 and 55.
So the sample is top-heavy with those involved with education. But it is important to note there are more than 50,000 public school teachers in Alabama who can be expected to weigh in heavily on this issue with family and friends.
Which is to say that any effort to approve this Constitutional Amendment appears to be a very uphill battle.
The only real message to voters to get them to support an appointed board is to tell them that our present system is not working. But our survey shows this may not work.
When we asked the question: Do you believe education in Alabama is going in the right direction, or the wrong direction?, 62% said wrong direction. So telling them we should change direction becomes something of a moot point. The question we did not ask, but is very germane to everything is, Why do you think it is going in the wrong direction?
However, answers to a couple of other question may give us a hint. When asked how much confidence they have in Gov. Kay Ivey to put qualified people on the state board, 50% said they did. Since the constitutional amendment calls for the Senate to confirm gubernatorial appointments, we also asked about the confidence level respondents have in the Senate to confirm competent appointees. Only 17% said they trust them.
So, it is not hard to believe that while folks are not happy with the direction education is going, they have little confidence in politicians to make necessary changes. When you look at what the Alabama Legislature has done to education since 2012 with things like A-F school reports cards, the Alabama Accountability Act and the charter school law, it is easy to see why.
It appears that respondents have more tolerance for the state school board than they do for legislators. For example, the state board hired Eric Mackey as superintendent in the Spring of 2018. Those answering the survey don’t have a high opinion of his job performance. Only 37% gave him an A or B, while 63% said he should get a C, D or F. He got more Fs than As. This is consistent with the evaluations he recently got from the state school board.
Which simply means that the March 3, 2020, vote may well be more a referendum on our current political leadership than it is about education. (There is no doubt that recent actions of the appointed state charter school commission are definitely hurting those wanting an appointed state school board.)
The law setting up the constitutional amendment vote also directs an appointed board to set new study standards to replace Common Core standards. Given how Common Core has been vilified, this would seem a good ploy to entice people to vote for change. But 69% of respondents say our version of these standards, known as Alabama College & Career Ready, should NOT be replaced.
So this approach may not be as fruitful as some who drafted the legislation thought.
And the following question may be as revealing as any we asked: Under the present system of electing state school board members, candidates must raise money to run their campaigns. This often comes from political action committees. Under the proposed new system, do you believe the lobbyists who control these political action committee will still play a major role in who is selected?
It is not surprising that 73% said yes.
In other words, respondents don’t think you can take politics out of politics.
So why change?
(Larry Lee led the study, “Lessons Learned from Rural Schools,” and is a long-time advocate for public schools. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.)