Elected school boards preferred by voters

(Editor’s Note:  Larry Lee, who submitted today’s letter to the editor, notes that Survey Monkey is the polling service used for data presented in this letter.  According to Lee, Survey Monkey does not sort responses to reflect the general population of a certain area.”)
In the presidential primary March 3, 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 state senate.
The first 1,000 responses to the survey we posted July 2, were overwhelmingly supportive of keeping an elected board–to the tune of 89 percent in favor of our present system, to only 11 percent who will vote to change it.

But it is important to see who answered the survey.  Some 44 percent are teachers, with an additional 31 percent employed in some capacity other than teaching, by a school system.  Some 58 percent have children or grandchildren in a public school.  Forty-nine percent say they are Republicans, compared to 20 percent Democrats.  Respondents were 73 percent female, 86 percent Caucasian and 52 percent between the ages of 36 to 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 percent 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 questions may give us a hint.  When asked how much confidence they have in Governor Ivey to put qualified people on the state board, 50 percent 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 percent 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 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 percent gave him an A or B, while 63 percent 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, 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 percent 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 committees will still play a major role in who is selected?
It is not surprising that 73 percent said yes.
In other words, respondents don’t think you can take politics out of politics.
So why change?

Larry Lee
Montgomery

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