Federal Judge Gives Gardendale Control Over City’s Elementary Schools, Lets JeffCo Keep Middle and High Schools for Now.

The City of Gardendale has tried for more than three years to break away from the Jefferson County Schools to form its own municipal system. The county system has tried equally hard to keep that from happening.

On Monday, a federal judge gave each side some of what they wanted, but maybe not enough to satisfy either.

U.S. District Judge Madeline Haikala ruled that the Gardendale City Schools – a system that has existed as only a legal entity for three years, without any schools to operate – may take over Snow Rogers and Gardendale Elementary schools for the 2017-2018 academic year. But Gardendale High and Bragg Middle schools will stay in the Jefferson County system, for at least the next year “and until this Court orders otherwise,” in the judge’s words. Read more.

A+, the ACT and Poverty: Can Program Help Poor Schools Too?

A first look at the list of 81 Alabama high schools whose students scored best on the 2016 ACT exam shows an encouraging intersection: Fifty-four of those schools are participants in the A+ College Ready Initiative, a program that helps schools implement Advanced Placement programs and aims to raise education aspirations across the state.

But another view of the data, reported by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama, reveals that 51 of the 54, about 94 percent, of top-performing A+ College Ready schools share another advantage. The schools are working with more affluent student bodies, those with less poverty than the state average. Read more.

Destination of Graduates: Chart from PARCA shows where 2015 Alabama grads headed after high school.

Most Alabama Students with a High School Diploma Go To College, but More Than a Third Do Not.

There were more Alabama high school graduates in 2015 than the year before, and the class sent more students to college as their next step. Still, more than 17,000 state students with a 2015 diploma did not continue their schooling immediately.

Within that picture were disparities: Systems with low poverty rates sent most of their graduates on to four-year colleges and universities. Systems with somewhat higher poverty percentages still sent a large percentage of graduates off to college. However, more of those graduates start at a community college.

The top four Alabama high schools in terms of college-going rate are magnet schools: three in Montgomery and one in Birmingham.

These highlights come from a new report by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama that uses more extensive data now available from the Alabama Commission on Higher Education. The full report lets you search for information by school systems and individual high schools. Here’s PARCA’s full report.

More and More Alabama Students Take Advanced Placement Courses. Will That Raise Achievement in the State’s Public Schools?

A growing number of Alabama high schoolers this spring took year-end exams for their Advanced Placement classes, hoping to make passing scores, earn college credits and ease their paths in higher education.

They are part of a steady expansion and emphasis on Advanced Placement classes in Alabama since 2008.

The change has been led by A+ College Ready Initiative, a public-private partnership between A+ Education Partnership and the Alabama State Department of Education. Read more.

An Alabama Pioneer: This Jefferson County School Offers a Diverse Mix of Students a “Most Challenging” Education  

For the ninth straight year, a Jefferson County school has earned a seat near the head of the class of the nation’s high schools, according to annual rankings by The Washington Post.

The Jefferson County International Baccalaureate School (JCIBS) ranked ninth in the newspaper’s annual list of “America’s Most Challenging High Schools”. JCIBS is a “school within a school,” part of Shades Valley High School.

Springville High School:  Test Scores, Parents’ Questions Lead To a New Advanced Placement Program   

Amanda Umphrey describes a careful start to the relationship between Springville High School and its new Advanced Placement program.

Umphrey, now AP coordinator at Springville and in her 10th year at the school, said timing hadn’t been right earlier for introducing AP. A step in that direction was teachers taking note that ACT scores of students at their school were higher than at other St. Clair County High Schools.

Court Documents Describe Longstanding Turmoil in Hoover’s Trace Crossings Elementary, at least among Teachers and Staff

Court documents and testimony in a federal sexual discrimination lawsuit are now providing an inside, public look at the dysfunction inside Hoover’s Trace Crossings elementary school during the years parents were leaving in droves for private-and home-school opportunities. Those parents’ decisions changed the school’s demographic mix, emptied out the school, and ultimately led district officials to propose geographically rezoning much of the 13,800-student district.

The Hoover school community is not unlike most in buying the idea that if a school has more poor kids, more kids of color, that school is more likely to have low test scores.

“The notion of blaming the kids is unfortunately very, very common,” Dr. James Spillane, Olin Professor of Learning and Organizational Change at the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University in Illinois, said in a recent interview. Read more.

An Alabama Teacher of the Year left. Birmingham’s Oliver Elementary School made national headlines. What happened? What does that say about a path to better schools?

As the last day of school approached at Birmingham’s Oliver Elementary this week, 44-year-old teacher Ann Marie Corgill found herself reflecting on what, for her and many others, was a devastating year.

When she decided to walk away from the school after teaching only nine weeks last October, she was in a low place, she said. Not only did the 21-year teaching veteran question her methods, but the Birmingham City Schools system informed her that, although she was nationally board certified and a former Alabama Teacher of the Year, she was not “highly-qualified.”

Her story was picked up in local and national news with stories in The Washington Post, CBS News, USA Today, National Public Radio and Huffington Post. Read more.

Who’s in Charge of Alabama Education?  Governor, Legislator, Education Leaders Disagree Publicly, Spotlight Fault Lines

There is a battle going on in Montgomery over who controls the education of Alabama’s children. Fault lines are becoming increasingly evident.

Tempers flared at last week’s State Board of Education meetings in a display of direct pushback by state education leaders against the Executive and Legislative branches of Alabama’s government.

Typically, education leaders are called to appear before legislators. On last Thursday, the tables were turned. Both the Governor and the chair of the House Education Policy committee were present at Board of Education sessions. The education leaders took full advantage of their home field position, calling both to task over perceived power grabs in recent weeks. Read more.

Big Education Issues on the Table for Alabama’s Lawmakers

With 12 legislative days left in the 2016 Regular Session, Alabama’s lawmakers will find a table full of education issues when they return from spring break next week.

There are education savings accounts (the bill has been changed to apply only to children with disabilities), a statewide longitudinal data system to capture and track data for students from preschool through when they enter the workforce, the all-things-teachers bill, a.k.a, the PREP Act, the Alabama Ahead Act (which provides funding for wireless infrastructure for schools needing it), widening of the state’s growing virtual school program, and…the Education Trust Fund budget which has yet to be debated by the Senate after its passage in the House.

Not to mention the other 60 or so education-related bills still waiting for lawmakers’ attention.

BirminghamWatch has kept close watch on legislation during this session, so look there for weekly updates.

We’re taking stock of what lawmakers will face upon their return. Read more . . .

What’s the Difference in the PREP Act & What Alabama Is Already Doing?

How are Alabama’s teachers being evaluated?

Are those evaluations helping teachers get better at teaching?

Are students learning more as a result of those evaluations?

The first question is easy enough. The latter two are more confounding.

Identifying effective teachers who improve student learning is the subject of Sen. Del Marsh’s (R-Anniston) PREP (Preparing and Rewarding Education Professionals) Act, which barely cleared the Senate Education and Youth Affairs committee last week and is expected to be considered by the full Senate in the near future.

Since we published the draft of Marsh’s all-things-teacher-improvement-and-reform proposal last December, it has been the topic of conversations across Alabama. Read more . . .


After Months of Discussions, Alex Will Return to School, Despite Failing Heart

After months of difficult discussions, a resolution has been reached to allow 14-year-old Alex Hoover to return to his Limestone County high school—a development which delights his mother, Rene Hoover.

“Alex is happy at school,” she said. “I want him to be happy.”

Rene has been working to get Alex back into school since last spring,

Education Issues to Follow in 2016

Keep your eyes on Montgomery advises Trisha Powell Crain, executive director of Alabama School Connection and contributor to BirminghamWatch. The governor, Alabama legislature and education officials face a full plate of decisions that affect classrooms throughout the state. Among important items, Crain says, are:



Sen. Del Marsh. Photo, Office of President Pro Tem.

RAISE (Rewarding Advance in Instruction and Student Excellence Act) is still a draft proposal, not filed as a bill. It affects teacher evaluation, teacher pay and teacher tenure. An element in the draft calls for rating teacher effectiveness partly by student test scores. Del Marsh, Alabama Senate President Pro Tem, has circulated the draft to traditional players in setting education policy, including the Alabama Association of School Boards and the Alabama Education Association. This update last week is from Brian Lyman of the Montgomery Advertiser : Tenure bill greeted cautiously, raises some concerns

Education Trust Fund allocations

More dollars, millions more, are available to be budgeted for 2016-2017 than were allocated for the current fiscal year. The big question: What agencies and missions will get the new money?

5 Things You Should Know about Test Results for Alabama’s Public Schools

Alabama’s public school students are struggling with the annual standardized test required by the Alabama State Department of Education, judging by recently released results for the 2014-2015 school year.

Though annual testing isn’t new, the ACT Aspire, first administered during the 2013-2014 school year, is. The test is given to students in third through eighth grade in math and reading, and in fifth and seventh grades in science.

Statewide, of the six grades tested, only in third grade were more than half the students proficient in math; in no grade were more than half the students proficient in reading.

At Hueytown Elementary School, Love and Data Tackle Alabama’s Education Problems

The 850 kindergarten- through-fifth- grade students at Jefferson County’s Hueytown Elementary School have a message about education: Poverty doesn’t always mean lower scores on standardized tests.

On the ACT Aspire test they took last spring, in most grades and subjects, a higher percentage of the Hueytown students scored in the proficient range than did Jefferson County school district students overall or students statewide.

The accomplishment comes in a school where 58 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals and where students are a diverse mix – 52% are white, 39% are black and 6 percent are Hispanic.

More About 2015 Alabama Student Test Scores

The Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama and Alabama School Connection have taken deeper looks at recently-released tests of the state’s student academic performance. PARCA assessed results from Alabama high school juniors on the ACT college readiness test. Only 16 percent of them were “ready” on all four sections of the test: English, Reading, Mathematics and Science. PARCA considers factors affecting the 2015 scores and concludes: “Alabama has significant room to grow in producing high school graduates who are ready for success in college.”

The PARCA report dealt only with the test for high school juniors. But the “significant room to grow” conclusion applies to the huge body of results from the ACT Aspire test given in grades three through eight.

“Highly Qualified.” What Does That Label Mean for an Alabama Teacher?

What does it mean to be a “highly qualified” teacher for Alabama fifth-graders?

That question made headlines Monday when Alabama Teacher of the Year Ann Marie Corgill resigned her teaching job at a Birmingham school. The Alabama State Department of Education ruled she didn’t meet the “highly qualified” standard.

Teacher certification presents complicated questions with unsettled answers for public education policy-makers. What are the rules to be “highly qualified”? Do they apply to everybody? Why are they especially important for schools in lower income neighborhoods?

Alabama Teacher of the Year Leaves Classroom. Here’s Her Story.

Six months ago, Ann Marie Corgill was standing next to President Obama celebrating being named a National Teacher of the Year finalist, intent on finding a job teaching in an inner-city school after years in Alabama’s richest district.

On Sunday afternoon, Corgill officially resigned after two months in Birmingham’s Oliver Elementary School, intent on never stepping foot in a classroom again. In a statement Monday, she reopened the door to future teaching but the resignation from Oliver stood.

No Football Scores but Lots of Other Stats on Alabama Colleges, from PARCA

The average annual cost of attending an Alabama college ranges from almost $29,000 to about $8,500. Graduation rates vary from 70 percent to 26 percent. And the chances of a college’s former students earning more than $25,000 a year vary widely too.

In an analysis published Tuesday, the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama focused on cost, outcome and other statistics for the state’s colleges, and discussed factors involved in those numbers. The information from colleges nationwide was released last month by the U.S. Department of Education in its College Scorecard.

Reputation, Cost, Location, Tradition: Big Factors when Alabama Students Choose a Home-State College

Year after year, Hoover High School sends large numbers of graduates off to Alabama public colleges, second only to Bob Jones High School in Madison City Schools. Cindy Bond, College and Career Specialist there for more than a decade, says that a college’s academic reputation is key to her students’ decisions. In recent years, though, cost has played a bigger role in the choices, she says.