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A crossroads for education in Alabama

By Thomas Rains, VP of Policy and Operations A+ Education Partnership

Commentary

Alabama is approaching an education crossroads.

Many of the state officials in charge of education will begin new terms next year. Gov. Kay Ivey or her successor will begin a full term in office, and a record number of newcomers will be sworn into the House and Senate for the new quadrennium. The State Board of Education will have two members to replace Betty Peters and Mary Scott Hunter, who are not running for reelection.

With these elections on the horizon and Dr. Eric Mackey beginning his tenure as State Superintendent, it’s time for Alabama to set new goals for education to ensure all students are college and career ready—to ensure they are ready for real life—by the time they graduate.

A new report from A+ Education Partnership and a coalition of its peers from across the South urges Alabama and the entire region to make a new commitment to improve K-12 education. A+ joined its counterparts in Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Tennessee to produce the report.

Accelerating the Pace: The Future of Education in the American South shows that while Alabama and the South have made major advances in education in recent decades, some “achievement gaps” between more affluent students and historically disadvantaged classmates have widened.

Alabama’s future depends on turning this around and building an education system that ensures every child can attain a high-quality education.

“If schools do not help more students catch up more quickly — even as they raise expectations for all children — the region’s economic prospects will worsen. In some areas, they already have. Now is the time for states to develop a long-term vision for improving education so that many more children can succeed in school and life,” Accelerating the Pace says.

The report calls for state leaders to focus on four main priority areas for improvement. These ideas came largely from interviews with fellow Southerners:

  • Make the South the best place to teach. We need even more teachers and principals in Alabama who have the talent, preparation and continued support to help students succeed.
  • Provide new types of academic—and nonacademic—support for today’s students. Students need more support systems than we are providing for dealing with family and emotional health issues that can impact their learning. All children can learn at high levels, but we must meet them where they are in their personal journeys, not where we as adults want them to be.
  • Clear all students’ paths from high school into their next steps. Some students don’t know what to do after high school. Alabama has begun remedying this by highlighting multiple pathways for students with its Six College and Career Ready Indicators. Let’s build a much stronger bridge from high school into college, career training or a good job by ensuring all students meet at least one of those indicators by the time they graduate.
  • Ensure resources are adequate and targeted. Invest in education programs to meet the needs of every child, and find additional support for students who need the most help. It’ll pay off for all of us.

Education is one issue that’s too important to fall into today’s rancorous political divide. This is about our children’s lives, the health of our communities and the future of Alabama.

Let’s work together to make new, substantial progress in improving schools for every child, no matter their background or zip code.

The report and complete poll results are online at www.acceleratingthepace.org.

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