Exceeding Expectations: Keys to Alabama’s Student Success

The latest report by PARCA was released last week at the Business Council of Alabama’s 2016 Governmental Affairs Conference. The report, entitled “Exceeding Expectations: Keys to Alabama’s Student Success,” the third PARCA research report commissioned by the Business Education Alliance of Alabama (BEA).

Exceeding Expectations examines the progress state schools have made toward goals established under the state’s strategic plan for improving education, Plan 2020. While noting the gains in the state’s high school graduation rate, the report also points to the need to improve the college and career readiness of graduates. By spotlighting school systems that have been the most successful in performance and improvement, the report attempts to describe common approaches and practices that can be emulated by other school systems.

Using a variety of metrics, PARCA identified systems that consistently perform at the highest level (Mountain Brook, Vestavia Hills, Madison City, and Homewood City); systems that were the most improved in reading (Muscle Shoals City) and math (Opp City Schools); and systems that significantly outperformed expectations considering the socioeconomic backgrounds of the students they serve (Oxford City and Pike County).

The report found that all of the high-performing systems not only adopted the Alabama’s new College and Career Ready Standards, they also invested significant time and effort into translating the standards for application to the classroom. These systems prioritize professional development for teachers, building time into the school day for teachers to plan, analyze data, and collaborate on improving their teaching. They have created systems for supporting teachers through coaching and mentoring for first-year teachers. These systems have challenged teachers to move from a lecture-driven, teacher-centered classroom toward an environment in which students take ownership of learning.

The report also describes Selma City System’s approach to providing Pre-K for its students and Blount County’s focus on improving the quality and quantity of career and technical education offerings.

“Alabama school systems have been challenged like never before by the aspirational goals of Plan 2020; however, we know we can accomplish the goals it outlines – we must,” said Joe Morton, Ph.D., BEA chairman and president, in presenting the report.

Last month, PARCA won a national award from the Governmental Research Association for its two previous reports for the BEA, Obstacles into Opportunities published in 2014, and Teachers Matter published in 2015.

PARCA’s research and analysis have helped provide an objective foundation and policy framework for increased investment in key initiatives such as the expansion of the state’s First Class public Pre-K program, for investments in teacher quality, and for more rigorous and thorough assessments of Alabama students’ academic performance.


PARCA Wins National Award for Education Research

PARCA’s research reports on education funding, Alabama’s education performance, and plans for its improvement received national recognition by the Governmental Research Association (GRA) at the GRA’s annual conference in Pittsburgh last week.

PARCA received the GRA award for “Outstanding Policy Achievement” on a state government issue for its ongoing work to evaluate the progress of the Alabama’s strategic plan for improving education, Plan 2020. The award was given based on several criteria, including the display of tangible improvements in public policy and/or cost savings resulting from the research and recommendations of a governmental research agency.

PARCA’s research and analysis has helped provide an objective foundation and policy framework for increased investment in key initiatives such as the expansion of the state’s First Class public Pre-K program, for investments in teacher quality, and for more rigorous and thorough assessments of Alabama students’ academic performance.

Senator Arthur Orr, Chairperson of the Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee remarked on PARCA’s work, “In the Legislature we are constantly bombarded with results-oriented data from special interest groups. I feel confident dealing with the neutral, trustworthy data provided by PARCA. Their work has significantly influenced Alabama’s education policy in a positive manner.”

The award included recognition for three pieces of PARCA’s education research. The first piece was a survey of public opinion published in January 2016 which revealed that Alabama citizens were willing to pay more for education funding. The award also recognized two studies published on Alabama’s education system. Both reports were commissioned and funded by the Business Education Alliance of Alabama.

“The Business and Education Alliance (BEA) has one main goal–To improve public education and build a first class work force for Alabama” said Joe Morton, Ph.D., Chairman and President of BEA. “We immediately turned to PARCA for their expertise and never regretted it.”

Obstacles into Opportunities was published in 2014 and details the steps PARCA identified as necessary for Alabama to meet its goal of a 90% high school graduation rate by 2020, having those graduates prepared for the modern economy. The second report, Teachers Matter, was published in 2015. It examines how to create and retain high quality teachers.

This is the 10th national award that PARCA has received from the GRA, which was founded in 1914 as the national organization of individuals involved in government research. GRA’s annual awards competition is conducted to “recognize exceptional research on state and local governmental issues performed by staff members of governmental research agencies.”

PARCA’s retired executive director Jim Williams was also honored at the GRA annual conference. He received the 2016 Frederick P. Gruenberg Award. The Gruenberg Award is the highest distinction that the GRA can bestow on individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the field of governmental research during their careers. Jim’s work over the course of his 27-years at PARCA had a substantial impact on Alabama’s governmental practices and policy.

 


2016 Tuscaloosa Education Summit

Tuscaloosa’s annual Education Summit, organized by the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama, was held on Wednesday, June 8th at the Bryant Conference Center at the University of Alabama.

The summit, titled “Chamber in Session: State of Education,” focused on local education and the performance of the Tuscaloosa City and County Schools.

PARCA kicked off the morning with a presentation of funding and school performance data for both school systems. The data tables are available here and the full presentation can be viewed by clicking the image below.


PARCA Talks State Budget

With the passage of the state’s general fund budget last week, PARCA Senior Research Associate Tom Spencer took a moment to sit down with WBHM’s Andrew Yeager to provide an overview of the budget and how some of the key departments will be affected.

“Medicaid, prisons, and education had strategic plans in place,” said Spencer. He says that allows lawmakers to make budgeting decisions for those parts of state government within an existing framework. That kind of planning doesn’t happen with other general fund agencies. With cuts to many agencies starting at 6 percent and no strategic plans in place, it’s hard to know the effects it will have on those agencies.

“We spent a lot of time [in the special session] with proposals coming from left and right about what to close and what to eliminate,” said Spencer. “They weren’t really based, in a lot of cases, on good solid information or well-thought-out plans.”

PARCA has recommended for years that the state adopt a system called performance-based budgeting. Performance based budgeting differs from other budgeting methods by focusing on policy goals and results rather than money spent.

“Figure out where you are, set a goal of where you want to go, identify the strategies that will get you to where you want to go, show what kind of investments need to be made, and pursue that. Measure your results, discard things that aren’t working and adopt different strategies,” Spencer said.

“State and local taxes are the lowest per capita in the United States of America. We have to run more efficiently than anybody else if we want to provide the same level of services. If we’re not asking tough questions and paying close attention to the bottom line, we’re not going to get good results.”

 Click here to listen to the full interview.




PARCA Director Jim Williams Retires, Search for New Director Begins

Jim Williams, who has served as PARCA’s executive director since its founding, plans to step down from that position later this year after 27 years of dedicated service. PARCA’s Board of Directors has begun a search for a successor.

 
Williams’ career in public policy research has spanned 43 years. He was recruited by Governor Albert Brewer and Dr. Tom Corts in 1988 to lead PARCA.  Throughout his tenure, Williams has been the cornerstone of the organization’s unmatched reputation for providing objective information and advocating for efficient, effective, transparent and accountable Alabama government.

“We like to think of ourselves as a good government think tank. We provide research that people and political leaders can use to improve public policy and government operations,” Williams said.

While at PARCA, Williams has guided such initiatives as the Alabama SMART Budgeting program and Alabama Student Test Score Analyses. PARCA regularly publishes research on taxes and spending, on state, county and local governments and on public school finances and operations. The staff has won eight national awards given by the Governmental Research Association for research quality.

In 2008, Williams was named as one of the “40 Most Influential Non-Elected Alabamians” in Thicket Magazine, asserting that he “has become one of the most influential policy people in the state. He has the ear of many in Alabama.”

With the announcement of Williams' retirement, the search has begun for PARCA's new Executive Director.

McKinney Capital is supporting PARCA by providing a Talent Acquisition team to guide PARCA's search for a new executive director.  The job posting can be viewed here. The search committee is focused on finding someone with the leadership skills and track record of impact to advance PARCA’s mission of improving government for the people of Alabama.