Newly released “Education Matters” report assesses the progress of public education in supporting Alabama’s workforce initiative
In 2020, Alabama is in the midst of one of the most significant workforce initiatives in the state’s history. Reports have highlighted the need for 500,000 additional highly skilled workers by 2025 who have earned a high-value, industry-recognized credential.
The report outlines the state’s system for workforce development. It provides data on key performance measures of the education-to-workforce pipeline. And it takes a close look at career and technical education as part of a larger focus on college and career readiness in Alabama.
Through this analysis, the report highlights challenges that need to be addressed.
Improving basic math and literacy instruction: Alabama’s performance on the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in reading and math are falling short of neighboring states and the nation.
Closing the gap between high school graduation and college and career readiness: While 90 percent of students are graduating from high school, only 75 percent are identified as college and career ready (CCR).
Accurately measuring college and career readiness: Authentic college and career readiness requires a solid foundation in English, reading, and math, applied cognitive skills, soft skills, and occupation-specific skills. Are the current indicators of college and career readiness in the state accurately reflecting these skills?
Promoting quality credentials: Data indicate that in some cases high schools are driving up the number of career and technical education certifications earned without attention to whether the certificates are rigorous or in alignment with state needs.
Systematically collecting and analyzing education and workforce data: Alabama’s planned longitudinal database continues to be delayed. While there are technical challenges, the primary obstacles are political—rooted in the state’s longstanding resistance to data transparency. While the lack of transparency satisfies some, it is not in the best interest of the economy, the workforce, or the Alabamians served by the state.
To meet the state’s needs and goals, more collaboration needs to occur between business, high school career and technical education, and postsecondary education.
Alabama spent 2019 looking back at its first 200 years of statehood. In 2020, it seems appropriate to look forward to the next 100.
PARCA’s annual meeting, held Friday at Birmingham’s Harbert Center, was inspired by that theme: Taking lessons from the past in order to chart the way to a better future.
Along with a detailed look at the demographics shaping our state, it also included a series of experts discussing what the future holds for education, corrections, health and opportunity in Alabama.
The meeting featured Governor Kay Ivey describing her administration’s strategic efforts to raise educational achievement and to improve access to and the effectiveness of workforce training to meet the increased demands of the 21st-century economy.
The face of America and Alabama is changing
James H. Johnson Jr., professor of business and director of the Urban Investment Strategies Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, spoke of the demographic changes that are already reshaping the state and the nation. Both Alabama and the nation as a whole are undergoing seismic shifts that will change the country.
Population is flowing to the South.
The country is becoming more diverse.
Marriage across racial and ethnic lines is increasingly common.
The country is aging.
Men’s share of the higher education population and the workforce is declining, while women’s share is rising.
Grandparents are increasingly involved in or responsible for the raising of their grandchildren.
Recognizing and preparing for these changes will be essential if Alabama is going to be competitive in coming decades. A fuller discussion of Johnson’s observations can be found in a paper Johnson published last year in Business Officer, a publication of The National Association of College and University Business Officers
Though Alabama has not grown as rapidly as magnet Texas and the Southern states on the East Coast, it will feel the same shifts. The native-born white population is not reproducing fast enough to replace itself, much less grow in numbers. Meanwhile, Hispanics, blacks and other minorities are younger on average and will constitute a greater share of the population over time.
Technology is pushing the frontiers of education
Neil Lamb, the Vice-President for Educational Outreach at Huntsville’s HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, highlighted factors that will shape education over the next 100 years: the ease of information access, advances in the science of learning, the rise of personalized learning, and the development of data-driven classrooms that allow for in-the-moment shifts in teaching strategy.
Lamb said these innovations offer great promise but they can’t be deployed haphazardly or without adequate support for the teachers that will need to use the tools to help children succeed. There must be attention paid to equity in spreading technology and adequately resourced professional development to support its implementation. Lamb, who served on the Governor’s Advisory Council for Excellence in STEM, pointed the audience to that Council’s recently released report: Alabama’s Roadmap to STEM Success.
The STEM Success report includes the recommendation that an evaluation process be built into the math coach initiative so policymakers will be able to measure its impact and adjust the strategy in pursuit of success.
Alabama’s crisis in corrections must be addressed now
Bennet Wright, Executive Director of the Alabama Sentencing Commission and past President of the National Association of Sentencing Commissions, challenged the audience to think differently about prevailing but largely unexamined assumptions about crime and punishment.
Wright said Alabama has created one of the most complex systems of criminal justice and corrections in the United States. New laws are laid on top of old, but the old are not repealed. A multitude of different agencies and players operating with distinct motivations keep the institutions from functioning together as a system. Wright’s presentation materials can be accessed here.
Governor Kay Ivey’s Study Group on Criminal Justice Policy, chaired by Justice Champ Lyons, released a report and reform recommendations just last week. A letter with recommendations can be accessed here.
Monica L. Baskin, Professor of Preventive Medicine and director for Community Outreach and Engagement at the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB, described the tremendous cost borne by Alabama as a consequence of poor health and pointed to opportunities to address health problems and health disparities before they become issues.
According to estimates by the Milken Institute, the direct and indirect costs of chronic disease in Alabama total more than $60 billion a year, more per capita than any other state except West Virginia.
In her presentation, Baskin cited several promising initiatives aimed at preventing the development of chronic disease, and encouraged partners statewide to increase innovation, collaboration, and equitable dissemination in order to get information to the people and places that need it most.
Time to speed up innovation in pursuit of opportunity
And Michael Chambers, Associate Vice President of Research at the University of South Alabama, argued that we, as a state, need to speed up our pace of experimentation and change. Chambers, an experienced businessman, entrepreneur, and attorney, said businesses have had to learn to act quickly, be flexible, be competitive, to avoid complacency, and to plan on change. If Alabama’s leadership and citizens expect to be competitive, Chambers said, we should do the same.
Looking back to look forward
In preparation for the program, PARCA produced a series of charts that present key indicators of the economy, health, education, and criminal justice over a long time span. Interactive versions of those charts are available below. The charts compare Alabama to the U.S. average or to other Southeastern states. In the interactive version, you can change comparison states.
Mississippi’s Progress Not a Surprise; It was Part of a Plan
When the 2019 results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) were released last week, the good news was that fourth-grade students in our neighbor state, Mississippi, scored at the national average in both reading and math and that eighth graders there made significant gains in reading and math as well.
On all four measures, the average score for Mississippi students exceeds those of Alabama students, despite Mississippi’s higher level of poverty and higher percentage of students of color. The interactive chart below traces the average scale scores for Alabama and Mississippi students on the NAEP since 2003 on each of the four measures. The green line represents the average of public school students nationally. Other tabs in the chart allow you to explore other ways of looking at the data, including comparing demographically similar groups of students across states. In each of the main demographic and economic categories, Mississippi students are outperforming Alabama’s. The NAEP reading and math assessments are given every two years to a sample of students in each state, the sample representing the demographics of the state. It is the same assessment from year to year, and it is administered nationally. Known as the Nation’s Report Card, NAEP serves as the principal national measure of academic proficiency for U.S. education.
Mississippi borrowed some aspects of its approach to improving reading from Alabama’s Reading Initiative. And more recently, Alabama borrowed from the Mississippi model. Earlier this year, the Alabama Legislature adopted a Literacy Act, similar to a Literacy-Based Promotion Act Mississippi adopted in 2013. Mississippi developed its own student assessment test for grades 3-8, MAAP, which was first deployed in the 2015-2016 school year. Alabama hopes to deploy its own state-developed assessment in the spring of 2020.
Over the long term, both Alabama and Mississippi have made progress in both reading and math. However, during Superintendent Wright’s tenure in Mississippi, Alabama has had five different superintendents. The State Department of Education did develop a state plan for education, Plan 2020, in 2012, but it was never fully developed and implemented and was shelved as subsequent superintendents came and went.
In 2011, just eight years ago, Alabama enjoyed the national spotlight when NAEP was released. Alabama fourth graders scored at the national average, having made the largest improvements in the U.S. That growth coincided with and has been generally attributed to the Alabama Reading Initiative (ARI). ARI emphasized a schoolwide commitment to getting all students reading at grade level, with an emphasis on Kindergarten through third grade. ARI placed a reading coach in every Alabama elementary school and required intensive professional development to teachers on research-based approaches to teaching reading.
However, after that achievement, and in the face of a constrained budget, funding for ARI was reduced, and schools were allowed to repurpose the state-funded reading coaches for other purposes. Reading scores on NAEP began drifting and in 2019 dropped sharply in both fourth and eighth grades.
Earlier this year, the Legislature adopted the Literacy Act, which will require that third graders be able to read, or they will be held back to repeat third grade. The Literacy Act, modeled after similar legislation in Mississippi and other Southeastern states, is expected to add urgency to reading instruction and to addressing reading challenges like dyslexia. ARI’s funding was also increased by $6.5 million, though at $51 million per year, that’s still far from the $64 million it received at its peak in 2008. Education leaders say the program will be restored to fidelity.
While the 2019 reading results on NAEP were distressing for the severity of the drop, the math results for Alabama students were equally disturbing. Alabama school children in both the fourth and eighth grade had the lowest average test scores in the United States. It’s a familiar position for Alabama. Alabama ranked behind all other states in 2015. In 2017, Alabama students climbed a couple of notches in the rankings, but slipped back into last this year.
The state’s strategy for addressing math is less clear. In March of 2019, Gov. Kay Ivey put on hold new math standards, which had been developed by a statewide panel of educators. Ivey postponed adopting the changes to the math course of study after some conservative groups, who are opponents of the Common Core state standards, voiced their objections. In a letter to State Superintendent Eric Mackey, Ivy asked that Alabama’s new proposed math curriculum be compared to the math course of study for the top six performing states on the NAEP: Massachusetts, Minnesota, the Department of Defense’s educational system, Virginia, New Jersey, and Wyoming.
Considering Mississippi’s results, its approach to math should be examined as well. Mississippi did adopt the Common Core standards. Judging by national results, it safe to say that Common Core did not cause NAEP scores to leap. But it’s also true that states that did not adopt the Common Core have seen declines on the NAEP as well. Other factors may be contributing to an overall stagnation in educational progress. However, with Mississippi bucking the trend, Alabama would be well served to take note and inspiration from our neighbor’s progress.
ACT WorkKeys – An Assessment of Workforce Readiness Among High School Graduates in Alabama
The WorkKeys Assessment is a standardized test given to 12th graders in Alabama public schools. The assessment is meant to measure skills relevant to many of today’s work environments.
64 percent of Alabama high school graduates in 2018 were deemed workforce ready as measured by the ACT WorkKeys assessment, a year over year improvement of a half percent.
At 94 percent, Hartselle had the highest percentage of workforce ready graduates, as measured by WorkKeys.
High fluctuations occurred among the different certificate levels, with Platinum (highest level) and Gold dramatically increasing, but Silver decreasing. Bronze (below workforce ready) increased, though the percent not earning a certificate decreased.
What is WorkKeys?
The WorkKeys assessments are meant to provide a meaningful assessment of applied cognitive skills useful in contemporary work settings. It is also one of the components of Alabama’s College and Career Ready measure.
The assessments do not measure a student’s attitudes about work, dependability, interpersonal skills, teamwork, communication skills, or instincts for creativity, innovation, or leadership. They also do not provide insight about a student’s competency for a job requiring specialized knowledge and skills.
The Assessments. The assessments consist of three tests of applied cognitive skills which are relevant, according to ACT’s research, to over 20,000 occupations:
The Applied Math test measures critical thinking, mathematical reasoning, and problem-solving techniques for situations in today’s workplace.
The Graphic Literacy test measures the skill needed to locate, synthesize, and use information from charts and graphs.
The Workplace Documentstest measures the skills needed to read and understand written text such as memos, letters, directions, signs, notices, bulletins, policies, and regulations on the job.
Students are awarded a National Career Readiness Certification in they score a Platinum, Gold, Silver, or Bronze score on the WorkKeys.
Platinum: These are students with the highest level of applied cognitive skills. According to ACT, students at this level have demonstrated applied foundational skills for 96 percent of the occupations in the ACT jobs dataset.
Gold: Those earning a Gold level certificate should have the applied foundational skills for 90 percent of jobs in the database.
Silver: Students scoring at the Silver level should have the applied foundational skills for 71 percent of jobs in the ACT database.
Bronze: Students earning a Bronze certificate are judged to be ready for 16 percent of jobs.
In Alabama students earning a Silver certificate or above are considered career ready.
2018 Assessment Results
The following charts show the percent of graduates in Alabama who demonstrated workforce readiness on WorkKeys assessments at the state, local system, and school level.
Percent Workforce Ready Remained the Same. The first chart shows that in 2018 64 percent of high school graduates in the state were deemed workforce ready as measured by WorkKeys. The percent steadily increased from 58.8 percent in 2015 to 60.8 percent in 2016 and 63.5 percent in 2017. The increase from 2017 to 2018 was comparatively small, with both years rounding at 64 percent workforce ready.
Workforce Ready at the System Level
Listed below are the top ranked systems based on workforce readiness assessed through WorkKeys:
Hartselle City – 94 percent of students
Mountain Brook – 91 percent of students
Cullman – 88 percent of students
Oneonta – 86 percent of students
Guntersville -85 percent of students
There does appear to be some correlation between performance on the WorkKeys and the ACT exam, but not an exact one-to-one match. For example, some systems achieved a comparable state ranking on both sets of assessments:
Mountain Brook was number 1 on the ACT and 2 on WorkKeys
Shelby County was 8th on the ACT and 8th on WorkKeys.
However, other systems saw a larger separation.
Vestavia Hills was 2nd on the ACT and 16th on WorkKeys.
Madison City ranked 4th on the ACT and 18th on WorkKeys.
Trussville was 6 and 25, respectively.
All of the systems in the top 10 on the ACT are in the top 25 on WorkKeys, except Auburn.
At the same time, a number of less affluent systems demonstrated progress on the WorkKeys assessment over the previous year. Those systems showing the most improvement over 2017 included:
Perry County – 28 percent increase
Elba – 27 percent increase
Alexander City – 25 percent increase
Thomasville – 21 percent increase
Sheffield – 18 percent increase
Change in Certificate Levels
Significant Growth in Platinum and Gold Certificates. Students are deemed workforce ready if they achieve certification at the Platinum, Gold, or Silver levels. The charts show that the percent at each of these levels from 2015 through 2017 increased moderately each year and the distribution of students across the different levels remained about the same. However, ACT’s decision to change one of the tests for a new one apparently led to dramatic changes in the scoring of the WorkKeys test, producing far more Gold and Platinum level certificates:
Platinum certificates dramatically increased from essentially zero percent all three previous years to 10 percent of students in 2018.
Gold certificates, remaining fairly stable around 15 percent in the previous three years also showed a more significant increase to 19 percent in 2018.
Silver certificates dropped to 35 percent in 2018 after increasing to from 43 percent in 2015 to 48 percent in 2017.
Overall, this resulted in roughly the same percent workforce ready, but with a positive trend toward higher certification levels. Furthermore, while the percent of Bronze certificates increased, the percent with no certificate decreased. This is a positive trend with more students edging toward the readiness threshold.
Change in Certificate Levels at the System Level
Platinum: None of the systems decreased at the Platinum level. While a fair number showed no growth, the vast majority increased. In 2017,Sheffield generated the highest percent of Platinum level students of any system in the state at only two percent of its students. All other systems were at zero or one percent. In 2018, Mountain Brook increased from one percent to 41 percent, followed by Homewood, which increased from one percent to 29 percent. Each of the remaining schools in the 2018 top ten increased from one percent or less to 20-29 percent. Sheffield increased from two to 11 percent.
Gold: Cullman generated the highest percentage of Gold Certificates, followed by Hartselle. The percentage receiving Gold increased for most systems, though not at the level of change experienced for Platinum. Fourteen systems generated fewer Gold Certificates in 2018, including some of the top academic systems. Supposedly more of their high performing students moved into the Platinum level. Statewide, Thomasville generated the highest increase in Gold Certificates, moving them into the top five in overall state rankings.
Silver: Finally, most systems decreased in the percentage of students receiving Silver Certificates, the threshold for being considered workforce ready. The highest gains were in Perry County and Elba. The highest decreases were in Mountain Brook, Jasper, Cullman, Marion County, and Brewton. Rounding this out, the percent of students receiving Bronze Certificates increased in the majority of systems, while the majority of systems have a lower percentage of students who did not receive a certificate.
Possible Causes for the Change
A variety of explanations can be considered for the changes in WorkKeys results:
Changes in the WorkKeys assessments;
Stronger alignment between WorkKeys teacher training, test preparation, and test questions; and
Stronger concerted efforts in schools to prepare students for the assessments.
In 2018 WorkKeys underwent a number of changes, though the only test section that involved significant content change was the Locating Information test, which is now called Graphic Literacy. The names used for the other two assessments were changed to their current titles, Applied Math and Workplace Documents, though apparently no significant content changes occurred in these assessments.
Changes in an assessment often lead to scoring changes and other issues that can affect results. The new Graphic Literacy test may account for the leap in higher certificates at the Platinum and Gold levels, but the new test is supposed to be more rigorous. While higher rigor would usually not be associated with higher scores, higher relevance in an improved test could produce better scores.
Aligned with the changes in the actual assessments are changes in teacher training and student prep tools, including practice exams. These are potentially a better fit with the formal assessments being rolled out than was available in preparation for the prior assessment.
More systems may also be using the ACT WorkKeys Curriculum, which is aligned with the WorkKeys assessments. The courses are delivered through a mobile-based learning management system. It provides students and teachers with a customized study schedule and detailed instructional content. While the curriculum can improve test performance, it is primarily designed to develop workplace-ready skills in students.
Analysis of WorkKeys results for student subgroup performance shows continuing disparity between subgroups. Use the filters to see how systems differ in subgroup performance. Some schools may be better at assisting struggling groups than others.
In looking at trends, all racial groups are showing progress from year to year, especially Asians, Native Americans, and black students. The gap between Asian students and all other races is growing. The gap between white and Hispanic students is also growing, while the gap between white and black students has remained about the same – but not closing. Black students are gradually closing the gap with Hispanic students.
College and Career Readiness in Alabama
In 2012, the Alabama State Board of Education adopted Plan 2020, which embraced a vision for the state education system led by the motto: “Every child a graduate. Every graduate prepared.” The plan called for raising Alabama’s high school graduation rate to 90 percent, while at the same time producing graduates who are better prepared for college and the workplace. Since that time, significant progress occurred in raising the graduation rate from 72 percent in 2011 to 90 percent in 2018.
While the high graduation rate is laudable, state education leaders have raised concerns about the gap between the percent graduating and the percent prepared for college or work. The other half of the motto — “Every graduate prepared” — came under question.
The following chart shows Alabama high schools are closing the gap between the percentage of students graduating and the percentage of seniors demonstrating they are ready for college and the workforce.
According to yet-to-be finalized data from the Alabama State Department of Education, significant progress has been made over the past three years. Final and complete data are expected to be published later this year:
In 2016, Alabama graduated 87 percent of its students, though only 66 percent were college and career ready.
In 2017, the gap closed, with 89 percent graduating and 71 percent college and career ready.
In 2018, improvement continued with 90 percent graduating and 75 percent college and career ready.
Though the gap is still large, it is improving.
Continuing to close that gap is vital. The state has a goal of adding 500,000 highly-skilled workers to the workforce by 2025. To meet that goal, virtually all high school graduates will need to be prepared for education beyond high school or prepared to enter the workforce directly after high school.
The 2018 CCR data shows:
Career Technical Education (CTE) certificates are the fastest-growing means for classifying students as college and career ready.
Qualifying scores on the ACT and WorkKeys assessments are the two most common measures used to classify students as college and career ready.
Systems and schools leverage different strategies for preparing students – reflecting varying strengths, resources, and goals for education.
Some systems are very strong in particular areas and weak in others, which may not meet the needs of all students.
Disparities in performance exist across schools and student subgroups that may go beyond poverty.
Alabama’s College and Career Readiness Measure
The Alabama College and Career Strategic Plan (a component of Plan 2020) articulated a vision in which all Alabama students graduate high school college and career ready. The plan defines college and career readiness as:
“…a high school graduate [that] has the English and mathematics knowledge and skills necessary to either (1) qualify for and succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing college courses without the need for remedial coursework, or (2) qualify for and succeed in the postsecondary job training and/or education necessary for their chosen career (i.e. technical/vocational program, community college, apprenticeship or significant on-the-job training).”
High school graduates are classified as college and career ready (CCR) if they meet at least one of the following criteria.
Score college ready in at least one subject on the ACT
Score at the silver level or above on the WorkKeys Assessment
Earn a passing score on an Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate Exam (college-level courses delivered in high schools)
Successfully earn a Career Technical Education credential
Earn dual enrollment credit at a college or university
Successfully enlist in the military
Some of these measures are more aligned with college preparation and others with career preparation.
The state now provides data on the overall CCR rate and data on the individual metrics that create the measure. Detailed analysis is found in the interactive charts below, which allow users to explore college and career readiness percentages for high school seniors in 2018 at the state, school system, and high school level.
Graduation and CCR Rates
The first chart shows the percentage of students graduating, followed by the percentage of seniors who are college and career ready, followed by the percentage achieving readiness on the various performance measures that compose the CCR rate. While preset for the state in 2018, the filters can be used to produce the same chart for individual school systems in 2017.
Statewide, the percentage of seniors testing “ready” is highest for the WorkKeys assessment, followed closely by ACT. Those are the two main channels through which a CCR rating is achieved, though a growing number of students are deemed CCR by earning a credential in a Career Technical Education (CTE) field. Earning college credit or a qualifying score on an AP exam are also used by a smaller percentage of students. A very low percentage of seniors achieve a CCR rating by getting a passing score on an International Baccalaureate exam or successfully enlisting in the military. Exploring these measures at the system and school level suggests the use of different strategies across school systems reflects different goals for education, local needs and strengths, and characteristics of the community.
Graduation – CCR Gapby Local System
Chart 2 shows the graduation rate, CCR rate, and gap between these two rates in each system. They are listed in the order of CCR rate from highest to lowest. The Piedmont City School System is No. 1 in the state for CCR — the only system where 100 percent of seniors are classified as college and career ready. The system also graduates close to 100 percent of its students.
Some systems actually have negative gaps where the percent of seniors who are college and career ready exceeds the percent who graduate after four years in high school. This includes the Coffee County System, and city systems in Opp, Arab, Satsuma, and Piedmont.
On the other end of the spectrum, systems with the lowest CCR rates tend to have the highest gaps between graduation and CCR rates, though not always.
Graduation – CCR Gap by School
Individual schools are showing similar trends, with wide disparity between high and low performing schools.
Keith Middle-High School in Dallas County graduates 90 percent of its students, matching the state average, but only 19 percent of its seniors are measured to be college and career ready.
Barbour County High School graduates 77 percent of its students, but only 12.5 percent of seniors are measured as college and career ready.
Having both high graduation rates and CCR rates indicates that the diplomas issued by those schools have credibility and value. Where graduation rates are high but CCR rates are low, there is cause for concern.
Individual Components of CCRby System and School
The remaining charts in this section display individual components of college and career readiness by system and school. The final chart shows the percent change in CCR rates from 2017 to 2018.
Overall for the state, the largest change occurred in the percent of students earning career technical education credentials, increasing from 22 to 29 percent. The state and individual systems have put an increased focus on providing career-related coursework in high school, and the increases here may reflect that emphasis. At the same time, it is important for policy-makers to monitor what career credentials students are earning. For this to be a meaningful measure of career readiness, those credentials need to be recognized and valued by employers and should be in a field in which a student is likely to obtain workor more advanced training.
Other increases occurred in students earning college credit (10% to 13%), and in WorkKeys readiness (55% to 57%).
As cited earlier, when looking at individual systems and schools, it becomes apparent that different places achieve college and career readiness through different strategies.
Mountain Brook is No. 1 in ACT, WorkKeys, and AP, but lower on college credit and career technical credentials.
Vestavia is second on ACT readiness, among the top schools on the AP exam, and in the top 25 percent in career technical credentials, but much lower on WorkKeys and dual enrollment.
Opp City exceeds the state average on all measures of CCR but is especially high-achieving in students earning college credit, where they are No. 1 in the state, and in career technical credentials, where they are No. 5.
The system with the highest CCR rating, Piedmont City Schools, is at the state average on ACT and WorkKeys, but far and above other systems in credentials.
Are schools meeting the needs of all students? One concern this analysis raises is that some systems may not be meeting the varying needs of all students. Those systems scoring high or at least moderately high on a balance of college and career measures are providing a breadth of services that can help students shine where they show interest and potential. The lack of balance in some systems or schools may reflect an intentional emphasis on what they value most: college preparation or career readiness. It is important for schools to assess whether they are providing options that fit the needs and interests of the diverse array of students they serve.
As a composite of various academic and career indicators, Alabama’s College and Career Ready metric reflects three important concepts.
Every student needs either a post-secondary education or credible career-focused training in high school.
Post-secondary education need not be a traditional four-year college degree.
There are many different pathways for students.
The gap between Alabama’s graduation rate and the number of graduates deemed college and career ready has been a concern, but one with optimism given progress in closing that gap.
Career Technical Education certificates are the fastest-growing measure through which students are earning the CCR marker. These credentialing programs are meant to prepare students for workforce opportunities in high-demand fields right out of high school. They combine academics with work-based learning as a strategy to address the widening gap between job applicants’ skills and the skills employers need. The state will need to continuously ensure that all courses and concentrations are of high quality and relevant to the workforce needs in the state and in local communities.
Beyond preparing students with skills for specific jobs, an array of academic, extracurricular, and work-based learning opportunities can develop the student as a whole person capable of thoughtful decision-making and meet the unique needs and preferences of each student. Academics, career training, life skills, and the cultivation of passions and interests can all come together to support college, career, and life readiness.
Alabama is assessing progress on part of this, but not all. The state has made a good faith effort to evaluate college and career readiness through a variety of measures such as the ACT, college dual enrollment, WorkKeys, and Career and Technical Education (CTE) certification. Still, this is a changing and growing field. Skills and attributes needed in various careers are continually changing. Alabama should remain alert to more rigorous and authentic measures of college and career readiness that may emerge.
How Do States Choose State Boards of Education and State Superintendents?
The Alabama Legislature is currently considering a bill that would potentially overhaul state education governance and policymaking as it relates to K—12 public schools in the state. The bill, which has already passed the Senate, would abolish the elected State Board of Education and the Board-appointed position of State Superintendent of Education. The bill would create a Governor-appointed Commission, the Alabama Commission on Elementary and Secondary Education. The Commission would appoint a Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education to be approved by the Senate. If approved by the Legislature, the proposal will be placed on the statewide ballot as an amendment to the Alabama Constitution.
State commissions or boards
of education and chief executive officers, whether they be superintendents or
secretaries are central to state education governance. The process used for
their selection has implications for accountability, decision-making, and
setting priorities for a state’s K—12 education system.
All but two states (Minnesota and Missouri) have a school board or commission. Eleven states have elected school boards (12 if including the district of Columbia). The rest have appointed boards, most of which are appointed by the governor. States with elected school boards or commissions are listed below.
States with Elected Boards
New Mexico – only an advisory group
Nevada – Mixture of elected and appointed members
The proposal before the Legislature resembles the governance structure currently in place in 12 states in which the governor appoints the school board and the board appoints the superintendent.
does this matter? States have the responsibility for implementing federal
education law and developing, implementing, and managing state-level policies.
For this to work well, several institutions must work well together.
State legislatures must pass effective legislation.
can propose education legislation and have the statutory authority to approve
or veto legislation. As the state’s chief executive, the governor carries out
the laws passed by the legislature. They can also play an important role in
shaping the priorities of a state board when they have the power to appoint. In
some states, as in Alabama, the governor serves as president of the school
boards of education are responsible for statewide curriculum standards; high
school graduation requirements; qualifications for professional education
personnel; state accountability and assessment programs; standards for
accreditation of local school districts; preparation programs for teachers and
administrators; administration of federal assistance programs; and the
development of rules and regulations for the administration of state programs.
State boards are often seen as the lay representative of the state’s population
and as the liaison between professional educators and policymakers. Boards
should play a role as advocates for education and, in some states, have been
influential in building consensus on state education policy.
Finally, state superintendents are responsible for administrative oversight of state education agencies and implementation of state law and board policies. Policy making can occur as superintendents interpret laws and policies they are responsible for implementing.
A report issued by the Education Commission of the States (ECS) outlines how state boards and state superintendents are chosen in varying states, and how the majority of states fall into one of four models. These models, described below, have implications for how state leaders work together in setting priorities and implementing policies.
Model 1: Governor Appoints Board
In 10 states (Delaware, Iowa, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, and Virginia), the governor has the most power in setting priorities and ensuring they are implemented.
Consequently, the superintendent and board should both be
aligned with the governor, though the superintendent may feel more independent
of the board than in other models where the board appoints them. The governor
is accountable to the voters and can be held more directly accountable for the
status and effectiveness of education in the state
Model 2: Governor Appoints Board and Board Appoints Superintendent
In 12 states (Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Rhode Island, and West Virginia), the governor still has power in shaping the education agenda but has less direct control over the implementation of policies through the superintendent’s office, as compared to Model 1. The Board and Superintendent would potentially have a closer relationship than found in Model 1. The proposed Commission in Alabama fits this model.
Model 3: Governor Appoints Board while Superintendent
In 10 states (Arizona, California, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Wyoming), voters may see different platforms for education supported by the governor and the superintendent. The governor appoints the board, and this becomes a channel through which policy is formed. The superintendent may exercise more autonomy in interpreting those policies and how they will be implemented in the state.
4: Board is Elected and Appoints the
In Alabama and five other states (Colorado, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, and Utah), the governor and the board are both directly accountable to voters. Since the board appoints the superintendent, this increases their power. In this model, the governor is likely in the weakest position to craft or control the education agenda, compared to the other models. According to ECS, states using this model potentially face stronger challenges aligning and collaborating across state leadership, unless the voting public is clear in its desires. When alignment is not present, states will likely face limitations in pushing for ambitious policy changes. At the same time, an elected board will be highly responsive to voters and will seek out their opinion, preferences, and needs.
According to ECS, twelve additional states (Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin function under modified versions of the above models. Five of these elect their board, though New Mexico’s is only an advisory commission. Two of these states elect their state superintendent. No state elects both their state board and superintendent.
and Appointed State Boards: Strengths and Weakness
The process for selecting the board
and superintendent can influence the goals for these officials. Some groups,
including the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE),
emphasize the role of state boards in representing the interests of the lay
public in accordance with democratic principles. Whether elected
or not, NASBE contends
“State boards of education are integral to the
governance of public education in the United States. State Boards, operating as
a lay body over state education, are intended to serve as an unbiased broker
for education decision-making, focusing on the big picture, articulating the
long-term vision and needs of public education, and making policy based on the
best interests of the public and the young people of America.”
Elected board members are
charged with asking important and challenging questions that lead to good
policy. The question is whether boards effectively play this role.
Proponents say elected boards
are more responsive to the public will. As elected officials, board members have
their rightful place and, ideally, are only responsible to the people who
elected them. They should be more empowered to oppose what they believe is not
in the interests of the state’s schools and children.
At the same time, as elected
officials, re-election is an important goal, if not the central goal. Thus
elected board members may find themselves where the interests and desires of
voters conflict with policies, programs, and practices that best serve children.
Conversely, proponents of
appointed boards cite the strength of the vetting process in creating boards
with knowledgeable, skilled, effective board members. An appointment process
allows the governor to consider the needs of the board and the qualities
different candidates would bring. Others cite that governor-appointed boards
and appointed superintendents create a more efficient, aligned, and harmonious
system for setting and implementing education priorities. Ambitious and
substantive changes to a state’s school system are more feasible in a more
efficient system that encourages collaboration and strengthens the governor’s
capacity to effect change. However, while somewhat insulated, appointed boards
are not immune from political pressure.
The selection process for state school boards and state superintendents is important, and there are reasonable arguments for both elections and appointments. Regardless, the selection process will not remove politics. The nature of the task — setting and implementing the state’s K—12 education policy — means state school boards will likely always be politicized to some degree.
Thus, it is essential to establish both an effective governing structure and qualified leaders committed to strengthening teaching and learning in Alabama.
A quality education is how dreams are realized and the people’s voice is strengthened.