Apparent problem with failing schools list
by Chris Norwood
A list of 202 failing Alabama schools disseminated by the office of Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, appears to contain some inaccurate information.

The list apparently was distributed to some members of the state senate prior to Thursday’s vote on the school flexibility act, and was posted on a blog on al.com over the weekend.

State Sen. Jerry Fielding, R-Sylacauga, said Friday that he had been shown a list of about 70 schools statewide that qualified as failing under the terms defined in House Bill 84, which passed Thursday. The majority of these schools were in the state’s four major metropolitan areas. Fielding said only one school in Talladega County appeared on that list.

The larger list includes three Talladega City Schools and two Talladega County Schools.

C.L. Salter Elementary School, Zora Ellis Junior High School and Talladega High School in the city system, and Talladega County Central High School in the county system were all listed in the report as being public K-12 schools that are labeled as persistently low-performing by the State Department of Education, in the most recent United States Department of Education School Improvement Grant application.

Winterboro, the other county school on the list, is shown to be a school that is listed in the lowest 10 percent of public K-12 schools on the state standardized assessment in reading and math.

The list notes that the information was provided by the state Department of Education.

According to Malissa Valdes-Hubert, public information manager for the Department of Education, the grant application referred to here is a federal grant that was available in 2010 and 2011, but has not been offered since then.

Winterboro was the only school in Talladega County that made the list in 2011.

B.B. Comer Memorial High School, Ellis and Salter were on the list for 2010, but that would not be the most recent year available.

Valdes-Hubert said the state department did provide some information to legislators under various categories, but did not collate the list published over the weekend.

In an email along with the two grant lists, Valdes-Hubert said, “There is a list of consistently low performing schools that was used for the SIG grant in 2010 and 2011. Neither of these would be a list that could be used for the purpose of this bill. These lists, which are available on our website, were not developed for this purpose, and again are not on the list the SDE is compiling to meet the criteria of HB 84. I do not have an estimated completion date for the list of failing schools in question.

Talladega City Schools Superintendent Doug Campbell said he was not familiar with the list, and felt it was inconsistent with the last accountability report presented by the state department.

“I don’t want to speculate about this, but this is contrary to all of the published reports that have been shared with this district,” he said. “According to the most recent accountability report, we are not in this category.”

Talladega County Schools Public Information Officer Gayle Jones was also not impressed with the list.

"I can say with utmost certainty that Winterboro High School and Talladega County Central High School should not be on this list,” she said. “We do know this is an inaccurate list and those schools have not received those designations."

"Educators still have many questions about this bill that are still unanswered. Once it's signed into law, the State Department will give us guidance on what the local boards should do in order to meet the criteria," she added.

In addition to providing some flexibility to local school boards, the bill, which Gov. Robert Bentley has promised to sign, would allow parents of children in failed schools to receive tax credits for transferring their children to non-failing public schools or private or parochial schools. The bill also creates tax credits for individuals and organizations that provide scholarships to move children out of failing public schools.

Home staff writer Shane Dunaway contributed to this story

Contact Chris Norwood at cnorwood@dailyhome.com and Shane Dunaway at sdunaway@dailyhome.com

© 2013