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Report Cards: 50.7% Alabama Public School Students Now Live in Poverty

Ohanian Comment:Note that the Superintendent wants more money to buy more direct instruction projects a la the Alabama Reading First Initiative:

The Alabama Reading First Initiative is a federal K-3 initiative managed by the Department of Education that advocates the use of reading programs and materials that are based upon scientifically based reading research. This initiative was created through President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

This newspaper still talks about dropout rates. and continues in its silence about the pushout rates in its own front yard.

MONTGOMERY - Public school report cards released Thursday show three in every four Alabama public school teachers are "highly qualified" to teach subjects like math, science, reading and history.

They'll need to be highly qualified.

Those same report cards show that 50.7 percent of state public school students live in poverty, a condition that usually presents teachers with a formidable task. Children from poor families usually go to school less ready to learn than those from more affluent families.

That is a historic benchmark. "For the first time since we have been tracking data ... we have crossed the threshold of the 50 percent mark," state schools Superintendent Joe Morton said.

Metro-area systems with high percentages of students from poor families include Bessemer, Birmingham, Fairfield, Leeds, Midfield and Tarrant, and Bibb, Chilton and Walker counties.

Morton said just the fact that children cine [sic] from poverty does not mean they cannot learn. He said programs such as the Alabama Reading Initiative and a hoped-for equivalent in math and science are vital programs that would help all pupils, especially poorer ones, achieve.

"It's imperative we get the funding from the Legislature," Morton said. "If we don't, then, yes, they are doomed ... to underperformance and a life of sheer agony by growing up as adults who cannot perform adequate literacy measures and do math and science. It would be a travesty for us to know how to fix that and not fix it."

Birmingham schools Superintendent Wayman Shiver Jr., said the 75 percent or so of the poor students who make up his district's enrollment are doubly disadvantaged.

"When I have a lot of low literacy and high poverty, then it's very difficult ... ," Shiver said. "I have kids who have not gone to kindergarten. So when my kids go to kindergarten or first grade, I have to do a lot of things that affluent families do for their children."

Poverty indicators aside, Morton and other educators said the report cards show that Alabama schools and teachers are improving in a number of areas, none more important than the percentage of teachers who are now rated highly qualified.

A year ago, slightly more than one-third of teachers of core subjects were judged to be highly qualified, meaning they either held a college degree in the subject they taught or had passed a tough test in the subject or subjects they teach. The federal No Child Left Behind law mandates teachers be highly qualified in such basic subjects as math, science, social studies and reading.

The big jump in the number of qualified teachers was credited to teachers going back to school to do graduate-level work in their subject or passing tests in their fields.

Usual correlations:

Academically, the state's report card shows what it usually shows - that districts and schools with relative affluence and low dropout rates post the best results in reading and math. Districts and schools with high levels of poverty and high dropout rates post the lowest scores.

Under No Child Left Behind, every school has to meet a set number of goals to be judged as making what the law calls "annual yearly progress," AYP. The law requires that all schools report student data in a number of areas, including how well white, black, Hispanic, handicapped and poor students perform on exams and at what rates each group drops out of school. If one group fails to meet goals in any one area, then the school as a whole has not met AYP.

The report card shows statewide that a majority of the state's 1,500 schools are not meeting their AYP goals. Schools in the state's Black Belt and urban schools - in systems such as Montgomery, Mobile, Bessemer, Birmingham and Midfield - struggle the hardest meeting their goals, especially in math.

More affluent systems, such as Mountain Brook, Vestavia Hills, Homewood, Hoover, Auburn and Madison, are among the systems that do the best job meeting AYP goals.

The report cards show that the state's projected four-year dropout rate continues to decline - 13.3 percent now, down from almost 13.6 percent a year ago. In the metro area, the dropout rates varied from 0 to 1 percent in Mountain Brook, Vestavia Hills and Homewood to almost 31 percent in Bessemer, 26 percent in Pell City, 17 percent in Blount County and 15 percent in Jefferson County.

Staff writers Gigi Douban and Marie Leech contributed to this report. cdean@bhamnews.com

— Charles J. Dean
Birmingham News


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