2 years ago

The curious case of Alabama’s Teacher of the Year: Bureaucracy, absurdity, and perverse policy

School buses

By Andrew A. Yerbey, API Senior Policy Counsel

Ann Marie Corgill is, by all accounts and by almost any definition, a highly qualified teacher. It is regrettable that the modifier “almost” is necessary in that sentence, but its inclusion is instructive. From it, the people of Alabama can learn a lot about what ails their system of education.

More on Ms. Corgill’s story in a moment, but the Associated Press headline provides a précis: “Alabama’s Teacher of the Year Told She’s Unqualified, Resigns.”

Whether the title of “Teacher of the Year” is borne by a worthy titleholder every year in Alabama is unknown, but it certainly is in the case of Ann Marie Corgill, the reigning Alabama Teacher of the Year.

This is a woman who has practiced the art of teaching for over two decades; who has been called upon to teach other teachers about teaching; who has written a book about teaching. She went on to become a finalist—one of only four—for National Teacher of Year, regarded as the teaching profession’s highest honor.

But we know she is a great teacher not through her résumé but through her work. Ellen Anderson, her student: “Ms. Corgill is the best teacher I have ever had. She has taught us more in one year than all my other years combined. She made us feel important, empowered, and loved. . . . She is very special.” Kathy Snyder, her fellow teacher: “Ann Marie Corgill is an exemplary teacher . . . a teacher who represents the essence of our profession.” Betsy Bell, her principal: “Ann Marie believes that we can build a better world one child at a time. She is doing precisely that!”

In short, Ann Marie Corgill’s bona fides are inarguable—or so one would think. But modern bureaucrats do not think. When they were alerted this past week that Ms. Corgill lacked a certain certification, which she never had and never needed, she was deemed not a “highly qualified teacher.”

Ms. Corgill’s attempts to make sense of her Kafkaesque situation proved futile, met as they were by—to borrow her apt description—“a wall of bureaucracy.” At length, she tendered her resignation, writing regretfully: “After 21 years of teaching in grades 1–6, I have no answers as to why this is a problem now, so instead of paying more fees, taking more tests, and proving once again that I am qualified to teach, I am resigning.”

It has been well established, by over forty years of research, that the characteristics commonly found on a teacher’s résumé—such as education, certifications, and experience beyond the first few years in the classroom—have essentially no effect on a teacher’s quality. That is, how much a teacher contributes to the learning of his or her students has nothing to do with whether the teacher has a baccalaureate or doctorate, five years of experience or fifteen; and certifications certify nothing with regard to actual teaching.

Yet it is precisely, perversely, those résumé characteristics that govern Alabama’s approach to its teachers.

In Alabama, a person must minimally have a baccalaureate and a certification to be hired as a public-school teacher, and then is automatically given pay raises for having or acquiring advanced degrees and more experience. All of this is decided without inquiry into the quality of anything: not of the universities the teacher attended (the best equals the worst); not of the degrees awarded to, or the academic performance of, the teacher (majoring in education and graduating with a 2.5 grade point average equals majoring in math and graduating with a 4.0 grade point average); and, most importantly and illogically, not of the person’s ability to actually teach.

We should make it easier—not harder—for people to become teachers, and harder—not easier—for bad teachers to remain teachers.

As it stands, our system deters people who would have been great teachers from entering the profession, including both college students and mid-career professionals, and abuses great teachers already in the profession, including Ms. Corgill.

Worst of all, our system ignores the best interests of our schoolchildren, especially those most vulnerable.

At the beginning of the school year, Ann Marie Corgill had moved from Cherokee Bend Elementary School in the city of Mountain Brook to Oliver Elementary School in the city of Birmingham. She was now using her talents to teach children who are among the most disadvantaged, economically and educationally. Not anymore.

The children who just lost perhaps their last best hope at a good education will not, it seems certain, look back and take solace that a bureaucrat protected them from being taught by an “unqualified” teacher like Ms. Corgill.


2 hours ago

LISTEN: Yellowhammer’s Jeff Poor discusses Trump firing Mueller possibilities, Early stages of gubernatorial race

Wednesday on Birmingham’s Superstation 101 WYDE’s “The Line,” Breitbart.tv editor and Yellowhammer News contributing writer Jeff Poor discussed the day’s news with host Andrew McLain.

During the segment, Poor talked about reports President Donald Trump was considering firing special counsel Robert Mueller and how those could have been trial balloons meant to gauge public opinion and to get a reaction from members of Congress.

He also discussed the gubernatorial election and how we are seeing the initial stages of the campaign.

(Sign-up for our daily newsletter here and never miss another article from Yellowhammer News.)

15 hours ago

Alabama House rejects bill to track race in traffic stops

Alabama lawmakers on Thursday refused to debate legislation that would have required police officers to collect data about race and traffic stops.

The bill sought to require police agencies to record data about the race and ethnicity of stopped motorists. The Alabama Senate had unanimously approved the measure, but it hit a roadblock in the Alabama House of Representatives.


Representatives in the GOP-controlled House overwhelmingly voted down a procedural measure needed to bring the bill up for debate. The House vote was largely split along racial and party lines. Only five Republicans voted for the measure.

“After the vote, Democratic Rep. Merika Coleman from Pleasant Grove said lawmakers were sending a message that, “Bama is still backwards.”

Coleman said the bill collects data to determine if there are problems.

“When you vote against a bill that simply collects data, just data on who is being stopped, why they are being stopped and who is stopping them, there is something wrong with that,” Coleman said.

African-American lawmakers had shared stories of being stopped by police during debate on the bill as it moved through the Alabama Legislature.

The bill’s defeat sparked a filibuster by African-American legislators and threatened to cloud the remainder of the session. It eroded warm feelings that had filled the chamber moments earlier when lawmakers broke out in applause after voting to create a state holiday honoring civil rights icon honoring Rosa Parks.

The bill drew opposition from some law enforcement representatives who said departments already have policies against racial profiling and the bill would require additional paperwork.

Rep. Connie Rowe, a former police chief, said she was concerned that officers, assigned to work in mostly minority neighborhoods, could wrongly appear to be targeting minorities if the data was collected.

Rep. Allen Farley, a former assistant Jefferson County sheriff, was one of the Republicans who voted for the bill.

“This to me protects the good guys,” Farley, a Republican from McCalla, said. Farley said bad officers need to be identified.

House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, who voted against the bill, said he wanted to meet with lawmakers to see if they could work out a compromise plan.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

15 hours ago

Jeana Ross is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact

An Alabama program called First Class Pre-K is seeing such extraordinary results that Harvard University is producing a documentary about the effort and more than 30,000 four-year-olds were pre-registered last year in hopes of snagging one of the less than 17,000 available spots state-wide.

The program is overseen by Alabama Secretary of Early Education Jeana Ross, a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact, who has seen First Class Pre-K’s attendance increase by 374 percent under her leadership, while maintaining the highest possible ranking for quality by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER).

Alabama hosts the program in more than 950 classrooms statewide and is one of only two states to meet all 10 of the institute’s quality benchmarks.


Ross told Yellowhammer News that the most rewarding part of her work is seeing firsthand the impact that skilled teachers can make, inspiring “a sense of wonder, joy, creativity, achievement and success” in a student’s learning.

“I care about children and their right to reach their greatest potential,” Ross said. “Education can and should provide children a powerful opportunity to find purpose and success for their future lives.”

Studies measuring results from tests such as the Alabama Reading and Math Test and the ACT found that First Class Pre-K alumni outperformed their peers who did not attend the program, according to the Alabama School Readiness Alliance.

Ross helped secure a $77.5 million preschool development grant to help fund the state-funded program, which also requires local communities to provide at least 25 percent of the funding to participate.

Also under her leadership, the Office of Early Learning and Family Support division of her department has expanded to serve 4,289 vulnerable families and children through more than $12 million in federal awards.

In all, Ross has led her department in writing and receiving federal grant awards totaling more than $100 million.

She attributes much of her success to the partnerships she has built with other groups serving children and families in Alabama to build a cohesive support system.

“My success has been achieved in a collective effort of devoted educators who, regardless of pay or recognition, work to create experiences where children enjoy through natural curiosity and joyful exploration a love of learning that lasts a lifetime,” Ross said.

Ross is a member of Governor Kay Ivey’s cabinet and was appointed by Governor Bentley in 2012. She advises the governor and state legislature in matters relating to the coordination of services for children under the age of 19 and, among her divisions, also oversees the Children’s Policy Councils, the Children First Trust Fund and the Head Start Collaboration office.

Ross previously served in a variety of education roles in Alabama, including as a central office administrator, assistant principal and classroom teacher. She holds a master’s degree in education leadership from the University of Alabama and a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from UAB.

“My hope for education in Alabama is for every child to have a competent, sensitive and responsive teacher every day, every year,” Ross said.

As other states look to Ross’s success in Alabama’s early education, she offered three recommendations in a 2017 U.S. Department of Education interview:

“Set high-quality standards, communicate what those are, and demonstrate what they look like; involve parents, businesses and industry leaders in the initiative; and provide supports such as coaching and monitoring to maintain quality,” she said.

Ross and her husband live in Guntersville and Montgomery and have two adult sons and two grandchildren.

Join Ross and special guests from across the state for a Birmingham awards event March 29 honoring the 20 Yellowhammer Women of Impact whose powerful contributions advance Alabama. Details and registration may be found here.

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News.

16 hours ago

Reward offered in 6-year-old case of Baby Jane Doe

Police found the bones of a little girl six years ago in an Alabama trailer park right next to a long-sleeve pink shirt with heart buttons and a ruffled neckline.

The unidentified girl in the unsolved homicide case has been dubbed Baby Jane Doe. The Lee County District Attorney’s Office announced Thursday up to a $5,000 reward for information leading to an involved person’s conviction.


Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes says authorities can begin holding perpetrators accountable once the child is identified.

Opelika Detective Sgt. Alfred White says they have the child’s DNA, but nothing to compare it to. The Opelika-Auburn News reports that police suspect the girl suffered abuse and malnutrition. Police Chief John McEachern says the girl could have easily spent her entire life in captivity.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

16 hours ago

Alabama Secretary of State to Facebook: ‘Don’t say you helped us with something if you didn’t help’

Secretary of State John Merrill challenged Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s revelation that his company helped disrupt the spreading of false information during Alabama’s special U.S. Senate election last December, telling Yellowhammer News that he has been shown no evidence to support Zuckerberg’s claim.

In an interview published Thursday, Zuckerberg revealed to the New York Times that his company targeted and eliminated a “significant number of fake Macedonian accounts that were trying to spread false news” about Alabama’s election.

Merrill’s office spoke with Facebook’s Government and Politics Team on Thursday to follow up about Zuckerberg’s claims.


“We said, ‘we don’t know what you’re talking about.’ We wanted one specific example,” Merrill said.

Just a week before the election in December, a deceptive campaign ad implying that voters’ ballot selections would be made public was spread on Google and Facebook. Merrill’s office contacted both Google and Facebook and asked for the ad to be removed. Google removed it, but Facebook did not.

Merrill said Facebook never responded about the ad.

“We believe that people in each state need to have accurate information that’s truthful,” Merrill said. “If [Facebook] can’t use their platform for that, they shouldn’t allow that kind of content be published.”

He continued, “For future races, I think it’s important that Facebook be available to address serious issues, for candidates, for officials, and be responsive in that they hear what the accusations are and evaluate merits of the claim.”

Facebook is receiving pressure from all sides after recent reports revealed that it allowed Cambridge Analytica, a private data firm associated with President Donald Trump’s campaign, to mine data of more than 50 million of the platform’s users without their permission.

Merrill said that he hopes the pressure will lead to some change.

“I think they’ll be more responsive,” he said. “The people will hold them more accountable. I hope people will hold them more accountable.”

@jeremywbeaman is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News