I have never officially “endorsed” a non-federal candidate before, but I am making an exception for the race for the southern Alabama seat on the state Board of Education. With significant enthusiasm, I endorse Jackie Zeigler.
Let me explain why.
First, when I really looked at Mrs. Zeigler’s record, I was tremendously impressed. None of her opponents comes close. She spent 37 years as a teacher and administrator in the Mobile County schools, including 14 years as principal of the award-winning Mary B. Austin elementary school just blocks away from my house. It is a wonderful school and a good neighbor.
When I spoke to her at some length about her approach to education, I found I disagreed with her on a few issues, but agreed with her, very strongly, on overall approach. She told me she is a big believer in giving both principals and teachers more leeway to teach with fewer bureaucratic straitjackets — more autonomy — but also with more accountability to parents. She is a critic of the trend of de-emphasizing cursive writing, a subject I’ve written on as I noted that modern brain science shows that cursive literally helps young brains develop greater capacity.
And, in the most controversial issue facing the state school board, Jackie Zeigler is on precisely the right side: She pledges, without reservation, to vote to repeal Alabama’s allegiance to the Common Core nationalized instruction coalition, and to replace Common Core with high standards based on Alabama values. In fact, she said that is the main reason she entered the race: to repeal Common Core.
I have written literally dozens of columns and blog posts against Common Core. Significantly, some of the lobbyists who put the most money behind the Core literally can’t explain — I’ve asked them — why they support it. Instead, they basically say that, well, we need standards, and these are the standards almost everybody else has adopted. But that’s exactly the wrong approach: If one size fits all, then if Common Core turns out to be counterproductive, then everybody will fall. (Indeed, Alabama’s educational rankings have dropped since we adopted Common Core, even though they were rising in the half-decade before we adopted it.) It is far better to compete to be the best rather than just to follow the national herd (especially when the herd is led by the national, bureaucratized, education establishment).
Alabama can do better. We can write standards that are easier to understand rather than reading like indecipherable bureaucratic gobbledygook; that re-emphsize literature rather than force-feeding dry government documents to our students; that allow teachers to use different teaching methods for different students who learn math in different ways, rather than insisting on using only the complicated new-fangled methods that send children home crying and that reward “creative” thinking using the right “process” more than they reward children for actually getting the correct answer; and that aren’t tied, even by extension, to reading “examplars” that include truly horrible passages no high school should promote.
Again, Jackie Zeigler is an experienced, accomplished, reformist educator who knows what works in the classroom and what doesn’t, and is thus in the best position to oversee the effort to replace the Core with standards of our own making.
Allow, please, a word about the incumbent, Matthew Brown. He is a nice young man — very nice. I like him personally. But he had no qualifications for the state school board when he was appointed last year, and he has abdicated his responsibility by refusing — despite being given many, many opportunities — to take a stand on Common Core. How somebody serving in public office can refuse to take a stand on the most controversial issue before his particular government council is utterly beyond me. It shows, to me, a lack of spine. Sorry to be so blunt, but there it is.
But we can see where he stands on the Core, finally, by the campaign-finance reports. The PAC whose major issue is supporting Common Core has donated some $18,000 to Brown’s campaign. That PAC would not donate such a sum to anybody who is not aligned with it in favor of the Core.
Brown’s radio ad makes it sound as if he supports state standards different from the Core — but it never mentions the Core itself, and it is carefully worded so that it lets him maintain the illusion that Core-aligned standards can actually be “Alabama standards” without actually repealing our formal allegiance to the Common Core consortium. In short, it is a carefully worded dodge.
The key, first thing that must be done, if Alabama is to eliminate all obligations related to the Core, is to formally repeal the state school board’s 2010 vote officially aligning our schools to the Core. Matthew Brown refuses to pledge to vote for repeal. Now, based on the campaign contributions, it seems obvious why he won’t so pledge.
Jackie Zeigler will repeal Common Core — and put her vast experience in education to proper use on behalf of Alabama’s children, to whom she has dedicated her entire career.
One final note: Brown has another full-time job. There’s nothing wrong with that; the state school board does not pay a full-time salary. But our schools need reform, and they need the sort of leadership that requires intense time and effort. Mrs. Zeigler is recently retired, and therefore has the time the other candidates cannot offer — the time to devote her energies fully to reform and school improvement.
Please, vote for Jackie Zeigler for state school board, Alabama District One.