A Stake in the Ground: Equipping educators

While Alabama’s schools are on clear path toward altering the face of public education and redefining what it means to be a graduate, minimal provisions have been made to guarantee that educators are equipped for the task at hand.

Alabama State Department of Education Superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice relayed to the Demopolis Rotary Club during his address last week that he understands just how futile the state’s efforts will be if it does not help its teachers adapt to the ever-changing educational environment.

“We can come up and buy every possible product there is out there to reform education, but if we’re not investing in our people, we can’t get to where we need to be,” Bice said.

Bice recently served as part of a 10-person team that traveled to Finland to analyze its education system, an academic program that frequently ranks at or near the top of most international categories.

“The second day I was there, the Minister of Education in Finland pulled me aside and said, ‘We really don’t understand why you’re here because the research that we used to reform Finland’s education system that started 15 years ago is the research from the United States and you appear to be the only country of all the organized countries that’s not following your own research about what works in education,’” Bice said.

The sobering observation helped to shed further light on the fact that central to Alabama’s ability to reshape its future graduates is its effectiveness in professionally developing its educators.

“If you don’t invest in ensuring that there is an effective teacher in every classroom in your state, you’ll never get there,” Bice said. “Then I came back and looked at what we’re doing to support the people in the State of Alabama that we’re asking to do this work. We don’t spend one cent in the state of Alabama to recruit our very brightest students out of high school into the field of education.”

In addition to a lack of spending in teacher recruitment, Bice observed that Alabama also fails to put significant financial weight behind developing the teachers it already has in the fold.

“We don’t spend one cent in the State of Alabama to change our teacher preparation programs into a clinical model, much like a medical model where students are spending lots of quality time in front of students with master teachers to help guide them in what teaching looks like,” Bice said. “We spend not one cent for the first two years of a teacher’s career for an induction and mentoring program to make sure that they have the support to be successful in those first two years. Once we determine that there are things they could do to improve their practice as a teacher, we don’t spend one cent in the state of Alabama for professional development for our teachers. Our biggest investment in the State of Alabama, we’re spending not one cent to support those people to do the work we’re asking them to do.”

Armed with that knowledge and the realization that each of those truths pointed toward unacceptable inadequacies in the ALSDE’s resource utilization, Bice and his staff have been diligent to alter the spending habits of the public education system as it pertains to supporting its personnel.

“So our budget that we sent across to the governor last week has multiple millions of dollars – that’s not new dollars, it’s repurposed dollars, dollars that were being spent on something else – that we’re going to put to scholarship our very brightest graduates out of high school to become a teacher, to reform our teacher education programs, close down the ones that aren’t producing what we expect them to produce and expect the ones that remain to have a clinical model so that what they produce is something that’s acceptable and set up an induction and mentoring program for every school system in the state of Alabama for those new teachers,” Bice said of the new measures installed in the education budget. “Spending money smarter on the things that we know can make a difference.”

Additionally, the proposed budget contains a Professional Pathways initiative that would allow teachers to advance professionally without necessarily having to enter into administration. Under this initiative, teachers would have the opportunity to become master teachers, spending partial days in the classroom and partial days designing curriculum and working to mentor potentially struggling teachers.


Part four of a five-part series on the changing face of Alabama’s education system. The series is taken from an address state superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice gave to the Demopolis Rotary Club last week. The final story is scheduled to post at noon Saturday.