After the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) released its annual report card last week, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin shared his take on how Birmingham City Schools (BCS) performed in the 2022-2023 school year.
The ALSDE awarded grades to all state public schools and school systems. It derived the grades from scores in six federal accountability indicators, including academic achievement, academic growth, graduation rate, progress in English language proficiency, chronic absenteeism and college and career readiness.
It also awarded a grade to the public school system in Alabama as a whole, which remained unchanged from last year despite a declining graduation rate.
"BCS had 16 schools improve," Woodfin said at a press conference on Tuesday. "I never want to talk about the challenges first. I want to talk about the improvements. This is a good thing to have 16 schools improve. Nine improved an entire letter grade."
Nevertheless, the majority of Woodfin's statement took a more solemn tone.
"I've got a school that went from a D to an F," he said. "I got another school that went from a C to a D. I got another school that went from a D to an F. I got too many schools that went down. We have too many schools that went down."
Overall, the BCS scored a 72%, one percentage point down from 2022. BCS scored within the 80% to 90% range in both academic growth and graduation rate but scored below 40% in academic achievement and progress in English language proficiency. It scored 59.46% on college and career readiness, and 23.35% of BCS students were chronically absent, meaning they missed at least 15 school days.
However, some individual schools received an overall score of less than 50%. Many fared in the 60% to 70% range, which Woodfin said was "unacceptable."
"I attended [BCS] K-8, so this is personal. My mother was a teacher for eleven years in the county schools. And my stepmother was a teacher for 33 years in [BCS]. This is personal … C's, in my humble opinion, are unacceptable … although a 72 is passing, that doesn't cut it … Our children deserve A's and B's."
Woodfin insisted he respected and worked well with BCS Superintendent Mark. A. Sullivan but said he desired more from the district overall.
"Are we being lazy as adults?" he asked. "Are we doing the bare minimum as adults? Or do we not care as adults? I would definitely say that for the individual schools with D's and F's?"
"This is not a matter of the Spider-Man meme where everybody points at somebody else," he added. "So I'm not blaming any one particular adult group. There's no time to blame teachers. There's no time to blame teachers or parents or any adult group. That includes the school board and the superintendent. We're all accountable. If you are an adult in this community, we are all responsible for educating our children."
Woodfin congratulated teachers who "give their all" to their students but asked those who don't care to "please resign."
"Please leave," he said. "We don't want you. That's pretty direct. Some people may get mad at me for saying that, but it needs to be said because our children already have a lot going on at home … so there's a higher expectation in an urban school system like Birmingham, where our teachers go well beyond just being responsible for their curriculum."
In October, Woodfin told the Birmingham City Council that unexcused absences in Birmingham City Schools have gotten out of hand. He said that 50% of all third-graders in Birmingham City Schools are considered truant, which means a student has seven or more unexcused absences.
He then claimed he contacted Jefferson County District Attorney Danny Carr's office to hold parents accountable for their truant children. According to Alabama law, most children between the ages of six and 17 must attend school. Legally, violators of this law can receive a misdemeanor charge with a fine of up to $100 and 90 days of hard labor.
However, Carr later told 1819 News that he had not heard from Woodfin, but his office was working on the issue.
"Chronic absentees are factored into these scores," Woodfin discussed in the Tuesday press conference. "I got schools that are 20% and 30% north of absentees … I got elementary schools, y'all, where people, adults, are too comfortable with six-year-olds, seven-year-olds, eight-year-olds, nine-year-olds missing school … That's not on the child. That's on the adult."
Woodfin begged parents to bring their children to school or provide a valid excuse to teachers.
"I don't think that's a tall request," he said.
He also promised to work with the CEO of the Housing Authority of Birmingham to "come up with a carrot" to lead parents to take their kids to school.
"We're going to say, well, if your child has perfect attendance this month, we're going to say you have the ability to get in a raffle, and your rent can be free for that month," he explained. "… I shouldn't have to incentive attendance, but I will."
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