Alabama just got our report card back last week, and it wasn’t pretty. According to the State Department of Education, the percentage of third and fourth graders in Alabama who can read at grade level went down last year. Anyone who cares about the future of Alabama needs to pay attention to this.
My first job out of college was teaching at a small town high school. When class was over, I coached the girls’ basketball team — my first coaching job in what became a 40-year career.
I told my students back then what I still say today: this country owes you nothing but an opportunity. And the key that unlocks that opportunity is education.
Too many kids are being denied the kind of education they deserve. Millions of American kids are being denied a life of opportunity and success because they are trapped in failing public schools.
As a coach, I visited all 50 states. I met with teachers, principals, and parents everywhere I went. In my last 15 years as a coach, I watched the academic achievement and mental health of our young people plummet. One of the reasons I ran for Senate was because I was alarmed by this nationwide decline.
Just look at a few of the numbers from major cities across the country.
In Baltimore, 23 schools had zero students who could do math at grade level this past school year. Chicago had 55 schools without a single student proficient in math and 33 schools without a single student proficient in reading. Four out of five D.C. students are not proficient in math, and two-thirds are not proficient in reading and writing.
These numbers are a disgrace and a national embarrassment. The teachers, administrators, and principals in these schools need to be held accountable.
During an interview last month, I brought up the statistics from Baltimore and expressed my shock and dismay at how bad these schools must be. Rather than taking action to fix the problem, the teacher’s unions — both in Alabama and in Washington, D.C., — responded by attacking me. The mayor of Birmingham, AL, Randall Woodfin, even called me racist, which is probably the worst thing anyone can be called, all because I pointed out the failures of Baltimore teachers.
Before they attack me, the teachers' unions and the mayor should fix our schools.
Just look at the numbers in Birmingham. Four out of five high school students in Birmingham cannot do math at grade level and three out of four cannot read at grade level. Yet Birmingham has a 72 percent graduation rate. This means that kids who can’t do math or read at grade level are given diplomas.
The result is a lifetime of disastrous consequences. Half of American adults are unable to read an eighth-grade level book — and nearly half can’t understand labels on prescriptions.
The standard response from the teachers' unions and Democrat politicians is to say that we’re not spending enough money. Once again, the facts are not on their side.
We spend plenty of money. On average, the United States spends considerably more on education per student than most developed countries, and we get a lot less in return.
In fact, some of the places that spend the most get the worst outcomes. The cities I mentioned are some of the biggest spenders in the country. Baltimore spends $21,000 per student. Washington, D.C., spends $22,000 per student. Throwing more money at the problem does not work.
Much of this money ends up in the coffers of the teachers' unions, and from there, it’s donated to the local Democrat Party. The teachers' unions who attack me take money directly out of the pockets of our teachers. Randi Weingarten — who leads the nation’s largest teachers' union and was instrumental in keeping America’s schools closed after the pandemic — makes $430,000 per year, all paid for by our public school teachers. Weingarten has done catastrophic damage to our students, yet she makes more than six times the average public teacher salary.
I recognize that there is no easy fix to our broken education system, but in my two years in the Senate, I have begun to introduce legislation that would get kids out of failing schools. Earlier this year I co-sponsored legislation to expand school choice across the nation. This bill would get kids out of failing schools and force our schools to compete for students and to punish the worst teachers.
Unlike Mayor Woodfin, I’ve actually been a teacher. I’ve even been a member of a teachers’ union. I’ve also got teachers in my family. Of course, I know there are good teachers out there — everyone knows that. We need to support them. But we need to hold bad teachers accountable. And we need to tell the truth about what has happened to our education system. If the truth hurts, then maybe some of us belong in a different line of work. Before Woodfin calls me names on Twitter, he should fix education in Birmingham.
It's obvious that what we’re doing isn’t working, and we need to try something else. The numbers don’t lie.
I’ve always said that young people are our future. If we don’t solve our education crisis, then America’s future is in deep trouble.
Senator Tommy Tuberville represents Alabama in the United States Senate and is a member of the Senate Armed Services, Agriculture, Veterans’ Affairs, and HELP Committees.
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