Though his career at Alabama began with a mediocre 6-6 record and, perhaps more notably to fans, a loss to Auburn, football coach Nick Saban was not fired after his first year—and good thing he wasn’t. Today, Saban is considered by many to be perhaps the greatest college football coach of all time.

We give football coaches the time it takes to show their potential; we ought to treat our state superintendent of education the same way.

At the end of July, the vice president of the Alabama State Board of Education unilaterally and abruptly called for an evaluation of State Superintendent Michael nntance. Sentance began his superintendency on September 12, 2016, and his contract requires an annual evaluation no later than December 31 of each year, making a midyear call for evaluation rather strange.

To say that the evaluation was a mess is generous. Governor Kay Ivey, the president of the board, did not participate, as she did not feel she had sufficient time to evaluate Sentance’s performance. Board member Betty Peters participated “under duress,” and board member Mary Scott Hunter had her non-responses counted as zeroes towards Sentance’s evaluation score; later the board relented and disregarded any scores from Hunter.

The evaluation sheet puts forth criteria like “speaks clearly, correctly, and coherently.” On that criterion, board member Jeff Newman scored Sentance at a “1.” That’s facially ridiculous. Sentance received the same score from board member Ella Bell on “models positive community involvement,” whatever that means. If the board doesn’t even agree on how the evaluation model came to be, you can bet Sentance was left scratching his head. In truth, the review is about as clear as mud, isn’t useful as a basis for improvement, and the sparse comments from the board give the impression that the fix is in.

Michael Sentance isn’t a magic cure for Alabama’s education challenges, but he comes with a winning record from an exceptional state school system in Massachusetts. “Today, Alabama students stand about three years behind their peers in Massachusetts in 8th grade math and two years in 4th grade reading.” This was mentioned in Sentance’s review and is worth noting, given Massachusetts’s success under his reform tactics. Prioritizing efforts directed at improving teacher quality and giving them the support they need are the cornerstone of Sentance’s strategic plan.  Sentance certainly isn’t shying away from tough issues in Alabama education.

If we’re willing to give a football coach multiple seasons to demonstrate success, we should offer at least that to a man who has inherited a failing education system. We also need a transparent and useful evaluation. It might not be as simple as wins and losses, but the targets for success need to be clearly defined. The bigger problem may be that the board doesn’t know what success looks like. Several members have served for over a decade, and we haven’t exactly wowed anyone with our public education progress.

Sentance needs a chance to show us what he can do, and the Alabama State Board of Education ought to give it to him.


MORE ON API in the Editorials

It’s Not Personal

One of the cultural problems we have today is our insistence on making everything personal. We can no longer discuss and debate ideas without someone assuming that disagreement is tantamount to a personal attack. Our skin is so thin it’s transparent. Take last week, for example. In the run-up to Super Tuesday, Alabamians were debating […]

Female Athletes Deserve Fair Competition

Silly me. I thought that with the passage of Title IX of the Education Amendment Act of 1972, we had settled the question of whether girls deserve a chance to compete and win as high school and college athletes. Feminists fought like warriors to pass the act against gender discrimination, which among other things ensured […]

It’s Time for Prison, Mental Health Reform

Two of the major items on Governor Kay Ivey’s 2020 agenda are finding solutions to the problem of Alabama’s overcrowded and broken prison system, and bolstering our mental healthcare system. Both are badly needed, and in some ways intersect. I understand the political challenge of getting folks excited about funding a major overhaul of something […]

MORE ON Education

An Amendment One Post-Mortem: Idealism Trumps Reality

The failure of Amendment One is a story of idealism trumping reality. On Tuesday, residents of Alabama denied Amendment One. The constitutional amendment, which would have shifted the State Board of Education from popularly elected positions to ones appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the State Senate, received a “YES” vote from only 25% […]

Education in Alabama is Dead Last, It’s Insanity to Not Make a Change

They say the definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing time and again, yet expecting a different outcome. But that’s exactly what opponents of Amendment One on Tuesday’s ballot are asking you to do. While our state’s educational system sits dead last in the nation, they want you to protect the status […]

What if you could really vote out some politicians? I mean really!

Has there ever been a ballot initiative that reduced the number of politicians? I mean, ever? What if I told you that with the stroke of a pen you could get shed of several ineffective politicians? What if the pot was sweetened just a bit by having that same stroke of a pen do away […]

MORE FROM Caleb Crosby

Faith and Fiction

Many politicians in Alabama and much of the Bible Belt present their Christian faith as a political virtue. For some, it is merely a passing mention. Others, however, go further and discuss their belief that God has called them to hold a certain political office. All too frequently, this talk of faith and calling is […]

In Alabama Politics, the Easiest—Not the Best—Road Is Often Taken

Developing sound public policy is complicated, and we need leaders willing to admit as much. That’s a heavy ask when the consequences for conceding complexity are often severe. When President Trump spoke to governors visiting the White House earlier this year, he announced, “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.” It was a […]

Political Power Tests Character

Character needs to be a much higher priority in Alabama politics. While our state is blessed with many officials who conduct public service with integrity, the failures of relatively few cast a broad shadow on our political arena. As obvious a priority as that might sound, no candidate is going to campaign on his or […]