Bentley’s remark not helpful in solving real problem

Published 11:23 pm Tuesday, November 8, 2016

We’ve not been, shall we say, favorably inclined toward Gov. Robert Bentley in 2016.

Of course, when the lobster willfully crawls into the pot … when the 10-point buck wears a bull’s eye coverlet … when the boxer or MMA fighter takes charcoal and scribbles “hit me” on his or her jaw … it’s difficult not to seize that moment.

The latest Bentley fiasco falls into that territory for its sheer injudiciousness — although to be fair, his heart may actually have been in the right place, even if his mouth wasn’t.

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Last week, in a speech to the Alabama Association of Regional Councils Conference, the governor opined, “Our education system in this state sucks.”

What specifically set him off was the math results for Alabama fourth-graders in the National Assessment of Educational Progress report. That report, commonly called “the nation’s report card,” was released last month.

The NAEP tests random groups of fourth- and eighth-graders in each state in math, reading, science, social studies and other disciplines. Its website describes the process as “the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas.”

Alabama’s fourth-graders ranked No. 52 in math in last year’s assessment (the District of Columbia and Department of Defense schools are included). For once, we’re looking up at Mississippi (their eighth-graders already passed ours five years ago).

Bentley called those results “sad” and “intolerable” and vowed to “do something about it.”

That’s the heart-in-the-right-place part. Our low rankings in math — an increasingly critical subject if students are going to carve out a niche in this technologically driven world — are systemic and transcend demographics and economic levels. Dig deep into the numbers and you’ll find no rich-poor divide on this one.

What Alabama’s schools are doing in math needs to be revisited, reassessed and almost certainly changed, because it isn’t working. We’re with Bentley there.

Saying “our education system in this state sucks” isn’t just using a broad brush, however, it’s swinging a John Henry-esque sledgehammer. Those words can only be taken one way — that there is nothing positive going on in Alabama’s 1,600-plus public schools, not in math or anything. We know that isn’t the case, even if there certainly is room for improvement (something that’s not unique to the education system).

So do the state’s teachers, administrators and support personnel, many of whom are practically asked to work magic by educating children while given painfully limited resources.

So do legislators and state and local school board members, who share Bentley’s frustration but wouldn’t think of using those words.

They all called him out, rightfully and righteously, as did the social media hordes.

The governor later walked his comments back a bit, saying, “There are a lot of amazing things going on in our classrooms every day,” while still insisting test scores must improve.

We agree — but loaded, intemperate words, the kind that leave marks that defy easy erasure, contribute nothing positive toward that goal. Next time, governor, think before you speak.

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