[8/15] For Our Future: This Week's Education News & More

Friends & Colleagues -

August is back-to-school time and a reminder of the trust parents place in schools to provide safety and learning to their most valuable possessions, their children. I can't help but smile at the excitement (and nervousness) of students and teachers alike as they engage in the sacred ritual between educator and pupil. This week's news brings several stories from here at home as well as the latest results from one of the country's largest education polls. As always, your feedback is welcomed, as are social media and other sharing. Here's this week's roundup:

  • [LOCAL: NEWS] New Mexico's ESSA Plan Approved by Department of Education. Coming on the heels of receiving high marks for our focus on ambitious and attainable goals, New Mexico becomes the second state to have our plan approved. We should be proud of this achievement and the hard work that went into this roadmap for modernizing our education system. We've set a high bar for all our children with a special emphasis on our most vulnerable and marginalized students.

    We as advocates must work to build belief in our plan and hold policy makers accountable to those goals, which were set in partnership with thousands of people via the New Mexico Rising Tour. We must also counter the negativity and disbelief of those like Sen. Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque who incorrectly stated that "there is “widespread hatred and dislike of both the teacher evaluations and the school grades” [a claim debunked below] and who last month told an audience in New Orleans that “We don’t know how to teach kids from poverty. They come with no skills – well, they have street-fighting skills. They’ve got a lot of skills; they’re just not academic skills.” There is simply no room in our state for policy makers who don't believe in ALL of our students and the responsibility of public education to reach every one of them, regardless of income or home situation.
     
  • [LOCAL: NEWS] Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) Releases New Academic Master Plan. In a long overdue move, APS has updated and shared their overarching vision for the path to improvement for our state's largest school district. The plan outlines three overarching goals (early learning, college and career readiness, and developing the whole child) alongside a concept titled "Learning Zones" which divides the district into four geographically bound zones:

         - LZ-1 consists of Albuquerque, Highland and Manzano high schools and their feeder schools;
         - LZ-2 is made up of Atrisco Heritage, Rio Grande and West Mesa high schools and their feeder schools;
         - LZ-3 includes Cibola, Valley and Volcano Vista high schools and their feeder schools; and
         - LZ-4 consists of Del Norte (the high school I dropped out of), Eldorado, La Cueva and Sandia high schools and their feeder schools.

    While the ideas in the new master plan are sound and worth exploring, this (as with any policy/strategic initiative) will boil down to implementation and commitment to goals. And speaking of goals, you won't find many in the plan yet. None of the three goal areas provide any quantitative goals to speak of, which is troubling. I'm a believer in setting visionary, feasible quantitative and qualitative goals to drive actions, with benchmarks to measure progress along the way. Perhaps APS and Superintendent Reedy will revisit our top-rated ESSA plan, which garnered bipartisan praise for its ambitious, equity-minded goals, and incorporate the smart work already done there.
     
  • [LOCAL: NEWS] Fort Sumner Student All Set for College. An inspiring story from NBC News shares the remarkable determination of 17-year-old Jazmin Regalado, who will be the first in her family to go to college. By accessing online study tools and zeroing in on improving her SAT score, Jazmin affirms that high standardized test scores are crucial not only for college admittance, but also to qualify for many scholarships available for low-income students. Of course, test scores can never tell the whole story of a student, but let's not lose sight of the reality that test scores matter in providing access and opportunity for all New Mexican children.
     
  • [LOCAL: LEADERS] Albuquerque Leaders Speak About Education. Improving education in New Mexico is necessarily a community and collective effort requiring strong local leadership dedicated to the cause. So it's with optimism I share statements from Albuquerque mayoral candidate Brian Colón and, the recently named Chamber of Commerce board chair, Meg Meister. Meister describes K-12 education as an “economic driver” as it relates to both educating the state’s future workforce and attracting residents of other states to the Albuquerque area.

    Meanwhile Colón states that, "As the new mayor, policies will be undertaken to improve the education that is provided within the City of Albuquerque. We can no longer accept incremental change and ineffective APS policies of the past. We can no longer accept mediocrity. I will work directly with APS by immediately appointing a CEO, a Chief Education Officer, who report to me on a regular basis. That person will be the conduit between the City of Albuquerque, APS, CNM and our flagship research institution, The University of New Mexico. It is imperative that the mayor’s office work directly with the APS Superintendent in reforming policies within the district. We must change the players at the table, demand innovation, and strive for excellence to create a first-class educational system, Albuquerque families deserve no less."
     
  • [NATIONAL: POLL] Education Next Releases Results of 2017 Poll. With its 11th annual poll, EdNext has become one of our most consistent and reliable sources for the collective thoughts of parents, teachers, and parents nationwide. This year's survey consists of "a nationally representative sample of 4,214 respondents, including representative oversamples of 2,170 parents, 669 teachers, and 805 Hispanics." Some quick highlights:

         - Accountability: As shown in the graphic below, there is overwhelming support (61%) for the use of state standards "to hold public schools accountable for their performance"
         - School Choice: "Public support for charter schools has fallen by 12%, with similar drops evident among both self-described Republicans and self-described Democrats. Meanwhile, opposition to school vouchers and tax credits to fund private-school scholarships has declined."
         - Teacher Policies: "The public is showing an increased resistance to change when it comes to policies affecting teachers. The percentages favoring merit pay, an end to teacher tenure, and increases in teacher salaries are all down about 5%. In each case, however, a plurality continue to support reform."
         - Parents’ Aspiration for Higher Education: "Two thirds of the public would have their child pursue a four-year university degree, while only 22% would choose a two-year associate’s degree at a community college, and 11% would choose neither.
         - Early Childhood Education: 51% of the public supports "publicly funded pre-school programs" as long as these "programs accountable for their performance", with 61% of Hispanic parents supporting this same question.
Accountability and State Standards

[8/1] For Our Future: This Week's Education News & More

Friends & Colleagues -

The start of the 2017-18 school year is just a few weeks away, bringing both excitement and anxiety to students, teachers and parents alike. While new supplies are purchased and classrooms get rearranged, let us not forget that the start of every school year is a fresh opportunity to reinvest hope in our schools and for the potential of education to liberate and support our students to their best selves. Education remains our best mechanism towards the just and equitable Good Society. We can and should debate specific policies and practices, all with an eye towards the future and what's best for our students and their ultimate self-determination. As always, your feedback is welcomed, as are social media and other sharing. Here's this week's roundup:

  • [LOCAL: NEWS] New Mexico PARCC Scores Released Showing Slight Statewide Improvement. Last Monday NMPED released our statewide PARCC results which show marginal improvement over last year for the 214,870 students who took the exam this spring. Since 2015, the first year of PARCC, New Mexico has experienced growth of 2.2% in English Language Arts (ELA) and 2.3% in Math. The biggest gains in ELA are seen with American Indian students (+4%), female students (+3%), economically disadvantaged students (+2.9%) and Hispanic students (+2.4%). While the value in making personnel decisions based on test scores should be and is limited (to 30% in New Mexico as of this school year), one of the most important aspects of PARCC, or any statewide standardized exam, is the light shined on our most disenfranchised students. Without this information we don't know that only 23.8% of Hispanic students are considered proficient in ELA and on course for college. We also wouldn't know that only 21.5% of our low-income students are proficient and only 17.6% of our American Indian students are as well. This information is absolutely vital in working towards equity and any discussion of removing this data is not focused on our most vulnerable students and how we will serve them better. The results also show us that in places and districts where the inequity is tackled head on and reforms are embraced (whether though NMPED or not) that progress will be made, in districts such as Gadsden, Gallup-McKinley County and Farmington, which have all seen marked growth over the past two years.
     
  • [LOCAL: OPINION] Looking In: Helping Young People Of New Mexico. As New Mexico's ESSA plan continues to be lauded as one of the best in the nation, including The Collaborative for Student Success and Results for America, a select few have begun to criticize this achievement by attempting to discredit the work of the organizations who have issued the reports. A classic example of attacking the speaker instead of their argument. So it's great to see a letter from Scott Sagrad, the K-12 Policy Director of the Center for American Progress, reflect on his experience as a peer reviewer for state ESSA plans. 
     
  • [NATIONAL: OPINION] Together, Technology And Teachers Can Revamp Schools. The Economist warns us that the science of learning (research-backed, not unproven, pseudoscientific ideas such as “learning styles”) must be at the center of our attempts to personalize and digitize education.
     
  • [NATIONAL: RESEARCH] Data Show Charter School Students Graduating From College At Three To Five Times National Average. About a decade ago, 15 years into the public charter school movement, a few of the nation’s top charter networks quietly upped the ante on their own strategic goals. No longer was it sufficient to keep students “on track” to college. Nor was it enough to enroll 100% of your graduates in colleges. Now many of these charter school networks, which almost exclusively educate low-income and students of color, are seeing returns on these efforts in the form of their students graduating college at impressive rates that are 3x-5x the national average.
     
  • [NATIONAL: PODCAST] Where Teacher Evaluation Reform Was A Home Run. In this week's podcast, special guest Thomas Toch, director of FutureEd at Georgetown University, joins to discuss teacher reform in Washington, D.C., where big changes were made without nearly the same animosity and discontent we continue to see in New Mexico.
Disparities in Educational Attainment

[NATIONAL: RESEARCH]

A new report finds that while more Americans are attending and completing degree programs, “sharp divisions” in access remain “by income level, race, ethnicity, and geography.” The report calls on Congress to “close educational attainment gaps” to ensure “All Americans have the ability to find a good job that pays well and provides a foundation for their family… Making college more affordable, giving students access to better information about their options, and better preparing high school students for the rigors of college are all goals that Congress must pursue.”

Grading NM School Grades

[7/12] For Our Future: This Week's Education News & More

Friends & Colleagues -

As summer reaches a blazing crescendo here in New Mexico, we are also hot on the national education news scene. The Land of Enchantment recently garnered notice for our best-in-class state education plan and for our decisive teacher evaluation program. While these topics have been hotly debated at home for many years, it's nice to see us get national education press on something besides being last for high school graduation or college remediation rates. As always, your feedback is welcomed, as are social media and other sharing. Here's this week's roundup:

  • [LOCAL: NEWS] New Mexico has won high marks for its plan under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Over at CheckStatePlans.org, a nonpartisan collection of expert reviewers from across the country provide their analysis of all state ESSA plans submitted so far. The good news? New Mexico ranks highly in nearly every category with specific praise for school ratings which are clear to parents and other stakeholders and an "aggressive, concrete list of interventions in low-performing schools, which suggests that New Mexico is taking seriously the challenges faced by those schools." The not so good? We have room to improve in defining the criteria schools must meet to be exited from intensive support and in setting the vision for a new school rating system "so that educators, parents, and other stakeholders know what is coming and can engage and respond effectively." In separate but similar analysis, All4Ed provides nearly identical praise and feedback for what should work and what might not.
     
  • [LOCAL: NEWS] New Mexico also made news as having perhaps the strictest teacher evaluations in the nation. With nearly 30% of teachers rated "ineffective" or "minimally effective", we outpace the the next closest state, Oregon, which comes in at just below 12%. We also buck the national trend where many states still rate nearly all their teachers as effective and above. As with any evaluation system, the devil is in the details of how that system supports struggling teachers to improve their practice and also encourages meaningful paths for the bulk of teachers to move from good to great. Whether an evaluation is punitive or growth-minded depends in large part on how it is presented and whether professional development and supports align well with the evaluated criteria. There need to be paths for all teachers to continually grow in their practice as well as direct off-ramps for teachers who do not successfully educate our children.
     
  • [NATIONAL: NEWS] As I've written about previously, the next twenty years will see tectonic shifts in our economy as artificial intelligence and automation capably replace humans more and more. In fact, researchers at the University of Oxford estimate "that nearly half of all U.S. jobs may be at risk in the coming decades, with lower-paid occupations among the most vulnerable." Human truck drivers and food servers will soon be relics of time past. Despair not however as all is not lost: research tells us that a college degree provides career insulation against automation and the more education one gets, the less vulnerable one becomes. Curious to know which occupations are best paid and least vulnerable, or the opposite? Bloomberg has an interactive infographic you should check out. Take note of the orange and red in the bottom right...
     
  • [HISTORY: ADVICE] We are all aware of Albert Einstein's genius and hard work, though rarely do we get insights into the most intimate details of the lives of history's thought leaders, particularly when it comes to education. In a recently unearthed message to a his 11-year-old son, Hans Albert, we find Einstein was well aware of the import roles passion, joy and diligence play in learning:
I am very pleased that you find joy with the piano. This and carpentry are in my opinion for your age the best pursuits, better even than school. Because those are things which fit a young person such as you very well. Mainly play the things on the piano which please you, even if the teacher does not assign those. That is the way to learn the most, that when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don't notice that the time passes. I am sometimes so wrapped up in my work that I forget about the noon meal. . . .
  • [NATIONAL: WATCH] In a segment titled “Schools of Thought: The War Over Public Education and Charter Schools” NBC News’ Craig Melvin examines the tension over charter schools by visiting Boys’ Latin in Philadelphia. Despite charters serving largely low-income and minority students, much of the pushback against charter school expansion in Philly is from the NAACP. Melvin also interviews U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos for her first network news interview: “Great public schools are going to continue to do a great job for the students that they’re serving, and I think that instead of talking about schools and school buildings we should be talking about funding students and investing in individual students.”
     
  • [NATIONAL: RESEARCH] Education Spending Return on Investment - While businesses have long understood the importance of an educated workforce for a strong economy, “our nation’s K-12 system is falling short in preparing new generations for the ever-changing demands of the 21st century workplace,” according to a new report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. At the root of this: “we’ve underestimated the importance of the earliest years of life.”

    The report lays out how critical early childhood education is, and how in terms of return on human capital investment, early education gives you the most bang for your buck, relative to K-12 and beyond: “Careful academic research demonstrates that tax dollars spent on early childhood development provide extraordinary returns compared with investments in the public, and even private, sector. Some of these benefits are private gains for the children involved in the form of higher wages later in life. But the broader economy also benefits because individuals who participate in high-quality early childhood development programs have greater skills than they otherwise would, and they’re able to contribute productively to their local economies.” And yet, as we see in the graph below, a very small percentage of total U.S. education spending (~3%) is directed to children’s critical first years.
unnamed-2.jpg

10 Things You Need To Know About New Mexico's Acting Secretary of Education Christopher Ruszkowski

As many of us read in the op-ed in the Albuquerque Journal on Monday, New Mexico has a new acting Secretary of Education, Christopher Ruszkowski. Any glance at the comments section reveals that education continues to be a divisive and all-too-often mindless conversation in New Mexico. We are long on rhetoric and short on optimism and new ideas. Any attempt to try something new is met with fierce resistance and misplaced nostalgia for "the way things used to be." The reality is that the world is changing at a pace much faster than we're prepared for and we can either work hard to catch up or remain lagging far behind.

I know Christopher to be a no-nonsense champion for students (even if that means some adults are put off) and as someone unwaveringly focused on educational equity. He's also human, takes his fair share of missteps and is eager to learn from those mistakes. My hope is that we'll continue to focus on the future of education in New Mexico and not, as Christopher shared, stay “wedded to the 20th century way of doing business”, instead focusing on “what’s best for children.” I also know Christopher wants to and has experience working across lines of difference to help redefine a new possible for New Mexico - and that he wants to be held accountable to outcomes for our kids. Let's do that and be critical friends supportive of our students.

My hope is we'll approach Christopher's tenure as we should all education policymakers in New Mexico, with optimism and a "trust, but verify" mindset. I'm a big fan of healthy skepticism though in New Mexico that frequently shows up as cynicism instead. We're lucky to have Christopher here but we also owe it to our kids to continue to push him and NMPED, prod them, question their decisions and develop solutions in the field. The best ideas on behalf of kids don't live in Santa Fe, but rather in the field with educators. We are a beautiful, culturally rich state in desperate need of news ways to bring forth our heritage and history in the 21st century. Our kids need it, our communities need it, our economy needs it and, frankly, the future of our state depends on as much.

So, while I've had the opportunity to better know Christopher over the past year, I think all New Mexicans should better understand the person now at the helm of public education in the Land of Enchantment. Below I share some key things to know about our new acting Secretary. Number ten, the Delaware piece, in particular is a must-read. I've included the entire blog post as it's from someone who worked side-by-side with Christopher for years, and I know that Delaware is missing his leadership right now. In unabashed Buzzfeed fashion, I present The Top 10 Things You Need To Know About Christopher Ruszkowski:

  1. His is the son of immigrants, including a Polish immigrant who grew up in a German work camp and his family fled war-torn Europe, arriving in Chicago in 1950;
  2. As the son of an Eastern European immigrant, his favorite pierogi is potato slathered in sour cream;
  3. His began his career in education teaching middle school social studies in Miami through Teach For America;
  4. He has never had a full cup of coffee, despite thousands of hours spent in coffee shops;
  5. He was part of the inaugural cohort of the Future Chiefs fellowship at Chiefs for Change
  6. He holds a Bachelor’s in political science from the University of Minnesota and represented the state of Minnesota as a finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship;
  7. While in Delaware, he led the creation of their "Plan to Ensure Equitable Access to Excellent Educators for All Students";
  8. He attended public schools in Chicago and Minnesota and has worked in public schools in Miami, Boston, San Francisco and Louisiana
  9. Since coming to New Mexico, he's helped form a "Secretary’s Teacher Advisory", a newly-formed New Mexico Teacher Leader Network intended to amplify teacher voice and create statewide communities of practice around teacher craft; and
  10. Delaware's loss is New Mexico's gain. From "Why Delaware Education Will Miss Christopher Ruszkowski" on the excellent Fiercely Urgent blog, which is maintained by a fierce local education advocate, Atnre Alleyne:

Christopher Ruszkowski’s six-year tenure at the Department of Education (most recently as the Associate Secretary of Teacher & Leader Effectiveness) came to an end in April [2016]. Rumor has it he rode off into the sunset en route to a position as Deputy Secretary in the New Mexico Department of Education. His detractors likely collectively exclaimed “it’s about time.” His longevity at the Department (serving on the leadership team in the Lowery, Murphy, and Godowsky administrations) belied his so-called aggressive brand of education reform and the numerous calls to have him ousted. His no-holds-barred style, Chicago-bred candor, kids-before-adults policy-making, and unmatched commitment to President Obama’s Race To The Top (RTTT) agenda (originally signed on for  by all Delaware stakeholders) made some view him as part of the problem with education reform. 

But his departure is a huge loss for Delaware.

Full disclosure is in order before I proceed. Christopher was my manager at the Department for four years and became a friend. So perhaps I am completely biased on this topic. Or perhaps, my front row seat during his tenure means I really know what I am talking about. The truth is somewhere in the middle.

But in today’s edu-blogosphere and dominant discourse you can only be either/or. False choices prevail and caricatures are commonplace.

So some will say Christopher is a corporate education reformer, teacher hater, over-testing proponent who is systematically dismantling our education system. But others could say he is the product of a first-generation immigrant, working class family who made his way through college on a golf caddie scholarship and eventually became a social studies teacher in Little Haiti, Miami. Some could say he is an overpaid edu-bureaucrat who seeks to enrich himself and advance his career at the expense of overworked educators and under-resourced students. But others would say he is a teacher-turned-teacher coach-turned-education policymaker whose passion for students fueled his 70-hour work weeks.

These days, you’re either a Delawarean who cares about kids or an outsider who cares about the next position a pit stop in The First State will afford you.  False dichotomies. Instead of delving into details, nuance is neglected, straw men arguments are erected, and facts are rejected.

But here is the reality: Christopher is like almost everyone in the education sector–his motives are pure, he subscribes and commits to a particular philosophy about how to improve the education system, he has made personal and policy mistakes, and he has done a ton of good at the same time. There’s no shortage of commentary about perceived policy mistakes and/or personal attacks, so I’ll be heavier on the good here.

Christopher’s URGENCY will be missed.
Every day there are large numbers of students being taught in classrooms that are shortchanging their potential and attending schools where many more well-to-do folks would never send their kids. There are teacher candidates accumulating “Easy A’s” in teacher preparation programs that are not preparing them for success in the classroom. And there are teachers who never receive the quality feedback, leadership support, and resources to thrive in their work. Almost everyone would agree that these are things that need to be fixed. But few have demonstrated the urgency Christopher did to make progress on such issues. 

Christopher had no shortage of opposition and ample opportunity to spend his summer at Rehoboth and do nothing on many of these issues. Yet, during his six-year tenure,standards were raised for teacher preparation programs, scorecards were shared publicly to assess Delaware educator preparation programs, teacher evaluation changes were made that educators believe have enhanced the system, and an incentive program was established to retain talented teachers in high poverty schools.

Yet, one of the fair criticisms of RTTT and the work Christopher led is that major reforms (new standards, new assessments, new educator evaluation systems, etc.) were implemented concurrently and with haste. Sustainable and impactful initiatives take time and the folks implementing on the ground often felt like they were in a pressure cooker. But to be honest, many of the changes Delaware stakeholders committed to in their RTTT plan would never have been accomplished if operating on the normal pace of change in education.  At the normal pace of the establishment, my 14-month old daughter wouldn’t see any change until she started her freshman year in high school.

Common sense improvements move at a snail’s pace in the education system. While few think our state’s school funding formula is adequate, for example, it hasn’t changed in around 70 years. Delaware’s starting salaries for teachers are the lowest in the region and there’s consensus that we need to reform our compensation system. Yet, the Committee to Advance Educator Compensation & Careers (CAECC) has been meeting since 2014 (and conversations on the topic were ongoing for many years prior) with no result. Inertia is the modus operandi in education and there are too many decisionmakers in the system who lose sight of the students impacted while they do their decades-long political dance.

Christopher’s focus on EQUITY will be missed.
When the US Department of Education (USED) required all states to analyze data, engage stakeholders, and develop a plan to ensure low-income and minority students have equitable access to great educators, many states responded as one would expect: they asked “what’s in it for me?” There were no federal funds tied to this mandate and there was little USED could do to ensure compliance. But instead of phoning it in like many states, and despite internal pressure to make the plan a lower priority, Christopher seized the moral imperative and led his team (and the state) in the creation of Delaware’sExcellent Educators for All Students plan. The document was based on newly-released data on educator equity gaps and over a hundred conversations with parents, teachers, policymakers, etc. across the state.

But policymakers are known for making elaborate plans and paying lip service to issues of equity in education. They would rather pay homage to the complex, intractable, and structural nature of problems of equity than create solutions within their sphere of influence. Now, Christopher can definitely be criticized for implementing solutions too small to address the structural roots of inequity.  He was not reforming housing, policing, or poverty per se. But he was not one to let such criticisms paralyze him in prioritizing educator equity in his work, and in doing his part to make the system better.

So Christopher launched an “Equity Fellowship” in partnership with the Delaware Academy of School Leadership’s Principal Preparation Program that incentivizes becoming a principal in a high-need school. He also launched a program that provides financial incentives for highly-effective teachers to continue teaching in high-poverty schools. In the latter program, 92% of highly-effective Math & English teachers were retained in schools participating in the program over the last two years as compared to 85% in all other high-need schools.

Christopher’s focus on TALENT and DIVERSITY will be missed.
Christopher practiced what he preached about the importance of high-quality talent in the education system. As a result of Christopher’s leadership, thousands of educators can apply for a job in Delaware districts through a centralized portal–Join Delaware Schools. He also supported Delaware school leaders’ talent development through programs like the Relay National Principals Academy Fellowship (over 25 Delaware school leaders have attended this prestigious year-long fellowship to-date). Within the Department, he was the driving force behind the state’s summer fellowships, new internship programs, and new partnerships with leading national organizations. Last summer, he launched a new summer program, “Educators at Catalysts”, that brought several classroom teachers onto his team at the Department.  This year, the program is being implemented Department-wide.

And then there’s how he attracted and selected talent into key positions. The standard operating procedure in the education sector is to post a position on your website for two weeks and hope and pray that someone good applies. Christopher was notorious for aggressive recruitment and for reposting positions until he found the right candidate. Using the “corporate” playbook, Christopher managed to assemble a team with a Delaware Principal of the Year, a former Delaware district HR director from one of the state’s largest districts, a former NASA education programs leader, a district administrator from Seaford who had policy experience at UD, a PhD from Emory, and more. Somehow he managed to convince people to take substantial pay cuts to leave Delaware districts to work for the DDOE, and in some cases, to relocate to Delaware from around the country (Texas, Atlanta, D.C., etc.). At the same time, he managed to assemble one of the most racially diverse teams at the DDOE in an education system that struggles in this area. It’s no surprise then that Christopher was Delaware’s representative at the US Department of Education’s “Our Students, Our Leaders” convening of 50 leaders seeking to close the demographic gap between students and leaders in the education sector.

Christopher’s willingness to SAY WHAT OTHERS WON’T will be missed.
Christopher generated a lot of controversy during his tenure because he said “crazy” stuff. For example, he brought the wrath of the Delaware Association of School Administrators upon himself when he claimed that “there seems to be a problem of either will or skill” among Delaware administrators that leads to an evaluation system where 99 percent of teachers are effective or better.

Christopher definitely knows better than painting any group with a broad brush. He just had a penchant for  using hyperbole to provoke important conversations about teacher and leader quality, equity, standards, and expectations. But his comments were not necessarily “crazy” because they weren’t true.

National research would suggest that some teacher evaluation ratings are inflated because administrators would rather avoid the paperwork needed to help a struggling teacher improve (will). Other studies have found that some administrators are less skilled in conducting observations and teacher evaluations (skill).

The things he said were “crazy” mostly because he said things that others know to be true but rarely say out loud. Insiders know the politics, the power brokers, the ineffective people, the stall tactics, and the system flaws that lead to mediocre results and certain kids getting a raw deal. The prevailing culture of nice just requires that such topics are only mentioned in off-the-record conversations.

So his absence means we’re all less likely to see “crazy” quotes in the paper that upset people. It also means we’re more likely to see closed door conversations emerge in the public sphere as sanitized soundbites. Except in the rare instances when decisionmakers are brazen enough to tell the truth…

Just a few months ago during a public meeting, Representative Jacques admonished the DPAS-II Advisory Committee to align with the policy he had already “shaken hands” on in a backroom deal with others in the “good old boys” network. But that did not register as a “crazy” comment among the teachers’ union, administrators’ association, district leaders, and PTA representatives on the committee. Maybe because it is the crazy they have come to know and love.

Christopher Ruszkowski: "What brings me to and keeps me in the work"

[6/19] For Our Future: This Week's Education News & More

Friends & Colleagues - 

As news of Secretary Skandera stepping aside came across the newswire, the predictable polarity around education made its inevitable appearance. While I am both thankful for the Secretary's service and excited to see what she pursues next, I'd be remiss not to say a few more words about her legacy in New Mexico.

Education is a divisive topic. The stakes are high and nearly everyone of us has attended some sort of school, making us all "experts" - with an opinion. Additionally, as a state we dedicate nearly 60% of our roughly $6 billion annual budget on preK through college education. Despite what many say, we spend about as much as we can on public education in a state which continues to languish economically. Do we spend that money as wisely or effectively as we need to? No. But is there much more blood to squeeze from our high desert stone? Nope; at least not until we modernize our economy, revolutionize our schools and reclaim our independence from the federal government and oil and gas.

Many people I love and respect disagree with the policies and practices of the NMPED under Secretary Skandera. That's all and good - and indicative of a healthy, robust republic. Let's have those policy and philosophical conversations. However, the degree to which Secretary Skandera's personal character has been and continues to be attacked is troublesome. As many of us know first hand, the realm of public leadership is an unending and often thankless one. That comes with the territory so you'll get no sympathy from me.

Though, for those of us who have met the Secretary, it's immediately apparent that she cares deeply about New Mexico and our students. She has relentlessly pursued an agenda to drastically improve education opportunities for all of our babies, regardless of skin tone or zip code. Was there much to be desired with communication from NMPED to teachers and parents? Absolutely. Has she ruffled feathers along the way?  Of course. But that's often what we need in my beloved homeland.

So, as we think about our next Secretary and Governor let's work collectively, in spite of our disagreements on education, to ensure our next leaders are as focused and invested in our students as Hanna has been. My work will be to ensure that no matter the political party of our next state leader, New Mexicans will prioritize education policies and practices to ensure our students become the future community, civic and business leaders we need. Now, here's this week's roundup:

  • [LOCAL: SURVEY] Proving that we have a long way to go in reimagining what's possible from public education in New Mexico, The Leadership Conference Education Fund’s second annual New Education Majority Poll found that three-quarters of Latino parents believe “U.S. public schools are doing a good job preparing Latino students for success,” a 10% improvement over 2016. Optimism is a noble cause though we have a long way to go to equalize a public education system which chronically underserves Hispanic and low-income students.
     
  • [NATIONAL: NEWS] The future of education is a system based on what our students have demonstrably learned instead of how long they've sat in assigned seats. In a big step away from the "Industrial Education" model of the 19th and 20th centuries, students graduating from Maine high schools must show they have mastered specific skills to earn a high school diploma. Maine is the first state to pass such a law, though the idea of valuing skills over credits is increasingly popular around the country. This approach is highly applicable here in New Mexico where we rely more than most states on homegrown talent graduating high school with the skills needed to create and join local businesses to drive our economy.
     
  • [NATIONAL: NEWS] As I've repeated over and over, spending money on education is important but it isn't everything. According to the74million.org, "Schools in the U.S. spent $344.3 billion on classroom instruction in fiscal year 2015, accounting for 60 percent of day-to-day expenditures, a figure that includes spending on salaries for teachers and instructional aides, according to the Census Bureau." So, even as spending on students ticks up nationally, our kids aren’t proving to be doing much better academically. Fourth- and eighth-graders across the country did worse in mathematics in the 2015 administration of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) than they did in 2013, the last time the test was given. In reading, eighth-graders again performed worse in 2015 than in 2013, while fourth-graders’ scores remained stagnant. New Mexico is roughly in the middle of the pack for per-pupil spending at $9,725, yet we are dead last for nearly every NAEP category. We see yet again that the "how" of education spending is just as important as the "how much".
Nation Per-Pupil Spending + NAEP Scores