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

Friends & Colleagues -

Perhaps providing us a preview of things to come in 2018's legislative session, these past few weeks have been jam packed with local and national education news relevant to New Mexico. I ramble enough below so let's jump right in:

[LOCAL: NEWS] Three APS Schools Designated for Rigorous Intervention. All three elementary schools (see table below) have received F grades for at least the past five years. I had a lot to say about this happening in the same week as APS Superintendent receiving a $250,000/year extension, so I wrote a post over at Retort.



APS Elementary Schools Designated for Intervention

APS Elementary Schools Designated for Intervention

[LOCAL: NEWS] Mission Achievement Success Approved for Expansion. In great news for students and families of Albuquerque, the Public Education Commission (PEC) has approved MAS for a second school site. I've gotten to know MAS's founder and principal, JoAnn Mitchell, over the past year and continue to be amazed by her vision and commitment. This groundbreaking decision by the PEC provides more students the opportunity to have the skills and experiences to be our future leaders. Here's more information on MAS:

MAS charter currently serves 785 students near the Sunport. The school primarily has students that qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, and the campus has a higher proportion of Hispanic and African-American students than the state and Albuquerque Public Schools. While a student population like this often leads to excuses and lowered expectations across the city and across our state, students at MAS are getting amazing results because the school’s educators accept nothing less. Students at MAS grow academically at rates far beyond that of other schools in the state, and read and do math on par with schools in more affluent communities like the Northeast Heights.
— Matthew Pahl - Executive Director, New Mexico Coalition for Charter Schools (NMCCS)

     I'll also mention that at a conference for NMCCS this past weekend, Secretary-Designate Christopher Ruszkowski made an ill-informed remark about "Manifest Destiny" while also calling for more high-quality school options for all students. Yes, given our long history of oppression and colonization, it is a hurtful and misguided metaphor. Though let us not allow this misstep to detract away from his broader point about the need for us to do better by our students. I hope his comments about the need to have extended school days, honoring our best teachers (more on that below), and holding all schools accountable for teaching all students who walk through their doors are given equal consideration.

[LOCAL: NEWS] New Mexico Teachers Bring Home Awards. Teachers across the state are being recognized for their tireless and impressive work. Melanie Alfaro, math department head at Deming Intermediate School, took home the prestigious Milken Educator Award for "incorporating assessments, collaborative projects, and parental involvement in her teaching strategies." Seven other teachers statewide, including four APS middle school teachers, garnered 2018 Golden Apple Awards for Excellence in Teaching as recognition of remarkable work. Teaching is a tough, often thankless job that, when done well, truly changes lives. The more we honor and reward those who've mastered their craft the better.

[LOCAL: NEWS] Legislative Finance Committee Tackles Education Budget. Last Thursday I made the trek up to Santa Fe as the LFC took its first look at NMPED's proposed 2018-19 budget. The webcast recording is online here. A few highlights:
     - NMPED proposed a "flat" budget of $2,695,524,500 including the following increases:
          - $4 million for additional pre-k programs;
          - $2.5 million for instructional materials;
          - $1 million for STEM initiatives; and
          - $300k for K-3 Plus
     - There was a near-capacity audience of 100+ folks from across NM
     - NMPED attempted to include testimony from school/district leaders, teachers and parents but that was nixed by LFC Chairwoman Patty Lundstrom who said there wouldn't be time for everyone to speak
     - Testimony permitted included: Arsenio Romero (Deming Superintendent), Melanie Alfaro (Milken Educator of the Year mentioned above), Tommy Turner (Mosquero Superintendent), and Mike Hyatt (Gallup Superintendent)

[NATIONAL: RESEARCH] New Measure of School District Performance Yields Promising Insights. New analysis from The Upshot takes data (based on roughly 300 million elementary-school test scores across more than 11,000 school districts) from Stanford's esteemed Center for Education Policy Analysis (CEPA) for a fresh look how we think about school districts. By analyzing how scores grow or not as student cohorts move through school, Stanford researcher Sean Reardon argues that "it’s possible to separate some of the advantages of socioeconomics from what’s actually happening in schools."

I was surprised to see that places like Hatch and Gadsden, with nearly half the median household income of Albuquerque, achieve higher learning rates than NM's largest city. I've included some graphs for APS below, but please explore for yourself.

Trust, But Verify: Four Charters Seek A New Home in APS

Back on October 24th, I drove over to the twin white towers in Uptown that are APS headquarters. That evening was the public hearing for four state-authorized charters asking APS to take them in, despite disappointing results. The APS board was not in attendance so the proceedings were led by charter school director, Joseph Escobedo, Ed.D. In attendance were a variety of interested parties, including students, parents, teachers, and administrators of the four schools: Academy of Trades & Technology,  Architecture Construction and Engineering (ACE) Leadership, Health Leadership, and Technology Leadership. The latter three high schools are affiliated with the Leadership High School Network and the New Mexico Center for School Leadership, which also operates Siembra Leadership High School (F), which is already under the auspices of APS.

School Grades and Student Outcomes for the Four Schools

School Grades and Student Outcomes for the Four Schools

As you can see above, these schools have struggled to deliver on the promise of education for their students. (And, of course, school grades are not the entire story of a school, but they do help provide families and policymakers with a better picture of how schools are doing.) I know many hardworking, dedicated individuals who work for and lead these schools; people I respect. However, I believe that, particularly when it comes to our kids, we can’t protect the feelings of adults over the best interests of students, especially the vulnerable students who attend these four schools. Schools must be accountable to our kids and communities, regardless of their intent.

Among the many people speaking at the input hearing that October evening was a school governing board member who said, and I quote, “Our kids can’t function in other schools and bring down other students. And when they aren’t in our school they’re out there in gangs or getting pregnant.” My jaw dropped and my stomach turned.

Instead of seeing their students as assets to be developed, regardless of their personal circumstances, this “leader” was using their identities as reasons NOT to educate them. Let me be clear, such a deficit mindset about our neediest students has zero place in education. If your mission is to educate these underserved populations and you then use that fact as the reason less than five percent of them read or write on grade level, then please exit the building.

Yes, many of our students come from poverty and traumatic environments. This poses unique and significant challenges for schools. And yet, how are we to change that reality without schools embracing the challenge and fully committing to providing all students the best education possible so they become our future community leaders? Reading and writing matter, even for schools that offer a specialized or industry-specific education. How else might one become an architect or engineer if you don't graduate high school doing both on grade level?

This is also personal. As a high school dropout who got my GED after attending Freedom High School, which is an APS alternative high school (a “B” school), I was one of those students that typical high schools failed. I, too, had an IEP, grew up in public housing, and on food stamps. I’m sure I had teachers who wrote me off as “too troubled” to learn. What a shame. If I hadn’t had an instructor at TVI (now CNM) reignite that desire to learn inside me, I’m not sure where I’d be.

Oddly enough, APS offers several alternative high schools, including the aforementioned Freedom High, which are doing quite well in delivering those crucial results for children. Clearly, APS has figured out some effective alternative schooling models and can perhaps help improve instructional practices at these four sites. The opportunity for cross-pollination appears ripe for the picking. And if APS is looking to serve more "at-risk" students, why not expand the campuses and enrollment of the successful schools they already have?

APS Already Has Some Successful Alternative High Schools

APS Already Has Some Successful Alternative High Schools

My recommendation is that APS conditionally accepts these four schools. The board should allow for a one-year authorization for each school, contingent upon them agreeing to demonstrable and meaningful academic improvement. The mission and positive motivations of these schools is clear, and now the student learning needs to match those admirable values. If at the end of next school year little or no progress is made, then APS must commit to helping each student find an appropriate and academically successful school.

Comparison of APS SAMs Schools

Comparison of APS SAMs Schools

The APS board and charter school division must also grapple with the reality that by taking in these four schools, APS graduation rates will drop by a few percentage points overall, and particularly for female and Hispanic students. For a district already struggling with some of New Mexico’s lowest graduation rates, taking on these schools MUST be dependent upon a mutual commitment to significantly improve their results. As shown in the table above, APS already has seven plus similar schools with higher graduation rates. This would be a particular liability for a board and district under so much scrutiny to improve graduation rates.

I'll add that while graduation rates are incredibly important, I might be swayed if any of these four schools shared substantive data indicating their students are entering industry careers at prolific rates. For example, how many students leave school to take positions in engineering, health, or technology AND make living wages? I fully support any school that delivers these types of results for students and sets them on productive career paths. However, the onus is on each school to demonstrate they're achieving their stated mission.

Yes, the mission and vision of a school matters greatly, and so do results. Our students and city can’t afford to have one without the other. Let’s hold ourselves and our schools accountable.

[11/21] For Our Future: This Week's Education News & More

Friends & Colleagues -

In this relatively light news period I have updates on APS's budget, the state of early childhood in New Mexico, and two national stories related to teacher equity and emerging insights into Millennials' views on education. As always, your feedback and shares are greatly appreciated. Here's this week's roundup:

  • [LOCAL: NEWS] APS Budget Gets Boost. After some belt tightening this spring and summer, in anticipation of an overall reduction in state revenue, APS is putting nearly $7 million back into the 2017-18 budget. Buoyed by an anticipated bounce in oil and gas revenue, the extra money will be included in what's nearly a $1.4 billion annual budget. I'd like to see ALL that extra dough go straight to instructional support where teachers and students will benefit most.
  • [LOCAL: NEWS] More New Mexican Students Need Pre-K. Coinciding with nearly sixty years of research indicating that high quality early-childhood education has long lasting effects on children, the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee issued a report finding that many of our kindergartners come to school already below grade level. The report also found that "New Mexico students – especially from low-income families – tend to change schools often, which contributes to low test scores." This echoes a recent ECE report from the AERA which finds "access to early-childhood education significantly reduces students’ chances of being placed in special education or held back in school and increases their prospects of graduating high school."
  • [NATIONAL: RESEARCH] States' Receive Equity Grades For ESSA Plans. The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ)'s issued analysis of states' plans for ensuring that low-income and minority students are not disproportionately taught by ineffective, out-of-field, or inexperienced teachers under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Each state-specific analysis recognizes notable "strengths," or areas where a state's work is laudable, as well as "opportunities," or areas where improvement is necessary to meet the spirit and letter of the ESSA's educator equity requirements. New Mexico receives high marks for overall equity with a suggestion for us to redefine "inexperienced teacher" as a teacher who has taught two years or less, instead of the current definition of three years.
  • [NATIONAL: RESEARCH] Millennials Bring New Beliefs Into Public Education. Research firm Echelon Insights published a fascinating report on the views of Millennials regarding education. Long maligned for perceived narcissism and their rejection of traditional structures, at 75 million strong Millennials are now the biggest generation in the U.S. (and world), and beginning to reach positions of authority and power - with the oldest members about to turn 40.

    So whether you love us or hate us, Millennials are on the cusp of leading many more schools, districts, state departments, and elected offices. Thus, this report is a sneak preview of things to come over the next 30 years or so. I highly suggest you read the 20-page report. Here are some quick tidbits:

         - 68% of Millennials identify “having access to a quality education” as one of the most important factors to ensure someone has the opportunity to succeed
         - The most important factors to a "quality public school" are: (1) teacher creativity, (2) teacher flexibility, and (3) a positive and safe school culture
         - 74% of millennials think “schools today need big changes in order to create opportunity for students"
         - 65% of millennials think that being a public school teacher is more difficult “than it was twenty or thirty years ago"
         - 67% of millennials in rural areas support alternative pathways to teaching, saying it should be possible to teach without an education degree

[11/14] For Our Future: This Week's Education News & More

Friends and Colleagues -

This week I have updates on APS District One, New Mexico's science teacher of the year, the need to let families know when their children aren't reading on grade level, and some positive news about the outlook for New Mexican workers without a college degree.

As always, your feedback and social media sharing are greatly appreciated. Please think of one person to send this to and encourage them to sign onto my mailing list. Here's this weeks updates:

  • [LOCAL: NEWS] APS Fills District One Seat. Filling the opening left by the resignation of Analee Maestas, the APS School Board voted 4-2 (video of deliberations and vote) to fill the vacancy with South Valley native and Rio Grande High School graduate Yolanda Montoya-Cordova who, according to her application materials, is currently the "State Administrator- Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act."

    Yolanda was by far the most supported candidate at the South Valley forum. Her stance on accountability is reasonable (it's a necessary tool for improvement, not a punitive measure) and she stated support for charter schools. Kudos to the APS board for listening to the District One community in selecting her. As always, it's up to us as advocates to hold our elected officials accountable to decisions and policies that keep students the primary focus. Too often we are caught up in negotiating the interests of adults at the expense of students who are excluded from those conversations.

    As Yolanda writes in her application: "Education is a vital component for youth, their families and the community. Education is the door to lifelong skills associated with academic milestones necessary to reach post-secondary and career goals. Education is also a major contributor to important skill development related to positive relationships, community and civic engagement, personal decision making, and economic success for individuals, their families and the community." Let's hold her and the APS board accountable to this vision.
  • [LOCAL: NEWS] NM Science Teacher of the Year Named. Jessica Sanders, science teacher at Berrendo Middle School in Roswell, was awarded as New Mexico's 2017 Science Teacher of the Year. Lauded for her contributions in and out of the classroom, she is also a finalist for the statewide Golden Apple Award, which goes to seven New Mexico teachers annually. 
  • [LOCAL: NEWS] New Mexico Parents Not Notified. In a continuation of many years of poor communication from districts, most of our parents are still not notified when their children are not on track to read by the end of third grade, a pivotal time for students. In APS, about 9,500 1st-3rd graders were not proficient in reading last year, but only about 1,000 of those students received required notifications.

    Not only do our families deserve to know, there is good research backing this mandate. In the research report "Double Jeopardy: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation" by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, researcher Donald Hernandez finds that: "We teach reading for the first three grades and then after that children are not so much learning to read but using their reading skills to learn other topics. In that sense if you haven't succeeded by 3rd grade it's more difficult to [remediate] than it would have been if you started before then." The report also finds:

         - Third grade literacy is a stronger predictor of high school graduation than poverty;
         - 89% of students in poverty who read on level by 3rd grade graduate on time; and
         - A student who can't read on grade level by 3rd grade is 4x less likely to graduate by age 19 than a child who does

    Regardless of how one feels about mandatory or voluntary retention in third grade based on literacy, what is inarguable is that parents deserve to know if their student is not on target for reading and, just as importantly, what the district/school is doing to remedy to situation, and how parents can support. To not even let parents know of such a pivotal moment is immoral and detrimental to students. I've met parents from all walks of life and with all manner of challenges, however I've not met one parent who doesn't want what's best for their child and to know how they're doing in school.
  • [NATIONAL: OPINION] State Testing Improvements. As states ponder the next evolution and era of accountability and testing, my hope is that state policy makers and advocates push for a continued improvements to assessments and how results are reported to families. Mike Petrilli at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute offers sensible suggestions many states are already undertaking:

         - Move state tests to the last four weeks of the school year to give teachers more time to teach—and reducing dead time at year’s end (the previous state testing window started in March);
         - Require that teachers receive the scores of their incoming students before the next year starts;
         - Include in the score reports that are sent home to parents: (1) Information about students’ strengths and areas for improvement; (2) specific suggestions for actions parents can take on their child’s behalf; (3) data on proficiency and growth over time, over multiple years; and, when available, (4) projections of how students with scores like theirs are expected to score on the ACT or SAT;
         - Return the results from any formative assessments, like the MAP or iReady, to classroom teachers within one week and to parents within 30 days;
         - Publish the statewide testing schedule two years in advance to give districts maximum flexibility to plan their calendars; and
         - Ensure and confirm that test score reports actually reach parents
  • [NATIONAL: NEWS] Good Jobs That Pay Without an MBA. According to a joint effort study by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce and J.P. Morgan Chase, "there are 30 million well-paying jobs in the United States that do not require a bachelor’s degree." Of course, our students still need to graduate high school with the baseline skills (ahem, dare I say proficiencies) in reading, writing, math, science, and social studies necessary to be competitive for these types of jobs in the globalized 21st century. 

There are 30 million well-paying jobs in the United States that do not require a bachelor’s degree. Many of which are in the West and South, including New Mexico.

NM Outlook