ATF Leadership Encouraging Members NOT to Chime In On $1.34 Billion APS Budget

by Seth Saavedra │Friday, March 16th, 2018

What's going on with Albuquerque Teacher's Federation (ATF) leadership?

On Thursday afternoon, Ellen Bernstein, president of ATF, sent an email to members titled "APS Budget Survey - Ellen Asks That You Do Not Fill It Out!"


Take APS's survey:


This should be surprising on two fronts. First, that Ellen includes "asks" instead of "commands from on high" stands out. I suppose maintaining some semblance of members having an option is helpful.

And, second, Ellen is already on the record discussing "the importance of teacher input." Plus, in what world is it helpful for staffers to not provide input into their employer's programs, finances, and priorities?

Rather than being "inappropriate—and perhaps destructive to our collective bargaining relationship—for the District to ask employees represented by a Union to identify their budget priorities" (her capitalization not mine), this is a best practice and common sense.


In fact, as the Gallup Employee Engagement Center (one of the world's foremost thought leaders on organizational well-being, tells us, "Employee engagement and its impact on outcomes [are what] matter most."

In other words, if one cares about outcomes (such as student learning, effective budgeting, strong school leadership, etc.) gathering employee feedback is perhaps the most crucial measure to consider. IF one does.


Ellen Bernstein - 22-year president of ATF


Ellen goes on: "It is clear the survey lacks anything that is actually inefficient. Providing educational programs with the blood, sweat and tears of underpaid employees in underfunded programs should never appear on a list of possible inefficiencies unless the goal is to further demoralize employees."

We know that's not quite true. These are programs paid for with our blood, sweat, and taxes. And figuring out which programs are most effective, which aren't, and reallocating resources and people to get the most out of all 1.34 BILLION dollars is what smart, modern organizations do. To stay relevant requires agility and self reflection.

Why is there more allegiance to specific programs than our students who are the supposed beneficiaries? I acknowledge this is a somewhat "inappropriate" assessment as it's not Ellen's highly compensated job ($90,000+ a year per 2015 documents) to advocate for students.

Even I, the eternal APS critic, applaud the district's effort to better understand their spending, from the very people running programs. Imagine the backlash against APS for reorganizing programs and funding without the input of teachers.


Let's be clear here, Ellen's goal is twofold: One, discredit the survey results before they've even come in. What better way to undermine the survey from the start than ensuring teachers aren't represented in the results?

And, two, making sure APS doesn't speak to teachers without her intervention. There is a reason she connects the survey back to collective bargaining. Her position only matters in so much as it remains a wall between teachers and the district. However, as we already know, teachers are no monolith, even within the same school district. In fact, I received this text after the email went out:

It’s as though she [Ellen] doesn’t believe we should advocate for ourselves and that we have to go through her. We are constantly teaching our students to stand up for what they believe.
— APS Veteran Teacher

We get it. Being head of the ATF is a powerful position, and one Ellen has held for going on 22 years. This is, in part, the explanation behind the mystifying actions of union leadership at the expense of its members. With union membership nationwide on the decline and the anticipated ruling in Janus, you'd think ATF would be more forward thinking.

However, that's hard with leadership that hasn't changed perspectives in over two decades. I frequently talk to teachers in Albuquerque and across the state. What I hear is increasing frustration with union leadership hellbent on the status quo - determined to keep things as they've been for the past 50 years, mostly at membership's expense.

Well, the world is rapidly changing around us and, unless leadership turns over, my fear is unions (and collective bargaining) will go the way of taxis, who also willfully refused to see Uber and Lyft coming.

Public Schools are Free, Unless You Count the House You Have to Buy

by Chris Stewart│ Thursday, March 16th, 2018

This post was originally appeared at Citizen Education and is republished here with permission.

I’m having a problem I never had before. Maybe you’ve had the same experience. My wife and I are house hunting and what we’re learning is that it’s more than just the house you’re buying. It’s new to us because, in the past, the where-shall-we-live question was answered with more financial limitations than we have now. We are blessed now with having more resources, and thus, more options.

Or maybe we’re cursed?

You’ve seen House Hunters, so you know how our list of demands might look: four or more bedrooms, two or more baths, a minimum of 3,000 square feet, a finished basement, a kitchen with a center island where three kids can eat, central air, and a half-acre or more lot.

Yes, we’re those people. But it gets worse.

We also want all that to come in under $400,000. Like, way under. I’m told that wouldn’t buy a closet in the cities where many of my friends live, but it’s completely realistic in our part of Wobegon.

If the order wasn’t tall enough there’s an even bigger sticking point: we need a home near highly rated schools.

With this filter in place, the number of homes dwindles. I often find that house, and then scroll down and see a big red dot highlighting a poorly performing school nearby.

I click out of those listings and move on. There’s nothing more to see.


Is that fairProbably not. Are there great things in those schools that we could be missing; things we’d find if we took a more nuanced look at the school? Probably.

Do I have time to do the forensics on a school with low scores when there are schools with better outcomes within reach? Honestly, I don’t have that time and, because I love my children, I’m understandably risk-averse.

Our current situation isn’t great or horrible. We live in a comfortable working-class neighborhood with houses from the 1970s on decent sized lots. There are woods on one side of us and a major street on the other side, both of which sequester us from more expensive homes that shield us in a bubble. When we moved here, the fact that the neighborhood school was one of the best in our city was a bonus, but things have changed.

Our formerly “good” neighborhood school was rated a “5” or “6” on the Great Schools website. That was middling but slightly better than our district. After a couple of years of leadership and enrollment changes performance has declined, and, compounding the problem, we’ve had one too many incidents of bullying and other annoying experiences with the self-regulation challenges of other people’s children.

It’s livable for now, but the next school in our pathway is low-performing and we’re told that if our kids aren’t in that school’s advanced classes they will perish in an unruly general population.

Do we stay put and wish for the best? Do we pay for three kids to attend the excellent private school my wife attended? Or, do we opt for a more fitting house in an area where the elementary, middle and high schools rate a “9” and “10”?


No matter what we do there will be trade-offs. Schools in our area with higher schools are purposely whiter, and that’s a problem because we’re raising multiracial children in a world that prefers them to choose a team. And, our nearby neighborhoods with the high flying schools aren’t a cultural fit for me either.

I didn’t work for years in the service industry and low-paying nonprofit jobs so my kids could replicate my tough times. My dream has always been that they do better than I did and my self-concept as a father is tied to being a guardian to their success.

Inside, though, I am tense and conflicted. Am I really becoming one of those people?

You know the types: the ones who use their privilege and resources to buy a leg up in public systems so their children will be advantaged, while leaving kids behind who don’t have that option.

People with no guilt or shame. People who understand we’re locked in a game where our kids lose if we entrust them to the wrong systems. People who understand the cold truth that public education is rivalrous, and therefore, by definition, it cannot be the public good we imagine.

Yes, people like me. People willing to be ruthless about the development of our children, even when the high ideals of others condemn us as selfish or unwoke.


We say there should be no competition in public education as if that changes the fact that it – for better or worse – is competitive. Too often families like mine are the ones losing and we’re told to grin and bear it as a show of shared values.

If we’re being real, the people who criticize our school choice decisions are often doing so with no children of their own, or after having put their own children in one safe harbor or another.

We can say public education shouldn’t pick winners and losers and I’ll agree, but that doesn’t change reality. Parents who don’t actively choose schools are vulnerable to irrevocable losses. As the cliche says, childhood has no rewind.

For decades black families have faced this quandary as they moved out of urban areas in search of safer communities with better services. I can’t speak for them, but there seems to be a suggestion that we sacrifice our kids for the “greater good”; that we take one for the team and stay put in redlined neighborhoods.

If you want me to compromise my kids’ life chances in service of the greater good, my response is, “You go first.”

Until then, I want a house near a school with a green dot. And, I’m willing to pay for it as best I can because that’s the price we pay to ensure one generation does better than the last.


Chris Stewart - Founder, Writer & Advocate @ Citizen.Education

Founded in 2015, Citizen Ed is a weekly education reader highlighting honestly told stories about public schools from the urban grassroots. Each week we look across the country for stories written by people of color who have unique and insightful views about public schooling in their communities. 

Is Our Drive Towards Graduating in Four Years Worth It?

by Jacob Kolander│ Tuesday, March 13th, 2018

Graduation rates are once again in the news as New Mexico continues to sit at the bottom of the list of states based on four-year graduation rates.

In 2015, we made news as having the worst four-year graduation rate in the country, and in 2016 we only made slight gains. This push for a four-year graduation rate has several unintended consequences we must consider.

The first is that many of our students take longer than four years to graduate. The rub? This does not impact their rate of college acceptance. The UNM Admissions Office indicated to me that, when looking at applications for undergraduates, they don’t take graduation time into account.

What really matters for students is GPA, ACT/SAT scores, and demonstration of proficiency as indicated by PARCC and other assessments. Many more universities feel the same way, which begs the question: where does the pressure to graduate in four years come from?

The importance of students graduating on time is up for debate, but what is more significant is the skill set with which they graduate.


New Mexico's 2017 Four-Year Graduation Rates


According to this AP report by Russell Contreras, in 2016 New Mexico high school graduates had a 29 percent proficiency in reading and a 20 percent proficiency in math. We must ask ourselves: what is the benefit or detriment of over valuing a four-year graduation rate?

Although 71.1 percent of our students, on average, graduate in four years, 80 percent can’t demonstrate proficiency in math, and 70 percent can’t in reading on the PARCC exam. Does it behoove New Mexico (or any state) to hold the four-year graduation rate in such esteem?

It seems to me that a better indicator of classroom success is an increasing rate of proficiency, paired with the four-year rate. Not one in exclusion of the other.


New Mexico 2015-17 PARCC Results in Math and ELA
Source: New Mexico Public Education Department


Two risk factors significant to college graduation rates include first-generation students and students who need remedial coursework. Many of our students face both factors and, although being a first-generation student has many inherent difficulties, students who take remedial courses face an even greater challenge.

A recent PBS NewsHour report indicates that 42 percent of high school graduates in New Mexico need remedial courses at their university. Extending their time in college through remedial coursework has a troubling impact on student debt, and the extended time it takes to graduate negatively influences whether they complete their degree or not.

Remediation also takes an emotional toll as students see their peer group moving forward into degree programs, while they remain stalled out until they can pass those remedial courses.

The goal of education should not exclusively be how many students graduate in four years, but how well-prepared those students are for life and college.


Percent of Students Achieving Proficiency or Above on PARCC
Source: NewMexicoKidsCAN "2017 State of Education" Report


The PARCC assessment faced many challenges to implementation in New Mexico. However, studies show the exam does as good of a job predicting college success as the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS). In fact, a Mathematica Policy Research study concludes that students who achieve a 4 or 5 on the PARCC are significantly less likely to need remedial courses.


In the end, New Mexico needs to make long-term investments in our students. I constantly hear educational leaders identify risk-factors for our students and work to overcome them. Yes, the ideal outcome for students is a four-year graduation. But we must also invest in making that four-year rate meaningful.

Our pursuit of this goal can't come at the expense of student learning in core competencies, or we do our students and ourselves a disservice by ignoring the long term benefit of starting college with stronger skill sets in reading and math.


Jacob Kolander - Teacher & Advisory Committee Member

Jacob Kolander is the 11th and 12th grade English Department Chair at South Valley Academy in Albuquerque. He is also a member of the New Mexico Public Education Department's Secretary’s Teacher Advisory Committee and the Professional Practices and Standards Council.

Do the Benefits of Collective Bargaining Include Giving Up a $10,000 Bonus?

by Mike Antonucci │Friday, March 9th, 2018

This post was originally appeared at Education Intelligence Agency and is republished here with permission.

“At issue in Janus v. AFT is whether non-union members, who share in the wages, benefits and protections that have been negotiated into a collectively bargained contract, may be required to pay their fair share for the cost of those negotiations.” – from a January 18, 2018 National Education Association press release.

New Mexico is a unique state for teacher unions and agency fees. State law makes agency fees a “permissive subject of bargaining” but does not require them. At last check, NEA had no agency fee-payers in New Mexico. I don’t know about AFT.

But for the moment let’s suppose you were an exemplary New Mexico teacher paying agency fees to your exclusive bargaining agent. Then you read this:

This week, Gov. Susana Martinez signed off on a budget bill that provides for $5,000 and $10,000 bonuses for exemplary teachers in New Mexico. And while she used her line-item veto authority to strike the language giving teachers unions the ability to decide whether the school districts and charter schools they represent will participate, one union leader says her group might still be able to block the bonuses by invoking their collective bargaining rights under state law.

NEA-NM President Betty Patterson says “school employees can rest assured our local associations will use negotiations to locally determine whether their district will go forward with this wildly unpopular ‘merit pay’ program that undermines collaboration among school teams.

So your choices are simple: Don’t pay the fee and lose your job, or pay the fee and lose $10,000.

Oh, and they call you a freeloader.


Mike Antonucci - Writer & Researcher

Mike is the director of the Education Intelligence Agency and has covered the education beat since 1993. Education Week called him “the nation’s leading observer — and critic — of the two national teachers’ unions and their affiliates.” Mike’s writings have appeared in The Wall Street JournalForbesInvestor’s Business DailyThe American Enterprise, and many other periodicals, and his work has been favorably cited in the Washington PostBoston GlobePhiladelphia InquirerNew York Post, and a host of other prominent daily newspapers.

[3/9] For Our Future: This Week's Education News & More

by Seth Saavedra │Friday, March 9th, 2018

Friends & Colleagues -

While the political chatter takes a break in the run up to this year's gubernatorial election, our drive for better educational outcomes continues. There is no rest for the weary, particularly for our students who entrust their futures to schools daily.

This week New Mexico teachers got a well deserved raise, but the real question is are we raising our expectations of what's possible for all students? And where is the leadership needed to move us up from the bottom of so many lists? I don't see it yet, but am pushing daily. Until then, here's this week's roundup:

[LOCAL: NEWS] Governor Martinez Bolsters Education Spending. The Gov signed our $6.3 billion budget, which includes pay raises for all school staff, and a few vetoes. She eliminated language requiring union input on whether districts adopt a pay-for-performance initiative.

No surprise there. What is surprising is that the Albuquerque Teacher's Federation represents only 54% of ABQ teachers. Perhaps New Mexico should mimic Florida and require teacher unions to recertify with a majority. Especially as ATF leadership continuously proves itself to be the most regressive voice in New Mexico education.

[LOCAL: NEWS] Denver Superintendent Visits Albuquerque. Superintendent Tom Boasberg came to Albuquerque to share about the recent successes of Denver Public Schools, one of the fastest growing districts in the country. DPS has embraced a broad change plan with explicit focus on equity.

Never missing a chance to naysay, APS Board of Education President David Peercy rebutted by incorrectly stating that Denver spends more to get these results. Sorry David, but that's wrong.

Here are the facts: APS has 84,000 students in 142 schools and a $1.34 billion dollar budget. Meanwhile, DPS has 92,000 students in 199 schools and a $1.3 billion dollar budget. DPS has more students (who are just as diverse and impoverished) in more schools and the same budget. When this is the untrue rhetoric from APS's board president, it's no wonder citizens are skeptical of any bond or tax revenue increases for the district.

[NATIONAL: RESEARCH] NCTQ Tells Us How To Address Licensure Shortages. Amidst the constant drum beat of a "teacher shortage" we find the sound of logic. The National Council on Teacher Quality delineates the necessary components to address inevitable fluctuations in teacher supply. These include:

  1. Publicly reported teacher training data relevant to district hiring needs, and
  2. Clear guidelines on program acceptance numbers by certification areas.

Unfortunately, NCTQ rates New Mexico at the bottom on both measures. As I've written over and over, there is no "teacher shortage". Rather, there is a shortcoming in our systems and data in addressing specific licensure needs.

[NATIONAL: RESEARCH] Whatever Happened to All Those New & Better State Tests? The means by which we measure student learning is an unending debate. There are constant promises about a "new & better" assessment. Where are those, then? Education First tells us that independent reviews of different state tests turn up wide variations in quality and depth. The rub: PARCC remains at the top of the list, beating Advanced Placement, Smarter Balanced, and the ACT. To be the champ you have to beat the champ.


Despite promises and gripes PARCC reigns supreme


[NATIONAL: STORY] Educational Pluralism: The Path to Fairness. The United States opted for a uniform public school system in the late-19th century. However, most democracies chose a plural school system, where the government routinely funds a variety of diverse schools. Dr. Ashley Berner argues that this method of educational pluralism embodies a far better structure for public education and suggests interim steps to get the United States there. And if you haven't read her book I highly recommend the quick, paradigm-shifting read.