[9/6] For Our Future: This Week's Education News & More

Friends & Colleagues -

As a New Mexican native and education advocate, I know our thoughts on education are as varied and colorful as our sunsets. This holds true when it comes to our school letter grades as well. My thoughts are that letter grades are an imperfect but helpful tool that provide a glimpse into how things are going. They are also a rare opportunity for parents to see how their school is performing overall. A school grade is akin to a thermometer as it provides incomplete but indispensable information about what’s going on inside a complex body, whether it’s human or a school. Your temperature won’t tell you exactly what’s going on but does let us know whether we should be concerned and what to be on the lookout for.

Different from the letter grades we get as students, however, New Mexico school grades were designed from the outset to be transparent. I encourage all New Mexicans to head to the Public Education Department website to see for themselves. The report cards are quite easy to read, though of course I’d love for NMPED to continue to make the information as accessible as possible for all parents by including things like demographic information as well.

For "fun" I looked up the 2016 grades for the seven APS schools I attended as a child and found one "C", one "D", and five "Fs", which aligns with my personal experiences. The high school I eventually dropped out got an “F” last year but a “C” this year. Hmmmm, that sounds promising. Right there on the first page of the school report I see where the change comes from: in a category called School Improvement that asks, “Is the school as a whole making academic progress?” This appears to be the case of a school working hard to improve a specific category that increases their overall grade, which is precisely why teachers, and especially parents and students need school grades. How else do we know where we are doing well, or not, without first having the information about how students are learning?

One of the few things all New Mexicans agree on is that our public education system has yet to fulfill its potential, particular for poor and Hispanic students like myself. We cannot meaningfully address the issues of equity and access which haunt our state (and did so long before we had school grades) without first knowing the hard reality of now. What we find in the school report cards isn’t always pretty, but we owe it to ourselves and our future to look our challenges straight in the eye and confront them head on. Remember, every D or F school represents hundreds or thousands of students who aren’t acquiring the skills they need to be the future community, business, and civic leaders New Mexico needs.

As always, your feedback is welcomed, as are social media and other sharing. Here's this week's roundup:

  • [LOCAL: NEWS] New Mexico 2016-17 School Grades Released.  NMPED has shared the latest school grades and provides these highlights:

         Farmington has eliminated “F” schools and increased the amount of “A” schools
    In 2012, 6% of its schools were “F” schools, today the district has 0 “F” schools
            - In 2012, Farmington had no “A” schools, today 37% of its schools are “A” schools

         Gadsden has eliminated “F” schools and increased the amount of “A” schools
    In 2012, 9% of its schools were “F” schools, today the district has 0 “F” schools

         Alamogordo has eliminated “F” schools.In 2012, 13% of its schools were “F” schools and now has 0 “F” schools
            - The district has grown the number of “A” schools by 14%

         Unfortunately for APS students, the state's largest district is trending in the wrong direction:
            - In 2012, 11% of schools earned an “F”, now that number has jumped to 34% (that’s roughly 36 more “F” schools across the district)
            - APS has 19 of the 23 schools statewide that earned a participation penalty, for lack of students taking PARCC
            - The only two schools in New Mexico that have earned an “F” letter grade for six consecutive years in a row are Hawthorne Elementary School and Whittier Elementary School in APS
  • [LOCAL: SCHOOL] Using Data to Inform and Improve Teaching. One of the great dilemmas and albatrosses around the neck of public education is a “data-rich, action-poor” approach. Anyone who has spent any amount of time in a school as an adult will find reams of data, though the degree to which these data impact instruction or practice is hard to know.

    Changing this paradigm to great success is Mission Achievement & Success (MAS) here in Albuquerque. Founder and principal JoAnn Mitchell and her staff believe that their jobs are not simply about collecting data but "about using data to enhance teaching." Most importantly, this approach is resulting in great outcomes for students. MAS (where 4 out of every 10 students receives free or reduced lunch) has earned an "A" grade for the last three years, a testament to the hard work, dedication, and collective effort.
  • [NATIONAL: PODCAST] Keeping Teachers. Teachers matter more than anything else in a school. But schools are struggling to hold on to the teachers they need. Men of color and teachers in rural areas are in especially short supply, which has massive implications for us in The Land of Enchantment as there is strong, emerging evidence that having a teacher of color improves the learning outcomes and likelihood of being recommended for gifted classes for students of color.
  • [NATIONAL: RESEARCH] Time to Revive the Guild System? "After decades of pushing bachelor’s degrees, U.S. needs more tradespeople" is the headline coming from The Hechinger Report. In California, 30% of all job openings by 2025 — more than a million jobs — will require some post-high school education, according to the state’s community college system. In an environment where we tend to debate either vocational training or liberal arts, what employers really want is both. Students need the hard skills to take industrial jobs along with so-called “soft skills” - such as communication and conflict resolution - that foster teamwork and reduce stress.

Mission Achievement & Success: Focusing on Data to Help Students and Teachers

Here's what the nation's teachers look like.