[6/8] For Our Future: This Week's Education News & More

by Seth Saavedra │Friday, June 8th, 2018

Friends & Colleagues -

Now that our primary week is over, it's clear that progressive Dems are riding a wave in New Mexico. In a state that's usually a more moderate shade of blue, we look headed to a deeper hue. We are also poised to be the first to send a Native American woman to Congress, a seminal moment for our state and country.

The education implications for this wave are worrisome for this advocate. Though my hope is the regressive "get rid of everything" rhetoric of 2018 tones down after November's elections. And here's this week's roundup:

[LOCAL: NEWS] APS's Plan for Hawthorne Elementary Conditionally Approved. In a letter sent from NMPED to APS yesterday, Secretary of Education Ruszkowski approved Hawthorne's "Champion and Provide Choice" submission. Hawthorne requested almost $1 million for their efforts, which NMPED agreed to provide in installments contingent on these six conditions:

  1. Any and all financial resources provided serve only current Hawthorne students;

  2. Hawthorne students receive highest-priority for their schools of choice and are guaranteed a seat in a higher-performing school if they seek one;

  3. NMPED reviews and approves all communications materials provided to Hawthorne students and families;

  4. APS provides NMPED with quarterly school enrollment updates;

  5. NMPED staff are present for, and/or co-host, each school choice expo; and

  6. NMPED may provide additional materials to Hawthorne parents and families.

The conditions aim to make two things clear. First, Hawthorne students and families are at the center of these efforts. And, second, APS must earnestly work to improve the school for teachers and students and not play for shadow games.

Without doubt, district leadership is banking on our next governor relieving them of their duties to Hawthorne families. We advocates must remain vigilant and remind APS that, regardless of school grade, too many of our schools continue to mis- and under-educate our children.


[LOCAL: NEWS] New Mexico Teachers Release Reports on Pre-K and Teacher Preparation. Growing powerhouse Teach Plus New Mexico issued recommendations on: "Tailoring Preparation Programs to Better Fit Student, Teacher, and Community Needs" and "An Equitable Approach for Pre-K Enrollment".

Both are commonsense reports, grounded in equity, from some of our state's best teachers.


[LOCAL: NEWS] Southern NM Districts Tackle Budget Challenges Head On. Carlsbad and Hobbs Municipal Schools superintendents shared their efforts to reach all their students. This despite the volatile ups and downs of the oil-and-gas extraction industries both cities rely on. The article includes these gems:

Our blame should be never be on the kids and their families. Our blame should be on what we do in the classroom.
— Carlsbad Superintendent Greg Rodriguez
In education, people always make excuses. They say poverty. I don’t think that has anything to do with it.
— LFC member and State Rep. Larry Larrañaga
The perception of the HMS is that it is a wealthy district. We are one of the least per-pupil funded district in the state of New Mexico.
— Hobbs Superintendent TJ Parks


[LOCAL: VIEWPOINT] Local Advocate Points Towards Our Acclaimed ESSA Plan. Executive Director of NMKidsCAN, Amanda Aragon, calls for state leaders to follow one of the nation's best ESSA plans as they improve schools: OUR OWN. She also asks, "If we don't show up for students, who will? If we do show up with a committed approach to school turnaround, who will take inspiration from our success?"

[NATIONAL: RESEARCH] Academic Preparation Is a Key Predictor of College Success. A recent study from the American Enterprise Institute finds:

  • High school grades are correlated with degree attainment. Earning good grades in high school typically requires developing habits that are relevant for college success;

  • After controlling for selection bias, students who take more rigorous coursework are more likely to succeed in college; and

  • Researchers and educators should collaborate on pilot interventions aimed at improving success in high school courses. These could be focused on content or more general strategies aimed at helping students learn how to learn.

Read the full PDF report.


[6/1] For Our Future: This Week's Education News & More

by Seth Saavedra │Friday, June 1st, 2018

Friends & Colleagues -

Welcome to June! I bring you the latest from APS and NMPED, along with a new, free resource for teachers. And my love for podcasts continues with two more for your listening pleasure.

Earlier this week I asked "Are Our Schools Meant to Be Gardens or Construction Sites?" Of course, I hope the answer is somewhere in between. Here's this week's roundup:

[LOCAL: NEWS] APS (Finally) Signs Off On School Improvement Plans. After months of posturing, APS superintendent Raquel Reedy has signed off on improvement plans for two elementary schools: Los Padillas and Whittier. This leaves one more MRI school (Hawthorne Elementary, which I wrote about recently) for APS to complete a "champion and provide choice" plan for.

Let's hold APS accountable to making substantive change for some our Albuquerque's most vulnerable students.


[LOCAL: NEWS] NMPED Increases Number in Homegrown Principal Program. We in New Mexico love our homegrown people, ideas, and businesses. So we should be incredibly proud of two locally fostered programs: Teachers Pursuing Excellence (TPE) and Principals Pursuing Excellence (PPE).

Per NMPED: "The state is welcoming 50 new principals to join the evidenced-based program that will help them improve their schools. PPE schools have tripled and doubled academic growth rates while serving more students living in poverty, English Learners (ELs), Native students, and students with disabilities. Dozens of PPE schools have increased their school grades from Ds and Fs to As and Bs, thus becoming models of excellence for other struggling schools statewide to emulate."

[LOCAL: NEWS] Local Advocacy Group Launches "The Future of Education in New Mexico". Speaking of locally grown, NMKidsCAN released a literal roadmap describing "our [education] path, and the guiding stars that we follow as the compass points we use to fine-tune our journey."

To request a physical copy of the roadmap - and also follow the path of New Mexican student Isabel - visit: https://nmkidscan.org/vision/.


[NATIONAL: OPPORTUNITY] Khan Academy Offering Teachers Free Online Training. The Silicon Valley powerhouse now offers free online training program through its new Khan Academy Teacher Training. The 60-minute, self-paced training program helps teachers - and their students - get the most out of Khan Academy’s extensive collection of free online courses.

[NATIONAL: PODCAST] Vox Digs Into "No Excuses" Charter School History. Matthew Yglesias and crew are some of the wonkiest podcasters out there. This week they tackle the fraught topic of "no excuses" charter schools. I found their exploration one of the smartest, most incisive conversations I've heard on the topic. I put this in my "can't miss" category.

[NATIONAL: PODCAST] New Education Podcast Launches. The Bell, in association with The Hechinger Report, has launched "Miseducation". The series digs into the bifurcated public education system in New York City. One for the haves, and an entirely different one for the have nots:

"New York City has two high school systems. One is for the affluent and well-connected. It promises elite opportunities for families able to sacrifice time and money to compete for them. The other primarily serves low-income students of color, concentrates them in the same schools, and offers them slim hope of college preparation. But most people here, including policymakers, have little idea what actually goes on inside this dual school system." Listen to episode one: "The Price of Specialized High Schools".

[5/11] For Our Future: This Week's Education News & More

by Seth Saavedra │Friday, May 11th, 2018

Friends & Colleagues -

As we near the end of Teacher Appreciation Week (in the Year of Educators' Voices Rising) here are a few posts by and for teachers from across the country:

I've rounded up education news from across New Mexico and included powerful investigative reporting on the lengths suburban districts go to exclude certain outsiders. As always, thanks for reading and drop me a line to let me know what you think - or what I've missed. Here's this week's roundup:

[LOCAL: NEWS] Pre-K Funding Increased By 31 PercentNMPED announced a nearly $10 million increase for full- and half-day pre-k programs across the state. As reported by the Albuquerque Journal: "$4.37 million [goes] into the new programs at districts across the state, and an additional $5.66 million for expanding, existing programs." The end result is a total of 65 districts, six state-authorized charter schools, and 6,786 students will participate in the upcoming school year.

This methodical rollout of pre-k programs to districts and areas who've already laid the necessary groundwork strikes me as a far better approach than a $400 million Land Grant Fund windfall, while achieving the same goal of expanded services to all New Mexico students. All our students deserve high-quality pre-k, not merely the opportunity for any pre-k.


[LOCAL: NEWS] Legislative Finance Committee Finds Poor Connection Between Funding and Student Learning. As if on cue, the LFC released a report this week finding that “there was a weak relationship between per-student federal funding and low-income student proficiency in English and math.” This debate is well-documented in education research and shouldn't be a surprise.

However, this doesn't and shouldn't mean that we shouldn't increase spending - or even decrease funds. Rather we need to continue invest in evidence-based initiatives "including preschool for low-income families, teacher mentorship programs, and an extended school year."

[LOCAL: NEWS] Homegrown Mentorship Programs Earn Acclaim. Speaking of mentorship programs, we are getting recognition for two we've grown in house: Teachers Pursuing Excellence (TPE) and Principals Pursuing Excellence (PPE).

Both programs pair high-performing mentors with mentees seeking to improve based in part on NMTeach, our teacher evaluation system. Results of the programs indicate there is particular benefit for American Indian students, who have historically lagged all other student demographics, including in NAEP:

SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics

[NATIONAL: REPORTING] "Kicked Out" Follows District Efforts to Remove Out of Boundary FamiliesA Philadelphia reporter explores what districts do to make sure they only serve students in their tightly and strategically drawn boundaries. And - surprise! - he finds those efforts stink of racial and economic disparity.

Reached on the phone earlier this week by Alexander Russo, Wolfman-Arent shared that he’s heard about the issue over the years and thought that it was an interesting and somewhat different way to get at race, inequality, and funding issues: “It does seem that in districts that do this, if you’re a student of color, you’re more likely to be kicked out.”


Octavia Durham is surrounded by five of the seven grandchildren who live with her and attend Pottsgrove Public Schools., (from left) Mason Dargan, 5, Tarienah Chandler Smith, 9, Miyana Francis, 14, K'Lliyah Smith, 15, and Mikhi Dargan, 9. (Emma Lee/WHYY)


[4/26] For Our Future: This Week's Education News & More

by Seth Saavedra │Thursday, April 26th, 2018

Friends & Colleagues -

The New Mexico education train is moving along at a fast clip these past few weeks. Spring has arrived as PARCC testing approaches its conclusion and with graduation on the horizon for many New Mexico students.

I have a request this week: if you haven't already, please sign up for my distribution list, which means you'll get a brief email the day after a new post goes live. And if you're already on this list, have someone you know sign up. This averages out to roughly two emails a week with no spam.


NM Education Mailing List


As always, thank you for reading and drop me a line to let me know what you think - or what I've missed. Here's this week's roundup:

[LOCAL: NEWS] NMPED Launches High School Redesign Network. Using $4 million in Federal funds earmarked for struggling high schools, ten schools from across New Mexico will work with "school boards, principals, teachers, and communities to transform struggling high schools." NMPED has partnered with Johns Hopkins University’s School of Education Cross-State High School Redesign Collaborative on the project. The ten schools invited to participate are:


[LOCAL: NEWS] Struggling Schools to Receive $15 Million Over Next Three Years. As part of our ESSA plan, NMPED has identified 86 schools in need of Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) - meaning "schools either at the bottom five percent of performance amongst Title I schools or high schools with a graduation rate of 67 percent or lower in two of the last three years."

This describes a total of 86 schools in NM. Sixty of these schools applied for CSI grant funding with 46 ultimately selected to receive over $5 million a year over the next three years. A full list of these schools is at the link above.

[LOCAL: NEWS] Michelle Lujan Grisham Releases Eleven Point Plan for Education. The likely Democrat on this fall's gubernatorial ballot has big plans for our education system. Some of the highlights from the full plan include:

  • Universal pre-k funded by increased distributions from the Land Grant Permanent Fund (also known as House Joint Resolution 1);

  • Make STEAM the core platform of New Mexico's schools;

  • Raise NM teacher salaries to match Texas; and

  • Do away with PARRC, school grades, and teacher evaluation (NMTEACH) to then "determine the most appropriate and least intrusive test for New Mexico schools.

On that last point, the logic seems a bit backward to this advocate. And confirms my skepticism about the ed platforms of both Lujan-Grisham and Pearce. The goal should be smart evolutions of our systems, seeking out areas to build and improve upon. Instead, the approach seems to be a "repeal first, plan later" mentality.

Sure this strategy makes for pithy soundbites and wins early endorsements, but it makes for bad policy and leaves our most vulnerable children in limbo. Plus, as New Jersey's new governor has discovered, translating campaign trail promises into effective policy is much harder than it looks.

[NATIONAL: RESEARCH] Fordham Institute Reports on "Charter School Deserts". In a just released report, researchers ask: "As the geography of poverty in America changes, are there many neighborhoods with plenty of population density and lots of disadvantaged kids but few or no charter schools? Or do the schools actually set up shop where poor families live—whether in cities, small towns, or the suburbs?"


Looking at areas of the country with relatively high poverty but no charter schools, they've identified "charter school deserts" in New Mexico and Albuquerque: "New Mexico has eight charter school deserts, representing 13 percent of mid- to high-poverty census tracts, located in rural areas in the south, central, and northwest parts of New Mexico and the Albuquerque metro area." For those interested, Fordham created an interactive map.

[NATIONAL: RESEARCH] Albuquerque Spotlighted In George W. Bush Institute Report. What does it mean to be college and career ready (CCR) in the 21st century? Researchers seek answers with Albuquerque at the center of a case study. Highlighting overlapping efforts from Albuquerque Public Schools, NMPED, and Mission:Graduate, the report finds optimism and "the recognition of state leaders that more action must be taken to improve graduation and post-secondary attainment rates for New Mexicans."


Source: Mission Graduate


There is broad agreement locally that we need to direct more focus and resources to this work. The caveat is that graduation rates must rise alongside skills acquisition. If our graduation rates continue to inch up while math and reading proficiencies move downward, we'll find ourselves in the same trap that ensnared us long before No Child Left Behind and Common Core became sacrificial lambs.

[4/5] For Our Future: This Week's Education News & More

by Seth Saavedra │Thursday, April 5th, 2018

Friends & Colleagues -

I'm working on a story that's both personal and exciting. A story about a New Mexico family doing all they can for their children. I can't wait.

But, with the steady stream of good stuff coming out this week, I had to take a quick break to write this local and national roundup. If you have an extra 20 minutes, check out a podcast that came out yesterday featuring former Secretary of Education, Hanna Skandera. And here's this week's roundup:

[LOCAL: NEWS] Albuquerque Journal Highlights Differing Viewpoints. In two stories this week, Shelby Perea touches on the live wire topic of school grades, and the degree to which they are helpful.

The first describes South Valley Academy, an APS charter school. SVA has moved from a B to a D over the past four years. And, despite 14 and 4 percent proficiencies in reading and math, respectively, the graduation rate is 14 points higher than the NM average. The reason for the drop in school grade? According to principal Julie Radoslovich, it's because "growing up in poverty does impact academic success" and the PARCC is hard. I recently had an SVA teacher write a thought-provoking piece on high school graduation and college readiness.

In a second article, "Touring Excellence", we learn more about a school with similar demographics to SVA but quite different outcomes (40 and 29 percent proficiencies) and beliefs about their students: Mission Achievement and Success. Moving from a C to an A over the past four years, MAS's website states:

[We believe] that all children, regardless of race, economic status, or past educational experiences can succeed if they have access to a great education. Providing a great education means surrounding students with a team of dedicated, passionate, and highly effective educators who embrace a “no excuses, whatever it takes” attitude to ensure that our students not only earn a high school diploma, but possess the skills to experience success in college and the competitive world.

To this author, these differences in beliefs about their students are dramatic. One school cites student identities as the reason they can't or aren't learning. The other acknowledges the unique challenges their students face and strategically addresses them through school culture and structure. For two schools only 15 minutes away from each other, they are worlds apart in how they view students' potential.

My advice to parents? Contact and visit both schools. Talk to teachers, administrators, and students. Look at their reports cards (SVA and MAS) and see how each is doing. I've been to each school several times and the differences are palpable, though the students look identical and come from most of the same neighborhoods.

[LOCAL: STORY] Heartwarming Profile of Gadsden Teacher. Manuel Mendoza teaches at Gadsden High School along the Mexican border. If you haven't heard yet, Gadsden is one of the best stories in New Mexico education. It's a district that's essentially all Hispanic and as poor as any other. Yet the student learning and graduation results are impressive. As an immigrant himself, Manuel knows how hard life is coming to the U.S. not speaking English. Through tough love and unwavering expectations of his students, Manuel works to get all his students to college, despite their own self-doubt.

[NATIONAL: RESEARCH] Millennials On Verge of Wielding Enormous Political Clout. As the #NeverAgain movement has shown, Millennials and Generation Z will be no idle spectators in our political arena. "Millennials, projected to pass Baby Boomers next year as the United States’ largest living adult generation, are also approaching the Boomers in their share of the American electorate."

The implications for education are massive. Not only will the face of our teaching force significantly change over the next decade as Boomers retire, the perspectives of Millennials, who view school choice as a no brainer, will gain more prominance. Districts and unions would be wise to strategize now about what it will take to attract these generations. High-performing charters, and charter networks, have been doing this successfully for the past decade.


[NATIONAL: RESEARCH] How Do High School Diplomas Align with College Admissions? A recent report from the Center for American Progress explores this question. With historic highs in national graduation rates, there is growing concern about what value those diplomas actually hold.

In New Mexico, the report finds our traditional graduation requirements are well-balanced and aligned well with admission to local universities. In all areas except Foreign Language we meet or exceed "college expectations in the number of units for this subject". Of course, even when our students fulfill graduation requirements, if they aren't reading or writing at a college level, remedial coursework is necessary. This in turn increases the cost and length of college, reducing the likelihood of completion.


[NATIONAL: STORY] Five Education Facts You Didn't Know About Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of Dr. King's assassination. Not only was he a prodigy, he spoke fervently about the connections between education and liberty throughout his life.


[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.