What Should We Expect of Our New Secretary of Ed?

So, will Dr. Stewart sit idly by and let the nation’s top-rated ESSA plan be unraveled without a solid, student-minded alternative in place? Will he be able to withstand the undue influence of teacher union leadership at the expense of parents and students? Time will tell, but I’m hopeful. And, if he doesn’t, we’ll be here to tell the truth; nothing disinfects like sunshine.

Best of luck Dr. Stewart, we’re counting on you to do right by ALL constituents, not just those with unearned mouthpieces and cushy salaries they’ve been collecting for 20+ years.

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In Midst of Central Office Raises, APS Can't Cool Schools

Finding money to pay themselves has never been an issue for APS central office administrators. Just this summer Superintendent Reedy received yet another raise, this one for just under $30k. Applying that same 11 percent raise to the 30 highest paid APS officials results in $403,902 in newfound salary for a district losing students and mired in underperformance.

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Ex Nihilo Nihil Fit

Yes, there are important questions to answer about where public education in NM goes from here. While progress has been made, we have much further to go. What’s also true is we won’t move forward by continually taking three or four steps backwards. Blindly wiping the slate clean only hurts teachers and students, while ignoring nearly a decade of important progress. Instead, let’s do the hard work of enacting change on behalf of all students, from Dulce to Deming.

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Teaching Kids to Read: Education’s Climate Change Crisis

Scientific research has shown how children learn to read and how they should be taught. But many educators don't know the science and, in some cases, actively resist it. As a result, millions of kids are being set up to fail.

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A Week Full of Firsts

Balloons are up in Albuquerque! What a welcome sight. Pardon my not posting anything last week. For the first time, I went to Montgomery, AL to join a conference of fellow education bloggers. About twenty of us from across the country spent a few days sharing stories and inspiring one another for this challenging work. We come from all walks of life, most of us having worked in education in one form or another.

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Wanted: $ for Pre-K; Needed: Quality & Accountability

Early Child Education (ECE) appears to be one of the few topics in education people from all stripes and political leanings can agree about. Initiatives such as Head Start, the Federal program that provides comprehensive early childhood education, provide evidence that four-year-olds perform higher than their nonparticipating peers on literacy assessments.

Building off the widespread understanding of the benefits of early-childhood programs, Representatives Moe Maestas (D - Albuquerque) and Javier Martinez (D - Albuquerque) have introduced House Joint Resolution 1 (HJR01) which aims to amend our state constitution for $100+ million more a year for ECE. This funding would come from the much debated Land Grant Permanent Fund, with a current principal near $15 billion. We currently use roughly 5% of the fund for public schools, hospitals and other sources. HJR01 aims to increase this to 6%.

HJR01 has already cleared two committees along party lines and currently sits with the House Judiciary. If HJR01 makes it out of that committee it then goes to vote by all 70 members of the House.

Ideological battles about the Land Grant Permanent Fund and whether a constitutional amendment is the best way to increase ECE funding aside, the conversation is sorely lacking in two areas: one, ensuring pre-K services are high-quality and, two, emerging evidence that the positive effects of preschool programs don't last long.

In a recent paper in the Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, researchers found "many interventions...demonstrate initially promising but then quickly disappearing impacts." In other words, the short-term benefits are evident but the long-term impacts are not nearly as clear. Given that the U.S. spends more than $15 billion annually on these programs, and New Mexico is pondering a significant increase in our own spending, it is vital we ensure they work and we don't "send good money after bad".

After analyzing 67 high-quality programs, the researchers learned a few things:

  1. The positive effects of Head Start mentioned above disappear within a year;
  2. Much of what children learn in early-childhood intervention programs are skills they'd typically pick up in kindergarten or first grade anyway;
  3. As a one time intervention, ECE programs don't have much depth of impact on intelligence, conscientiousness or the "30 Million Word Gap"; and
  4. For lasting effects, there must be a focus on skills which otherwise wouldn't develop. In other words, the intent and quality of instruction matters greatly.

All this is not to say ECE programs should be discounted. In fact, the opposite is true in New Mexico where only 29% of our 3- and 4-year-olds are enrolled in pre-K. These programs have great intentions and possibility, but neither is inherently enough to get the results our students need. They deserve both expanded access to programs as well as assurances that what they're learning is meaningful and lasting. When it comes to early childhood education, how we spend our limited dollars matters just as much as how much we're spending.

A Busy Saturday in Santa Fe

While most New Mexicans might expect Saturdays at the Roundhouse to be rather quiet, yesterday was full of action as the House Education Committee convened to take comment on and contemplate six bills connected to the evaluation of New Mexico teachers, known as NMTeach.

Over the course of the morning and early afternoon the Committee, chaired by Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard (D), heard testimony from roughly 50 teachers, administrators, non-profit leaders, union organizers and parents. Sadly, no student voices were heard, an oversight all too common in conversations about education. Democracy belonged to those able to show up.

The most impassioned comments were on HB125 ("Teacher & Principal Evaluation System"), HB158 ("Teacher Evaluation Pilot Project") and HB350 ("Teacher & Principal Effectiveness Act").

The essential questions underpinning the day were threefold: first, what is the right composition of factors by which we evaluate NM's teachers? Second, to what degree if any should student academic growth data be used in evaluation? And finally, is now the time to memorialize our teacher evaluation systems into state statute? Currently, the system exists by NMPED rule only.

While improving public education is rarely straightforward, there is certainly some common sense to be called upon in determining the best ways to evaluate and support one of New Mexico's most valuable assets, our teachers. Teachers matter more to student learning than any other aspect of schooling. Providing them with meaningful, actionable and fair evaluations is a vital piece in continuing to uplift public education here. And since most school leaders do not currently have autonomy over staff hiring, state policy is where that conversation takes place.

In answering the three questions above I call on and dare my fellow New Mexicans to think boldly, with an eye towards our future. We must work collaboratively for the benefit of our students, teachers and communities. Here's my advice to members of the House Education Committee, the legislature, the governor and NMPED:

  1. It is clear we have room to improve upon and iterate on the present form of NMTeach. While there was much praise from teachers and administrators about the value they glean from data provided, there is also much frustration and misunderstanding about the current handling of students with special needs and English language learners. Let's work together to pilot new ideas within our current system. From what I've seen and have been told, NMPED is keen to do just this. What we can't do is start from scratch, again. This is not helpful or healthy for teachers, students or the future of our state.
     
  2. While the exact weight of student achievement is and should be determined collaboratively, it is a disservice to divorce student test score growth from teacher supports and evaluation. Let's make adjustments as necessary, for example increasing the weight of classroom observations (as proposed in HB350) as well as beginning the school year with an informal observation and feedback, as numerous teachers asked for Saturday. HB158 is right in spirit though misses the mark by putting a pilot but not comprehensive system into statute. A teacher evaluation pilot is a smart strategy (and is a key opportunity within ESSA) but should be pursued through NMPED rule and once we better know what the memorialized statewide system will be over the next five years.
     
  3. We must commit our teacher evaluation to state statute at some point. Again working collaboratively, we must bring together a diverse group of stakeholders to refine and iterate upon our current system. NMPED has played an integral if controversial role in breaking down historic barriers in getting the state to this point. Now is the moment for NMPED to cede some control and for us as engaged, invested citizens to step up and reshape public education for the benefit of students, teachers, and our economy and communities.

What we know for certain is our students can't afford for us to go back in time. Let's roll up our sleeves, come to and stay at the collective table and hammer out smart and forward-thinking solutions to move New Mexico forward.

All Eyes on ESSA

As you’ve likely seen, the fireworks in Santa Fe are well underway. And while there’s plenty of energy around the state budget, and marijuana legalization, public education is the hottest topic in the roundhouse.

Important within these conversations is the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). For those unfamiliar with ESSA, it is the new federal law guiding public education. Every state must submit an ESSA plan to the US Department of Education this summer.

This week New Mexico First released a report detailing their community conversations from across the state. The “New Mexico Rising” tour collected feedback in six communities, speaking to nearly 2000 people including 700+ teachers.

If you haven’t already, I suggest you check out the report and PED’s corresponding follow-up. NMPED has stated they will immediately take action on the feedback in the following ways:

  • Increase efforts to recognize and celebrate the teaching profession
  • Reduce the amount of time spent on student assessments
  • Support legislation to decrease the weight of student growth in teacher evaluations
  • Increase the number of days teachers can take off without penalty from three to five

These are encouraging responses which incorporate community feedback while also ensuring student achievement remains front and center. We must always have clear, in-depth data on how our students and schools are doing. There is strong evidence that consistent, high standards positively impact student learning.

Over the next few weeks and months I will continue to provide updates on New Mexico’s ESSA plan as it has serious implications for our schools and students. ESSA is our opportunity to maintain a high bar of expectations, not lower expectations which would leave our students further and further behind.

It is imperative we hold the NMPED accountable to create an ESSA plan that upholds high expectations while also embracing the uniqueness of the Land of Enchantment. Let us as parents, grandparents, tías and tíos remain engaged in the process to ensure our children receive the education they need to be New Mexico’s future leaders, business owners, teachers and citizens.