The Curious Case of APS's Special Education Survey: Part 2

This is the second in a three part series. Find the first installation here.

Let's pick up our tale where we left off. Which is only fitting given the Albuquerque Journal has done so as well, nearly two weeks after we broke the story.

Readers will continue to find original information and reporting right here at your home for all things education in New Mexico. Meanwhile, imitation is the highest form of flattery.

As I dug through thousands of pages of APS/ATF messages received through a public records request, an interesting thread related to this survey proposal emerged:


APS // Email from records request.


Nearly a week later, Bernstein responds:


APS // Email from records request.


As an aside, the frequency and nature of the messages between Bernstein and Reedy are telling. Ranging from the encouraging:


APS // Email from records request.


To the personal:


APS // Email from records request.


To not invite Bernstein to a weeklong birthday celebration seems plain cruel. Nonetheless, back to our story.

By May 17th, APS and ATF are in agreement about hiring Sanderoff Research & Polling to conduct a survey of 402 special education teachers and staff for $16,181.25:


APS // Email from records request.


With the Sanderoff survey to be conducted between June 20th and July 9th, 2018 , all parties establish a tentative timeline:


APS // Email from records request.


While the cost of this survey is alarming, especially for a district continually claiming that $1.34 billion isn't enough, the purpose of it is useful. With more than 150 special education educator openings currently available, APS should seek to fully understand how to better support these teachers and students - and why they don't stay.

So, by the end of July, a draft of the survey response analysis from Sanderoff is available to the district. Coming in at a whopping 73 pages, I encourage interested parties to read the entire document. However, for those who don't read stuff like this with the same suspense of a Stephen King thriller, here are some of the highlights and not-so-surprises:

Predictors of Success

For APS leadership, what keeps special eduction teachers satisfied is no mystery. What remains elusive, however, is delivering on that relatively short list of factors to encourage some of our hardest working educators.


APS // Special Education Survey.


Nothing too surprising here. Teachers want an appropriate workload and to directly drive the decisions made about their work. They are also dismayed about constant changes to policies and procedures from APS, along with the lack of high-quality curricula and professional development to better help them reach students.

These are fundamental duties of any school district and very much in line with recent research telling us that teachers want more direct voice in policy making (outside of unions) and the growing demand for 21st century curricula to go along with modern standards and assessments.


APS // Special Education Survey.


Less than one-third of those asked believe APS "provides high-quality training in curricula and instruction strategies to support the progress of APS students." Let that sink in. The educators who often have the hardest-to-reach students aren't receiving the training or support they need to serve their students.

Special Educators Love What They Do

As you can see below, 85 percent of respondents believe they have a meaningful job that contributes to their students and our city. Further, nearly 75 percent are satisfied with their current work.


APS // Special Education Survey.


What's the issue, then? To put it shortly, it's APS, not our teachers. A mere 42 percent of special educators feel valued by the district, and the same number would recommend APS to friends and colleagues. When less than half of any portion of an employee base would recommend working for their employer (despite the district running what is essentially a monopoly), leadership must take a long look in the mirror.

Here are some verbatim quotations from teachers on this portion of the survey:

  • "Top-heavy, vindictive administration needs to be removed. APS admin needs to communicate consistently and accurately in writing in a timely manner. APS has to start thinking out of the box to retain and recruit special education providers."
  • "APS leadership and union need more positive, productive relationships. Union needs to be more transparent."
  • "Incentives based on performance and not just length of time employed."
  • "I work at a great school - great teamwork. People with the district interfere with our job. Central office dictates policy and pushes us around. My colleagues are amazing."
  • "Administration rarely has any special education background when being hired. This is a huge issue as I have to educate the new special education teacher."
  • "APS needs to be reminded that STUDENTS come first."
  • "Administration must take a special education law class. Teachers have to have it and administration just doesn't care."
  • "My job satisfaction revolves around the kids. The administration is a disaster. They know nothing about teaching the kids. The morale is low with both the students and the teachers."

Things May Get Worse Before Better

Beyond feeling that district and union leadership don't represent their or students' best interests, 46 percent of special educators say their APS work environment is getting worse or much worse. Further, those with more experience are more likely to say the work environment at APS is worsening.


APS // Special Education Survey.


More ominous yet, less than half of special education teachers plan on staying in the district. In fact, 29 percent of teachers with five to nine years of experience disagree with the statement "I plan on working at APS five years from now." And 20 percent of our newest generation of special educators plan to leave APS as well.


APS // Special Education Survey.


To summarize, for all the union and APS leadership complaints about special education teaching vacancies and dissatisfaction - and the blaming of parents, NMPED, PARCC, school grades, and the weather - the real issue, according to their own $16,000 survey, is themselves.

There's a well worn aphorism that every time you point a finger, four point back at you.

Our beloved and hardworking special education teachers love their work and students, but are disillusioned at the lack of leadership and communication coming from City Center and union leadership. They want strong, knowledgeable leadership paired with high-quality curricula and professional development to give them more tools to reach some of Albuquerque's most vulnerable students.

Let's give our educators what they deserve and more. Let's trade in a handful of those $100,000+ APS adminstrative salaries for the materials and training to get better outcomes for students. Stay tuned for part three with suggestions on how we dig out of this mess.