by Seth Saavedra │Wednesday, March 6th, 2018
Oh, Albuquerque my hometown. For better and worse, you occupy prime real estate in the conversation about New Mexico education. With Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) as our second biggest employer (behind Kirtland Air Force Base) and with a $1.34 billion dollar budget, 142 schools, and 1 in 4 of the state's students, this makes some sense.
What makes less sense is that, instead of being the place where innovation thrives and scales, we are more often known as the place where good ideas come to die, or at least whither away. We are the place many of our best and brightest move away from. Despite all our beauty and diversity, we have a fundamental disbelief in ourselves.
These sentiments ring true in public education too. We lag the state average in nearly every graduation measure. A state average, mind you, which is often worst or second worst in the country. We struggle to get out of our own way. To define new paths and eschew failed ideas. We have four excuses for every problem.
Despite this, some of the best schools in the state and nation are in Albuquerque. Some of these standouts are APS schools. Many are state charters. Sadly, many more chronically underserve their students year after year. Below is graduation data for every public high school in Albuquerque:
Our Best High Schools Are Schools of Choice
Twenty three ABQ high schools outperform the state in graduating all their students. Out of this select group, 16 (!) are charters or other schools of choice. Even more astounding: nine out of the top ten highs schools in Albuquerque are schools of choice.
Charters Still Have A Ways to Go
Albuquerque is currently home to 51 high schools. Of those, 15 are overseen by the state (NMPED/PEC) and 12 by APS. That leaves 24 non-charter high schools in APS, ranging from specialized (College and Career High School) to re-engagement (New Futures) to traditional, comprehensive campuses most students attend.
As you see below, these three groups have quite varied results. Some of our best high schools are charters, as are some of the lowest performing. Variation in performance isn't surprising, as charter models are, by their very nature, diverse. What shouldn't happen is the continued operation of schools that fail to live up to their promise, griping about what's not possible, and proving it.
This dynamic shifts next school year as three of the lowest performing state charters (ACE Leadership, Health Leadership, and Technology Leadership – all part of the Leadership Schools Network) become APS charters. Two other state charters will see change with the high-performing Cottonwood Classical Preparatory moving to APS and Academy of Trades & Technology likely to shut its doors after being rejected by the state and APS.
I wrote about this previously (here and here) and my expectations are the same: ALL schools should prepare EVERY child for life, career, and/or college. We shall see if APS's willingness to take in these schools pays off for their students (as I hope it does) or is simply the placation of adults at the expense of students. We shall see.
Native Students Doing Well In Larger High Schools
The statewide graduation rate for Native students is a heartbreaking 61%. In APS, it's an appalling 54.6%. Despite this, there are eight schools in APS outperforming the state. Of these, five surpass the state average by double digits and beat the overall graduation rate of 71.1%. If you're the parent of a Native student in Albuquerque, you'd do well to check out one of the schools below.
Hispanic Students Learn Most At Schools of Choice
For Hispanic students, the statewide graduation rate is 70.5%, just below the "all student" rate. Again, Albuquerque comes in under the state average at 65.80% for Hispanic students. The good news: there are 22 schools here outperforming the state. Of those, 11 are above 80% for Hispanic students. A whopping nine of those 11 are schools of choice: charter or magnet schools of some type.
The terrible news: Nineteen schools are at least 20 points under the state average for Hispanic students - with 50% or less of them graduating in four years. All 19 are schools of choice. Let that sink in and then ask yourself: Do we really need 19 different schools (in a district that's 67% Hispanic) graduating less than 50% of their Hispanic students? Seems to me these schools create many problems and solve very few.
Similar Story for Economically Disadvantaged Students
Akin to Hispanic students, poor students are both best and worst served by schools of choice. In fact, the lists are nearly identical. How is it we have so many schools doing amazing things for Hispanic and poor students AND so many doing the exact opposite?
Whenever someone intimates we don't know how to educate these populations, pull up this graph and ask them how they interpret it. Are these schools incredibly lucky, or unlucky, year in and year out? Or have some schools risen to the challenge, moved beyond hurtful preconceptions, and tackled the opportunity head on?
There are many exciting high school options for students in Albuquerque. Many schools I wish had been here 20 years ago. Yet not much else has changed in the past two decades, or forty years. Instead of leading the state, we drag our feet.
And what's most painful isn't that, despite an annual budget of $1.3 billion dollars, we continue to trail the entire state. No, it's that we've already figured out some of our hardest problems. We have schools proving what's possible. Here. Already. What's lacking is the courage to fundamentally restructure systems.
We tinker at the edges, maintaining adult comfort as the top priority, instead of student learning. We are complacent. But our students don't have time to waste. Every lost day of learning matters. I'm optimistic, but furious. You should be too.