Friends & Colleagues -
This week is a special update that brings two guest writers sharing their experiences in New Mexico's education system, from quite different perspectives. We also find broad support for school choice from Millennials, smart cities using data in innovative ways to improve public education, and continued challenges in recruiting and retaining a diverse teaching force. The work is never ending but together we move forward.
As always, your feedback is welcomed, as are social media and other sharing. Here's this week's roundup:
- [LOCAL: NEWS] Perspective on School Grades Once Again Ignores Equity. Albuquerque native and founder of the recently approved charter school Albuquerque Collegiate, Jade Rivera, shares a poignant reminder of the pernicious inequity that persists across public education and in our own backyards:
"In a recent op-ed in the Santa Fe New Mexican, entitled “Ignore the state’s grading system for schools”, David Soherr-Hadwiger, professor at UNM, writes about the great opportunities his daughters received at three campuses within Albuquerque Public Schools and his frustration about the grades received by these schools under the Public Education Department’s school grading system.
Reading the op-ed, I experienced a flurry of intense emotion, both personally and professionally. Personally, I am a product of APS, a proud alumnus of Montezuma Elementary School, Jefferson Middle School, and Albuquerque High School. Numerous experiences highlighted in the article reflect my own experience at these schools. Sixteen years ago, my single mother was among the “dozens of families” that Mr. Soherr-Hadwiger writes about that transfer their children into Jefferson to gain access to its academic offerings. I took AP courses at Albuquerque High, including AP calculus from Mr. Jimmy Phillips, who was instrumental in my decision to become a mathematics teacher myself.
I benefitted tremendously from the educators and academic programs at these schools. However, I know that those same opportunities were not afforded to every one of my classmates, particularly those who came from low-income households, and who identified as ethnic minorities. If you read beyond the single letter grades of these schools, dissecting the school grade reports, you can see that this inequity remains true today.
The school grading system is an assessment of how a school is performing. Is it a perfect encapsulation of 100% of the things happening at a school? Of course not, but it gives us a high-level picture about the statistical performance of a school and its students. This year Albuquerque High received a “D” letter grade. Looking more closely at the school grade report, we know that the school did not perform well in “current standing”, which assesses if students are on grade level. The report shows that currently 29% of all students are proficient in reading and 14% are proficient in math. The vast majority of students are not meeting grade level targets, and while that is an issue in and of itself, the greater issue I see is that of inequity among subgroups. 60% of white students are proficient in reading, while only 22% of Hispanic students are proficient. Again, white students surpass the all student math proficiency with 42% deemed proficient, while a mere 9% of Hispanic students are identified as proficient. Hispanic students, who account for nearly 80% of the student population, are being outperformed by their white peers by nearly 3 times in reading, and over 4.5 times in math. As a member of the Hispanic community, that is something I cannot ignore, particularly as I think about what this means for my community.
Does this mean there aren’t Hispanic students in AP courses at Albuquerque High, gaining scholarships to prestigious colleges and universities? Absolutely not. But it does mean that those AP courses and college admissions are likely not representative of the larger school population. When I attended Albuquerque High 10 or so years ago, I was often one of few Hispanic students in the AP classes, and when I opted to take regular government, instead of AP government, I was asked how my “gen pop” class was, because that’s what students called it. To be frank, my “gen pop” class was not remotely rigorous or challenging, but it was the first time I had a class where I was in the ethnic majority.
In response to Mr. Soherr-Hadwiger’s suggestion to parents to ignore school grades based on the positive experiences of his daughters, I would urge him to reflect on the privilege and hubris of such a suggestion. Certainly, inquiring families should talk to other parents about the doors that have opened for their children, but understand that the experiences of one child cannot reflect the broader experience of all children at any given school.
For parents and families, I would advise getting all the facts and information possible. Get qualitative information from other parents, and look at the quantitative data in a school grade report. Get to know everything you can when making a determination about what doors can be opened for your child at any given school. Remember that knowledge is power, and if we hope to flourish as a community, it is critical that we understand the inequities that exist and then fight for equitable power and knowledge, for all students and families in our community."
[LOCAL: NEWS] New Mexico Needs Fresh Ideas, Not Tired Politics, To Move Forward. Offering a perspective straight from the classroom (and a stark contrast to the stale perspective of Sen. Stewart of Albuquerque, who we'll recall is adamant that "we don't know how to teach poor kids") longtime educator Rachael Stewards is kind enough to share a counter and constructive narrative:
"My participation in the New Mexico Teacher Leader Network invigorated my energy and helped me find my voice as a teacher in New Mexico. The relationships I built with other teachers from around the state, as well as the conversations I was able to have with PED officials, increased my capacity as a teacher leader in the state. My year in the NMTLN allowed me to better understand policy and protocol coming out of the PED and how it impacted me as a teacher and my students. The openness and transparency with which our PED works is unique and an opportunity for teachers to have a voice in public education."
- [NATIONAL: SURVEY] Across All Millennials, Support for School Choice High. In two recent national surveys, researchers found broad support for various forms of school choice, with support highest among Millennials of color. Specifically, charter schools garnered "support from 65% of African Americans, 61% of Asian Americans, 58% of Latinos, and 55% of whites." This comes as no surprise from the generation accustomed to on-demand options in all facets of their lives and who grew up with a distrust of large institutions following the 2008 Great Recession. The question remains whether we as adults have the courage and fortitude to enact the fundamental changes our students are asking for - and desperately need.
- [NATIONAL: RESEARCH] Smart City Data Helping to Solve Education Challenges. A recent article highlights examples from Chicago to Nashville to Fresno and also finds that, for cash-strapped school districts, partnering with the community is sometimes the only way they can leverage data to improve student experiences. One such data-sharing agreement in Nashville, TN "has helped Metro Nashville Public Schools improve students’ reading skills. By looking at data on which types of after-school initiatives are effective, educators were able to alter the programs’ curricula to support better outcomes."
- [NATIONAL: CERTIFICATION] Teaching Licensure Remains Barrier for Diverse Teachers. In fantastic reporting from Matt Barnum over at Chalkbeat, he finds systemic and financial hurdles continue to keep teachers of color out of the classroom, where our students need them most. With a teacher workforce that hovers around 80% white nationwide, many of the requirements intended to ensure teacher quality instead becomes burdens "of tough certification rules borne by teachers of color". The five primary issues he uncovers are:
1. Undergraduate GPAs requirements "which excludes half of Black and over one-third of Hispanic college graduates";
2. When they take traditional teaching exams, Black and Hispanic candidates fail more often;
3. A new kind of test has shrunk the gaps, but Black candidates continue to fail at higher rates (see graphic below);
4. All of those teaching exams cost a lot, especially if you have to retake them; and
5. Alternative pathways attract more teachers of color, but some states limit them.