Do the Benefits of Collective Bargaining Include Giving Up a $10,000 Bonus?

by Mike Antonucci │Friday, March 9th, 2018

This post was originally appeared at Education Intelligence Agency and is republished here with permission.

“At issue in Janus v. AFT is whether non-union members, who share in the wages, benefits and protections that have been negotiated into a collectively bargained contract, may be required to pay their fair share for the cost of those negotiations.” – from a January 18, 2018 National Education Association press release.

New Mexico is a unique state for teacher unions and agency fees. State law makes agency fees a “permissive subject of bargaining” but does not require them. At last check, NEA had no agency fee-payers in New Mexico. I don’t know about AFT.

But for the moment let’s suppose you were an exemplary New Mexico teacher paying agency fees to your exclusive bargaining agent. Then you read this:

This week, Gov. Susana Martinez signed off on a budget bill that provides for $5,000 and $10,000 bonuses for exemplary teachers in New Mexico. And while she used her line-item veto authority to strike the language giving teachers unions the ability to decide whether the school districts and charter schools they represent will participate, one union leader says her group might still be able to block the bonuses by invoking their collective bargaining rights under state law.

NEA-NM President Betty Patterson says “school employees can rest assured our local associations will use negotiations to locally determine whether their district will go forward with this wildly unpopular ‘merit pay’ program that undermines collaboration among school teams.

So your choices are simple: Don’t pay the fee and lose your job, or pay the fee and lose $10,000.

Oh, and they call you a freeloader.


Mike Antonucci - Writer & Researcher

Mike is the director of the Education Intelligence Agency and has covered the education beat since 1993. Education Week called him “the nation’s leading observer — and critic — of the two national teachers’ unions and their affiliates.” Mike’s writings have appeared in The Wall Street JournalForbesInvestor’s Business DailyThe American Enterprise, and many other periodicals, and his work has been favorably cited in the Washington PostBoston GlobePhiladelphia InquirerNew York Post, and a host of other prominent daily newspapers.

Charter Schools Are A Vital Part of New Mexico's Future

by Bob Perls │Tuesday, February 20th, 2018

This post was originally delivered as a keynote speech to all attendees at a New Mexico Coalition of Charter Schools (NMCCS) conference on Friday, December 8th, 2017.

Public schools are one of the few remaining public institutions where people from every walk of life come together to mix and mingle.

Making our public schools stronger should be our top priority. Politicians, parents, teachers, and students. We all must commit to the best possible public education system. But, you have heard that before and not much has changed.

Strong public schools are the silver bullet to reduce crime, spur economic development, develop our tax base, increase voter engagement through well-informed citizens who care, and so much more.

So why can’t we do that? What stops New Mexico from having one of the best school systems in the nation?

Before I sound too critical, let me congratulate everyone who is already working hard to improve our next generation’s lives. As teachers, administrators, and policy makers, you demonstrate commitment to our kids.

As charter school supporters (I hope) you remain committed to something different for our kids and that makes all the difference, because different is good.

Kids are different, communities are different, cities are different, and the future will be different. Charter schools are different from traditional public schools and they are different amongst themselves. In fact, being different is what characterizes the charter school movement and being different is what summarizes what we all have in common in this vibrant movement.

Traditional public schools still function in the industrialized model of the 1950s where standardization was the goal. The same government buildings, same classrooms, same curriculum, same teacher training, same student evaluations, same teacher evaluations for all schools no matter what. Does anyone think that makes sense?

The charter school movement does not. Different is good, that is our motto.

Before I write too much about why charter schools can and should be the great political compromise between the Right and the Left and the model for all future school reform efforts, let’s review what the charter movement is about, how we got, here and why we are in the middle of a critical revolution.

As a State Representative in 1993 I wrote and passed the NM Charter School Act.

I am a product of Albuquerque Public Schools. I had good teachers and bad teachers; engaged teachers and teachers who were punching the time clock; innovative teachers and teachers who taught the same stuff the same way for 25 years. I found my refuge in the chorus and speech programs at Jefferson Middle and Highland High. Else I would have been miserable, bored, and unchallenged. With no place to belong.

With young kids in APS, I saw things had not changed that much in the ensuing 20 years or so. I thought there had to be a better way and on a trip to Disneyland in the early 1990s with my wife and kids, I read about the new charter schools in Minnesota and thought, "That's what we need in NM!"

Site-based management and budgeting, lots of waivers from useless regulation and bureaucracy, strict goals, and plans to achieve those goals. Plus, the ultimate in accountability: shut the schools down when they fail. So, I introduced the bill, worked to build a bipartisan support network, and - during a 60-day session - pushed it through with Governor King signing it.

This was a very basic charter school bill allowing for only five original conversion schools. Turquoise Trail Charter School is the only one still going. I was the President of the Governing Council in the late 90’s for another one, Taylor Middle School, where my oldest was going to school at the time.

In 1998 I served on the state charter school task force that redrafted my bill to expand and include new and start-up schools. That bill passed in 1999 and, with some changes, remains the legislation all NM charter schools operate under today.

What are charter schools?

First and foremost, they are public schools, despite the divisive rhetoric. They are incubators for new ideas. They are risk takers. They provide services to certain kids that other schools don’t and they include community members in ways that traditional public schools can’t. In short, charter schools are our hopes and dreams of what the entire public school system could be - and you are a part of it.

Charter schools are intended to be community-based schools run by a group of parents, teachers, and even students.

Not by administrators removed from the school site. Charters spell out in black and white how students learn, demonstrate that learning, and why. If they succeed, then they get their charter renewed. When they fail, they close.

When was the last time an underperforming traditional public school failing students got closed? God knows many are failing far too many kids. Ever? Charter Schools redefine what a school is, what great teaching is and what student involvement means.

My wife and I were two of the four co-founders of the Public Academy for Performing Arts (PAPA), a charter school in Albuquerque. From 2000-2002 I spent 20-30 hours a week of volunteer time helping move this idea of a school from a rough concept to drafting a charter, to presenting in front of APS to opening the doors.

The fact that PAPA is still going strong after 15 years is one of the most gratifying aspects of my life. Our original concept was for an integrated curriculum. Teach math through music. Teach physical education via dance. Explore history through the performing arts of that era.

Some of this happened and some did not. Innovation is hard when charters are accountable to their governing council, charter agreement, plus a school district with traditional rules and regulations. Inevitably, some innovation gets stifled.

Please defend against that encroachment.

Charter schools are accountable through their charter. Fulfilling what they promised to their chartering entity. When more layers of rules and regulations pile on our schools, it drowns our creativity and ties us up in knots. Just like traditional public schools.

We must fight the status quo that is failing most of our kids. Why?

Our public school system is failing us. Our graduation rates are abysmal. Most kids can’t read at grade level. Most NM universities spend the first two years bringing skills up to a 12th grade level. Most teachers are underpaid, under appreciated, and micro-managed.

Most charter schools pay more, micromanage less, teach better, teach more challenging students, don't cherry pick, take all comers, don’t get much money for the physical plant, and still get pummeled by the naysayers.

I say again: if traditional public schools close when they first failed kids, most public schools would have shuttered years ago. And many need to close. Now!

Yes, there are charter schools that have and continue to fail in NM. Yes, there are charter school founders and operators who are unethical, overpay themselves, and short-change their staff. Yes, there are charter schools with underperforming kids, in need of immediate change.

We are not a perfect movement, but the national data shows that charters provide a service that traditional public schools don’t. And with results at least equal to mainstream schools while serving a skewed, at-risk, needful population. Especially in New Mexico.

Now, let’s talk about the politics of education in New Mexico for a few minutes, because it is deeply frustrating to me and many education reform advocates.

The traditional Democrat orthodoxy believes that more money will solve our education problems. Pump more money in, better students come out.

The traditional Republican orthodoxy believes in introducing more privatization in public education. It focuses on school choice including vouchers and charter schools. They generally do not believe that a strong public school system is a priority due to a lack of trust in government’s ability to deliver quality services

My view is that competition for students between traditional and charter schools is good for all students. And teachers.

We should shutdown all failing public schools, whether traditional or charter. We should fire administrators who can’t improve local schools. All schools should embrace site-based management and budgeting. Just like charters.

We should remove power and money from the U.S. Department of Education, the State Department of Education, and local School Boards so that more money and authority is at the school site. Just like charter schools.

We should evaluate teachers based on their competency and results in the classroom. We should evaluate students based on a comprehensive portfolio that captures multiple talents.

We should counsel the bottom third of teachers out of the profession and double the salary for those remaining to attract higher quality candidates. The reason many charters have better teachers is because they pay more and they empower teachers to run the classroom, and even the school, the way they see fit.

Charter schools and teachers unions should be natural allies.

But they are not and that's an avoidable travesty. I would like to see the unions open their own charter schools and put their money where their mouth is to create the best schools in the nation and state.

The charter school movement is not about union busting. It is about creating an environment where collaborative management means there is no conflict between employees and management, because they are all the same thing and the same people.

I am against a voucher system to use public dollars to fund private schools because it undermines the charter school movement.

Any time someone uses vouchers and charter in the same sentence it hurts us. Charters are public schools. Vouchers pump public dollars into private and religious schools. Charters don’t take money away from public schools because they are public schools.

Charters can’t discriminate and must take all comers. Don’t let others confuse the two because it could be the undoing of our young but vibrant charter school movement. And opponents gleefully drive this wedge amongst us.

Again, charter schools should be the common ground where the political Left and Right come together to solve our education problem.

They demand accountability and efficiency while empowering teachers. They cut down on overhead while leaving more money for the classroom. They do away with the 1950s industrialized model of one-size-fits-all in favor of a nimble, diverse, community-based solution. When wholly embraced, charters give ammunition to those who believe we should spend more money on education.

You see, that is our perpetual log jam. The Left always wants more money without admitting they are funding a broken system. While the Right wants to cut education because they view it as a failed system.

Let the charter movement be our template for a new era in education reform.

One where we show we are responsible adults who deserve to be in the care of our next generation while also being the guardians of tax dollars well spent.

If that were the perception and the reality of education in New Mexico, we would have highly paid, highly motivated teachers, outstanding learners, and a new generation of New Mexicans able to drive our economy forward for the benefit of everyone.

Bob Perls - Board Member of NMCCS

Former State Representative Bob Perls wrote and passed New Mexico's original charter school act, served as President of Taylor Middle School governing council, and co-founded Public Academy for Performing Arts. He is a board member for the New Mexico Coalition of Charter Schools, founder of New Mexico Open Primaries, and is a serial entrepreneur in the healthcare technology field.

House Bill 180: The Urgent Need to Maximize Dollars to the Classroom

by Fred Nathan │Friday, February 2nd, 2018

Growing evidence suggests that increasing funding for education can improve student outcomes if the money is targeted to the classroom, rather than to administration.

Two good illustrations are Texico, a district of 560 students in eastern New Mexico, and Gadsden, a district of 13,478 students south of Las Cruces. Both districts are highlighted in a recent report by the nonpartisan think tank Think New Mexico, which noted that they consistently achieve strong student performance, even while educating a high percentage of students from low-income families. Both districts also spend a relatively high percentage of their budgets in the classroom.

Likewise, researchers at the nonpartisan Southwest Educational Development Laboratory studied 1,500 school districts in Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, and New Mexico, and concluded that “student achievement is linked to spending patterns, and money matters when spent on instruction.” The study found that, in general, high-performing school districts spend a larger percentage of their budgets on instruction and a lower percentage on general administration than lower-performing districts. They also tend to employ fewer administrators.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, New Mexico spends an average of 57% of its education dollars on instruction. Another 13% goes to student and instructional support, which directly benefits students, but the remaining 30% of the education budget is spent on administrative costs. We can do better at getting dollars to the classroom.

That is precisely what House Bill 180 does. It sets ambitious but achievable targets for districts and charters to maximize spending in the classroom. The targets are voluntary, but the bill provides an incentive by allowing districts and charters that meet classroom spending targets to keep their cash reserves (even in times of shortage like 2017, when cash reserves were raided by the state).

Additionally, HB 180 broadly defines “classroom spending” to include not only instruction, but also instructional support (e.g., librarians), student support (e.g., counselors, nurses), and principals, since the research suggests that investment in these areas has a positive impact on student achievement.

HB 180 helps districts and charters reach classroom spending targets by eliminating unnecessary reporting burdens. Every year, districts and charters must submit at least 140 reports to the New Mexico Public Education Department (NMPED). That requires thousands of staff hours annually.

A better approach would be to eliminate those reports and move to an advanced data collection system. In 2011, Nevada implemented an advanced data collection system that reduced burdens on districts by allowing them to automatically upload the information they collect about things like student attendance, performance, demographics, to the state.

HB 180 directs New Mexico’s PED to implement a system like Nevada’s. Based on a 2017 report commissioned by the Thornburg Foundation, an advanced data collection system would save New Mexico school districts more than $46.5 million annually. Because the PED is already piloting an advanced data collection project, this is already in the budget and can be fully implemented at no additional cost to state taxpayers.

HB 180 was introduced by a bipartisan team of sponsors, including the Chair of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, Patty Lundstrom (D-Gallup), and the ranking Republican on that committee, Representative Larry Larrañaga (R-Albuquerque), as well as multiple educators: Representatives Bobby Gonzales (D-Taos), former superintendent; George Dodge (D-Santa Rosa), retired teacher and principal; Tim Lewis (R-Albuquerque), teacher; Dennis Roch (R-Logan), superintendent; and Jim Smith (R-Sandia Park), teacher, among others.


Many factors play a role in determining student success, and moving more dollars to the classroom is not a magic bullet. However, it will make more money available for critical classroom needs that directly benefit students, like addressing the statewide teacher shortage, expanding access to proven programs like early childhood education and K-3 Plus, and improved pay for teachers and principals. We know it can be done, because many of New Mexico’s highest performing districts are already doing it.

Please contact your legislators and Governor Martinez and urge them to support HB 180. Learn more and email your elected official from Think New Mexico’s website at:

Fred Nathan - Think New Mexico

Fred is Executive Director of Think New Mexico, an independent, nonpartisan, results-
oriented think tank serving New Mexicans.

How We Reshape New Mexico's Education Landscape

This is the fifth and final piece in a five-part series as a follow up to my initial research on district and state charter school grades in New Mexico. Find the first four parts hereherehere, and here.

A New Wave of Public Education

We've made it my friends. This week I've covered the distribution of LEA grades across New Mexico, implications of poverty, and some highs and lows from districts and state charters. And while my praise for many charters (and some districts) is effusive, the reality is that transformational change must come from school districts. Districts still account for about 94% of our 340,000 public school kids. Albuquerque, Rio Rancho, Santa Fe, and Las Cruces alone account for nearly half of all students statewide. If the needle is to move, it must come from districts.

It is also true that districts don't scale up, but charters can. And if districts truly commit to the new governance opportunities charters provide, charters enhance their existing work. Too often districts get so caught up in defending their monopolies and old ways of doing business that they chase away good ideas - and people. There are no reasons, besides bad politics and policies, our best state charters shouldn't all be part of districts. But, for anyone who's worked with a central office, it's painfully clear why working under any other entity might be appealing. 

Therein is the rub: charter schools are no silver bullet nor evil bogeyman. Instead, they are a 21st century vision of what public education needs to look like, when done well. The nature of a charter school, in New Mexico at least, is that a group of invested community members come together to manifest a new vision for their students. Through the charter application, they articulate that vision and sets goals in pursuit of it - academic and otherwise.

Charter schools rely on flexibilities (in compensation, performance evaluation, length of school day, etc.) districts already possess but rarely utilize. This flexibility is necessary as many charters focus on underserved populations. The irony here is that districts use very little of the autonomy they already possess. For example, New Mexico has a minimum teacher salary of $34,000/year. That's the minimum. Why is it that districts tend to only pay the minimums? Not all do. Carlsbad, in attempt to attract teachers, starts them at $40,000/year. Districts have an anemic conception of what's possible.

And why are all teachers paid the same regardless of their position? Should starting science teachers be paid the same as starting PE teachers? There is nothing, except for a minimum salary, written in state statute. These are only two examples of hundreds of the sort of outdated, narrow thinking that plagues districts, and which gets worse as they get larger.

Charters are imperfect of course. They are run by fallible, sometimes ill-intentioned, humans. They are no different than districts in this regard. As long as people lead schools, this comes with the territory and is a key responsibility for authorizers to monitor. The effort is still worth it. Getting different outcomes requires different actions, I'm told. To expect otherwise is madness.

The one-size-fits-all model of American public education (adapted from Prussia by Horace Mann over 150 years ago) is dying a slow death. This industrial model of educating has gone the way of the horse-and-buggy, and education's version of buggy drivers and manufacturers will not go gentle into that good night.

Increasingly, the hangover effects leave teachers frustrated and millions of students behind - disproportionately those who are minority and poor. For a state so reliant on local culture and context, why do we still put our faith in a centuries-old model taken from Europe - and which has been showing its age for 40-plus years? If the country we borrowed our public education system from no longer exists, we probably need to think anew.

Bringing Change Home

This is where I see the disconnect in New Mexico: We have an emerging amount of school choice (~100 schools and 24,000 students), led by many smart, local leaders. We know our students often need extra resources and support, large districts struggle mightily to deliver. We have a diverse student body, predictive of broader demographic changes coming nationwide. We are a stubborn but determined people. We have many assets in hand, ready to build upon.

What we don't have, yet, is the courage to hold ourselves accountable for student learning. We continually let ourselves off the hook to the detriment of our children. We don't close failing schools. We resist accountability. We complain about how learning is measured and try to move the goal lines closer instead of reaching farther. Good ideas and intentions alone don't help our students become carpenters or engineers. So, yes, results matter.

Instead of "Yes, we can and will do better", I too often hear "No, because students/communities are too [poor, Brown, etc.]". We believe in more education options for families, but usually only those circumscribed by self-interest. All schools, and charters in particular, must be transparent and accountable. Truth is we don't need any more schools not serving students well, we have enough already. As David Osborne writes in the recently published Reinventing America's Schools, "There is simply too much at stake to maintain systems that don't prepare students to thrive in today's world."

I realize these are largely the inane debates of adults. Students don't care much about PARCC or proficiency rates - though if properly invested they do. They care about adults, schools, and systems that respect them enough to push them forward. I'm of the camp that high expectations and personal accountability is what love looks like in public education.

Students also care about having the literacy and critical thinking skills to pursue any path they'd like, whether construction, military, or college. And we need them to be fully prepared to lead New Mexico to a new future. To do this we must shine a light onto our harshest truths and muster the courage to tackle challenges head on. For too long we've run from this fight.

The Road from Here

As dire as education can feel in New Mexico, I am filled with optimism. We have a long road ahead and many tough questions to answer: How do we share out the experience and wisdom of our most successful schools and districts? How do we redefine our belief in ourselves so that high achievement becomes our new normal? And how do we hold our elected officials accountable to expanding successful school models instead of perpetuating stale, failing ones?

Thankfully, there are many dedicated school leaders, organizers, teachers, advocates, and policy wonks doing the hard work of reform. Reshaping a centuries-old system with so many interdependencies is brutal, often thankless work. Pushing back on a system that works for thousands of adults but not many kids, can be dangerous. As the late, great Gene Maeroff of the New York Times wrote, "School reform has proved itself more difficult than getting a man on the moon. Failures and mixed results predominate."

Yet we must persist. I find myself in the crosshairs of long time leaders frequently. But that's the work. We must collectively stiffen our spines and take the necessary lumps. That's what being an adult in this work means: taking the hits and stands on behalf of students who typically have no seat at the table. It's a sweat investment in the belief that all our children, many who grew up and look like me, can reach their greatest potential that keeps me going.

As civil rights leader and former Milwaukee schools superintendent Howard Fuller shared, our kids need us to be fiercer and stronger so they may become fierce and strong adults. That's my sole 2018 New Year's resolution: Be fiercer and stronger for New Mexico's students.

Bonus New Year's Present

I love creating these interactive graphs so much that I wanted to leave you with one last one. Here you'll find all district and state charters listed alphabetically. You'll see their grade to the right and when you hover over the grade you'll find more information. Scroll down and find Mission Achievement and Success. How many students does MAS have? What's their zip code? Now, find another "A" or "B" LEA you're unfamiliar with and read on. Then shoot me an email or tweet with what you find.

Poverty & New Mexico's State Charter Schools

This is the fourth in a five-part series as a follow up to my initial research on district and state charter school grades in New Mexico. Find the first three parts here, here, and here.

For this fourth installation, I shift focus to state charters, where we find a different story yet again. Looking at schools above the state FRL average of 67.92 percent, we find eight "A/B"s - three "A"s and five "B"s, serving a total of 1,481 students. Let that sink in. When looking at high FRL populations, state charters, with less than 5 percent of all New Mexico students, have more students in "A/B" seats than districts, which account for the remaining 94 percent. That should stagger you to read.

Again, charters are no panacea, but the data suggests we have many which are drawing new realities for our neediest students. Below are all state charters above the state median FRL.

State Charters Above NM Median FRL

Among these lighthouse schools (as I like to call them as they beckon us to new shores) is Mission Achievement and Success (MAS) in Albuquerque. With over 800 students, MAS is the second largest "A" LEA and also has 93.70 percent FRL. (Los Alamos is the largest LEA to earn an "A", though is far less diverse than NM at large and has an FRL rate of 16 percent.) Not only that, 84 percent of MAS students identify as American Indian, African American, or Hispanic. See that lone blue line at the top left? That's MAS, which has received both national and local attention recently.

As the founder and principal JoAnn Mitchell will tell you, there is no "secret sauce" to their success. Rather, much like T or C, there is a focus on a set of core values and commitment to results:

  1. Provide teachers high-quality, data-driven professional development;

  2. Hire teachers with a desire to teach and to continuously learn;

  3. Set and uphold a positive learning culture with high expectations for students;

  4. Embrace the struggle - not everything comes easy, growth comes from adversity; and

  5. Hard work is the baseline - teachers and students commit to longer school days.

JoAnn and her staff will tell you that MAS isn't for every student or teacher. That's the point. Schools shouldn't be built to regress to the mean or teach to the lowest common denominator. We know many of our students require varied learning experiences and programs many districts can't, don't, or won't provide.

Responding to the specific needs of their students, while also holding high expectations, MAS has longer days and provides three meals a day to all students. All this in an environment where charter schools receive much less per student than districts. Yet, we see the Legislative Finance Committee constantly seek to strip funding and resources from these types of schools in order to score cheap political points. In fact, at the December 7th LFC meeting I heard several members make ill-informed claims about funding for charter schools. And, yes, I have the receipts on who said what.

As a leader, I share with staff and students alike that we always need to take a moment to celebrate our successes but we cannot linger in the moment for too long because we know there is more work to be done, and after all each success simply provides us the confidence and the fuel needed to forge ahead to the next.
— JoAnn Mitchell, Founder & Principal of MAS in Albuquerque

The staff at MAS are also clear about where they want to improve. With reading and math proficiencies below 50 percent, they see ample opportunities to raise the bar. This is what most excites me. While students at MAS have growth rates well beyond other schools in New Mexico, there is still a deep commitment to continuous improvement. Laurels are not rested upon here.

You won't hear, "Well, 94 percent of our kids are poor so they shouldn't be reading or doing math." That sort of prejudiced thinking drives me up the wall. Rather at MAS I hear staff say they are proud of their work, but are even more excited about the progress ahead.

We often say at MAS that this cycle [of learning and improvement] is not sexy or glamorous, instead it tedious and mundane, but the results lie here. They come through the commitment to continuous improvement. There is a difference between interest and commitment and we believe this. When you are interested in something, you do it when it’s convenient; when you are committed, you do it long after the interest is gone. You accept no excuses, only results. At MAS we are committed to our results for students.
— JoAnn Mitchell, Founder & Principal of MAS in Albuquerque

Huge kudos to MAS and their staff for helping prove that demographics aren't destiny and that those who say poor children can't learn are dead wrong. New Mexico needs to replicate more homegrown schools like MAS and focused districts like T or C. The good news? Recently the PEC approved MAS to open a second school site in the fall of 2018. This means hundreds more students will have the opportunity attend a school that believes in their potential and helps them fulfill it.

I commend the PEC for their landmark decision to expand MAS. Thanks to them Albuquerque will have many more residents ready to lead lives of their own choosing, contributing to our rich culture and emerging economy. For me, the best antidote to crime is opportunity. This is precisely what schools like MAS and the Albuquerque Institute of Math & Science (AIMS) provide their students. And we need many more of them.

Obstacles to Growth

State charter school leaders face significant head winds to scaling up. State policy and statute incentivize schools to stay small. First, they are held to enrollment caps. (Even with approval for expansion, MAS faces a cap of 1100 or so students.) Second, schools are provided a "small-size adjustment" meant to help those that start out small, but which also discourages growth for fear of losing the subsidy. Lastly, and most egregiously, districts fight tooth and nail against charters to maintain their unearned monopolies over students.

Take the case of the Albuquerque Institute of Math and Science (AIMS) in Albuquerque, led by Kathy Sandoval-Snider. As told by the Albuquerque Journal, then Mayor Marty Chavez and Sandoval-Snider fought for the very existence of AIMS, first against APS and now against Rio Rancho, from the start.

All this despite AIMS being rated as one of the best high schools not only in New Mexico, but the world. AIMS is currently locked in a years-long battle to open a second campus in Rio Rancho. Why is Rio Rancho, a "B" district, so fearful of AIMS? Is the competition just that scary? Do Rio Rancho parents not deserve more options for their students? These are the farcical battles districts wage that show them to be far more interested in bottom lines than the best interests of students.

Other Stories of Hope

I also want to point out the other "A/B" state charters above the median FRL rate, including: Roots and Wings Community, Taos Academy Charter, Gilbert L Sena High, Dził Ditł'ooí School of Empowerment, Action and Perseverance (DEAP), Taos Integrated School for the Arts, Red River Valley, and Walatowa Charter High. These schools tend to serve high populations of Hispanic and American Indian students, which I commend.

I don't yet know much else about these seven schools, but am eager to learn more. DEAP and Walatowa, for example, are the only LEAs with more than 20 percent American Indian students receiving above a "C". Meanwhile Taos has not one but two schools with above average FRL (and diverse students) getting an "A" or "B". There are pockets of success all across New Mexico we should study from and build upon.

Tomorrow, this New Mexican brings this series to a close with final thoughts on how we might move forward and the battles still on our horizon.

Digging Deep: Poverty In New Mexico's Districts

This is the third in a five-part series as a follow up to my initial research on district and state charter school grades in New Mexico. Find the first and second parts here and here.

Poverty. It's as New Mexican as green and red chile. We can't have a conversation about education here without looking at poverty. Thus, my next area of inquiry centers on equity, particularly around socioeconomics. In education, free and reduced lunch eligibility rates serve as a proxy for socioeconomic status (SES), which is the lens I've adopted. The number of students eligible for these means tested programs tell us roughly how rich or poor a given student population is.

As you'd expect, unfortunately, the top line FRL eligibility rate of 69% in New Mexico is one of the highest in the U.S. Only Mississippi and D.C. are in range. Yes, we are a state with pervasive and staggering poverty. Should we throw our hands up as it seems so many have, including our elected leaders?

We cannot submit to this fatalistic paradigm. As a child of food stamps and public housing, I find this mindset incomprehensible. Every student we discount or leave behind is a tragedy. Every one of the 30% of our students who doesn't graduate has a name. We need to make this much more personal on behalf of students. I know we can and must do better for our poorest students if we are to improve our 49th ranking for students' chance for success. Even some of our most affluent schools - with an "A" - have less than half their kids on grade-level for math. This should be a wakeup call for us all.

With this in mind, I approached the data with fresh eyes for beacons of light. Which districts and schools are disproving the "soft bigotry of low expectations" for students? What's behind their success and setting them apart? Are there schools with high concentrations of low-income students getting great results? My assumption is "yes, of course" and that we as a state can learn from those leaders. You know the drill, let's start with an interactive graph.

Orient yourself first. District and state charter grades move horizontally from left to right ("A" to "F"). The final column in yellow is a summary for all 149 LEAs (two state charters do not have FRL data I could find). Going up the left side is the percentage of students eligible for free and reduced lunch (FRL) at each LEA. Up around the 70 percent mark is our statewide FRL average of 67.92 percent. Find the district near you, or that you attended as a student.

The breakdown of grades is as follows: 18 "A"s, 36 "B"s, 54 "C"s, 26 "D"s, and 15 "F"s. This we already knew. The twist here is we can see how grades intersect with socioeconomic status.

No "A"s Here - Delving into Districts

Looking at districts, we find five with above average FRL and a "B", since there are no "A"s: Truth or Consequences, Reserve, Portales, Loving, and Clayton. T or C and its 1,314 students and Portales with 2,803 are the only two of the five with more than 600 students. Both catch my eye as well for having more than half their student populations identify as Hispanic. I'm excited they seem to be disproving the tired trope that poor and Brown children simply can't reach high expectations.

Districts Above State Median FRL

These are all the districts in new mexico above the median frl rate of 67.92 percent.

What's going on in T or C? The city of 6,000 with six schools down south seems to have figured something out. With 95 percent of their students FRL eligible, T or C exceeds the state FRL average by more than 20 points. (This is also 30 points higher than Albuquerque Public Schools and puts them in the top ten of low-income LEAs.) According to NMPED's recent "Straight A Express", there are three key factors to their success:

  1. A Community United: Schools are at the heart of the community and the town is united in pursuit of educational excellence;

  2. School Board Involvement: The five-person board understands the importance of the work happening in T or C schools and recognizes progress made and yet to go; and

  3. Clear Behavior Expectations. All students and parents are aware of behavior expectations and school procedures.

These strike me as sensible things any motivated board can enact and, importantly, any superintendent can execute on. Though these strategies also require the courage to speak truth to power and challenge entrenched interests. We need elected officials who hold up mirrors while also leading us to new promised lands.

On the other end, we find House Municipal Schools near Clovis defying stereotypes in the opposite direction. Despite a below average FRL rate (39 percent), a majority White student population (~80 percent), and small classes (73 students across three schools), they receive a "C". House is surrounded by districts which are poorer, more diverse, and receiving the same or higher grade. What's not going well in House Municipal Schools? It certainly isn't because the students are too poor, too numerous or too Brown as I hear so often. Dare we say it's likely the adults in leadership who own responsibility?

Beyond individual districts, the sad reality is that these statistics leave more than 20,000 of our students in "D/F" districts, and more than 100,000 in "D/F" schools when looking at individual school grades. This means we have 20,000 students who, through no fault of their own, have entrusted their futures to districts underserving them. They are at a starting line a mile back from where they should be. How many community organizers, teachers, or entrepreneurs would these children otherwise grow up to become? Through this pernicious opportunity gap, we squander our most precious resource: our students.

All is not lost as I see great potential in the 34 above-average FRL districts that have "C"s. This encompasses about 1/3 of all New Mexico students. What are the right levers for these district leaders to pull to change the game? Perhaps like T or C they might benefit from a renewed clarity of purpose, a unifying vision? Are there culture issues to tackle? Where can the capacity of school leaders, teachers, and other staff be bolstered? With the right leadership, strategies, and tactics these 34 districts and 292 schools could fundamentally change the lives of their 108,662 children across New Mexico. Now that's powerful thinking.

I'll meet you here tomorrow as I take a similar look at our state charter schools.

Digging Deep: The Story Behind Our State Charters

This is the second in a five-part series as a follow up to my initial research on district and state charter school grades in New Mexico. Find the first part here.

The story of state charter grades in New Mexico is of two extremes. On one end, we have an outsized number of high-performers doing well by their students. On the other end we have a large number of laggards bringing the whole lot down. What paradigms and practices do these high-performing school leaders have in place which can be shared more widely? And how do we turn over those low-performing schools to the impressive leaders of "A" schools so they may right the ship?

State charters have a much flatter distribution than districts. They receive roughly identical proportions of each letter grade and serve a total of 16,188 students. Here, 3,557 students (22 percent) attend "A" schools. State charters also have many more "F"s (13 to 2), with 6,232 (38.5 percent) of their students in "D" or "F" schools.

Of course, it is the role of NMPED and the PEC to ensure all charter schools they approve set forth ambitious goals to begin with, and then hold them accountable to achieving those goals. At any given time, every school leader should know which side of the line they stand on. If school grades are the decision-making point, then schools with the same grades need to receive the same treatment.

The data shows this isn't happening consistently enough yet. When schools with the same grade receive wildly different decisions, the recommendation to open, extend, or close a school feels like we're shaking a Magic Eight Ball. Of course, I think all schools (charter or not) should be on ambitious yet achievable performance contracts they are held accountable to, but that's for another day.

NM State Charter School Grades

We must also grapple with the reality that schools serving our most challenged student populations - often called "reengagement" or "Supplemental Accountability Model Status (SAMS)" schools - are fundamentally disadvantaged by the current grading formula. These unique schools are in need of accountability as well as a differentiated grading model that better accounts for the hardest-to-serve students they explicitly seek out.

The size of state charters schools is notable with an average population of 265 students. In fact, only two schools (Mission Achievement & Success and the soon-to-close NM Connections Academy online school) have more than 700 students. Point is this: even when schools are shattering the mythology about poor students not able to learn, it tends to be at a small scale. (I write much more about MAS and what fuels their success in the fourth part of this series tomorrow). For now it's easy to see the missed opportunities to better understand and replicate successful, local models.

Reasons for Optimism

As I've written about before, this grade distribution will soon change with two "F" state charters joining APS and four other "D" or "F" charters slated to close. I applaud the Public Education Commission (PEC) and NMPED's charter school division for holding charters accountable to providing their students a meaningful education. Students are certainly much more than data points, but what will their future hold if they don't have the skills to interpret data to begin with?

Schools, chartered or otherwise, not doing what they say they will are a disservice to their students and families. Schools are in the business of educating our children and preparing them for real-world outcomes measured by graduation rates, college attendance, employment, etc. When schools aren't doing this why then are they still in business?

Too often sentimentality and personal allegiances rule the day in New Mexico. Imagine if we took the miseducation of students as seriously as the grievances of adults running schools. Schools frequently stay open or unchanged for fear of harming the adults there. What then of the children? Aren't they too deserving of consideration?

I dig into this in parts three and four, but it's worth noting that the average FRL percentage for each grade grouping increases as you move from A to F. For example, the average FRL rate for "A"s is 40.36 percent. Meanwhile, "D" and "F" LEAs hover around 80 percent. Clearly, there is some correlation between SES and LEA grades. This is undeniable and beyond debate, but not worthy of despair.

The Challenge Ahead

Overall, New Mexico needs many more options for parents via state charters as well as better academic accountability for current and future schools. Each school needs goals specific to their students accompanied by consistent and transparent tracking towards these goals by the PEC and NMPED. And we need to shed our fear of closing failing schools. This requires better planning to responsibly transition those schools to more capable hands. Communities often revolve around their local school. This need not be an excuse to leave these schools under demonstrably poor leadership.

New Mexico has high levels of poverty. And poorer kids need extra resources and support (though often receive less) that their more affluent peers receive either inherently at home or explicitly at school. Even when money is available, districts often do a terrible job of delivering those resources in a timely fashion, if at all. The quagmire of district bureaucracy is prohibitive to the extra counselors, instructional time, and health services poor children require. Providing these resources effectively requires new ways of thinking, which is often the central work of charter schools.

The question then becomes, how do we better serve the needs of these students? Money of course matters, but in a state that is 36th in spending and 49th in student achievement, that's not the full story. Tomorrow and Thursday I explore the intersection of socioeconomics on LEA grades, and where we find some beacons of hope.

Digging Deep: What Do Districts Grades Really Tell Us?

This is the first in a five-part series I'm putting out this week as a follow up to my initial research on district and state charter school grades in New Mexico.

On November 28th I put up what became the most visited post on “Six Things I Learned From New Mexico’s District Grades”. The response was overwhelming. I received dozens of positive messages including some excellent suggestions for additional questions I should explore. Thanks to helpful feedback from readers, I’ve dug back into the data.

First, let’s recap six original insights I shared:

  1. Two of Ten. Of the ten largest districts in NM, two (Farmington and Rio Rancho) get above a "C";

  2. Geography Matters. All "A" districts are on or east of the Rio Grande;

  3. Some Big Districts Do Well. Some of our biggest districts are getting strong results including Alamogordo, Artesia, Farmington, Lovington, and Rio Rancho;

  4. Small Districts Run the Gamut. More than half of New Mexico’s school districts have less than 1,000 students and the distribution of grades for those is: seven "A"s, thirteen "B"s, twenty "C"s, ten "D"s, and one "F";

  5. Lack of Opportunity for American Indian Students. Only one district with more than 30% American Indian students, Farmington, has a "B" or higher; and

  6. Hispanic-Serving Districts Vary Widely. There are seventy-three districts in New Mexico with Hispanic student populations of 30% and greater which include five "A"s, sixteen "B"s, thirty-seven "C"s, fifteen "D"s, and zero "F"s.

In the first analysis I focused only on our 89 traditional districts, excluding state-authorized charter schools. Of course, this strategic omission became topic number one requested by readers. How do state charters fair against districts? How does the socioeconomic status of their students compare? Readers also want to know how socioeconomic status - inferred from free and reduced lunch (FRL) statistics - intersects with district grades?

I heard everyone loud and clear. My initial analysis was helpful and left you wanting more, particularly around issues of equity. Using data from New Mexico's Indicator-Based Information System and NMPED, I've done exactly that. Peer pressure is an Achilles' heel of mine.

I Do, We Do, You Do

I want to start by giving you an assignment as this analysis must be a collective effort. Using the interactive graph below, find all districts and state charters that received an "A" and which have 50 percent and more of their students eligible for free and reduced lunch (FRL). Use the sliders and filters on the right to aid your efforts. HINT: there are six total. Tweet at me with what you find.

Using the same graph, find an LEA near you with an "A" or "B" which serves a student population of 50 percent and more of American Indian OR Hispanic students. Is it a district or state charter school? How many of their students are eligible for FRL? I hope you're getting the hang of this by now. I want this to be a tool you use to find new insights relevant for your own communities.

District and Charter Grade Distribution

The most frequent question I received was on this topic. Beyond district grades, you want to know how they stack up against state charters. Let's start with the basics. Currently New Mexico has 89 districts and 62 state-authorized charters schools. (These charters are overseen by the elected ten-person Public Education Commission commonly known as the PEC, rather than local school districts.) For our purposes I'm working with a total of 151 local education agencies (LEAs).

As you can see above, there are 18 "A"s altogether, with eight traditional districts and 10 state charters. This is promising given state charters make up less than half of the 151 LEAs in New Mexico, and have roughly 16,000 students. Put another way, for every student in a state charter school, there are 20 in traditional districts.

The District Picture

For districts, who have 319,769 students, the grade distribution is a clean bell curve with 43 "C"s. Out of this group a mere 1.7 percent, or 5,382 students, attend "A" districts. Meanwhile 22,845 (7.1 percent) students are in "D" or "F" districts. What does it mean for us when less than 2% of students have the opportunity to go to an "A" district?

In practical terms this means parents and students are at a disadvantage before ever setting foot in the school. This is known as the "opportunity gap" where many students aren't provided equal opportunities to learn from the start. Schools can never guarantee uniform outcomes (kids have different interests and talents) but ensuring even baseline skills and knowledge is severely hampered when equal opportunities to learn aren't available to all.

Also of note is that districts typically have more students eligible for FRL (70.72 to 61.59 percent). Districts also tend to have more American Indian students (25.19 to 9.02 percent) but less Hispanic students (42.65 to 58.56 percent) on average. As high-quality charter schools grow in New Mexico we'd expect these demographic differences to smooth out over time. Over the past ten years, depending on region, charter schools have trended towards higher populations of FRL eligible and minority students than traditional districts.

The size of districts appears to have little to do with grade. For the 51 districts with less than 10,000 students, there are as many students (4,742) in "A/B" seats as there are in "D/F" seats (4,183). As we found above, these "D/F" districts have higher concentrations of poor and minority students across the board.

What have we learned? Districts still account for more than 93% of New Mexico public school children. This is either good or terrible news, depending on where you live. For us, zip code is still educational destiny. For those who can, choosing where to live is still our primary strategy of "school choice." Next I look at our state charter schools, which seek to even this playing field, providing opportunities to families without the means to change neighborhoods or pay for private school.

[12/19] For Our Future: This Week's Education News & More

Friends & Colleagues -

This week I have a follow-up to APS's consideration of four charter schools, an updated rating for New Mexico's ESSA Plan, recognition for NMPED's teacher leadership programs, and emerging research about what makes some districts great and others not so much. As always, your feedback is appreciated. Here's this week's roundup:

[LOCAL: NEWS] APS Votes on Charter Schools. Last Wednesday, the APS Policy and Instruction Committee heard pleas from four charter schools. As I wrote about previously, this decision had become increasingly contentious. Counter to my suggestion for one-year, contingent approvals, the committee approved three schools for three year approvals. The three approved are all part of the Leadership High Schools Network. A fourth, The Academy of Trades & Technology, did not receive approval and is likely slated for closure.

While I'm not surprised by the decision, many questions remain. I am told 97 percent of ACE Leadership students are currently employed or pursuing higher education. And 40 percent are in college. So, 60 percent are not in college and 57 percent have a job of some sort. What are these jobs? How many are in architecture? Construction? Engineering? Are they making a living wage? These and other questions loom large. While the work of reengaging students is noble, so is providing measurable improvements to their lives.

What I've found most troubling is the eschewment of achievement data and graduation rates, by both the board and schools. By calling into question the validity of these measures, I have deep concerns about the commitment to improvement. No academic measure is complete or perfect, but some are better than others. The point of high school is to graduate ready for career and college. Thus, the rates at which students graduate matters a great deal. As do the rates at which those students read, write, and do math. To exclude any group of students from performance along these measures is dangerous.

As a high school dropout, I'm dumbfounded by the notion that somehow students like me can't learn. We too deserve a full education. Our backgrounds are not scapegoats for low performance. That's why it's essential these schools improve and become successful for more students. I'll be watching with cautious optimism and hope you do too.

[LOCAL: NEWS] New Mexico Remains Highest Rated ESSA Plan. Independent reviewers once again give New Mexico high marks for our education plan. We received the highest rating of "5" in five of nine categories. Despite positive feedback, two areas for improvement emerge. First, ensuring all students receive a high-quality education - our so-called "subgroups". And second, identifying the exit threshold for schools identified for comprehensive support. New Mexico needs to track the performance of all kids, low- and high-performing. NMPED also needs clear exit criteria for schools identified for comprehensive and targeted support. Despite these areas for improvement, we should be proud of a plan garnering positive national attention. Thousands of stakeholders from around the state provided input on the plan. This shows again how vital community feedback is in transforming education, especially here in New Mexico.

[LOCAL: NEWS] New Mexico Gets National Praise for Teacher Leadership Programs. After years of top-down changes, New Mexico teachers grew tired of change after change. In response, NMPED launched several programs to bring teachers to the table. In a recently released report, Chiefs for Change lauds these initiatives. While the programs are modest in scope, demand is high with more than 700 teachers applying for 50 ambassador positions.

The report concludes with NMPED's takeaways on establishing a meaningful teacher leadership system:

- "Teachers must lead from within." High-quality teachers should serve as a bridge between educators in the state and the state agency. They should both represent their peers and ask state education leaders tough questions.

- "Teachers must have opportunities to voice their feedback." When teachers have an opportunity to weigh in on initial plans, the rollout process needs to be smooth. That way teachers feel the education department is taking their concerns seriously.

- "Start somewhere—even if it feels small." New Mexico started with 18 teacher-leaders involved at the state level, and now about 650 teachers are doing work for the department.

[NATIONAL: RESEARCH] School District Performance Continues to Baffle. Mother Jones' Kevin Drum highlights the seeming randomness of school district performance. Using research out of Stanford I wrote about last week, he unearths wide variances in districts with similar levels of poverty:

"Obviously not all of this is the fault of the school districts. But surely some of it is, and it’s a national disgrace that the differences are so stark. However, what’s really striking about this chart is how random it is: third-grade performance is almost completely unconnected to growth between third and eighth grades. And it’s only weakly correlated with the income level of a school district."

District Achievement & Growth

As you can see in the map below, there is a lot of purple (bad) in the South. Except for Tennessee, which has tackled education reform the past decade. Tennessee is the green island in an ocean of purple. New Mexico might learn a lesson or two from a state that at one time was near the bottom of national rankings. Stanford researcher Sean Reardon concludes with this:

"The findings also suggest that we could learn a great deal about reducing educational inequality from the low-SES communities with high growth rates. They provide, at a minimum, an existence proof of the possibility that even schools in high-poverty communities can be effective. Now the challenge is to learn what conditions make that possible and how we can foster the same conditions everywhere."

[12/12] For Our Future: This Week's Education News & More

Friends & Colleagues -

Perhaps providing us a preview of things to come in 2018's legislative session, these past few weeks have been jam packed with local and national education news relevant to New Mexico. I ramble enough below so let's jump right in:

[LOCAL: NEWS] Three APS Schools Designated for Rigorous Intervention. All three elementary schools (see table below) have received F grades for at least the past five years. I had a lot to say about this happening in the same week as APS Superintendent receiving a $250,000/year extension, so I wrote a post over at Retort.

APS Elementary Schools Designated for Intervention

APS Elementary Schools Designated for Intervention

[LOCAL: NEWS] Mission Achievement Success Approved for Expansion. In great news for students and families of Albuquerque, the Public Education Commission (PEC) has approved MAS for a second school site. I've gotten to know MAS's founder and principal, JoAnn Mitchell, over the past year and continue to be amazed by her vision and commitment. This groundbreaking decision by the PEC provides more students the opportunity to have the skills and experiences to be our future leaders. Here's more information on MAS:

MAS charter currently serves 785 students near the Sunport. The school primarily has students that qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, and the campus has a higher proportion of Hispanic and African-American students than the state and Albuquerque Public Schools. While a student population like this often leads to excuses and lowered expectations across the city and across our state, students at MAS are getting amazing results because the school’s educators accept nothing less. Students at MAS grow academically at rates far beyond that of other schools in the state, and read and do math on par with schools in more affluent communities like the Northeast Heights.
— Matthew Pahl - Executive Director, New Mexico Coalition for Charter Schools (NMCCS)

     I'll also mention that at a conference for NMCCS this past weekend, Secretary-Designate Christopher Ruszkowski made an ill-informed remark about "Manifest Destiny" while also calling for more high-quality school options for all students. Yes, given our long history of oppression and colonization, it is a hurtful and misguided metaphor. Though let us not allow this misstep to detract away from his broader point about the need for us to do better by our students. I hope his comments about the need to have extended school days, honoring our best teachers (more on that below), and holding all schools accountable for teaching all students who walk through their doors are given equal consideration.

[LOCAL: NEWS] New Mexico Teachers Bring Home Awards. Teachers across the state are being recognized for their tireless and impressive work. Melanie Alfaro, math department head at Deming Intermediate School, took home the prestigious Milken Educator Award for "incorporating assessments, collaborative projects, and parental involvement in her teaching strategies." Seven other teachers statewide, including four APS middle school teachers, garnered 2018 Golden Apple Awards for Excellence in Teaching as recognition of remarkable work. Teaching is a tough, often thankless job that, when done well, truly changes lives. The more we honor and reward those who've mastered their craft the better.

[LOCAL: NEWS] Legislative Finance Committee Tackles Education Budget. Last Thursday I made the trek up to Santa Fe as the LFC took its first look at NMPED's proposed 2018-19 budget. The webcast recording is online here. A few highlights:
     - NMPED proposed a "flat" budget of $2,695,524,500 including the following increases:
          - $4 million for additional pre-k programs;
          - $2.5 million for instructional materials;
          - $1 million for STEM initiatives; and
          - $300k for K-3 Plus
     - There was a near-capacity audience of 100+ folks from across NM
     - NMPED attempted to include testimony from school/district leaders, teachers and parents but that was nixed by LFC Chairwoman Patty Lundstrom who said there wouldn't be time for everyone to speak
     - Testimony permitted included: Arsenio Romero (Deming Superintendent), Melanie Alfaro (Milken Educator of the Year mentioned above), Tommy Turner (Mosquero Superintendent), and Mike Hyatt (Gallup Superintendent)

[NATIONAL: RESEARCH] New Measure of School District Performance Yields Promising Insights. New analysis from The Upshot takes data (based on roughly 300 million elementary-school test scores across more than 11,000 school districts) from Stanford's esteemed Center for Education Policy Analysis (CEPA) for a fresh look how we think about school districts. By analyzing how scores grow or not as student cohorts move through school, Stanford researcher Sean Reardon argues that "it’s possible to separate some of the advantages of socioeconomics from what’s actually happening in schools."

I was surprised to see that places like Hatch and Gadsden, with nearly half the median household income of Albuquerque, achieve higher learning rates than NM's largest city. I've included some graphs for APS below, but please explore for yourself.