Last Thursday, New Mexico's 2018 results on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment came rolling in earlier than ever before. The results are promising, though highlight how much progress we have yet to go.Read More
by Seth Saavedra │Wednesday, March 21st, 2018
What does it mean to be "Hispanic" in these United States? In New Mexico? And what exactly is "Hispanic" and how do I know if I'm one?
I don't ask these questions to be rhetorical or cheeky. These have been, and are, the subconscious backdrop of my mind. As soon as I move past providing my name and address I know what's coming:
Confusing me even further, I lived in California for a decade. Here I first became a Latino, then Latino/a, before being told I'm actually "Latinx". "Multi-racial" it is. I now embrace the ambiguity.
Fine, I'll be whatever you need me to be. Let me be your distorted reflection - the wavy image you recognize mostly for the parts that don't look like you. To my White friends, I'm definitely not White. To my Brown friends, not that Brown.
Now that I've moved back to New Mexico where nearly half of us identify as Hispanic, and even more of us, regardless of skin tone, have an "x" or "z" in our last name. A semantic genealogical party I'm excluded from.
Keep the Family Close
With 61 percent of New Mexico's 337,485 public school students identified as Hispanic, they are our mean. As go our Hispanic students, as goes public education. Same with poor students, as 71 percent of students here qualify for free or reduced lunch.
The future well-being of The Land of Enchantment is quantitatively and intricately tied to the success of our Hispanic students.
Increasingly, this is the story of America too. With three times as many Hispanic students as teachers, both groups face headwinds. This reality remains: we can't make progress as a state without students that look like me doing better.
My Old Flex Is My New Flex Now
We know graduation rates are in imperfect proxy for student achievement. There are schools with 85 percent graduation rates yet have less than 5 percent of students on level for math - and less than 15 percent for reading.
Even so, graduation rates are a helpful measure in understanding how schools are serving their students. Diplomas still mean something as a signal to the employment market. For now. Let's see how our Hispanic students do in graduating high school.
As usual, I ask that you explore the data yourself. Below is a bar chart that includes every public high school with graduation data in New Mexico. Find the high school you went to. Look up the school your student, nephew, grandchild, or sibling goes to. Or the one your future child might attend. Don't be shy.
We have no fewer than 57 high schools with Hispanic graduation rates 10 points or more below the statewide average of 70.5 percent. In fact, we have 33 high schools that are 20 points or more under that average. This is injustice before our eyes. This is institutional racism in action.
Gadsden, Las Cruces, and Truth or Consequences Stand Out. Again.
With all their Hispanic students beating the statewide graduation average, these districts down south are getting impressive results. This should be no surprise as I've written about all three previously. My observation is that strong leadership plus a commitment to excellence for all students are shared traits.
Look What You've Done
Strictly by the current numbers of Hispanic students - much less their anticipated growth - our future is Brown. We as a state and country cannot improve educational outcomes without better reaching Hispanic students.
This will require more Hispanic teachers, high-quality dual language programs, culturally relevant curriculum, and higher expectations in and of Hispanic communities. We know it's possible and, given Mexican food's triumph over American cuisine, there is latent craving for our culture and people.
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.
by Seth Saavedra │Friday, March 2nd, 2018
While I consider myself a Burqueño through and through, the full answer is more complex.
By and large I grew up in urban, multi-storied Section 8 apartments, provided by the Albuquerque Housing Authority. I grew up riding the city bus and trading food stamps for cash, the life of a city kid. Some summers, though, I went north to my step-grandpa's place in Aztec, New Mexico.
A sprawling ranch may spring to mind. The reality consisted of a double-wide trailer situated on an indebted (and eventually repossessed) few acres. To my wonderment, there was satellite television. The kind that streamed to an eight-foot dish parked like a Statue of Liberty replica in the front yard. Watching Nickelodeon felt extravagant.
I'd feed animals, shovel the resulting product, and spend countless hours wading through cattails on the ditch bank.
My grandpa was a poor roughneck from Estancia who spent innumerable hours in his pickup traveling between diners, rodeos, and tack shops. He was a no nonsense cowboy who saw the world in black and white - and who'd do anything for his family.
His casket fit snuggly into a horse trailer on its way to the cemetery. Playing at his service, Garth Brooks' Rodeo captured perfectly the joys and pains of his life.
After my parents separated we moved in with my grandparents for a bit and I attended school in Aztec. I remember wearing cowboy boots, wanting to fit in. Ropes and spurs were what the cool kids had in small town life.
This rural sort of scene describes more districts than not in New Mexico: Out of our 89 school districts, 51 have less than 1000 students. Nearly 40 districts have fewer than 500 students, or about 40 students per grade.
Use the interactive graph below to see where these districts are across New Mexico:
About 18,000 students live in these 51 districts. And while larger districts get more attention (and money), there is much to learn from smaller districts. Students in these places are often just as poor and diverse, bringing similar challenges to school as their urban peers. To wit, it is well-documented that America's opioid epidemic is ravaging rural communities.
Smaller districts face unique challenges with technology and transportation, with bumpy bus rides of an hour each way not that uncommon. Yet there remains an undiscovered beauty beyond our biggest cities with small town school boards and superintendents able to innovate in absence of the immovable bureaucracy that plagues Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
As I did with New Mexico's ten largest districts, below is what stood out as I dug into graduation rates for districts with 1000 students and less. These communities are quite diverse and different, but for my purposes I've grouped them together for analysis.
Overall Rural Districts Outperform the State
In the aggregate, and for most subgroups, these 51 districts are doing better than the rest of the state. For example, out of the 36 districts with enough Hispanic students to report (some districts don't reach the reporting threshold), 24 graduate a higher percentage. For poor students, its 31 of 39 doing better. See for yourself:
A Number of Districts Standout
As I touched on previously, there is clustering of "A/B" districts on the east side of the state. Many of these same districts are part of Regional Education Cooperative 6 and stand out for their graduation rates. These include Dora (252 students), Elida (138), Grady (134), Loving (535), and Texico (567). Some are single school districts while others have three and four schools.
Dulce & Magdalena Doing Well For Native Students
Despite having earned unimpressive grades of "F" and "D", respectively, Dulce and Magdalena graduate their American Indian students at 20+ percentage points above the state average. Both perform well across all categories but still struggle with low proficiency rates. Hopefully they can build on their success in graduation rates to improve student learning as well.
Twenty Three Districts Defying Doubt of Poor Students
Just under two dozen districts beat the state average for Economically Disadvantaged students by more than 10%. They disprove the myth that poor kids can't learn - or that "we don't know how to teach them". These districts prove demography mustn't be destiny. In fact, in a state with as many poor students as we have, we can't let this myth live on any longer.
Outliers for Hispanic Students Exist Too
Seventeen districts reach that impressive 10% above median range for their Hispanic students. Ranging from Springer to Hagerman, these districts reach beyond narrow, complacent views and demonstrate what should be obvious: all students are capable of learning, but not all schools are capable of teaching them.
It's time we move beyond outliers and expect that all districts in every part of the state teach every child every day.
Our rural districts span a wide range of diversity and size. We are remiss to ignore them. As I've found through this analysis, many of them get impressive results for ALL their students. And they might teach the behemoth districts along the river a thing or two about what it takes.