Dismantling New Mexico's Reform Edifice

New Mexico’s legislative session ends next week, but the local education lobby’s effort to dismantle the state’s education reform edifice is just getting underway. Nationally, the forces of resistance and repeal have been having a field day since the midterms, but nowhere are the stakes arguably higher than in the Land of Enchantment. This is because on virtually all fronts, New Mexico has quietly cultivated a sterling reputation as a reform beacon par excellence.

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Ex Nihilo Nihil Fit

Yes, there are important questions to answer about where public education in NM goes from here. While progress has been made, we have much further to go. What’s also true is we won’t move forward by continually taking three or four steps backwards. Blindly wiping the slate clean only hurts teachers and students, while ignoring nearly a decade of important progress. Instead, let’s do the hard work of enacting change on behalf of all students, from Dulce to Deming.

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New Mexico NAEP: Stalled Out, With Some Progress

by Seth Saavedra │Thursday, April 11th, 2018

NAEPery Circus

This past Tuesday at midnight 2017 NAEP scores went public. Amidst the hullabaloo that accompanies this ritual is a predictable chain of events:

  1. Four hundred "What to Expect" pieces
  2. Accidental releases of embargoed information
  3. Late night Twitter stalking of #NAEPDay
  5. All too many all too hot takes
  6. Ambitious overreaches and alarmist shrieks
  7. Even more ambitious counter "think" pieces
  9. Level-headed commentary
  10. "Welp, what does NAEP actually tell us?"
  11. Next shiny edu-thing

Before I jump into the fray at stage nine, let's cover the NAEP basics.


Often called "The Nation's Report Card", NAEP is the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the U.S.'s most comprehensive view of what students know in a wide range of topics. It is a low stakes, demographically representative, and minimally changing assessment that tracks academic progress over time. The National Center for Education Statistics, in the U.S. Department of Education, administers the project. For many, NAEP is our best barometer of how much students have learned, particularly in fourth and eighth grades.

Across the U.S.

The NAEP story of the past decade has been disappointing, particularly the past four years. Some have labeled this period "Education's Lost Decade". Beyond the dramatic rhetoric, the lack of movement in student learning is troubling.


SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics


The speculation and analysis about why, after fifteen years of upward progress, we have stalled runs the gamut. Experts point to everything from diminishing returns on education investment to hangover effects of The Great Recession to Federal Department of Education overreach.


As researchers dig further into restricted-use data over the coming weeks we'll gain additional insights about this great NAEP flattening. Meanwhile, us advocates, practitioners, parents, policy wonks, and business leaders must remain focused on bending the trend line upward again, especially for students of color and those from low-income backgrounds.

NAEP in New Mexico

While our sunsets in The Land of Enchantment are dazzling, our NAEP results aren't, often coming in last or next to last in the nation. This time around, only Louisiana and Puerto Rico consistently come in behind us.


SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics


It's important to note NAEP's very real limitations. There is a natural temptation to compare scores over time. However, because completely different cohorts of students get tested every two years, this is tricky. Rather, as Matthew Chingos and Kristin Blagg advise:

A better way to compare and talk about NAEP performance is to use adjusted NAEP scores that account for demographic differences across students in each state. These adjusted scores allow for students to be compared with their demographically similar peers using factors such as race, receipt of special education services, and status as an English language learner. These are factors we know can affect test results, yet they are not shown in NAEP scores. The interactive tool below brings those adjusted NAEP scores to life.
— Urban Institute

So, let's do that. When controls are applied for age, race/ethnicity, frequency of English spoken at home, special education status, free or reduced-price lunch eligibility, and English language learner status, New Mexico moves up slightly. Below, the yellow lines are raw, unadjusted scores while the blue lines take into account the factors above. 


New Mexico 4th Grade Math


New Mexico 4th Grade Reading


New Mexico 8th Grade Math


New Mexico 8th Grade Reading


As you can see, New Mexico bumps up a bit with controls applied - on average 12 places upward. In 8th grade reading, we move from dead last to 26th. And, in three out of four areas, New Mexico has moved upward since 2009, marking tangible progress.

As the New Mexico Public Education Department shared via email, "About 2,500 4th and 8th grade students from 150 elementary and 120 middle schools in New Mexico took the NAEP exam online, for the first time ever, in reading and math." That's one of the values of NAEP, that it takes representative samplings from each state.

Next, let's look at demographic differences in NAEP scores across the state:


SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics


As with the national results from the last decade, the results haven't changed much here. Though there are a few notable exceptions:

  • Since 2009, Hispanic students have grown in all areas;
  • African American students did not reach a statistically significant sample in 2015 or 2017, leaving out an important student population;
  • American Indian students remained flat in two areas, lost ground in another, and made growth in the fourth; and
  • White students saw growth in reading and backslid slightly in math in 2017.

What Does It All Mean?

My main takeaway for our 2017 NAEP results is two-fold: our Hispanic students are on the rise and we have a lot of work ahead. For all the ill conceived critiques of PARCC, NAEP is the antidote. It's low stakes. It takes a representative sample. It's every other year. It covers every state - and can control for demographic factors. And yet, New Mexico still falls far behind the pack.

Yet, we've made progress over the past decade, particularly for Hispanic students, even though it's stalled out recently. We have hard questions to ask ourselves. Where should our future investments in education be made? It's clear that "business as usual" only works for adults in the system, not our students. Where are our current bright spots and how do we scale them up? In districts such as Gadsden and Farmington, we see meaningful progress. How do we encourage more smart innovation in a sector that badly needs it?

And lastly, as Morgan Polikoff writes, "We need more rigorous investigation of these results to understand whether they can really tell us anything about policy effects." In other words, what impact do “college- and career-readiness standards” have on student achievement? What about the effects from so-called "community schools"? Much more research is needed here to better understand the early gains we made as a state and to get us moving upward again.

What Will the Janus Ruling Bring to The Land Of Enchantment?

by Seth Saavedra │Thursday, March 29th, 2018

Waiting to Exhale

With oral arguments for Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) in the rearview, sideline speculation is in full swing.


Find oral arguments for Janus online via transcript and audio recording.


As the legal frameworks allowing public-sector unions to collectively bargain differ from state to state, the full implications of - a seemingly imminent favorable - ruling for Mark Janus aren't clear.

New Mexico, as with many things, is a bit of an anomaly when it comes to our teachers unions. With high perceptions of influence, yet low levels of membership, our local chapters of the NEA and AFT remain important players on uneasy footing.

Thankfully, the wiz kids at The 74, along with the National Center for Teacher Quality, provide impressive state-by-state analysis and find:

  • 33 states require districts to engage in collective bargaining if teachers request to do so, generally through a majority vote for union representation;
  • 11 states allow collective bargaining, but districts are not required to bargain even if teachers request it; and
  • In the remaining seven states, collective bargaining is explicitly illegal. Teachers can still join professional associations, which are active in lobbying at the state level and interact with districts as a voice for teachers, albeit in less formal ways than collective bargaining.

Friendly to Unions but Not Many Members

The Land of Enchantment has quite favorable statute for public-sector unions. In fact, collective bargaining is not only allowed but required by law:

The purpose of the Public Employee Bargaining Act is to guarantee public employees the right to organize and bargain collectively with their employers, to promote harmonious and cooperative relationships between public employers and public employees and to protect the public interest by ensuring, at all times, the orderly operation and functioning of the state and its political subdivisions.
— NM Stat § 10-7E-2 (2016)

There is great value in collective bargaining, which provides a streamlined negotiation between labor and management. Unions fight for adequate compensation and safe workplaces, vital aspects to a healthy workforce.

There are also drawbacks. This streamlined negotiating diminishes the diversity of teacher voice, narrowing it to one or two technocratic issues. The resulting agreements use a jackhammer where a chisel works best. This constrains schools, stifles innovation, and directs energy to the lowest common denominator.

For example, why should all high schools schools in a district have the same start times or length of school day? And why, despite a mountain of evidence telling us of the negative impacts, do high schoolers still start so early?

Undoubtedly there is benefit in having some shared scheduling, but shouldn't our schools better represent the needs and diversity of students? The driving forces for these decisions should be the needs of students then staff. In that order.

For all the pushback I hear against standardized testing, I rarely hear critiques against what is largely a standardized school experience. I'll take standardized tests over standardized schools any day.


Implications for New Mexico

Despite the favorable statutory environment, at 41 percent, we have the lowest level of teacher unionization among all states that mandate collective bargaining. In this way, our teachers have already voted with their money and feet. With mounting evidence that collective bargaining does not improve teacher pay, this shouldn't be a surprise.

At the heart of Janus are agency fees, also known as "fair-share fees, paid by nonunion members to the union to cover the cost of collective bargaining on their behalf."

The loss of agency fees will most likely go unnoticed in The Land of Enchantment. As EIA reports:

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.

Even so, with growing disenchantment with local union leadership, there remains fomenting pressure for a modern union platform.

New, Better Unions

The perceived power of our local teachers unions weighs heavy. In APS, six out of seven board members - overseeing a $1.34 billion budget - are union-backed. That’s control of $1.15 billion, for an average campaign contribution of $5,000 per member. Not a bad ROI.

In Santa Fe, Senate Majority Whip and Chair of the Legislative Education Study Committee (LESC), Mimi Stewart (D) carries water for NEA/AFT/ATF. She is also considered by many to be our most powerful legislator. And, as I reported, the testimony of a union leader is, more often than not, enough to frighten timid legislators back into line.

My hope is local teachers unions take this moment in time to reinvent themselves anew. Facing increased pressure to retain members and recruit Millennial/Generation Z membership, unions have the chance to completely redefine the status quo in education and address the current gulfs between collective bargaining agreements and student needs.

Lasting change isn't possible without a substantial shift in the beliefs and actions of our union leadership.

ATF Leadership Encouraging Members NOT to Chime In On $1.34 Billion APS Budget

by Seth Saavedra │Friday, March 16th, 2018

What's going on with Albuquerque Teacher's Federation (ATF) leadership?

On Thursday afternoon, Ellen Bernstein, president of ATF, sent an email to members titled "APS Budget Survey - Ellen Asks That You Do Not Fill It Out!"


Take APS's survey: http://www.aps.edu/news/budget-survey


This should be surprising on two fronts. First, that Ellen includes "asks" instead of "commands from on high" stands out. I suppose maintaining some semblance of members having an option is helpful.

And, second, Ellen is already on the record discussing "the importance of teacher input." Plus, in what world is it helpful for staffers to not provide input into their employer's programs, finances, and priorities?

Rather than being "inappropriate—and perhaps destructive to our collective bargaining relationship—for the District to ask employees represented by a Union to identify their budget priorities" (her capitalization not mine), this is a best practice and common sense.


In fact, as the Gallup Employee Engagement Center (one of the world's foremost thought leaders on organizational well-being, tells us, "Employee engagement and its impact on outcomes [are what] matter most."

In other words, if one cares about outcomes (such as student learning, effective budgeting, strong school leadership, etc.) gathering employee feedback is perhaps the most crucial measure to consider. IF one does.


Ellen Bernstein - 22-year president of ATF


Ellen goes on: "It is clear the survey lacks anything that is actually inefficient. Providing educational programs with the blood, sweat and tears of underpaid employees in underfunded programs should never appear on a list of possible inefficiencies unless the goal is to further demoralize employees."

We know that's not quite true. These are programs paid for with our blood, sweat, and taxes. And figuring out which programs are most effective, which aren't, and reallocating resources and people to get the most out of all 1.34 BILLION dollars is what smart, modern organizations do. To stay relevant requires agility and self reflection.

Why is there more allegiance to specific programs than our students who are the supposed beneficiaries? I acknowledge this is a somewhat "inappropriate" assessment as it's not Ellen's highly compensated job ($90,000+ a year per 2015 documents) to advocate for students.

Even I, the eternal APS critic, applaud the district's effort to better understand their spending, from the very people running programs. Imagine the backlash against APS for reorganizing programs and funding without the input of teachers.


Let's be clear here, Ellen's goal is twofold: One, discredit the survey results before they've even come in. What better way to undermine the survey from the start than ensuring teachers aren't represented in the results?

And, two, making sure APS doesn't speak to teachers without her intervention. There is a reason she connects the survey back to collective bargaining. Her position only matters in so much as it remains a wall between teachers and the district. However, as we already know, teachers are no monolith, even within the same school district. In fact, I received this text after the email went out:

It’s as though she [Ellen] doesn’t believe we should advocate for ourselves and that we have to go through her. We are constantly teaching our students to stand up for what they believe.
— APS Veteran Teacher

We get it. Being head of the ATF is a powerful position, and one Ellen has held for going on 22 years. This is, in part, the explanation behind the mystifying actions of union leadership at the expense of its members. With union membership nationwide on the decline and the anticipated ruling in Janus, you'd think ATF would be more forward thinking.

However, that's hard with leadership that hasn't changed perspectives in over two decades. I frequently talk to teachers in Albuquerque and across the state. What I hear is increasing frustration with union leadership hellbent on the status quo - determined to keep things as they've been for the past 50 years, mostly at membership's expense.

Well, the world is rapidly changing around us and, unless leadership turns over, my fear is unions (and collective bargaining) will go the way of taxis, who also willfully refused to see Uber and Lyft coming.

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.