Finding money to pay themselves has never been an issue for APS central office administrators. Just this summer Superintendent Reedy received yet another raise, this one for just under $30k. Applying that same 11 percent raise to the 30 highest paid APS officials results in $403,902 in newfound salary for a district losing students and mired in underperformance.Read More
Can and must we do better in ensuring charter schools (and ALL schools) do a better job of providing students both relevance and rigor? Yes. Particularly for charters where one of the foundational agreements is the granting of more autonomy in exchange for more accountability. Too often the latter half of that promise goes unfulfilled.Read More
We are only days away from the start of a new school year! In fact, some schools are already putting in hard work. As teachers prepare their classrooms and minds, students excitedly pick out new backpacks and first-day outfits. This annual ritual is part of a profound relationship we often take for granted.Read More
The truth is often harsh but we face it directly. Change is hard, and we need a new era of education leaders able to guide us to new frontiers instead of tethering us to stale ideas that keep some comfortable but make life on teachers and students unbearable.
Let's keep up the good, hard fight for our students. Here's this week's roundup:Read More
Summer is officially here, but that hasn't stopped the train of education news from rolling onward. Fresh off the incredibly inspiring NM Teacher Summit, I have news covering all corners of our great state - and even some reporting on The Land of Enchantment from a national journalist.Read More
by Seth Saavedra │Friday, June 15th, 2018
Pedro Martinez, superintendent of San Antonio ISD, came to Albuquerque this week by invitation of our Chamber of Commerce. As head of a school district that is 90 percent Hispanic, Pedro knows the many challenges and opportunities of a culturally rich and diverse city. Coming from a family that emigrated from Mexico when he was five years old, Pedro grew up in inner city Chicago. We talked about his journey to San Antonio, the path ahead, and whether he prefers Green or Red.
You’ve had experience at both the state and district levels. One of the issues in New Mexico is a long-standing friction between our state education agency and some districts, particularly larger ones like Albuquerque and Santa Fe. What are some of the things you’ve seen or done to encourage cooperative and productive relationships between these two levels?
The biggest advice I would say is you have to have collaborative leaders. You can't have egos get in the way. You can’t assume that somebody has all the answers. What I've learned doing this work for more than 20 years is that this work is too complicated.
I think the way to promote collaboration between states and districts is really having a conversation about what the ultimate goal is. One of the reasons the (Texas Education Agency) commissioner (Mike Morath) and I get along and collaborate so well is that we both see the bigger picture that while the state has seen improvements in graduation rates, our college readiness is still below the national average.
I want to prove that our children living in poverty can compete with other children across the country and get into some of these top colleges and succeed there. We both agree on that value. What I love is that he's watching what we're doing in this district, that is so densely poor, knowing that if our strategies work they can be replicated across the state.
One of the things that my board and I decided a long time ago was that we were going to learn from others and, as long as our values and ultimate goal were the same - which is graduating children and getting them to some post-secondary institution of their choice - that that's what we cared most about.
Everything else was going to be more about how we work with teachers and parents to motivate them. I have teachers who love Montessori schools and we created a Montessori school. That's where they should be. I have teachers who love dual language programs, that's where they should be. And that's for parents as well. For us it's finding those things that motivate teachers, parents, and children, with the same values and the same goals.
How do you close gaps with children, especially children that live in poverty? It is such complicated work. Our colleges of education don't train our teachers with the best strategies. There are so many things that we have to learn.
How has that looked where maybe you have a disagreement with the TEA (Texas Education Agency)? How have you worked through that?
We're very collaborative but where we’ve had disagreements sometimes is the details of our accountability system. What I love is that they're open to our constructive criticisms and, in some cases, they make decisions and we were okay with it even when we disagree. We respect it, but we have the ability to debate it.
On the diversity of San Antonio:
In San Antonio we're trying to prove the concept that we do have families that are open to integration. I'm asking some of my middle class families, “Why are you willing to try the Advanced Learning Academy where you know you're going to have children that might be homeless or in foster care?” They can afford to put their children in any private school. But, if they do that, their children will never see what our real society looks like and their children are growing up to be better adults because they’re more socially conscious of the world around them.
And what we are showing them is that we will not compromise on quality. There are expert teachers and all of the children, whether they're advanced or they're below grade level, are growing academically. We are not compromising and that's something I appreciate because you need that pressure from parents.
To those who are fearful of some of the needed changes to bring public education into the 21st century (“power bases” as you’ve called them), what do you say? How do you think of your work to assuage concerns of adults while remaining laser focused on the needs of students?
Number one, you have to have conversations about values and the end results with children. I have shown in our work that we're willing to try different models. All of our new models are homemade. We’ve partnered with universities and national experts. That was some of our earliest work.
I won’t always be successful, but our strategy is always to try and find ways to not be divisive because I think one of the mistakes that has happened in K12 is we have become two extreme sides. There're individuals who feel that choice is the answer for everything, including vouchers and charter schools. And then the other side thinks choice is the enemy and that traditional schools are the only answer.
When I talk to families, what they care about is whether their child is going to have a shot. “Is my child below reading level?” Or, if they're a special needs child: “What are you going to do for them? Are they going to have a chance to have opportunities?”
They may not know what a tier one university is because some of them didn’t graduate from high school. But they know when their child is engaged in school. They know when their child is excited to go to school. When their child is learning and growing academically. And one of the other things I always tell people is, let's make sure we give our parents credit because they know a lot more than we realize.
Even when they're single parents and they're working two jobs, they know a lot more than we realize. So how do we work together so that we're meeting the needs of parents and how do we find a different way of doing things?
There’s always going to be some areas where we don't agree and, as I'm learning the hard way, sometimes those issues will continue to grow. But I'm still optimistic that we'll continue to work together. I ultimately am looking for quality choices for our families. And the hope is that you find people that are reasonable, that are willing to give it a try.
And, when we make a mistake, we will admit it because this work is hard. It's complicated. There is no magic bullet. Let's learn together. And, lastly, let's not make it personal and let's keep the interests of children as our top priority.
For advocates here in Albuquerque, what advice would you share from your experiences in Chicago and San Antonio about the importance and best ways to rally and sustain community energy?
First of all, it's important to engage the community early on about a clear vision. We laid out ten academic goals my first year. My staff and I went into our communities and asked, “Is this where you want to be? And, by the way, here is where we're at.”
And we're very transparent about the fact that less than five percent of our children were college ready on the SAT. Less than half of our children were going to college. Less than a fourth were going to four-year universities. Less than two percent were going to tier one universities.
And people were shocked. They didn't realize what our numbers looked like. I also showed them where Texas was at, and the state was underperforming the nation. Then I showed them national statistics. We did that our first year and we united the board around that.
Then as we started creating proof points, which are our quality options, people started understanding. This is what we mean by a high-quality school. Then we opened up our all boys school (Young Men's Leadership Academy) and we saw positive results in the first year it was a complete shift in what people had been seeing. Even our two schools that were already strong, they got stronger.
It starts with setting a vision. Creating something tangible that people can see and touch. We’ve also been open about the fact that we're inclusive and that we are not going to create models that just reach the top kids.
When I asked the business community what's the one thing that distinguishes what we're doing from what they've seen anywhere else? And they say, “Your priority is equity.” For them that's important because they know, especially those who have lived in San Antonio for decades, that nobody talked about it enough that we have the “haves” and “have nots”.
We have companies moving into San Antonio and many thousands and thousands of children who never could take advantage of those opportunities. Our business leaders started seeing that now we're going further in some of the equity work and they understand that at a deeper level.
I would say that it takes a lot of time. We're doing it slowly. We're showing individuals what it could be and still have transparency. We're not there yet, but this is what's possible. What I'm excited about is the conversations that are changing from our students, from our parents, and from the business community, even though I have some resistance right now.
I still believe that the resistance isn't coming from a bad place per se. We just have a philosophical difference. My hope is to continue the work and see how we can find new ways to work together because what really matters is not so much what I believe or even what unions believe, it's what's happening for our children. If you get stuck on philosophical differences you don't move forward, and nothing changes.
What's something that you are seeing or would like to see in terms of those who seek to improve public education did differently in our approach to the work?
What I would love is, and I got this from John King our most recent former Secretary of Education. I wish that we talked about a different way of doing things. Instead of talking about traditional schools versus charters as you saw in Massachusetts when they were fighting to raise the charter school cap. We keep going on these two different debates and a lot is lost.
What motivates me is that when I look at college graduation rates and see, in the 40 years since the 70s, when I started being tracked, to the most recent data, the gaps have never been wider. And that predicts whether you're going to graduate from college.
I now have two children, a seven-year-old and four-year-old that I think about. And about my students on the west side of San Antonio who, just because of where they live, have less than a ten percent chance of graduating from a university. I think we have to really grapple with that.
Whether it's a traditional school, whether it's a charter school, what's the difference? The real question we should ask ourselves is: How do we work together?
When I talk with the business community here about the challenges of poverty and how they are correlated with so many other ills of society, from drug abuse to teenage pregnancy, I try to make that connection. And it's not just the bottom quartile of students, but also that second quartile of students we focus on.
Ultimately, we're not trying to do this for any other reason than trying to figure out a very complicated problem. We have to ask those tough questions about what is happening to these children and how do we work together and get better outcomes?
Lastly, and most importantly, here in New Mexico we care a lot about our chile peppers. Are you a “green” or “red” kind of guy?
I’ve visited before, three years ago probably. I’ve tried the Red and I like the Red. The Green is fine, but I like the Red more!
by Seth Saavedra │Friday, June 8th, 2018
Friends & Colleagues -
Now that our primary week is over, it's clear that progressive Dems are riding a wave in New Mexico. In a state that's usually a more moderate shade of blue, we look headed to a deeper hue. We are also poised to be the first to send a Native American woman to Congress, a seminal moment for our state and country.
The education implications for this wave are worrisome for this advocate. Though my hope is the regressive "get rid of everything" rhetoric of 2018 tones down after November's elections. And here's this week's roundup:
[LOCAL: NEWS] APS's Plan for Hawthorne Elementary Conditionally Approved. In a letter sent from NMPED to APS yesterday, Secretary of Education Ruszkowski approved Hawthorne's "Champion and Provide Choice" submission. Hawthorne requested almost $1 million for their efforts, which NMPED agreed to provide in installments contingent on these six conditions:
Any and all financial resources provided serve only current Hawthorne students;
Hawthorne students receive highest-priority for their schools of choice and are guaranteed a seat in a higher-performing school if they seek one;
NMPED reviews and approves all communications materials provided to Hawthorne students and families;
APS provides NMPED with quarterly school enrollment updates;
NMPED staff are present for, and/or co-host, each school choice expo; and
NMPED may provide additional materials to Hawthorne parents and families.
The conditions aim to make two things clear. First, Hawthorne students and families are at the center of these efforts. And, second, APS must earnestly work to improve the school for teachers and students and not play for shadow games.
Without doubt, district leadership is banking on our next governor relieving them of their duties to Hawthorne families. We advocates must remain vigilant and remind APS that, regardless of school grade, too many of our schools continue to mis- and under-educate our children.
[LOCAL: NEWS] New Mexico Teachers Release Reports on Pre-K and Teacher Preparation. Growing powerhouse Teach Plus New Mexico issued recommendations on: "Tailoring Preparation Programs to Better Fit Student, Teacher, and Community Needs" and "An Equitable Approach for Pre-K Enrollment".
Both are commonsense reports, grounded in equity, from some of our state's best teachers.
[LOCAL: NEWS] Southern NM Districts Tackle Budget Challenges Head On. Carlsbad and Hobbs Municipal Schools superintendents shared their efforts to reach all their students. This despite the volatile ups and downs of the oil-and-gas extraction industries both cities rely on. The article includes these gems:
[LOCAL: VIEWPOINT] Local Advocate Points Towards Our Acclaimed ESSA Plan. Executive Director of NMKidsCAN, Amanda Aragon, calls for state leaders to follow one of the nation's best ESSA plans as they improve schools: OUR OWN. She also asks, "If we don't show up for students, who will? If we do show up with a committed approach to school turnaround, who will take inspiration from our success?"
[NATIONAL: RESEARCH] Academic Preparation Is a Key Predictor of College Success. A recent study from the American Enterprise Institute finds:
High school grades are correlated with degree attainment. Earning good grades in high school typically requires developing habits that are relevant for college success;
After controlling for selection bias, students who take more rigorous coursework are more likely to succeed in college; and
Researchers and educators should collaborate on pilot interventions aimed at improving success in high school courses. These could be focused on content or more general strategies aimed at helping students learn how to learn.
by Seth Saavedra │Friday, June 1st, 2018
Friends & Colleagues -
Welcome to June! I bring you the latest from APS and NMPED, along with a new, free resource for teachers. And my love for podcasts continues with two more for your listening pleasure.
Earlier this week I asked "Are Our Schools Meant to Be Gardens or Construction Sites?" Of course, I hope the answer is somewhere in between. Here's this week's roundup:
[LOCAL: NEWS] APS (Finally) Signs Off On School Improvement Plans. After months of posturing, APS superintendent Raquel Reedy has signed off on improvement plans for two elementary schools: Los Padillas and Whittier. This leaves one more MRI school (Hawthorne Elementary, which I wrote about recently) for APS to complete a "champion and provide choice" plan for.
Let's hold APS accountable to making substantive change for some our Albuquerque's most vulnerable students.
[LOCAL: NEWS] NMPED Increases Number in Homegrown Principal Program. We in New Mexico love our homegrown people, ideas, and businesses. So we should be incredibly proud of two locally fostered programs: Teachers Pursuing Excellence (TPE) and Principals Pursuing Excellence (PPE).
Per NMPED: "The state is welcoming 50 new principals to join the evidenced-based program that will help them improve their schools. PPE schools have tripled and doubled academic growth rates while serving more students living in poverty, English Learners (ELs), Native students, and students with disabilities. Dozens of PPE schools have increased their school grades from Ds and Fs to As and Bs, thus becoming models of excellence for other struggling schools statewide to emulate."
[LOCAL: NEWS] Local Advocacy Group Launches "The Future of Education in New Mexico". Speaking of locally grown, NMKidsCAN released a literal roadmap describing "our [education] path, and the guiding stars that we follow as the compass points we use to fine-tune our journey."
To request a physical copy of the roadmap - and also follow the path of New Mexican student Isabel - visit: https://nmkidscan.org/vision/.
[NATIONAL: OPPORTUNITY] Khan Academy Offering Teachers Free Online Training. The Silicon Valley powerhouse now offers free online training program through its new Khan Academy Teacher Training. The 60-minute, self-paced training program helps teachers - and their students - get the most out of Khan Academy’s extensive collection of free online courses.
[NATIONAL: PODCAST] Vox Digs Into "No Excuses" Charter School History. Matthew Yglesias and crew are some of the wonkiest podcasters out there. This week they tackle the fraught topic of "no excuses" charter schools. I found their exploration one of the smartest, most incisive conversations I've heard on the topic. I put this in my "can't miss" category.
[NATIONAL: PODCAST] New Education Podcast Launches. The Bell, in association with The Hechinger Report, has launched "Miseducation". The series digs into the bifurcated public education system in New York City. One for the haves, and an entirely different one for the have nots:
"New York City has two high school systems. One is for the affluent and well-connected. It promises elite opportunities for families able to sacrifice time and money to compete for them. The other primarily serves low-income students of color, concentrates them in the same schools, and offers them slim hope of college preparation. But most people here, including policymakers, have little idea what actually goes on inside this dual school system." Listen to episode one: "The Price of Specialized High Schools".
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.