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
Until Albuquerque wrenches ourselves free from this cabal of education mob bosses, we'll be stuck in a time warp on the wrong side of the looking glass. And it’s students who bear the brunt of this foolishness.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, May 30th, 2018
This past holiday weekend I had time to catch up on what had become an intimidating backlog of podcasts.
Being the education nerd I am, "Kinder-Gardening" from Hidden Brain caught my eye. It's a rich thirty minutes that left me questioning my world views on education and child rearing.
The title of her book stems from an extended metaphor about the relationship between parents and children.
For "carpenters", children are raw materials we shape and build into a final form. "The idea is that if you just do the right things, get the right skills, read the right books, you're going to be able to shape your child into a particular kind of adult," she says.
"Gardeners", meanwhile, are less concerned with having a direct hand in who or what a child becomes. Rather, they focus on building a nurturing soil bed for them to grow from and explore. Gardeners aim to create "a rich, nurturant but also variable, diverse, dynamic ecosystem."
A world where parents are more obsessed than ever on a results-driven approach to parenting, she argues, is also bad science. Citing studies, experiments, and anecdotes from her own grandchildren, Gopnik makes the case that children learn best by observing a wide variety of people.
“From the point of view of evolution, trying to consciously shape how your children will turn out is both futile and self-defeating.” Though knowing this doesn't make it any easier for parents to avoid doing so.
The Limits of Binary Metaphor
I found the metaphor of the carpenter versus the gardener interesting, even if reductive. Rarely are we "this or that" and the oppositional nature of binaries leads to a lot of finger pointing.
The reality is there are few controlling parents singularly focused on turning their children into only engineers or CEOs. And how many parents are truly “gardeners”, accepting a laissez-faire approach no matter the number of unavoidable hardships their child must endure?
Most parents exist on a spectrum between the two. And whether they are gardening or building depends on the child and the moment. As it should be.
Schools, Race, and Class
Gopnik spends some time writing about the impacts of race and class on her findings. She cites early-years interventions: children who have access to early childhood education or provided home-visit support “grow up to be healthier and have higher incomes”.
She expresses concern that schools, like parents, are overly focused on "outcomes" such as test scores and college going. Of course, this is the same straw man argument I most often see from college-educated White intellectuals who've already garnered the benefits of those privileges. And who want the same for their own children.
If we picture schools as only gardens or construction sites, we've hamstrung the conversation from the start. Schools must be both. They need to be places where children play, explore, and discover the multitudes of the world around them.
Schools must also provide scaffolding and tools to shape young minds. Students need to see multiple blueprints for themselves, particularly in a world more reliant than ever on them being professional chameleons with a wide variety of skills.
Yes, too many poor students and students of color in America exist in anemic soil, without all the necessary nutrients to be their best selves. Yet they also suffer from anemic thinking and belief in what they can become. Both are dangerous to their young minds.
A Plurality of Schools
Different students need different mixes of gardening and carpentry. This is why we need more diversity in the types of schools and the approaches offered.
Some students thrive in rigorous, college-prep environments with piles of homework. Others learn best through hands-on projects and apprenticeships. Our current systems offer too little of both.
The point, which Gopnik doesn't quite get to, is that students are widely varied and diverse. Parenting matters but not as much as we might think. And schools have yet to match the spectrum of student needs, reaching for the middle instead of offering better options.
Our students, especially poor ones, need many gardeners and carpenters in their lives. And also unwavering belief in what they are capable of, no matter the garden bed they've grown from.
by Seth Saavedra │Thursday, May 17th, 2018
Hawthorne and Whittier are the only two schools in New Mexico that've earned six consecutive F grades in a row. Los Padillas has received five consecutive Fs.
Last month, after months of back and forth, improvement plans for Los Padillas and Whittier received conditional approval from NMPED. Read the approval letters here. Meanwhile, Hawthorne must "champion and provide choice", meaning APS must inform all parents of nearby school options and support students who need transferring.
These are reasonable and logical responses to schools that have underserved students and teachers for the better part of a decade. Right?
Not if you ask leadership of APS or the Albuquerque Teachers Federation (ATF). Their responses have been apoplectic and centered on damaged egos instead of the best interests of all teachers, students, and families.
In what world, besides the echo chamber of disconnected leaders, is ensuring parents are aware of all their schooling options a bad thing?
APS Board President David Peercy (an engineer by trade) doesn’t see any problems with the schools. Barbara Peterson - board member for district four which includes Hawthorne Elementary, retired APS teacher, and former ATF political coordinator - doesn't either. And, as a retired APS teacher and ATF darling, Sen. Mimi Stewart only finds issues with school grades, not schools themselves.
I can’t make this stuff up. The closer one looks, the more this appears to be a concerted effort by a retired old guard seeking to preserve a system that maintains their lifestyles at the expense of our most vulnerable communities. When our leaders have more allegiance to school buildings than the teachers and students in them, we've lost our way.
As a "minority-majority" state, this is also a reminder of how important diversity - in age, experience, and race/ethnicity - is in making decisions for students of color. When our leaders don't share backgrounds with our students we get disconnected, ungrounded viewpoints like these.
According to an email sent out by ATF President Ellen Bernstein - who's been in the position for 22+ years - the apocalypse is nigh:
ATF is also listed as the creator of a Facebook group named "Save Hawthorne Elementary School" which continues to simultaneously misinform parents and tout changes coming to the school.
These are changes, mind you, that came about as result of the improvement plans required by NMPED.
Much of this stems from an email on Friday, May 4th, where ATF leadership writes:
"On Monday at 4:30pm, we have a Save Our Schools meeting to plan actions to help save Hawthorne Elementary … this invitation is for ATF members only. We will involve the larger community after we do the initial planning."
ATF leadership's approach is to determine the outcome they want first, then foist that self-interest onto parents and students. They are also fomenting for something to walk-out about. In recent emails they've written:
"Teachers Walking Out-what would it take here? –school closings, charters, evaluations…" and "Ellen talked with KUNM about the nationwide strikes and our context locally … we can have a conversation about this. What will be the issue that will galvanize APS teachers?"
Ellen and APS’s main contention with the MRI process - which is part of our federally mandated ESSA education plan - is that school letter grades are "flawed". So let's look at Hawthorne outside of the six consecutive Fs:
Only 1 in 4 of Hawthorne students can read on grade level. And 1 in 10 do math on grade level.
Well how does Hawthorne compare to similar schools? Taken alongside 128 schools across NM with similar demographics it doesn't look any better:
And, finally, how is Hawthorne doing for both high- and low-performing students? By now, you know the answer:
We must also bear in mind that the hard working teachers of Hawthorne are ensnared by the same inept leadership that allows schools to flounder for five years and more. I've met with many of these teachers. They are passionate, ready for a change, and frustrated by the lack of visionary leadership.
Nationwide school turnaround efforts are always painful, but also commonplace and spurring much needed innovation. So, why do Albuquerque's education leaders insist on fighting a process aimed at turning around three of the lowest-performing schools in the entire country?
- First, they don't like school grading. But, even without specific letter grades, the learning outcomes are dire. See above for proof. Plus, the fact Hawthorne is permitted to earn 6 Fs in a row shows no one is "abandoning" the school. How many Fs, then, before we parents and taxpayers have the right to demand something better?;
- They thrive off of a constant fight against NMPED. District and ATF leadership make money from peddling paranoia, and have a problem for every solution offered;
- They think this is a "push to charter schools." Which makes no sense outside of City Center. NMPED instructed APS to inform parents of ALL options, including nearby APS schools. And, if parents decide to stay enrolled at Hawthorne, that's their right. Schools should earn students, not trap them based on zip code;
- APS continues to be inept at both running and overseeing schools. Admitting that Hawthorne needs immediate intervention also means conceding fault. Our schools should be governed by logic and common sense, not personal interests; and
- ATF leadership is looking for something to fire up members about in a build up to similar walkouts we've seen in Arizona and Oklahoma. They are hoping for something bigger that makes them feel important. This, despite recent increases in salary and overall education spending.
APS struggles enough on its own teaching our students without outside forces seeking to turn this into trench warfare for the sake of personal gain. The time has come for ATF leadership to get out of the way of turning around these schools.
As the Journal recently asked, "At what point do the adults concerned with education in New Mexico come out of their fighters’ stances and truly focus on the students they should be serving?"