Along with the “new administration” in Santa Fe has come a renewed war on charter schools, despite the fact that EVERY family attending one has chosen to do so for their own children. Let it be known that we parents of charter school students will not be used as pawns in an ideological battle. We want what’s best for our children, and don’t care much whether a school is charter, or not.Read More
During this season of massive educational reform in our state, as policy makers consider the guidelines for a potential new evaluation system, I encourage them to consider the value of two things: the benefit to our statewide educational system of a yearly performance measure of all teachers, instructional support aides, and administrators, and the advantages of rubrics to define and drive performance.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.
by Bob Perls │Tuesday, February 20th, 2018
This post was originally delivered as a keynote speech to all attendees at a New Mexico Coalition of Charter Schools (NMCCS) conference on Friday, December 8th, 2017.
Public schools are one of the few remaining public institutions where people from every walk of life come together to mix and mingle.
Making our public schools stronger should be our top priority. Politicians, parents, teachers, and students. We all must commit to the best possible public education system. But, you have heard that before and not much has changed.
Strong public schools are the silver bullet to reduce crime, spur economic development, develop our tax base, increase voter engagement through well-informed citizens who care, and so much more.
So why can’t we do that? What stops New Mexico from having one of the best school systems in the nation?
Before I sound too critical, let me congratulate everyone who is already working hard to improve our next generation’s lives. As teachers, administrators, and policy makers, you demonstrate commitment to our kids.
As charter school supporters (I hope) you remain committed to something different for our kids and that makes all the difference, because different is good.
Kids are different, communities are different, cities are different, and the future will be different. Charter schools are different from traditional public schools and they are different amongst themselves. In fact, being different is what characterizes the charter school movement and being different is what summarizes what we all have in common in this vibrant movement.
Traditional public schools still function in the industrialized model of the 1950s where standardization was the goal. The same government buildings, same classrooms, same curriculum, same teacher training, same student evaluations, same teacher evaluations for all schools no matter what. Does anyone think that makes sense?
The charter school movement does not. Different is good, that is our motto.
Before I write too much about why charter schools can and should be the great political compromise between the Right and the Left and the model for all future school reform efforts, let’s review what the charter movement is about, how we got, here and why we are in the middle of a critical revolution.
As a State Representative in 1993 I wrote and passed the NM Charter School Act.
I am a product of Albuquerque Public Schools. I had good teachers and bad teachers; engaged teachers and teachers who were punching the time clock; innovative teachers and teachers who taught the same stuff the same way for 25 years. I found my refuge in the chorus and speech programs at Jefferson Middle and Highland High. Else I would have been miserable, bored, and unchallenged. With no place to belong.
With young kids in APS, I saw things had not changed that much in the ensuing 20 years or so. I thought there had to be a better way and on a trip to Disneyland in the early 1990s with my wife and kids, I read about the new charter schools in Minnesota and thought, "That's what we need in NM!"
Site-based management and budgeting, lots of waivers from useless regulation and bureaucracy, strict goals, and plans to achieve those goals. Plus, the ultimate in accountability: shut the schools down when they fail. So, I introduced the bill, worked to build a bipartisan support network, and - during a 60-day session - pushed it through with Governor King signing it.
This was a very basic charter school bill allowing for only five original conversion schools. Turquoise Trail Charter School is the only one still going. I was the President of the Governing Council in the late 90’s for another one, Taylor Middle School, where my oldest was going to school at the time.
In 1998 I served on the state charter school task force that redrafted my bill to expand and include new and start-up schools. That bill passed in 1999 and, with some changes, remains the legislation all NM charter schools operate under today.
What are charter schools?
First and foremost, they are public schools, despite the divisive rhetoric. They are incubators for new ideas. They are risk takers. They provide services to certain kids that other schools don’t and they include community members in ways that traditional public schools can’t. In short, charter schools are our hopes and dreams of what the entire public school system could be - and you are a part of it.
Charter schools are intended to be community-based schools run by a group of parents, teachers, and even students.
Not by administrators removed from the school site. Charters spell out in black and white how students learn, demonstrate that learning, and why. If they succeed, then they get their charter renewed. When they fail, they close.
When was the last time an underperforming traditional public school failing students got closed? God knows many are failing far too many kids. Ever? Charter Schools redefine what a school is, what great teaching is and what student involvement means.
My wife and I were two of the four co-founders of the Public Academy for Performing Arts (PAPA), a charter school in Albuquerque. From 2000-2002 I spent 20-30 hours a week of volunteer time helping move this idea of a school from a rough concept to drafting a charter, to presenting in front of APS to opening the doors.
The fact that PAPA is still going strong after 15 years is one of the most gratifying aspects of my life. Our original concept was for an integrated curriculum. Teach math through music. Teach physical education via dance. Explore history through the performing arts of that era.
Some of this happened and some did not. Innovation is hard when charters are accountable to their governing council, charter agreement, plus a school district with traditional rules and regulations. Inevitably, some innovation gets stifled.
Please defend against that encroachment.
Charter schools are accountable through their charter. Fulfilling what they promised to their chartering entity. When more layers of rules and regulations pile on our schools, it drowns our creativity and ties us up in knots. Just like traditional public schools.
We must fight the status quo that is failing most of our kids. Why?
Our public school system is failing us. Our graduation rates are abysmal. Most kids can’t read at grade level. Most NM universities spend the first two years bringing skills up to a 12th grade level. Most teachers are underpaid, under appreciated, and micro-managed.
Most charter schools pay more, micromanage less, teach better, teach more challenging students, don't cherry pick, take all comers, don’t get much money for the physical plant, and still get pummeled by the naysayers.
I say again: if traditional public schools close when they first failed kids, most public schools would have shuttered years ago. And many need to close. Now!
Yes, there are charter schools that have and continue to fail in NM. Yes, there are charter school founders and operators who are unethical, overpay themselves, and short-change their staff. Yes, there are charter schools with underperforming kids, in need of immediate change.
We are not a perfect movement, but the national data shows that charters provide a service that traditional public schools don’t. And with results at least equal to mainstream schools while serving a skewed, at-risk, needful population. Especially in New Mexico.
Now, let’s talk about the politics of education in New Mexico for a few minutes, because it is deeply frustrating to me and many education reform advocates.
The traditional Democrat orthodoxy believes that more money will solve our education problems. Pump more money in, better students come out.
The traditional Republican orthodoxy believes in introducing more privatization in public education. It focuses on school choice including vouchers and charter schools. They generally do not believe that a strong public school system is a priority due to a lack of trust in government’s ability to deliver quality services
My view is that competition for students between traditional and charter schools is good for all students. And teachers.
We should shutdown all failing public schools, whether traditional or charter. We should fire administrators who can’t improve local schools. All schools should embrace site-based management and budgeting. Just like charters.
We should remove power and money from the U.S. Department of Education, the State Department of Education, and local School Boards so that more money and authority is at the school site. Just like charter schools.
We should evaluate teachers based on their competency and results in the classroom. We should evaluate students based on a comprehensive portfolio that captures multiple talents.
We should counsel the bottom third of teachers out of the profession and double the salary for those remaining to attract higher quality candidates. The reason many charters have better teachers is because they pay more and they empower teachers to run the classroom, and even the school, the way they see fit.
Charter schools and teachers unions should be natural allies.
But they are not and that's an avoidable travesty. I would like to see the unions open their own charter schools and put their money where their mouth is to create the best schools in the nation and state.
The charter school movement is not about union busting. It is about creating an environment where collaborative management means there is no conflict between employees and management, because they are all the same thing and the same people.
I am against a voucher system to use public dollars to fund private schools because it undermines the charter school movement.
Any time someone uses vouchers and charter in the same sentence it hurts us. Charters are public schools. Vouchers pump public dollars into private and religious schools. Charters don’t take money away from public schools because they are public schools.
Charters can’t discriminate and must take all comers. Don’t let others confuse the two because it could be the undoing of our young but vibrant charter school movement. And opponents gleefully drive this wedge amongst us.
Again, charter schools should be the common ground where the political Left and Right come together to solve our education problem.
They demand accountability and efficiency while empowering teachers. They cut down on overhead while leaving more money for the classroom. They do away with the 1950s industrialized model of one-size-fits-all in favor of a nimble, diverse, community-based solution. When wholly embraced, charters give ammunition to those who believe we should spend more money on education.
You see, that is our perpetual log jam. The Left always wants more money without admitting they are funding a broken system. While the Right wants to cut education because they view it as a failed system.
Let the charter movement be our template for a new era in education reform.
One where we show we are responsible adults who deserve to be in the care of our next generation while also being the guardians of tax dollars well spent.
If that were the perception and the reality of education in New Mexico, we would have highly paid, highly motivated teachers, outstanding learners, and a new generation of New Mexicans able to drive our economy forward for the benefit of everyone.
Bob Perls - Board Member of NMCCS
Former State Representative Bob Perls wrote and passed New Mexico's original charter school act, served as President of Taylor Middle School governing council, and co-founded Public Academy for Performing Arts. He is a board member for the New Mexico Coalition of Charter Schools, founder of New Mexico Open Primaries, and is a serial entrepreneur in the healthcare technology field.
by Fred Nathan │Friday, February 2nd, 2018
Growing evidence suggests that increasing funding for education can improve student outcomes if the money is targeted to the classroom, rather than to administration.
Two good illustrations are Texico, a district of 560 students in eastern New Mexico, and Gadsden, a district of 13,478 students south of Las Cruces. Both districts are highlighted in a recent report by the nonpartisan think tank Think New Mexico, which noted that they consistently achieve strong student performance, even while educating a high percentage of students from low-income families. Both districts also spend a relatively high percentage of their budgets in the classroom.
Likewise, researchers at the nonpartisan Southwest Educational Development Laboratory studied 1,500 school districts in Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, and New Mexico, and concluded that “student achievement is linked to spending patterns, and money matters when spent on instruction.” The study found that, in general, high-performing school districts spend a larger percentage of their budgets on instruction and a lower percentage on general administration than lower-performing districts. They also tend to employ fewer administrators.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, New Mexico spends an average of 57% of its education dollars on instruction. Another 13% goes to student and instructional support, which directly benefits students, but the remaining 30% of the education budget is spent on administrative costs. We can do better at getting dollars to the classroom.
That is precisely what House Bill 180 does. It sets ambitious but achievable targets for districts and charters to maximize spending in the classroom. The targets are voluntary, but the bill provides an incentive by allowing districts and charters that meet classroom spending targets to keep their cash reserves (even in times of shortage like 2017, when cash reserves were raided by the state).
Additionally, HB 180 broadly defines “classroom spending” to include not only instruction, but also instructional support (e.g., librarians), student support (e.g., counselors, nurses), and principals, since the research suggests that investment in these areas has a positive impact on student achievement.
HB 180 helps districts and charters reach classroom spending targets by eliminating unnecessary reporting burdens. Every year, districts and charters must submit at least 140 reports to the New Mexico Public Education Department (NMPED). That requires thousands of staff hours annually.
A better approach would be to eliminate those reports and move to an advanced data collection system. In 2011, Nevada implemented an advanced data collection system that reduced burdens on districts by allowing them to automatically upload the information they collect about things like student attendance, performance, demographics, to the state.
HB 180 directs New Mexico’s PED to implement a system like Nevada’s. Based on a 2017 report commissioned by the Thornburg Foundation, an advanced data collection system would save New Mexico school districts more than $46.5 million annually. Because the PED is already piloting an advanced data collection project, this is already in the budget and can be fully implemented at no additional cost to state taxpayers.
HB 180 was introduced by a bipartisan team of sponsors, including the Chair of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, Patty Lundstrom (D-Gallup), and the ranking Republican on that committee, Representative Larry Larrañaga (R-Albuquerque), as well as multiple educators: Representatives Bobby Gonzales (D-Taos), former superintendent; George Dodge (D-Santa Rosa), retired teacher and principal; Tim Lewis (R-Albuquerque), teacher; Dennis Roch (R-Logan), superintendent; and Jim Smith (R-Sandia Park), teacher, among others.
Many factors play a role in determining student success, and moving more dollars to the classroom is not a magic bullet. However, it will make more money available for critical classroom needs that directly benefit students, like addressing the statewide teacher shortage, expanding access to proven programs like early childhood education and K-3 Plus, and improved pay for teachers and principals. We know it can be done, because many of New Mexico’s highest performing districts are already doing it.
Fred Nathan - Think New Mexico
Fred is Executive Director of Think New Mexico, an independent, nonpartisan, results-
oriented think tank serving New Mexicans.