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Gov. Spells Out Education Plans

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Gov. Susana Martinez on Tuesday laid out her education plans for the coming legislative session, including linking teacher pay to the state’s new evaluation system and creating an early-warning system to catch signs a student might drop out.

Martinez, who spoke about her plans at an education reform panel, also said she will continue to push for mandatory retention of students who cannot read at grade level by third grade. The bill also would require interventions and remediation for those who aren’t on track to read proficiently.

Martinez promised such a law during her campaign and has repeatedly been stymied in her efforts to pass it. She has made headway on her two other main education priorities – A-F grades for schools and an overhaul of the teacher evaluation system.

The Legislature has twice denied the governor a teacher evaluation bill, so education chief Hanna Skandera has set new teacher evaluation policy through administrative rule. The new rules are being piloted in select districts around the state and will be fully adopted next school year.

The new system will evaluate teachers partly on the basis of how much their students’ test scores improve and also will include other factors like classroom observations.

Martinez said Tuesday she will support a bill to align teacher pay to the evaluation system. Currently, the administrative rules assign teachers a rating, ranging from “ineffective” to “exemplary,” and provide for consistently ineffective teachers to be removed from teaching.

But without new legislation, New Mexico’s current three-tier licensure system will continue to set teacher pay. Teachers advance through the three-tier system based on experience, earning advanced degrees and showing their effectiveness through student work samples and essays.

Martinez said she will ask lawmakers for about $11 million to reward good teachers.

“I also propose aligning the system in which our teachers advance and get paid to standards that measure effectiveness, so that teachers are not elevated based on the number of credentials they possess, but promoted based on their ability to shape the minds of tomorrow,” she said.

However, Rep. Rick Miera, incoming House majority leader, said he plans to sponsor a bill that would replace Skandera’s system with one that puts less emphasis on test scores.

Possible funding battle

Miera, D-Albuquerque, has been an outspoken critic of some of the governor’s education initiatives. He said he expects the upcoming session will be heavily focused on deciding how new money will be spent, particularly on whether it should flow to districts through the state funding formula or go “below the line,” meaning it flows directly to the Public Education Department to support the governor’s reform agenda.

Martinez’s “below the line” plans include $13.5 million to be focused on early reading initiatives, like hiring reading coaches and providing assessments to identify struggling readers early.

She will also ask for $4.7 million to help schools that received “D” or “F” grades under the A-F system and will support proposals that emphasize college and career readiness for graduating high school students. Specifically, she said that means expanding access to Advanced Placement classes and replicating programs that let students earn college credits or technical certificates while in high school.

Martinez also said she will propose a warning system that tracks factors known to predict whether students will drop out, such as truancy, failing classes and low reading test scores. Martinez said the state already collects this data, and she backs a proposal to aggregate that information and intervene.

Miera said he has not seen results from the past two years of below-the-line funding, and would rather see funding flow through the formula, which is based on district size and factors like how many students have severe special needs.

Ellen Bernstein, president of the Albuquerque Teachers Federation, said she will also advocate for funding to flow through the formula because that is the only way it can reduce class sizes and pay for raises for teachers. Teachers in Albuquerque have not seen raises in five years and are paying more for their health insurance.

“The first thing on teachers’ minds right now is a raise,” she said.

APS priorities

Albuquerque Public Schools also will advocate for more funding to flow through the formula. The district’s legislative priorities include expanding pre-school and the K-3 plus program, which extends the school year for young children in high-poverty areas. A recent study by the Legislative Finance Committee found evidence both programs boost student achievement.

APS will also lobby for the ability to certify its own police department. Currently, school police are certified through the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department, and APS is seeking to create an independent police force that specializes in working with children.

APS Superintendent Winston Brooks previously opposed much of Skandera’s agenda, such as third-grade retention and last year’s teacher evaluation bill. He did not say Tuesday whether he would support mandatory retention this year, saying he would have to talk to state officials and see a bill before deciding.

He did say he supports additional pay to reward excellent teachers and would like to see incentive pay for highly effective teachers who transfer to struggling schools.

Other detractors have not budged on the issue. Bernstein said she will continue her stance against mandatory third-grade retention, which she said takes discretion from teachers and parents.

“As long as there’s a hard line, ‘You read by this moment in your life or you’re retained,’ and as long as the bill overrides parent choice, then I could not support it,” Bernstein said. “I’ve seen too many kids bloom after third grade in terms of getting on level, and I believe the parent has the ultimate right, ultimately they have the right to make decisions for their own kid, not the state.”

While mandatory retention has been opposed by numerous superintendents, it also has some fervent supporters. Adan Delgado, superintendent of Pojoaque Valley Schools, has publicly supported the bill.

Delgado said he supports an increased focus on reading in the early grades, and that having mandatory retention in the bill is an important way to intensify that focus.

“This is kind of a line in the sand where we are going to gather our forces and focus on something we really think is critical,” he said. “And one of the ways we’ll emphasize it is, if everyone doesn’t get together, teachers, administrators, parents, then something drastic has to happen. It can’t just be that they go on as if there wasn’t that deficit.”

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