ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico’s K-12 public education system has serious challenges at hand – its fourth-graders are dead last in the nation when it comes to vocabulary skills, just around half of its students can read and do math at grade level, three out of every 10 students don’t graduate high school in four years, and around 10,000 drop out each year.
Yet the Albuquerque teachers’ union president, Albuquerque Public Schools superintendent, vice president of the APS Board of Education and even the attorney general made it clear last week they prefer political opportunism to solutions.
Their orchestrated dramas center around the state’s new teacher evaluations, implemented this year by administrative rule because the state Legislature has refused for two years running to demand accountability on behalf of New Mexico’s children. Under the new system, New Mexico’s teachers will be evaluated for the first time in part on student growth in standardized tests that have been in place for years, along with end-of-course exams mandated by a 2008 law, multiple measures as determined by their district and observations by their principal or a trained teacher.
Unlike the federal No Child Left Behind, in which students had to be proficient for a school to get a passing grade, these teacher evals focus on student improvement. Isn’t student improvement what every parent wants from a teacher? Isn’t it what every student deserves? And isn’t it what every great teacher wants to provide and deserves to be recognized and rewarded for?
Not according to Albuquerque Teachers Federation President Ellen Bernstein, who calls the new evaluations “the ultimate statement of disrespect for what they do as teachers” and is ginning up her membership via a letter to consider an illegal strike.
Not according to APS board vice president Kathy Korte, who took the microphone at a rally last week to tell protesters the state is trying to impose a “major malfunction.” In taking part of a wholly inappropriate line from “Full Metal Jacket,” maybe Korte should have had the insight to put a spin on the rest of the movie quote about parents not showing “you enough attention when you were a child.” Lack of parental support is an oft-cited excuse to keep the status quo and not consider student achievement on teacher evaluations.
And not according to APS Superintendent Winston Brooks and gubernatorial candidate Attorney General Gary King, who were at the rally but failed to offer up facts to counter the claims of an “insane” system in which “there’s not enough time to teach.”
For that kind of honesty, teachers, parents and students need look no further than the Albuquerque Institute of Math and Science where such teacher evals have been in place for six years and sixth-grade student proficiencies that were 42 percent in math and 37 percent in reading are now 100 percent in the senior class. AIMS is a public 6-12 charter school that by law takes students from a random lottery, not cherry picking.
To take one of Bernstein’s and Korte’s favorite malapropisms, that’s not education “deform,” it’s data-driven change that delivers meaningful results.
Detractors like Bernstein, Korte, Brooks and King have yet to acknowledge that teacher evaluations with a strong student-performance component are required for the state to remain free of the predetermined-to-fail regulations of NCLB. And they prefer to blame Gov. Susana Martinez and education chief Hanna Skandera when PED’s agenda mirrors that of President Obama’s secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.
New Mexico’s teachers, students, parents and taxpayers are ill-served by the grandstanding exhibited against accountable teacher evals last week. As the governor pointed out in reference to strike threats, “walking out on students who are ranked 49th in the nation in education … would be the ultimate slap in the face to those little ones.”
It’s past time for everyone involved to finally step up for them instead.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.