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Feds urge NM to make education fixes

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If Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration hopes to renew New Mexico’s waiver from federal education statutes – and it does – it must first address concerns raised by critics, including a major teachers’ union.

That is the message the U.S. Department of Education is sending this way from Washington, D.C.

The union, the American Federation of Teachers-New Mexico, announced last week it would withdraw its support for the waiver renewal if the state Public Education Department does not meet its demands. The waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act gives the state more flexibility on spending federal money and requires teachers be evaluated based significantly on student growth.

The union wants the state to:

⋄  Replace the A-F grading system for schools with a system that is “transparent, understandable and fair to schools and students, and is developed with teachers, parents and the community.”

⋄  Ensure educators get the support they need to meet Common Core standards – “including adequate professional development days, necessary curriculum materials, appropriate technology and time” – and that educators, parents and the community are given an opportunity to sign off on them.

⋄  Apply for a flexibility waiver by the end of this month from the federal government that would allow the state to delay the new teacher evaluation system for a year.

A spokeswoman for the federal Education Department said this week that just as the union was not required to sign off on the original waiver request, it does not hold veto power over the renewal application. However, she added, union concerns must be taken under consideration.

The state “is responsible for ensuring successful implementation of all of the elements of its approved request, and would need to address concerns from stakeholders to do so,” the spokeswoman said.

AFT-NM, which represents 8,000 teachers and other school personnel in Albuquerque and other communities, is a major stakeholder.

“We’ve required that states conduct consultation and indicate how, as a result of that consultation, the state has made adjustments to its plans,” the spokeswoman continued.

On Friday, AFT-NM President Stephanie Ly demanded that the union’s conditions be met. “Unless New Mexico addresses these three points, AFTNM cannot support the state’s request for a renewal of its waiver,” she said in a letter to PED Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera.

The waiver – granted in February 2012 – is important because it allows the state to use a federally approved A-F grading system for schools based on student growth, not just rigid test scores.

The PED’s new teacher evaluation system has provoked protests and even talk of a teacher strike.

Its critics say it places too much weight on student achievement. They also object to allowing classroom observations by someone other than principals and assistant principals.

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