Teachers protest reforms - Albuquerque Journal

Teachers protest reforms

Chanting slogans like “A child is more than a test score” and carrying signs that read such things as “Take back the joy of learning” and “Stop blaming teachers,” more than 100 people demonstrated in front of the Public Education Department in Santa Fe on Wednesday.

The demonstration was part of a statewide “Take Back Public Education” rally protesting PED’s implementation of policies designed to increase the quality of education in New Mexico.

But many teachers have been critical of the plan, which they say uses student test scores to punish them and suppresses creativity and learning.

“We need to bring back joy and put it in learning,” said Todd Hansen, a music teacher at E.J. Martinez Elementary School.

Hansen said the reason he’s been a classroom teacher and school principal during his 31 years as an educator was the joy he gets from his job.

Hansen said he’s lost some of that joy over the past three years due to the mandates that are “driven down our throats.”

“We need to bring back joy and put it in the process,” he said, ending with a quote he attributed to Albert Einstein: “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken the joy in creative expression and knowledge.”

Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, speaks at a rally of around 120 teachers and their supporters in front of the Public Education Department, in Santa Fe, Tuesday.  (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)
Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, speaks at a rally of around 120 teachers and their supporters in front of the Public Education Department, in Santa Fe, Tuesday. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Hansen was one of several people who addressed the group, nearly all of them wearing black as a symbol of unity, in a drizzling rain.

A PED spokesman told the Journal earlier on Wednesday that the department was implementing a teacher system that would benefit both teachers and the students they teach. He noted that the old system assesses whether a teacher “meets competency” or doesn’t, which he said was unfair.

“We are implementing an evaluation system that will finally allow us to honor and recognize our best teachers and get help and assistance to those who need it,” wrote PED’s Larry Behrens in an email. “We expect our teachers to help our students learn, and therefore student achievement is one important and necessary component of each evaluation.”

Behrens said that similar opposition and claims about using test scores were made in Tennessee a few years ago and now that state has had the largest student achievement gains in the country.

“These are proven reforms to lift student achievement, and that’s what should be at the forefront of everything we do in education,” he said.

Other speakers

State Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, spoke at the teachers rally at the Roundhouse.

“Rain showers or snow, educators will always show,” said Morales, who spent 10 years as a special education teacher and received a doctorate in education from New Mexico State University.

Morales, who recently announced he will run for governor, said he introduced bills in the Legislature this year that would have changed the teacher evaluation and the school grading systems. Both bills reached Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s desk but were vetoed. “When it becomes a political game, that’s when it starts affecting the education system,” he said.

Bernice Garcia Baca, a councilor at Aspen Community Magnet School and president of the Santa Fe chapter of NEA, leads a group of teachers and their supporters as they march in front of the Public Education Department, in Santa Fe, Tuesday.  (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)
Bernice Garcia Baca, a councilor at Aspen Community Magnet School and president of the Santa Fe chapter of NEA, leads a group of teachers and their supporters as they march in front of the Public Education Department, in Santa Fe, Tuesday. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Morales told the teachers that New Mexico ranks at the bottom of the list in education, but the data is used to “pull out pieces and use it to blame you guys.”

Morales and others said the state needs to put more money toward education and a possible source is the state’s permanent fund, which now stands at $18 billion.

State Rep. Jim Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, said he has introduced failed bills the past two years that would increase the amount of money allocated to education through the permanent fund, and he promised to do it again during the next Legislative session. “The economy won’t improve until we adequately fund education,” he said.

Santa Fe Public Schools board member Susan Duncan also referred to the permanent fund during her remarks. “We need to put pressure on the government and that means using the permanent fund,” she said.

It’s up to the Legislature, not PED, to decide how to use those funds.

Bernice Garcia Baca, president of the National Education Association’s Santa Fe chapter, has said the evaluation system disrespects teachers and complained that too much emphasis is placed on student test scores.

Both NEA and the American Federation for Teachers in New Mexico have threatened to take legal action against PED over the teacher evaluations.

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