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Feds OK state education reform

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A New Mexico effort to ensure that low-income and minority students have effective teachers received approval from the U.S. Department of Education on Wednesday.

The state Public Education Department’s plan was specifically praised for incorporating data from its teacher evaluation system, though the president of the American Federation of Teachers New Mexico expressed dismay at that feature, saying the evaluations are inaccurate.

PED’s plan focuses on four areas: recruiting and retaining effective teachers; teacher preparation; ensuring teachers provide culturally relevant instruction; and teacher mentorship and professional development.

PED cites a 13-percent boost to teacher salaries, a pay-for-performance program and flexible paths to licensure as examples of its approaches.

The department also highlights its controversial teacher evaluation system, which uses student achievement on standardized tests as 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation in most cases.

Data from the evaluations is helping identify strong and weak teachers, the plan states.

The overarching goal is addressing an educational gap between affluent, white students and their low-income, minority peers.

PED statistics show that the latter group has less access to highly effective and exemplary teachers. Roughly 27 percent of the teachers of wealthier students are in those upper tiers, versus 17 percent for low-income kids. The figures are similar for minority students compared to non-minorities.

“Every student deserves the opportunity to have a quality education from a great teacher – regardless of where they live or their circumstances in life,” said New Mexico Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera in a prepared statement.

AFT New Mexico President Stephanie Ly responded by expressing disappointment in the PED effort while stressing that educational equity is a big issue.

She highlighted concerns that the current teacher evaluation system misclassifies at least 10 percent of New Mexico educators and is “not an accurate measure.”

Her union and the Albuquerque Teachers Federation have filed a lawsuit to halt the evaluations.

“We need proven, tested education policies which support closing the equity gap,” Ly wrote in a prepared statement.

Teacher-equity efforts are required of all states under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Title I. Last year, the U.S. Department of Education asked for new, comprehensive plans as part of the Excellent Educators for All Initiative.

New Mexico was among nine states whose plans received approval Wednesday.

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