In the summer of 1991 a group of teachers, myself included, designed and installed our own computer network. Because of our work, Monte Vista Elementary was the first school, public or private, to be networked in the state of New Mexico. Our idea was that computers and the internet offered a real democratic opportunity, and we wanted to make available to our students a “producer” model of using computers as a tool for information, design, creation, and authentic authorship, rather than a “consumer” model of sitting at a screen and pushing buttons.
We have been very proud of our school, unique even at the physical level, on both the state and national registry of historic buildings- noted for contributing to the historic culture of the area. Our school has also been an academic leader, always on the top of the list for transfer requests, and our children come out ahead in the state and national measures.
Yesterday’s (October 21st) rainfall, caused leaks in three places, two all the way through to the first floor, such as the one in the front office, where the ceiling tile gave way. Our “producer” culture, and our status, is at risk of changing. Because this year, for so many years in a row now, instead of putting money towards repairing schools like Monte Vista, the state will continue to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on testing.
Last year, the state monopolized our library and computer lab for two months, for the exclusive use of testing our children, which moved them in and out in front of the machines much like dairy cattle get hooked up for milking, a real hoop-jumping, bureaucratic, consumer model of computer technology.
Our intelligent, informed community, which opted out of testing last year, is going to be punished. Monte Vista and other public schools that had lower than 95% compliance rates of those taking the test, will be scored down at least one letter grade. Our staff may be made to attend professional development hours on how to improve our test scores, and fill out hundreds of forms to track our progress on how we are going to improve, even though the test scores themselves may be, as usual, above state and national norms.
It’s no secret that education in New Mexico needs to improve, but when you systematically downgrade even the best schools, you not only discourage the teachers there, but also prospective employers are scared away, which helps explain the October 21st Journal headline that “NM jobless rate bucks US trend, rising to 6.8%”. Our success at advertising our state as the worst place to raise a family has made it so.
Newspapers, radio and television stations are already covering the news that our schools tested badly. For a school like Monte Vista, where transfers are critical, bad press may destroy a bit of history, and what has been (and continues to be) a great school in the heart of Albuquerque. The thing we ask of our community is: as the press reports the punitive downgrade of our school, we ask that you remember who we are as a community. We stand by your choice to opt out, we value independent thought: such civil disobedience might improve things. We ask that you stand by us in the face of the coming of meaningless punishments, and help keep our school thriving by news of what we really do. Actively speak up for our schools, help us push back against this manufactured failure. Together we can bear out this destructive and neglectful trend until our democracy can come up with better ways to improve our public schools.