Category Archives: Accountability and Standards

Improving Education in New Mexico

Originally published October 11, 2017

I met today at the National Hispanic Cultural Center to represent the Golden Apple Academy, with people from the Legislative Education Study Committee, Senator Padilla, Ellen Bernstein, Susan Patrick of iNacol, the Coalition for Excellence in Education, PTEC, the LANL Foundation, board members from APS, teachers, parents, and students in a meeting initiated the New Mexico Center for School Leadership, and sponsored by the New Mexico Learning Alliance.  The regular gathering of stakeholders in New Mexico education is necessary for the continuity of conversation of our values as a state, and what we want to bring to our children for the future of New Mexico.  The status of education in New Mexico demonstrates the need to broaden the conversation beyond the NM Public Education Department, and it was a sign of hope to have such representation from many organizations and individuals at the meeting today.  A discussion summary is here.   (Jump to the most pressing action)

Take Aways and Next Steps

It was an honor to be amidst an impressive group of individuals and organizations concerned with education in our state.  I would like to work toward a more cohesive educational conversation in New Mexico, a commonly used repository for the continuation and advancement of this conversation, and public access for action.  My post here is toward that ideal, and to serve as my impressions of the direction of conversation.

We, in the group, have the common experience that the current evaluation system of students, and therefore teachers and schools (because those evaluations are built from there), is lacking.

My personal experience with the evaluation system is exemplified by the evaluation I signed today, October 26th 2017, the day of this revision.  My “effective” rating would have been “highly effective” or better,  except for the test scores of the 45 students I had last year.  Well, I had only 21 students last year.  The failure of the PED to even properly count the number of students I had in my class should serve as warning for its ability toward higher math functions, like addition.

Similarly, the school where I work received an “F” this year, and then a later apology from the PED that a miscalculation had artificially driven our school grade down, it was not an “F”.  The “school grades” news article in the Albuquerque Journal was long since to press, and our entire community is affected by the misinformation.

 The appearance of objectivity, the reductionistic simplicity of  accepting quantitative data for what should be assessed qualitatively, is an abdication of the responsibility of relational accountability.   The pretense of making learning  a data-set and students a product of schools rather than people with complexity, however convenient for policy, has broken down at every level in the above examples.  That is just my own experience,  for just this year.

We now need to create a new infrastructure to support a more complete system of assessment.  We will need criteria, auditors, and educators who are trained in the assessment of student products according to that criteria.

This will begin a recovery for teachers to be trained as professionals with judgment and agency, rather than the trend to move teachers into compliant, undertrained, assembly-line workers.

With regard to teachers as professionals, meetings such as these should be counted as professional development for interested teachers, so that teachers are encouraged to participate in these and any conversations about education, and the community is informed about education from a teacher’s perspective.  Until that becomes standard practice, meetings such as these should be planned to accommodate teachers who cannot attend.  The teacher’s professional judgment, as mentioned here at  leadership-pdc.org, needs to be fostered and counted.

The most pressing action, no matter a person’s affiliation, is to create a more publicly accountable Public Education Department, with protections against the gridlock that lead us to this rendition.  It is imperative to reintroduce a democratic process into the issuance of education policy, and executive order type “rule” needs to come under a more scrutinous process. The current example of why we need to change that structure is the near adoption of the New Mexico “version” of science standards, discussed here.

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Filed under Accountability and Standards, Education, education solutions, New Mexico Schools Graded, Politics in education, science in education

Hanna Skandera Confirmation

Today was the arduous process of testimonials on behalf of or against having Hanna Skandera as the Education Secretary for New Mexico.

In this corner, we have the people who do not want her as the Education Secretary.  Hannah Skandera has  documented conflicts of interests, some of which may have led to illegal or at least unscrupulous activity.  By the letter of the law she is not qualified.  Her approach to education is simplistic, and she communicates a disregard of teaching as a profession.  She does have connections with private companies in education and brings their business in as policy.

In that corner we have the people who do want her to continue in her assumed role for the past two years.   She has brought change.  She represents business, and business likes that.  She has worked hard.  She is in office, and whoever comes after will likely have the same ideas of reform.  “Reform is not having a confirmation hearing today, Hanna Skandera is.”

The last statement, which was accepted by both sides, is misleading.  Reform has different manifestations.  Hanna Skandera is part of the reform movement to privatize education.  She has interests in private companies that, under her domain.  Confirming her does bring that movement more momentum in our state.  The reason corporatization of education is not good is because whoever has the most money, dictates curricula.  Like when Texas decided to cut Thomas Jefferson out of textbooks.  The idea of a free marketplace of ideas fails when the stakes are high, such as with the banks that were “too big to fail”.   Private corporations would have a powerful propaganda machine.  Maybe they would be more responsible than states like Texas?  Unlikely.

One representative went on to talk about how the United States is losing its advantage to China, India, and other up and comers.  The real advantage we have had has been in innovation.  We lose that advantage by adopting the factory style education system that China is trying to get away from.  We should consider what we really want.

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Filed under Accountability and Standards, Education, Governor Martinez, Hanna Skandera

Ted Talk: Formula for Success

January 11th for TedxABQ:

Me:  “I teach third to fifth grade, so if you don’t mind doing a knock knock joke with me, it would make me feel more at home:  “Knock knock”…

“Orange”…

“Knock- knock”… “Orange”…

“Knock- knock”… “Banana”… “Banana, you glad that I didn’t say orange?”.

If you know that joke, you know that it is traditionally told differently, but at the age I teach, there aren’t many traditions. Over the course of the year it gets closer and closer until someone puts the banana before the orange to end with, the traditional punch line: “orange you glad I didn’t say banana?”

So first of all I would like to say thanks, because I’m a public educator, and you are the public, and you all help pay for my work, and I really enjoy it.  So thanks.  I get to be part of the renewal of a miracle.  And actually it is.  Even that joke, which is an incredible marker for the development of humor.

As Einstein said, you get to a point where you have to think that either nothing is a miracle, or everything is.   Speaking of Einstein. 

One of these formulas is his work, and represents, roughly, our current understanding of the relationship of matter and energy, and is the underpinning for much of what we currently know about the entire universe.

The larger formula is how student growth is estimated, the result of which affects how schools are graded, and may soon be how teachers are also graded and paid.

A group of scientists and mathematicians reviewed the formula in an op-ed piece for the Albuquerque Journal this past August.  They said the formula had too many incompatible variables, and was too complex for the purpose intended.

I am going to argue that the formula is too simplistic, and there are too few variables.

Have you heard that the National Transportation Safety Board is recommending a complete ban of cell phone usage-  just December 13, the board said that “hands free” is not enough.  It’s not just the hands that need to be on the wheel, its that the mind that needs to be on the road.

Let’s think of the curriculum as the road. Then think about all the potential “driver distractions” out there for children:  divorce, hunger, or homelessness, or abuse,  or neglect, or a death in the family – if talking on the phone while driving is enough to distract an adult driver from driving down a marked path, one they probably have been down before, imagine for a child who is learning something totally new, – imagine how preoccupied by those things children are.  There will need to be a variable for each one of those, if we are going use a formula.  Teachers spend time validating these experiences with children, and help them to work through those problems.

All of these variables are in my classroom every year, I expect so in most public school classrooms.  The trouble with ignoring these variables in the formula is that it will translate to ignoring those difficulties in the classroom.  I wish it weren’t true, but we’ve seen it acted out.

In a time when science is in critical condition, but reading test scores needed to go up, many schools turned science into reading about science, and called it the same.

In a time when childhood obesity ranks as the number 1 health concern by the CDC,  recesses in many elementary schools shrunk or disappeared to raise test scores.  So if we don’t pack some more variables in that formula, if teachers’ jobs become formula dependent, then things will change, for the students.  This kind of formula does not nourish the baby.

“Its nourishment, not measurement, that makes a child grow”. My principal said that. We’ve replaced a lot of nourishment with a lot of measurement, in the past 10 or 12 years.  We have mistaken high standards to mean “highly standardized”, and accountability for accountancy.  These things are not the same, and our national confusion about those terms is working against us.

The truth is, we have no control over our students, or their lives, and the attempt to do so is disrespectful of that miracle which is their lives.  We can consequence them.  We can ignore their problems.  But education -the word itself means “to draw out”.  And that is what we want to do, draw out the miracle inside to mingle with the miracle on the outside.  And for some children, that drawing out may mean the drawing out of some venom in their lives.

“You just can’t come from Amy Lauer’s class and not be a good person.”  – I heard a parent say that – which I think is the best compliment of a teacher I’ve ever heard.   There is more to be taught and learned than can be tested, and we ought to at least allow for that.

These formulas work in a vacuum, and can calculate the inanimate, but what we want are good people, powerful and responsive to the needs of a changing world.

Formulas are part of accountancy, but distract us from our true accountability.

This track will cost us more time, money,  and will eventually drive us all bonkers. Remember the joke?

Orange you glad I didn’t say bananas?

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Filed under Accountability and Standards, Education