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Posted January 17, 2012

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January 2012: Lawmakers Need Input on Schools

Read the Superintendent’s column that ran in the Albuquerque Journal today, Jan. 17

New Mexico legislators have one of the most difficult jobs in the state. I bring you this piece of news because I want to acknowledge the challenges and enormous responsibility they will deal with over the next month or so.

I’ve brought this up before, but Albuquerque Public Schools has cut more than $100 million from its budget over the past three years, along with 1,000 positions. We can’t expect the Legislature’s upcoming budget decisions to revolve entirely around education, but education forms the foundation of the life of every child who grows up to be a taxpayer.

Now, in spite of well-documented cuts to the district, APS students are still making strides in math and holding steady in reading. How do we know this? We look at the data, which says that on the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress, New Mexico was one of only three states and Washington, D.C., that improved its math scores in fourth and eighth grades since the test was last given in 2009. Reading scores stayed about the same. The NAEP is called “the Nation’s Report Card” because the same test is given in every state, unlike standards based assessments measuring Adequate Yearly Progress, which vary from state to state.

APS volunteered for the first time to participate in the Trial Urban District Assessment, which compares 21 large, urban school districts. It’s an extension of the NAEP. Albuquerque holds its own. This test shows we’re running with the pack, a little ahead of the urban average in math, a bit behind in reading. It gives us a good indication of what we need to work on.

It’s all posted on aps.edu, and I invite you to take a look and compare for yourself.

Let me make it clear that what I’m most proud of is the gains that the TUDA shows we’ve been making. No one wants to celebrate “average” any more than we would tout “failing.” We’re not particularly better or worse off than any other district in America. I’ll say it again:  We have a lot of work to do, but the TUDA results show that we’re taking the right steps and heading in the right direction.

Still, while no one should be ecstatic about average results, the public spends too much time dwelling on how bad it thinks New Mexico schools are. Students are listening and hear themselves being called failures. The more they hear it, the more they start believing it. It simply isn’t true.

I wrote in this space last month that a new community advocacy group was forming in Albuquerque to stand up for public education. These folks are saying that they believe in the value of what educators are doing for our children and are frustrated by the constraints that public schools are working under. They’re inviting friends to join in the chorus and could always use a few more.

That brings us around to where I started, with the difficult choices our legislators are about to make.

“There’s a lot at stake” is an understatement. Legislators know this and won’t make decisions lightly. However, we can’t sit by and let them make these decisions without hearing from the voting public. They need our input, and we owe it to them to share our experiences and concerns with them.

Do them, and our children, a favor and get involved.

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