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Posted March 20, 2012

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March 2012: Reform: ‘Devil is in the details’

Read the Superintendent’s column that ran in Albuquerque Journal today, March 20

Status quo? I don’t think so.

Because Albuquerque Public Schools didn’t fully support proposed education reforms championed by Gov. Susana Martinez, we have been characterized as being resistant to change. That’s why you hear the “status quo” charge pinned to the district as some in state government try to evaluate the recent legislative session.

With all due respect to the governor and her supporters, that’s hardly the case. Who could be against every child reading at grade level by the end of third grade? I know I’m not. I’ve devoted my life to making it a reality.

Who could be against interventions for children in the early years of their schooling? I’m not.

Who in their right mind could oppose holding teachers, principals and superintendents accountable? I’m certainly not, and my record, both here and elsewhere, indicates that.

But when it comes to something as vital and controversial as reform, it’s important to remember that the devil is in the details – and the particulars of this issue can’t be summed up in neat and constant sound bites.

Of course we at APS, and every other school district in New Mexico, want kids reading by third grade. Literacy is key to student academic success, no question. However, the legislation forwarded by the governor and ultimately rejected by the Legislature would have made retention mandatory without parental consent. I happen to think parents are critical when it comes to making such decisions.

There’s also this: Current law allows parents to opt out the first time retention is recommended, but not the second, which I think is reasonable.

Though I agreed with Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera that children who can’t read by the end of third grade are at risk of future school failure, I’m not sold by her assertion that retention is the solution.

The research is clear: Retention doesn’t make a child more literate. In fact, there is some research that indicates students who are held back are more likely to have behavioral problems and drop out of school. Do-overs simply aren’t effective.

As for the failed teacher/principal evaluation legislation, teachers absolutely should be accountable for their students’ learning. However, the proposed legislation would have evaluated all teachers on math and reading scores, even if they don’t teach those subjects. It makes no sense to evaluate kindergarten teachers on fifth-grade reading scores, or high school band teachers on 11th-grade math scores.

The proposed teacher accountability legislation was a good start, but it wasn’t ready to become law. More input, more discussion, more compromise is needed. And perhaps even a pilot study of an evaluation system based on student success, which in fact we’re conducting in four of our schools in Albuquerque.

Though it was not widely reported, on each of these issues, we agreed with 95 percent of the ideas offered. But in something as complex as education, no detail is small or insignificant.

I fully understand the governor will command the bully pulpit of media attention, which is her privilege. She is the governor. But I would also say that expressing a differing viewpoint – one based on decades of experience, concern for students and a quest for long-term improvement – doesn’t make us part of the status quo. I would argue it makes us part of the solution.

And there is plenty of evidence that we are working to improve:

APS is among the top school districts in the nation in the percentage of teachers having National Board Certification.

Our math and reading scores on a national standardized test were on par or better than other large urban school districts.

We have implemented AVID, a national program designed to bring out the best in students and close the achievement gap, in 24 of our middle and high schools. We have extended the school day at all of our high schools to allow students to make up credits and graduate with their peers. We have standardized our elementary reading and math programs.

We have upgraded our technology, including putting 3,000 electronic white boards in our schools and training teachers to use them. We are one of six urban school districts piloting the National Common Core Standards.

I am proud to be the superintendent in Albuquerque. I am proud of APS teachers, principals and our support staff. I am proud and honored to work with the APS Board of Education. And I am proud of our students.

We are one of the premier urban districts in this country. We are not status quo. We are pro progress, pro change, pro education.

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