Thursday, January 13, 2011

when does it get better?

Below is an op/ed piece that I just submitted to my local paper.

Winston Brooks wants to know how we can help with the crisis that APS is facing. (

As both a taxpayer and an employee of his, I feel that the best thing to do is to get serious about education. At no time during his tenure have I felt that the job has gotten more serious. Among the things that have continued as they were before, or, in some cases, gotten worse:

Virtually worthless in-services, where material is repeated day after day, week after week, and year after year. Differentiation is spoken about as a must for the students, but teachers have no opportunity to prove themselves masters of a certain subject, or to extend their own learning. Rote memorization of scripts and call-and-answer rules the day.

Experimental features like the student parent conference, which reportedly have a high satisfaction rate, but are obviously in need of a lot of work. (

Ridiculously bloated software that crashes once a week bare minimum, so-called upgrades to our email interface that remove modern features such as POP or IMAP access, which then get dealt with in completely ignorant ways by the help desk. (The help desk email that all users got read, "At this time we cannot support email access...We cannot support Droids, Jest, Pantec’s, or any non-aps phone at this time. I don’t have personnel to support those." This has nothing to do with the issue. All that needs to happen is not disabling an option that is practically a default. Instead, we've turned it off.)

Oh yeah, and now, a girl that I wrote to the Journal about four years ago ( is in the news again. This time it's significantly more serious. (

Why do the schools of this city let so many through their grasp? Winston wants to make sure that you know that administrative costs are only 1% of the budget. But he's proud of the electronic billboards that are going up around the high schools. Those billboards will bring in $40,000 per year. If we factor in the $64 million budget shortfall, that represents 0.0625% of the shortfall. ( Where are the priorities?

Why the constant misdirection?

If we're in trouble, stop creating new positions to see what we can do about the trouble. Liaisons? Why does this position need to be created, if you've done their job in this article? Open the forum that is talked about and listen to all voices.

I have a few suggestions of my own:

Offer an incentive to teachers to use some of the built-in positive functions of the job. There is already an option to take a year off and come back next year to the same job. Offer employees a one-time (this year only) bonus of paying for a college class, or two. Teachers take a year off, enhance their learning, and come back when the district is more ready for them as better teachers.

Eliminate the process of re-upping the computer library of schools every 2 years or so. Or, if this isn't a program at every school, spread the wealth. Take the computers that some schools are tossing aside every few years and give them to the schools where they're still operating on the one computer per classroom mandate of history.

Either make the test scores that we value so highly matter to the students in some way, or stop valuing them at such a high level. How can we talk about evaluating teachers based on a test score that students have literally no incentive to try on? How does that make any sense? Positive reward systems have been proven time and time again to work the best. Put pressure on the Legislature to follow through on proposed ties between the Standards Based Assessment and New Mexico Driver's Licenses.

Don't reward good teachers/administrators by moving them to schools that are almost universally seen as worse schools. If it's bad form to claim that these are worse-off schools, then why do the consistently high-performing administrators end up there? What's the reasoning?

I know this one will make me unpopular with my friends in the union, but negotiate some kind of new contract where it's easier to fire bad teachers. There are horrid, horrid teachers in our system, simply in the system because it's almost impossible to rid ourselves of them, and they've put in so much time that they think they're owed a retirement plan.

Stop letting legislators determine what and when we are supposed to teach, and stop threatening to evaluate teachers by some arbitrary rubric. Much like the forum idea discussed in Mr. Brooks' article, open up the floor to ideas. Accept them all. Weed the bad ones out. Start again. Eventually, something approaching rationality will emerge.

But most of all, let's end this ridiculous notion of social promotion. If a student proves that they have no mastery of a subject (or all subjects in some cases) for any reason - if they don't care, or if they're absent 50% of the days in a semester, they shouldn't be advanced, where progressively worse options are increasingly appealing to them. By letting these students slip through the cracks, we increase the chances that they'll be caught up in violent, terrible circumstances, like we've seen today.

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