New Mexico Report: Weak Teachers, Not Just Poverty Hurt Learning


A new report from the New Mexico Legislature's Legislative Finance Committee suggests that poverty alone does not hinder a child's ability to learn.

The report, which looked at 15 "high poverty" elementary schools in New Mexico, suggests that the major issue of these schools is the high concentration of low-quality teachers who tested poorly when receiving their teacher licenses.

The report suggests that these schools make a concerted effort to hire both veteran teachers and new teachers, with more incentives such as merit pay being offered to high performing teachers. The Legislature suggests allowing schools to use $5,000-$15,000 each year for this purpose.

"Those teachers that are the best prepared to teach these children should be able to get greater income and be rewarded for the wonderful job that they're doing," said Senator Sue Wilson Beffort.

However, not everyone agrees with the report. The Albuquerque Teachers Federation claim the report is merely pushing solutions based on half of the story.

"They don't have an evaluation system that can truly identify effective teachers because they're just relying on test scores I think it's a wrong-headed reform scheme that has been disproven in many, many states," said Ellen Bernstein, president of the Albuquerque Teachers Federation.

In order to create a successful school, low-income school leaders must use financial resources wisely to give the most support to the areas that need them, coordinate services, help teachers, keep track of student progress, and also maintain a good relationship that keeps parents and the community involved.

To reinstate that idea, the report compared two elementary schools, both with a high population of low-income and at-risk students. However, while one elementary school is failing, the other is succeeding, and the report suggests this is due to the actions of the principals.

The principal of the succeeding school believes education to be the way to leave poverty behind and has five strategies for success: high expectations, a common mission, a focus on data, individualized instruction, and no excuses allowed.

Meanwhile, the principal at the failing school talked with the authors about the struggles the school faces due to poverty-stricken and English as a second language students, as well as feeling overwhelmed by a large amount of state and federal initiatives.

The report also suggests that student attendance plays an important role in academic success.

"On average, each 1 percent increase in attendance equated to a 0.43 point scaled score increase."

Public Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera wrote a letter to the committee, praising their efforts and agreeing with their findings. However, she also wrote, "the findings and recommendations overall, which are generalized for the entire state, are based on a sample size of 15 — or a mere 3 percent of the 440 elementary schools in the state." She continued to discuss the inaccuracies in the report, including comments made about Public School Finance Act mandates. In the end though, she said that had the authors looked at every school in the state, "You'd get the same results, but it would take longer."

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