Teachers Unions Square Off Against New Mexico Ed Department

In New Mexico, in what is turning out to be a long saga, two teachers unions and the state's Education Department are set to clash as implementation of new evaluation systems for both teachers and schools, which are heavily criticized amongst teachers, rolls on.

Steps to slow down the implementation of the new evaluation systems were boosted by New Mexico‘s teachers union on Friday when they sent a letter to the state's schools chief threatening to withdraw support for renewal of New Mexico's waiver under the No Child Left Behind Act if three conditions weren't met. Approved last year by the U.S. Department of Education, the waiver released New Mexico from No Child Left Behind and gave the state more flexibility on how it spends federal education dollars.

Additionally, on Friday, the board of the National Education Association passed a resolution authorizing its leadership team to look into legal action against the state Public Education Department's teacher evaluation system, which took effect this school year. According to Patrick Sanchez, head of NEA in Las Cruces, teachers there have reached a boiling point.

"It's pretty fierce, close to nuclear," he said of their opposition to PED's plan.

Such a suit has already been filed by the American Federation of Teachers-New Mexico, which represents 8,000 teachers and other school personnel. The letter sent on Friday by the AFT demanded that the state replace the A-F grading system for public schools with a system that is "transparent, understandable and fair to schools and students, and is developed with teachers, parents and the community."

Secondly, it wants assurance that educators will get the support they need to meet Common Core Standards – including curriculum materials, appropriate technology and adequate professional development days – and parents and the community have the opportunity to sign off on them once they are in place.

Finally, the union is insisting that PED apply for the flexibility waiver from the U.S. Department of Education that would allow the state to delay for one year the new teacher evaluation system.

"Unless New Mexico addresses these three points, AFTNM cannot support the state's request for a renewal of its (NCLB) waiver," states the letter addressed to state Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera and signed by Stephanie Ly, president of AFT New Mexico.

The state was allowed to use the federally approved A-F grading system to rate schools based on student growth and not just the static test score that was part of the highly criticized No Child Left Behind Act according to the waiver. Teachers and administrators blasted the act on many fronts, including its emphasis on standardized testing and its requirements regarding school improvement.

According to T. S. Last of Albuquerque Journal News, a PED spokesman responded to a journal request for comment by saying that New Mexico students are without a doubt better off no longer being subjected to the "rigid approach" of No Child Left Behind.

"We worked hard in a bipartisan manner with the Obama Administration to be one of the first states to secure a waiver and it's astonishing some want to return our children to that approach in the name of politics and defending the status quo," PED's Larry Behrens wrote in an email. "We have great teachers and it's important to recognize them, and that's what the system does."


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