No, Teachers Won't Stage a "Walk Out." But Next Fall Might Bring a "Walk Away."

NOB HILL--Is the dead of winter too early a time to be looking at the possible effects of Hanna Skandera’s policies next fall?  I don’t think so...and neither do a few other people.  You might be surprised at who seems to be paying attention.

Every since she became governor Susanna Martinez and her appointed (but yet to be officially approved) head of the state’s education department have tried to make teachers the scapegoat for what they see as deplorable test scores.  There is no doubt that the scores are bad compared to the rest of the country.  However, our scores are bad in every area that affects children and their well-being, not just education.  Don’t forget poverty, teen pregnancy, drug use, alcoholism, and homelessness...just to name a few.

Be that as it may, the governor would like to blame teachers as the culprit in this scenario.  Actually it’s the teacher unions that they mention most of the time.  "You see, my fellow New Mexicans, it’s those damn UNIONS that don’t want irrelevant evaluations, endless testing, idiotic piles of paperwork that are the backbone of educational reform.”  Or so the story seems to be played out in the press.

A strike by teachers is out of the question.  But now I think many are starting to whisper about next fall.  What if teachers just say "to hell with it" and resign.  What if they actually quit.  What then?  Won’t all those teacher vacancies be bad going into the 2014 elections?  Remember election day is only about three months after the beginning of the school year.

There are signs that somebody is really getting worried.  Just look at the clues:

  • The “Don’t Quit!!!” email sent by APS Supt. Winston Brooks.  I taught school here in Albuquerque for 31 years.  Never in all that time has anybody ever said anything even close to that.  Teachers are just disgusted with the state PED.  They are disgusted with what their jobs have become.  In these uncertain economic times many have put off retirement.  Now the job just doesn’t seem worth it.  Winston Brooks is not stupid.  He obviously sees the possibility of not being able to put people in those desks at the front of the class.

  • The governor asks for a large raise for beginning teachers.  A starting teacher makes $30,000/year.  She is asking the legislature to increase that by $3,000.  That’s 10%, a huge raise by today’s standards.  In fact she wants to give every teacher at the $30K level a 10% raise.  I think she is doing this for several reasons:  she would like to get rid of the three-tiered salary schedule for teachers and this is a step in that direction.  That system rewarded experience, advanced educational degrees, and required a portfolio of evidence that the teacher was indeed worth the money.  Martinez and Skandera use test scores instead.  Also, why do we need educated teachers who think for themselves?  They just turn into troublemakers.  I believe there are those at the PED who think they have all the answers and teachers don’t really have to know much except how to follow directions.
  • The teacher situation in New Mexico is starting to attract national attention.  In a piece with the headline “Teachers Fleeing New Mexico Districts,” Kris Nielson lists Albuquerque as reporting 172 teacher resignations over the just finished holiday break with 170 vacant teacher positions.  As of today, three weeks later, APS is advertising to fill 154 positions for certified teachers.  In a town where jobs are almost impossible to find, 154 teaching positions remain vacant.  Nielson’s article, which appeared in a national blog for educators called “@ THE CHALK FACE,” lists the openings for a dozen New Mexico districts.  Here are a few:  Hobbs 19 open positions, Las Cruces-26, Roswell-26, Alamogordo-11, Gadsden-16, Santa Fe-53.

These are stunning numbers--especially for the middle of the school year.  These open positions in Albuquerque are a mixed bag.  Some are special education, some are part time, some are ESL or bilingual.  Still, these are stunning numbers in a city with few job openings in general.

What does this mean for next fall?  Anecdotal evidence suggests that teachers are leaving like never before.  Teachers from around the city tell of colleagues seriously considering retirement.  Every school seems to have four or five that are leaving.  Governor Martinez and Hanna Skandera can talk about unions all they want.  They can laugh at teachers' protests.  They can smirk at Brooks and his “oink,oink” tweet.  They can gloat over getting rid of teachers with advanced degrees and tons of experience being replaced by cheaper, less well-qualified newbies. 

But the truth is, there are no winners in this.

No winners at all.

Views: 5623

Comment by AM on January 7, 2014 at 4:29pm

Skandera had a nauseating article in today's Living Section of the Journal

Comment by Johnny_Mango on January 7, 2014 at 4:40pm

Yes, I know.  Kris Nielson, a fantastic education writer currently living in Las Cruces, has written a rebuttal to Skandera's piece.  It will be posted right here tomorrow morning at 10:00!

Comment by Ray Maseman on January 7, 2014 at 8:46pm
I basically agree, but, a few questions: 1) What are "normal" vacancy rates for an urban school district at mid year? 36 of the positions you mention (APS lists 159 as I write this) are for coaching. The rest (123) represent 2% of the teaching staff of APS. Anyone know what the rate was at this point last year, or in other cities now?
2) How many teachers have the option of retirement? If they are close enough to retirement to contemplate an early out, how much longer were they going to be around anyhow? Losing wisdom and experiment is probably bad, but I'd be more worried by a large number of mid-career teachers resigning.
Comment by cc on January 7, 2014 at 10:06pm

I appreciate how you are framing this issue, Johnny Mango -- our state's administration putting the blame on teachers for poor student performance and the effect that blame is having on teacher resignation.

I get why teachers want to quit - our state is not showing any ability for civilized discourse with them, and our state acts as if it doesn't care if teachers leave the profession. Ellen Bernstein, ATF President and a longtime classroom teacher (I used to teach across the hall from her at Mary Ann Binford) is ready to have that discourse, in a professional way. But I never see Skandera nor Martinez willing to engage.

Those are good questions, Ray. I wondered about comparisons with other years' vacancies also. It would be interesting to compare with private and charter school vacancies as well.

Other questions ...

How many of our state's public school teachers got their advanced teaching degrees from our state universities?

How do the state's training institutions see this shift by state government to use testing to rate teachers, pushing more paperwork on the backs of the professionals?

Does the Grandma from Bernalillo that Skandera mentions realize how much our state's efforts can dismantle the system?

How many people in NM believe test scores measure effectively a child's ability and desire to learn?

Comment by Scot Key on January 9, 2014 at 7:38pm

I'm kicking myself for not doing a year-by-year snapshot of APS job openings, but the numbers sure do "look" big, don't they?  Still, the better data/voting-by-professional-feet is coming these next few vital months.  The "Don't Quit!!!!!!!" email was far more important than "oink, oink" in all of this, as correctly stated here.  We'll see if the distaste raised over the Skandera years leads to a dramatically meaningful drain of experienced folks, or if we're (the olds, like me) just too darn stupid to do anything about it.  

Heaven knows they've tried.  Thanks for the story, Jon.


Comment by K on January 9, 2014 at 8:46pm

John, great piece.  In the hearts and minds of Martinez and  Skandera, the teachers and the union are the problem.  This is so far from the truth but the populace buy it.  Their efforts to "reform" education is insulting to teachers and the citizens of New Mexico.  Martinez' pay raise only to the new teachers is insulting to veteran master teachers who have demonstrated the ability to motivate and educate students.  I dont blame them for leaving or retiring.  It seems an unbearable situation in which to be.  I'm disgusted with this administration and their attempts to destroy public education through false and misguided reform efforts.     

Comment by Ben Moffett on November 21, 2014 at 7:05pm

The biggest complaint I've heard is that outlandish salaries are paid to people, often out-of-staters, and without education degrees. They sit in on classes and tell teachers what they are doing wrong, and pattern their chatter along lines that are generally conservative, as for example, being critical of certain books, Rudolfo Anaya's 'Bless Me Ultima,' to cite an example.. 


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