SAN MATEO & MONTGOMERY NE--This week had the biggest demonstration of public anger and frustration since the days of George W. Bush’s presidency. In fact, the rally concerned education, a sort of legacy issue from Bush’s days of “No Child Left Behind.” New Mexico's governor and her would-be PED boss continue their assault against teacher unions...a group that they seem to blame for low test scores on the part of New Mexico’s children. But this week our teachers and the public started to fight back.
If the governor and Hanna Skandera think the so-called teacher evaluation dust-up is just the work of a few union radicals that they can marginalize, the time has come for a great big re-think. The issues go way beyond those evaluations, and involve way more people than a few union activists.
Take last Tuesday. Roughly one thousand teachers, parents, and students braved rush hour traffic after work to stand in a field near Del Norte High School for a couple of hours to listen to a string of speakers. Concerns centered around the PED’s new teacher evaluation procedures, corporate takeovers of more and more of the education budget, and the extreme amount of testing required in the classroom.
The rally was hosted by Stand4KidsNM, but drew participants that extended beyond any one group. APS board member Kathy Korte was there and spoke at the onset of the rally.
APS Supt. of Schools Dr. Winston Brooks was also there. He stood in the crowd listening intently, but not taking part. “I was invited,” he told me. “So I came. I’m just a face in the crowd.”
NM Attorney General Gary King was in attendance, standing in the front row and wearing a Stand4KidsNM tee-shirt. Tim Keller was introduced. My wife saw Mimi Stewart.
I thought there were two notable absences: APS Board of Education President Marty Esquivel and union president Dr. Ellen Bernstein. I can understand Bernstein not wanting to make it a “union event,” by her presence, but Esquivel’s absence is harder to understand.
But the star of the show without a doubt, was the crowd itself. Large, loud, diverse, and informed, they spoke and applauded as speaker after speaker echoed their concerns. This was an intelligent mob. They understood what was at stake, the very nature of public education, and were willing to stand up and say so. Many of the issues were reflected in the signs they carried.
But this wasn’t a “feel good” rally. There was a grimness about it...a tension that was palpable. Oh everyone was polite and enthusiastic, but when I started talking to them their tone changed. They were deadly serious.
“It always was a hard job, but it was a doable job,” said two teachers from Chamisa Elementary School. “People are at their wit’s end--they just don’t know what to do.”
Former principal Michael Carrillo called the PED to task for “the selling of public education,” referring to the consultants, tests and programs the PED has bought that has transferred so much of our public education money into private corporations. “Public education should be public.”
John Malin, part of Monte Vista’s treasure of legendary teachers, was more graphic, “I walk around school and people start crying...teachers start crying.” And by the way, teachers are tough people. If a program is good for their students, no matter how hard it is, they will usually do it without complaint. It is when something hurts their kids and then they get evaluated on how faithfully they do it that they start crying.
An elementary principal who is ready to retire told me that the PED has said that they must report that 10% to 20% of their staff is in need of remediation...or they themselves will be marked down. You see each school must grade its faculty on a bell curve. “I won’t do it! It’s just eeny meeny miney mo,” she said.
Meanwhile the speaker, I believe it was Rick Sleeter from Eldorado High School, was saying over the loudspeaker, “Evaluation needs to be done in a way that doesn’t make really good teachers want to quit!” He later told me, “They say it’s just APS and it’s just the union--well look around--it’s Everybody!”
He later told me that there was just so much frustration among the faculty that they were “united in our misery.” Then he talked about administrators being in the same boat as teachers--a sentiment I had heard from others in the crowd already.
Actually the number of hours and days spent in testing is really beyond belief. It takes whole weeks at a time out of the teaching year. According to a sign carried by Jennifer Coughin who is also a teacher at Eldorado HS, 24 to 36 DAYS are lost each year due to state mandates. She said elementary schools have it even worse.
Perhaps the most succinct judgement was to be found on a sign strapped to the back of a young woman. It just read, “FLUNK ME?! FLUNK YOU!!”
That sort of sums it up. Our education policy is currently being dictated by a former D.A. from Las Cruces and a political hack from Florida. The whole of NM's educational community might stand against them, but no matter. Flunk me?! Flunk you!!