Things are heating up in the battle between teachers unions and New Mexico Secretary of Education-Designate Hanna Skandera. A writ of mandamus was issued to the state’s Public Education Department, setting a hearing in regard to its new teacher evaluation system.
The writ calls for cause why the department should not be compelled to cease and desist from implementing its new teacher evaluation system as opposed to conducting teacher evaluations under previously issued regulations.
The writ was issued by District Court Judge Shannon Bacon to the department’s Secretary-Designate Hanna Skandera. The court hearing is set for 10 a.m., Nov. 21 in Albuquerque.
The plaintiffs in the case are AFT New Mexico, Albuquerque teachers union president Ellen Bernstein, Los Alamos fifth grade teacher Ryan Ross, Sens. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, and Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque.
New Mexico President Stephanie Ly of the American Federation of Teachers was in Los Alamos Sept. 25 to brief members of the Los Alamos Federation of School Employees on what its union is doing to stop, or at least slow down the new evaluation system. She said this is the first of more law suits aimed at the new system.
There are a number of problems with the evaluation system and its rollout at New Mexico schools, Ly said. One concern is that charter schools can apply for a waiver to the evaluation system, while other schools cannot.
“If you believe this is the best for New Mexico kids, then make sure it’s for everyone,” Ly said.
According to Ly, another problem with the system is that it violates regulations stating that school administrators should conduct evaluations of teachers in their schools. Outsiders brought in to do the evaluations are unfamiliar with the school and the teachers and cannot evaluate them properly, Ly said.
The new system would base half of teacher evaluations on students’ academic performance, with emphasis on improvement by the lowest performing students. Teachers feel that the evaluation process focuses too much on student test scores, Ly said.
Los Alamos Federation of School Employees (LAFSE) President Ellen Mills said meetings she attended with Skandera, as part of a delegation of union representatives and nine school superintendents from around New Mexico, have proved futile in convincing Skandera to slow down the process or to implement a pilot program focusing on less drastic changes.
“Frustration exists throughout the state, from superintendents down,” Mills said.
Part of the concern with the new system is that teachers and administrators do not understand it and explanations from the Department of Education keep changing, Mills said. Teachers are not sure what standards they are supposed to be teaching to or even if standards exist in some subject areas, she said.
“Our feeling is we are aiming at a moving target,” Mills said.
“The evaluation process is just not ready, LAFSE Vice-President Ryan Ross said. “It’s unfair to teachers and to principals.”
Teachers unions delivered 2,000 postcards to Skandera Sept. 26 urging her to slow down the evaluation process to accommodate transition to implementation of the Common Core standards currently being implemented.
A number of teachers expressed concern that attempts to understand and comply with the new standards are frustrating and time consuming.
“Our time is being sucked away from our students,” said Los Alamos High School Social Studies teacher Brian Easton.
Los Alamos School Superintendent Gene Schmidt was in attendance at the meeting. He said the teacher evaluation process and New Mexico School Report Card procedures will be closely looked at by the District.
“We’ll begin the investigation at the Oct. 8 (school) board meeting,” Schmidt said, adding that a Report Card Task Force is currently analyzing how the Report Card rating system will impact Los Alamos.
Mills urged teachers and parents to attend the Oct. 8 school board meeting and support Los Alamos educators.
“We’re running on exhaustion and stress,” Mills said. “We should be nurturing our new teachers, not driving them away.”