State budget should support all students and all their educators

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COMMENTARY: We applaud the N.M. House of Representatives for sending a bipartisan budget bill (House Bill 2) to the Senate with increased support for New Mexico public school students. The increase does not make up for decades of short-changing our students, but it is a positive move toward a more prosperous New Mexico.

“We” are New Mexico educators. Students are at the center of all we do – in the classroom, in the library and school offices, on the buses and in the cafeterias.

Betty Patterson

Courtesy photo

Betty Patterson

We remain concerned the budget includes $5 million for governor’s call for so-called “Merit Pay” program (a.k.a.”Exemplary Teacher Awards”). The evaluation system underlying that program is unfair, so therefore the granting of any bonuses based on that evaluation system has huge problems.

The governor’s Public Education Department fails to provide any evidence the program helps students, addresses the teacher shortage, or improves student outcomes.

NEA-New Mexico has consistently called for creating a teacher evaluation system that provides local districts flexibility beyond the standardized student tests to measure student progress, and for transparent, improvement-focused evaluations. Our suggestions are still not adopted; a better, fairer way to evaluate quality teaching is still needed.

Proponents of the “merit pay” program challenge educator unions to put forward our own proposals for how to reward teachers and improve student success. We’ve done that year after year, but let’s review some of our ideas.

Too many high performing educators are leaving, and many are replaced by long-term substitutes with little or no qualifications. Working conditions, including compensation, are the main reason for teachers leaving.

One-time “bonus” rewards are not helping. The teacher shortage grows, and after many years of trying “Merit Pay,” there is zero evidence it improves student outcomes here.

Special education teachers profoundly impact student success yet have little chance at being rated “exemplary,” or earning the so-called “merit pay.” Counselors, librarians, nurses, therapists and other professionals are categorically excluded.

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Consider other ways to help educators keep leading students toward success: Housing and child-care supports; offering forgivable loans and service scholarships to attract and retain teachers; creating “Grow Your Own” programs to prepare individuals already working in the schools, including education assistants.

Individuals are more likely to become and remain teachers when salaries are competitive with other occupations. Both beginning and veteran teachers are more likely to quit when their salaries are low relative to other opportunities, especially in mathematics and science.

In New Mexico, teacher salaries now amount to only about 66 percent of the salaries of other college-educated workers. Significant systemwide raises for all educators and licensure-level minimum salary increases are needed.

Create more time for teachers’ collaborative planning. Support educator-led professional development. End “canned” trainings by for-profit providers.

Fund pay for additional assignments like peer coaching and mentoring.

We aim for success for every student in every New Mexico classroom. Just “rewarding” certain teachers is counterproductive and fails to “get [all] our kids on track, and ahead, academically.” To improve outcomes for all students, support all educators.

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