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Teacher union fights state evaluation

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Education > LA union head says meeting with Skandera did not go well

By Tris DeRoma

According to Ellen Mills, president of the Los Alamos Federation of School Employees, a recent meeting with state education secretary designee Hanna Skandera did not go well.

As part of a delegation looking to modify Skandera’s new evaluation system for teachers, to see how well they are teaching students using the new “Common Core” method, Mills told the other members of LAFSE that Skandera did not seem interested in what she and the others had to say.

“...While we asked that she slow the process down, that we do a pilot, maybe we focus on one area rather than jumping into the deep end with both cement shoes on,” she said, acknowledging that Skandera seemed to be listening to them. “After two hours of this dialogue… she stood up and said there will be no waiver, we are not slowing it down, we are going for full implementation. I then thought to myself, at that point, then why did we talk to you for the past few hours?”

Mills related this anecdote during a meeting with the members of her federation, which also included the union’s state president, Stephanie Ly of the American Federation of Teachers, New Mexico. Mills and Ly were there to relate the progress they are making in trying to modify or at least slow down Skandera’s new evaluation system for teachers and principals which many at the meeting said does not relate to what they do in the classroom.

The meeting was also about inviting the federation members to sign postcards meant for Skandera, urging her to take advantage of U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s invitation to slow down the rollout of the evaluation process in order to make for a smooth transition to the Common Core system.

“The Common Core State Standards have the potential to transform teaching and learning and provide all children with the problem-solving and critical-thinking skills they need to compete in today’s changing world. But we have to make the standards work before they count,” said a statement on the postcard.

AFT has distributed the postcards throughout all the school districts across the state, and they are due to be delivered to Skandera Friday.

Ly too was at the LAFSE meeting as a special guest, and to relate to the group other steps they’ve taken to slow down the evaluation. She said they’ve managed to impose a “writ of mandamus” action against Skandera’s program in New Mexico’s Second District Court.

PED spokesman Larry Behrens said of the suit two weeks ago: “This lawsuit rehashes the same tired arguments the Supreme Court rejected late last year,” Behrens told the Albuquerque Journal. “We will fight yet another tactic to delay because we understand over 300,000 New Mexico students deserve better.”

Ly said the judge in that case has filed a court order against the New Mexico Public Education Department questioning the evaluation process, asking the PED to state reasons how the evaluation is not breaking state laws, and how it is complying with state laws.

“What we said were two things. One, charter schools can apply for a waiver to not do the same teacher-principal evaluation system. We believe that all of us should all be held accountable, and that you cannot have your friends not be held accountable to the same standards as the rest of us,” Ly told the federation members at the meeting.

“Quite frankly, they get public money, they have to do the same thing we do. If you believe this is best for New Mexico kids, then make sure it’s for everyone.”

Ly also said in the action that the new evaluation system violates the School Personnel Act, that says only school administrators are allowed to conduct evaluations. One of the main complaints of the evaluation system is that it’s conducted by people who may not be familiar with the teachers or the schools they teach in.

“Your school administrators know your schools, know your classrooms and so when they go in and observe, they are looking at what you’ve done well, what you need to improve, but it’s a supportive position that’s designed to improve your teaching,” Ly said. “If you have other people come in to do this training for this program, they don’t know your school, they don’t know your classroom and so it can be very detrimental to your classroom, and most importantly to the students.”

Ly said a hearing in court on the issue is set for Nov. 20.

When Skandera was in Los Alamos two weeks ago, she was asked about the evaluation system and the teachers’ grievances.

“We made a commitment, and I think Los Alamos has absolutely made this commitment to see improved achievement for every student,” she said. “Our new evaluation system, for the first time ever, captures some of that improvement. It’s about growth and progress, not static test scores, and that’s important.”