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Letter to the Editor: Letter To Gov. Susana Martinez

on November 5, 2014 - 7:17pm
By Dr. Jessica McCord
Los Alamos Native

Good evening,

Congratulations on your re-election. I have a great respect for our democratic process, but have had to sincerely reflect on my thoughts after this latest election. As a concerned citizen and an educator, I have to take responsibility for communicating with my elected officials and believe that my voice can make a difference.

I have been an educator in NM for 10 years, I have worked within all levels of the system from my own classroom, all the way into higher education, and even community agencies for adults with disabilities. I also work with other states as a consultant to help evaluate their systems to improve practices for ALL students, but especially students with special needs. I, like you, have a family member with a disability. He has been a major inspiration for me to work to create positive change in our system as a whole. My life's mission is to help ensure a high quality, equitable education for students, regardless of any label placed on them (disability, socioeconomic status, etc.)

While I recognize that there are issues with teacher preparation, evaluation, and accountability and I agree that we have to have better mechanisms in place to ensure that excellent teachers are in every classroom, I can assure you that your policies are causing quite the opposite to unfold. You are pushing excellent teachers and leaders out of the profession, both in special and general education. The kind of teaching you are encouraging with this overemphasis on standardized tests and the related teacher evaluation systems are encouraging teachers who can open a book, read from a teacher's guide, and expect all students to fit into a predetermined box that only has one right answer.  

There is no study anywhere that has validated that these measures are what it takes to be college and career ready or improve our economy, leading to better lives for the students who are subject to them.

You are pushing students with disabilities back into segregated settings because general education teachers are scared of what "those" kids will do to their test scores. It is, in many ways, encouraging a shift back toward 1950's type institutionalization because teachers are far more concerned about test scores than honoring the rights of our children to be educated alongside their grade level peers. Teachers don’t have the time or energy it takes for the kinds of collaboration and planning it takes to do their jobs well and meet the needs of the diverse students in our schools.

ALL kids deserve an excellent education with knowledgeable, dedicated teachers who are committed to each student’s individual growth and learning, but this testing regime is harming excellent instructional practices for all. Teachers are worried about test prep instead of getting to know their students and being on top of the latest developments in best practices.

Your policies encourage teaching that could be carried out by any person pulled in off the street at random. There is both an art and a science to good teaching. Are there problems? YES! Is the answer standardized testing and value added statistical modeling that even the most brilliant scientists in my hometown cannot understand? NO!

We need accountability but by forging ahead with your misguided reforms, you are making the chances slim that we can find innovative, effective ways to evaluate teaching and learning in our state. The stress caused is just pushing brilliant people away and often rewarding or misrepresenting those who should not be in the classroom at all.

I beg you to rethink your education policies. For the diverse kids we have in our state, including kids like your sister and my uncle, who deserve to be educated alongside their peers, held to high expectations, and taught by passionate educators who are invested in teaching and learning and willing to be held accountable when it has REAL meaning to them and their students ... not to satisfy numbers to post on the PED website and punishments, scripted curriculum programs, and more testing to be shoved down their throats.

I have never felt like crying when I watched a governor's race, and tonight I was nearly brought to tears. NM citizens, by and large, do not understand what is happening to our education system because it is so large and complex that it takes years of study to even begin to understand the inner workings and complex pieces that it consists of. All people know is that there are problems, and I couldn’t agree more. Disenfranchising all teachers because of systemic problems and adopting complicated reforms based on complex mathematical quantifications that reduce the real live human children we work with to a data point on a graph, is not the answer.

We need excellent professionals in our schools, and there are so many who feel the same way I do and see the dire need for change. We want to work for the same end goals you speak of, but we are in the field every day and we know that what you are doing has terrible unintended consequences that are going to damage our system beyond repair for years to come ... beyond your tenure. Please don't let your legacy be a stubborn resolve to follow through with things that have consequences that are not fully understood.

Listen to the real educators in your state (and nation) and work with us to make improvements. For the sake of real children; not politics, not money, not for the sake of "standing your ground with reform". True leaders work with their people to make change. Memorable leaders listen when the citizens don’t trust the state department leadership in place to guide education in their state and make decisions that will impact the students who have no say in what is imposed upon them.

Our children trust us to care enough about their future to be competent, thoughtful, and knowledgeable about the choices made that impact how they spend 185 days of their valuable lives each year. Please be the leader that listens and reads between the lines of the election results. 4 more years of what you are doing will leave our system in shambles. Please be a pioneer in education and help New Mexico rise away from the bottom of a few national lists instead of following in other state’s unstable footsteps (Florida). I ask you to look at your 58 percent from a humble view that sees 42 percent as an admirable goal for improvement.

You have staunchly supported accountability in our schools and teachers would not “pass the test” with 58 percent so I challenge you to think about your own job in the same way you are rating teachers. Let’s all improve, together. Many educators already have their sleeves rolled up ready to work toward meaningful change. Rethink your reforms and leadership choices and let’s get it done together.

Sincerely,

Dr. Jessica McCord


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