Monday, October 10, 2011

Opinion Article in the Albuquerque Journal: Everyone Must be Held Accountable

I had an emergency staff meeting this morning, to discuss the number of students who are failing 1 or more of their classes.  The discussion was mostly around the effort teachers feel like they are going to, to provide opportunities for students to do make up work or to come in and get extra help.  And the students simply aren't taking the bait.  I believe this sentiment can be found in just about every school (and in particular those schools considered low-performing) - that teachers can go out of their way to provide opportunities for success for students, but at the end of the day - a high school student is allowed to choose to fail.

I'm glad to have read the opinion article by Dolly Juarez in the Journal this morning though.  Because my belief is that teachers and schools can't allow students to be so apathetic that they fail their classes. Schools either have to force students to do the work, even though they act like they don't care.  OR, they have to find ways to motivate students to care enough to do the work on their own.  It places a huge burden on teachers and schools - it's a totally different way of thinking than just "i'll provide the opportunities and the students can take them if they want to."  Yet, if low-performing schools want to make gains - we have to find a way to share the burden.  It's the only way.  Providing opportunities isn't going to be enough to overcome the pervasive apathy that can be found in low-performing schools across the nation.

ABQ/ OPINION: School Success Truly a Partnership
By Dolly Juarez [Co-founder of Southwest Learning Centers]
ABQ Journal
October 8, 2011

Recently, Ruben Navarrette Jr. editorialized about the lack of accountability in American public schools. He pointed to the recent decision by the Obama administration to allow states waivers on several of the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Navarrette claims President Obama’s decision to scrap the timetable that teachers unions never liked is part of a movement away from holding teachers accountable. The columnist derides the notion that states can on their own create reforms such as raising academic standards, creating a fair teacher-evaluation system based on how well students do on tests and forging real change in low-performing schools.

As an educator in New Mexico for over 40 years, and as a co-founder of the three top-performing public schools in all of New Mexico, charter schools named Southwest Primary Learning Center, Southwest Intermediate Learning Center and Southwest Secondary Learning Center, I have no political ax to grind, merely an observation that holds true regardless of the administration that is in power. Democrats and Republicans alike have for many years promised that “they” are the ones who will really hold teachers accountable.

New Mexico’s position in the nation on educational criteria remains distressingly low. 
  • One out of two freshmen on average will not graduate from high school, and 
  • too many Hispanic, Native American and African-American children score significantly behind their Anglo and Asian counterparts on New Mexico-mandated tests in all subject areas. 

These children become trapped in a pattern of low proficiency in reading and writing that starts in kindergarten and continues throughout the K-12 educational system. Students with disabilities are failing to meet a satisfactory proficiency level despite the federal and state government’s attempt to create accommodations and reasonable testing benchmarks. It is clear that the status quo in New Mexico is not acceptable despite the best efforts of many educational reformers. An alarming number of New Mexico’s students cannot compete for a diminishing number of jobs.

Our belief when we founded the Southwest Learning Centers was that there had to be a better way. 

Yes, we hold our teachers accountable, but we also hold our students and our parents accountable. Our educational community is based on the premise that no one group can solely claim responsibility for our successes or failures, but rather it is our shared responsibility to ensure that every child is mastering content on a daily basis.

At the Southwest Learning Centers we believe that communication is the key. Successful intervention is much harder if a student has slipped behind and the parents are notified six or seven weeks after the fact. We identify problems and address them early with “the parents as educational partners” and strategically work through the issues, whether they are academic, social or behavioral.

Parents must collaborate with teachers to find meaningful solutions. In a typical classroom, you will find a diversity of learning styles and skill sets represented in the classroom. Instead of forcing everybody to meet at an arbitrary point, it is our belief that education can be tailor-made to meet the needs of each student.

By meeting the students where they are at and creating opportunities for them to succeed, our students have been able to achieve among the highest test scores in New Mexico. And 100 percent of our students with disabilities are achieving proficiency.

At Southwest Learning Centers, despite the fact that one out of three of our students is eligible for free lunch, we do not have an achievement gap. In fact, our Native American, Hispanic and African Americans students consistently perform as well or better than their Anglo and Asian counterparts.

Over the years I have heard a lot of rhetoric about accountability, but I ask policymakers to consider the notion that parents and students and administrators as well as teachers must be held accountable if we are to make measurable gains.

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