Different Teacher | | Santa Fe Reporter

When Matt Montaño returned to New Mexico after a brief stint at the Texas Education Agency, he knew his Bernalillo students deserved teachers who understood their experiences.

“One of the main components of what our teachers need is to understand the cultural context, the linguistic context of our students, so that they can frame their educational experience within those contexts,” says Montaño, who is now superintendent of the Bernalillo Public School System.

The research confirms Montaño’s philosophy: students who learn from teachers of the same race do better academically, especially for young people from low-income homes.

To validate this reality, at the start of the school year, Montaño lobbied his district school board, which serves seven nearby pueblos, to equalize salaries between native language and culture teachers and educators with licensees. a traditional license. Earlier this month, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed House Bill 60 to equalize teacher pay across the state.

State officials have made progress in recognizing the importance of Indigenous knowledge and representation in schools. Yet many students of color in New Mexico are learning in classrooms where most teachers are white.

Misaligned student-teacher demographics are just one of the complications hampering the state’s educator workforce. Recent salary increases have targeted a staggering shortage of teachers. But there is a bigger gap to fill for educators who work with vulnerable groups of students, especially those learning English and receiving special education services. This shortage disproportionately affects students who already face challenges for an adequate education.

Nearly four years ago, the late District Court Judge Sarah Singleton ruled that the state had failed to provide English language learners, special education students, Indigenous youth and those from low-income families a sufficient public education – a constitutional right – in part because of inadequate education.

Experts say providing a quality education has long eluded New Mexico’s most vulnerable students.

Teachers have historically misunderstood what English learners need to succeed in schools, according to a study led by Rebecca Blum Martinez, professor emeritus of bilingual education and English as a second language at the University of New Mexico .

She found that English language learners in districts across the state were incorrectly assigned to remedial reading programs, which taught students to read short sentences aloud but did little to promote reading comprehension.

“What students learning English need is access to very rich, stimulating and intellectually stimulating texts and programs so that they can learn to use English in the way that suits them. is demanded by schools – by tests, etc. ” Blum Martinez confides to SFR.

For students developing a second language, she says, some teachers and administrators lack the knowledge to appropriately support Indigenous and Hispanic children learning English.

There is little debate in the education community that good teachers are the best path to quality learning. Of all the changes to curriculum, schedules, administration, and other school-related factors, research shows that teachers have two to three times more impact on student test scores. reading and math.

Progress since Singleton’s decision in July 2018 in the Yazzie/Martinez case has included higher salaries and more paid professional development time through extended apprenticeship programs. But some of that progress isn’t translating to New Mexico’s most vulnerable students, despite decades-long efforts.

Under former Governor Bill Richardson, the state instituted a three-tier licensing and evaluation system for teachers in 2003, with the goal of recruiting and retaining qualified educators, following the logic that those who have more experience and who have reached a higher license level should receive higher salaries.

Despite the large salary increases between levels, which still exist today, a 2009 Legislative Finance Committee report noted that “differences in teacher effectiveness between license levels were not substantial”. The report acknowledged that teachers with the highest degree level outperformed their colleagues.

Richardson’s successor also centered education reform on improving the quality of teachers, although the government of the time. Susana Martinez has failed many educators by relying heavily on PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) tests to assess teachers.

Martinez’s assessment system represented an attempt to improve the quality of teaching, despite the faulty assumptions of the review authors.

Earlier this month, Lujan Grisham left his mark on New Mexico’s legacy to strengthen the teaching workforce by raising salaries for all school employees, including a $10,000 raise. teachers’ annual salary, positioning New Mexico as the highest-paying state in the region for educators, who she hopes will attract and retain these professionals.

According to the 2021 New Mexico Educator Vacancies Report, produced by New Mexico State University, more than 1,000 teaching jobs were vacant in the state as of October, nearly double the number of the previous year.

About 30% of vacancies are for special education teachers — the largest vacancy in the state — reflecting gaps identified in the Yazzie/Martinez case.

Another area of ​​shortage to note is for English language learners, who benefit from teachers who have a bilingual or Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages ​​(TESOL) endorsement.

Figures from PED indicate that nearly 60% of educators in New Mexico have one of these endorsements, but only 9% teach exclusively in a state-funded bilingual multicultural education program. In addition, at the time of publication of the vacancy report, approximately one in 10 vacancies specified a need for a bilingual educator in the job description.

Christine Sims, associate professor of pedagogical linguistics and Native American education at UNM, says one problem among the state’s teaching staff is a lack of representation in classrooms.

According to student and teacher demographics that PED shared with SFR last month, 57% of teachers in New Mexico are white, while only 22% of students are white.

Alternatively, Native and Hispanic students make up 11% and 64% of the state’s total, respectively, while Native educators make up 3% of the state’s workforce and 34% of teachers identify as Hispanic. .

Sims says the issue is emblematic of a larger need. She says communities need support to build the capacity of Indigenous teachers “who have an investment to stay in their homes and communities.”

Another problem, according to Sims, exists at the source of the teacher labor pipeline. She explains that the university system does not have enough professors to teach bilingual education courses. “It’s just another way to clog up the whole system,” Sims tells SFR, “in terms of preparing future teachers.”

UNM and NMSU each have two faculties dedicated to teaching bilingual education, which is a specialized field focused on providing education in two languages ​​(often Spanish and English). Sims says more is needed.

Mary Earick, dean of the School of Education at Highland University of New Mexico, said that although the majority of her faculty are bilingual or have TESOL approval, there is still a critical need for capable teachers. to support the linguistic development of students.

In addition to the lack of support for children developing a second language, Blum Martinez notes that schools often don’t recognize the culture and backgrounds of New Mexico’s diverse student population.

But it also stems from college experience, says Blum Martinez. “Universities have helped prepare the teachers who provide this type of education, so the fault lies as much with the universities as with the schools,” she adds.

One “of our goals is to provide our future educators with coursework and clinical experiences that respond culturally and linguistically to the lived realities of the students and communities our graduates serve in classrooms across the state,” writes Rick Marlatt, acting director of NMSU. College of Education.

This month, SFR unpacks the 2018 Martinez and Yazzie lawsuit against the state of New Mexico and examines where challenges to providing sufficient education still exist. Here is an overview of the series.

March 2 – Doesn’t Equal – New Mexico Faces Strong Rise to Make Education More Equitable

March 9 – Test disruptions and unclear responsibility

Shortly:

March 23 – Students remain disconnected, despite the new virtual face of education

March 30 – Funding Changes for Children at Risk

April 6 – Language teaching shapes or denies students

This story was produced with support from the Education Writers Association Reporting Fellowship Program.

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