Posts Tagged ‘Failure’

Misguided Priorities at Legislative Close

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Huge budget issues continue to loom as the Legislature comes to a close today.  So, you’ve got to wonder how the Hispanic Education Act can be a priority:

But with only hours remaining in the legislative session at the time of the Senate’s 25-13 vote, House Bill 150 was sent back to the House, which needed to approve it before it could be forwarded to Gov. Bill Richardson.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Rick Miera, D-Albuquerque, was optimistic Wednesday night that the House would concur on the amendment by today’s noon adjournment.

The legislation, which is supported by Richardson, would create a Hispanic education liaison position inside the state Public Education Department. It also would require an annual report card on Hispanic performance in New Mexico schools. And it would create a Hispanic education advisory council that would provide input to the education secretary. 

 Just to refresh your memory on why this is a bizarre initiative, please go back and read my original pre-legislative session post on this purposeless political soundbite effort.

Political Sound Bites

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

That’s really what we’re talking about here – political sound bites. It’s beyond absurd for Governor Bill Richardson to be proposing a special initiative to close the Hispanic education gap:

Gov. Bill Richardson said Tuesday that he will work with state legislators to develop and pass a Hispanic Education Act in the 2010 session of the New Mexico Legislature.

This administration has a proven track record of spending hundreds upon hundreds of millions of dollars on budget breaking projects like spaceports and trains, but to expect them to make any gap closing changes in education is just ridiculous. For us to believe this is possible, we would have to forget the track record of education failures in student performance that have plagued this administration from day one.

And, am I the only one who finds it a little bit insincere for Governor Richardson to talk about closing the education gap for Hispanics by passing a Hispanic Education Act? Seriously, this may make sense for a state with a small percentage of Hispanics, but in New Mexico, we’ve got the highest percentage of Hispanics of any state in the nation – 45% of our state’s population.

So, nearly half of our public school children are Hispanic. Fixing and education gap for almost half of the student population does not require a special initiative. It requires a complete overhaul of the education system. But, don’t expect anyone in this administration to be up to that challenge. Instead, look for them to blow more smoke and spend more money on initiatives that will do nothing to improve student performance:

Richardson asked summit participants — students, teachers, administrators, politicians and others — to come up with solutions before the legislative session. He said he wants the recommendations to help shape a new Hispanic Education Act, similar to New Mexico’s Indian Education Act. That act created a special state division, which compiles an annual report on the progress of Native American students and encourages communication between tribes, among other things.

Yeah, that’s what we need. A new “special state division” to compile annual reports and encourage communications. That’ll solve all of our problems. Maybe we should bring back the efforts to create a Department of Hispanic Affairs as well?

Why Should it Be Hard to Fire?

Friday, November 13th, 2009

A new report released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce gives New Mexico a “C” as its overall education grade. Sounds good, right? I mean we usually get an “F’ on these things. Actually, not really as good as it sounds.

Last year, “Leaders and Laggards” focused on student test scores rather than innovation, and New Mexico ranked 49th, better only than Mississippi and Washington, D.C.

See, this year focused on “education innovation” to determine overall ranking. When the only thing that matters (defined: student performance) is measured, we’re still way down there at the very bottom of the ranking. The exact same place as the year before.

Considering the budget crisis we’re facing, it is interesting to note that one of those measurements in which New Mexico got a worse in class score, a big red F, was in the return on investment category. I’ve been beating this drum for years. We spend, spend and then spend a lot more, and have absolutely nothing that matters (defined: increase in student performance) to show for it.

Now before some of you start claiming that New Mexico can’t be compared to other states because of our poverty levels, keep in mind this failing score was after being graded on a curve:

Student achievement in New Mexico is very low relative to state education spending (after controlling for student poverty, the percentage of students with special needs, and cost of living). This dismal return on investment earns the state a failing grade.

So, how do we start making inroads? Well, back in August I put forward a plan for education reform that would be a huge step in the right direction. If you read it, you might want to compare number two of my recommendations to the position of the teachers’ union president:

But it got an “F” and was ranked 44th for removal of ineffective teachers.

To determine that grade, the report cited a survey of principals, most of whom reported that personnel policies and unions are barriers to removing ineffectual teachers. Garcia said such policies are determined by districts, not the state.

“Districts have their local policies, whether they work with teachers or give them another chance,” she said.

Ellen Bernstein, Albuquerque Teacher Federation president, said she doesn’t think New Mexico deserved such low marks. She said principals have discretion to fire ineffective teachers as long as they show cause.

“Is it hard? Yeah. It should be hard to fire someone,” she said. “But it’s not impossible.”

I’m sorry I don’t understand this position. Why should it be hard to fire someone? Why should it be harder to fire a teacher than say an accountant or a doctor or a retail clerk? What am I missing?

This mentality is why unions in general are struggling to find relevance. People who can’t do their jobs need to find other work. If unions decided to focus on improving the situation for the high achievers versus protecting the status quo for the underachievers, they would find they had more relevance.

More importantly, as it relates to school, they would find they were actually being advocates for children as opposed to depriving an entire generation a quality education.

Clunker Lessons for Healthcare

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

Beware the government’s next big idea. This should be our motto after watching how the the $3 billion dollar Cash for Clunkers fiasco has panned out:

But why did taxpayers, having already bailed out GM and Chrysler once, have to do so again to the tune of $3 billion through the $3,500-$4,500 C4C incentives? This taxpayer money simply enabled the dealers to avoid having to offer discounts off sticker prices and to extract higher profit margins than they would have otherwise obtained on the qualifying new cars. The program proved so popular that inventories of the qualifying cars soon dwindled, further boosting the dealers’ negotiating leverage and unit profit margin.

Did C4C sell more cars? Maybe in the short term but, in reality, the promotion stole largely from future sales with taxpayers subsidizing over half a million new car sales that would have occurred anyway.

Did the consumers win in this game? No, we did not. Was this a good deal for the American taxpayer? No, it was not. So, who are the beneficiaries of this latest round of bailouts? The same big businesses who have already gone to Congress with one hand out and the other in our back pocket. Of course, the taxpayer ripoff is only half of the story. I mentioned that consumers didn’t win either in the Cash for Clunkers debacle:

Like hundreds of thousands of folks this summer, Anna Causey knew a deal when she saw it. Enticed by the rebates offered under the cash for clunkers program, the Summerville, S.C., resident ran her 1986 Buick Century down to a local dealer last month, scrapped it for a 2009 Dodge Ram pickup, and scooped up a $3,500 government discount for the trouble.

A month later, it doesn’t seem like such a great bargain.

Causey’s trade, it turns out, didn’t qualify for a rebate based on the cash-for-clunkers’ mileage requirements. Though she’d signed all the papers, swapped the tags and updated her insurance policy, Causey was called back to the dealership shortly afterward and presented with two options: either accept a new contract — one that would grant $1,000 for the old Buick and require that she pay back the $2,500 difference — or give up the truck. Thinking a deal’s a deal, Causey and her husband chose a third route: they stormed out, and hired a lawyer instead.

Now, consider this was a rather straightforward program that went through billions in weeks. You have an old car with high gas mileage, and you bring it in and get $4,500 off a new car. Should have been simple, but instead, the execution has been a total disaster for everyone involved. Yet, there are still some of you out there that want to put these same people in charge of administering your healthcare program?

I don’t get it.

An Exceptional Excel Worksheet

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

If you didn’t catch Secretary of State Mary Herrera’s column on Heath’s blog, take a moment to read it. It is an attempt by Ms. Herrera to explain how inadequately funded her technical needs are. For example:

Thanks to Sen. Dede Feldman, who reinstated her capital outlay money from prior years, we received a $70,000 appropriation. We used that to create an Excel spread sheet and update the forms for that year for candidates to file their campaign reports. This amount only allowed us to do minor enhancements.

Wow! It took $70,000 to update an Excel spreadsheet, and a couple of forms. I’m really trying to get my head around that one. That must have been one heck of a spreadsheet. I’m kind of thinking that sounds like a pretty nice job for a programmer. A $70,000 salary and you get to focus on updating a few forms and building a spreadsheet. If I had that job, I’m pretty sure my golf score would be much, much lower.

Of course, it gets better. That $70,000 was only the beginning:

The following fiscal year we were appropriated $176,500 for additional enhancements. Rather than spending any more funds on a 14-year-old system that is outdated and that FileOne (the company that makes the software) has advised us they will be doing away with in the next two years, we went to the Legislature to ask for a change in the language that would allow us to use these funds to pursue another option.

The Legislature allowed us to do that effective July 1 of this year.

We are now moving forward on utilizing these funds to purchase the Washington State system. Due to the funds available, we will have an improved system, but not a new system.

Ok, let’s see. That puts us at just under a quarter of a million dollars for a “14-year old system” that still doesn’t work right. But, like a Ginsu knife commercial, wait, there’s more.

You might remember that the previous Secretary of State also spent hundreds of thousands on the broken campaign reporting system. I was so troubled by this ongoing process at the time that I went ahead and built a site that allowed for instant reporting and searchability of campaign contributions and expenses. The total cost: $200 and twenty hours of work.

Unfortunately, I only had two takers, so I’ve long since taken down the website, which had garnered some attention at the time. What’s the point of all this? Well, it’s to make a simple point. The current Secretary of State, like her predecessor, has absolutely no good reason for not having a functional website. Saying that she isn’t spending as much as other states is a cop out too. Just because other states have overpaid for their campaign reporting websites, doesn’t mean that we have to as well.

Heck, the federal government spent over $27 million to redesign a website. For those of you who have no idea whether that’s money well spent. Let me say unequivocally that is the Web 2.0 equivalent to hammers and toilet seats that cost hundreds of dollars. But, maybe Ms. Hererra, would like to use that benchmark to explain away her failures.

Another Year of Dismal Education Results

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

The test scores are in and once again the vast majority of New Mexico schools are failing to make the grade. In fact, in what is quickly becoming an annual tradition more schools failed this year than last year:

Schools repeatedly failing to meet adequate yearly progress could face sanctions, including restructuring. Results released Monday are preliminary and school districts have several weeks to appeal their designations.

The results show that for the 2008-09 school year:

  • 69.3 percent of New Mexico’s schools were labeled as failing to meet AYP, up from 67.7 percent the previous year.
  • 124 out of 147 middle schools failed to make AYP, meaning a failure rate of 84.4 percent.
  • Of the state’s 157 high schools, 129, or 82.2 percent, failed to make AYP.
  • The results are based on standardized tests taken by about 162,000 students in third through eighth grades and in 11th grade.
  • Schools are judged in 37 categories, including whether English language learners, students with disabilities and different ethnic groups are meeting standards. If a school misses even one of the 37 standards, it is labeled as failing to meet AYP.

Now in all fairness, when it comes to numbers, there are many different ways to look at them (e.g. investment houses which report record earnings in a declining economy after taking taxpayer dollars to avoid failure and the “paying it back”, but I digress.). Another part of this annual tradition involves educator Scot Key’s post after post after post after post analysis of the numbers. Expect more posts Scot – someone for whom I sincerely have the utmost respect even if he is to the left of the left – on the topic.

However, I’m a simpler kind of guy, and I prefer executive level summaries. I also prefer to take numbers and reports at face value intertiwned with a little old-fashioned common sense. The way I see it no matter how the folks in charge try to spin it, our education system in New Mexico is failing our students at an alarming rate:

Roughly half the students who should have graduated with the class of 2008 failed to do so, prompting a call to action by the state’s education secretary.

“It is alarming,” Education Secretary Veronica Garcia said during a news conference Monday at which the state unveiled its four-year graduation rate, along with results of the latest round of tests required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

New Mexico’s cohort graduation rate for the class of 2008 is 54 percent compared to the national average of 70 percent, according to the Public Education Department.

The cohort rate tracked individual students from the ninth grade through the summer after their senior year in 2008 to show how many graduated.

For Albuquerque Public Schools, the state’s largest school district, the 2008 graduation rate was 46.2 percent, according to the state report.

Of course, we can all take comfort in the fact that the recipient of this year’s America’s Greatest Education Governor Award has a plan:

Gov. Bill Richardson, who has made education reform a priority during his 6 1/2 years in office, plans to unveil another batch of reforms as early as this week.

“We will push very hard so that the main legislative agenda item in January and in my remainder of the term will be education, to finish what I believe is a good start and good progress,” Richardson told the Journal last week. “We recognize that we still have a ways to go.”

Hmm, let’s see if we can follow the logic here. The Governor has made education reform a priority for 6 1/2 years, and each year we fail to make any progress. Heck, we actually lose ground year after year. I don’t know about you, but as the parent of school age children, I don’t think I have the stomach for any more of Governor Richardson’s style reforms.

Look No Further Than Education

Monday, June 15th, 2009

As the federal government “invests” trillions of our children’s taxes (that is after all what federal debt is) in order to improve the economy, I want you to consider the results of the “investment” of billions of dollars during the Richardson Administration in education:

Fewer than six in 10 students graduated from New Mexico’s high schools in 2006, giving the state a rank of 48th in the nation for high-school graduation rates, according to a report released Tuesday.

Education Week’s “Diplomas Count” report found New Mexico’s graduation rate was 56 percent for the class of 2006. The study also showed an average of 73 students dropped out each school day.

The state ranked ahead of Georgia (55.9 percent), the District of Columbia (48.8 percent) and Nevada (47.3 percent). The national graduation rate was 69.2 percent.

The state Public Education Department said the report showed a slight improvement over the class of 2005, when New Mexico ranked 50th nationwide at 54.1 percent.

The state Secretary of Education Veronica Garcia said in a release that the progress was “good” but pointed out that the low rate meant “far too many of our children take too long or fail to graduate from high school.”

Wow, talk about trying to put on a positive spin. The Secretary of Education called moving from the worst in the nation to third worse in the nation “good” progress?

I have two kids in public school in New Mexico. If they brought home a test score of 54.1% on one test and then 56% on their next test, I don’t think we would be using the word “good” anywhere in the discussion.

A False Sense of Accomplishment

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

Over the last few years, funding for education has increased exponentially. More than once I’ve complained that despite this significant investment, we’ve yet to see any positive results. Now, it seems that the picture is actually even bleaker than we’ve been led to believe (subscription):

Since the No Child Left Behind Act came along in 2001, New Mexico has been sending the federal government graduation rates based on the percent of seniors who earn a diploma by the end of the year.

By ignoring the thousands of students who drop out between grades nine and 11, the state has managed to post respectable graduation rates— a percentage in the mid-80s.

New Mexico had the U.S. Education Department’s full consent, but the federal government was keeping its own books, based on the number of freshmen who graduate in four years. Those calculations were coming up with graduation rates for the state in the mid-60s.

New Mexico was doing nothing unusual but, according to a March 20 article in The New York Times, it has had one of the widest gaps between state and federal figures. Only Mississippi’s was wider.

Garcia expects that to change. Starting this summer, the state will start reporting graduation rates based on entering freshmen.

By using seniors, Garcia said, the state was giving itself “a false sense of accomplishment.”

My guess is that the state has known all along just what it’s level of accomplishment has been. It’s the taxpayers they have been trying to dupe.

Education Failures Continue to Increase

Sunday, August 5th, 2007

It’s that time year again. The time when the No Child Left Behind Adequate Yearly Progress Reports comes out. Again, our schools are failing to deliver on improvement promises made by everyone from Governor Bill Richardson on down.

Two years ago, I went on a rant about the lack of a sense of urgency on the part of our education administrators and Governor appointees regarding the lack of progress. Then last year, I pointed out that the news had gone from bad to worse with more than 54% of schools failing to make Adequate Yearly Progress.

And guess what, this year we’ve fallen even further with more than 58% of the schools failing to achieve Adequate Yearly Progress. How much worse, can this get before we decide continuing along the same path year after year is just not working?

The spin coming from Governor Richardson’s appointee (subscription) is nothing less than nauseating:

Statewide, more than 58 percent of New Mexico’s schools didn’t make adequate yearly progress. That figure is up slightly from 54.1 percent last year.

But state Education Secretary Veronica Garcia pointed out Friday that some schools found themselves on the failing list even though they met or exceeded proficiency standards in reading and math. Garcia pointed out 13 schools labeled as failing, even though they met proficiency targets for all students. Among those schools were Montessori of the Rio Grande and Twenty-First Century, both of Albuquerque.

“To label a school as failing— not making AYP for missing, for example, participation rate in one subgroup— and labeling the whole school as failing is very misleading to everyone,” Garcia said. She said while the spirit behind the law is admirable, its implementation can be unfair.

Political Spin 101 is to reframe the issue to shift focus from your failures. If you reclassify those 13 schools the Education Secretary is referencing does that paint a prettier picture? I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure it would still mean that more than 50% of our schools are failing to meet Adequate Yearly Progress. No matter how you slice it or dice it, this is unacceptable.

And, what does APS have to say about their continued failure:

APS spokeswoman Monica Armenta said the district will scrutinize the designations carefully to ensure their accuracy.

“We are going to go page by page, school by school, category by category,” Armenta said.

Oh yeah, that’s the problem. The reports aren’t accurate. Glad to see you’ve got your focus in the right place. Speaking of having things in the right place. Don’t you think it is odd that APS has a news section on their front page, but fails to provide notification the latest Adequate Yearly Progress Reports have been released.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that APS, as a district, is failing for at least the second year in a row. Now, I’m not a big fan of breaking up the district because research doesn’t demonstrate that will change much of anything. However, the time has come to revisit school choice options. Our government is failing, and it is time to give the responsibility of educating our children back to parents.

Life Lesson Only Temporarily Avoided

Thursday, June 21st, 2007

When County Commissioner Teresa Cordova stepped in and pushed to change her son’s failing grade (subscription) to a passing a grade, she made a decision that I’m willing to bet is going to come back and bite her, not as a politician, but as a mother:

“There were some other kids that didn’t graduate,” Anita Forte said. “I didn’t fail them; they failed themselves.”

Ms. Forte, the Rio Grande High School teacher in question, is dead on with this comment. And, at some some point, Commissioner Cordova’s son is going to have to learn that lesson. Chances are the next time he fails his mother won’t be able to save him from his bad decisions, and next time, it is quite possible that the stakes will be much larger then gaining the opportunity to celebrate an undeserved graduation.