Options for reforming Albuquerque Public Schools

There are several issues facing the Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) including the recent departure of Superintendent Valentino. Unfortunately, there are few ideas for reforming the school district. This blog posting will consider some ideas for reforming New Mexico’s largest school district.

1) Split APS into two or more districts. APS is a large (31st-largest in the nation), sprawling district with urban, rural, and suburban schools. Some argue that the district is too bureaucratic and top-heavy to succeed. Our take is that it may help to shake things up, but there is little data on how an additional school, smaller school district would improve outcomes.

2) Winthrop Quigley of the Albuquerque Journal recently noted that New Mexico has a state-wide funding formula with most decisions made in Santa Fe (and most money flowing from there). We at the Rio Grande Foundation support decentralization and would prefer to see both school funding and decisions made at the local level. One doesn’t work without the other though.

Quigley makes some important points about the problems at APS and with the centralized funding mechanism that New Mexico uses. Unfortunately, the centralized model has been spreading to other states due to funding equity issues and the lawsuits that have been rather successful in recent years in forcing more centralized educational systems in other states. Our take is that more decentralized funding and decision-making systems are a good thing, but it’s not likely to be done in New Mexico due to rampant inequality in potential funding.

3) Follow New Orleans and go to a system of all charter schools in APS. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, all of New Orleans’ schools were “charterized.” In other words, New Orleans achieved decentralization by simply changing the way the schools were managed.

As seen in the chart below, the charters spurred dramatically-improved education performance in New Orleans schools. Perhaps APS could see similar performance gains by moving to all-charters? Our take is that this is the solution that must be considered to reform APS. As bad as the Valentino has been, it was not as impactful as Hurricane Katrina. Making the dramatic move to an all-charter district would definitely upset the status-quo.