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.

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5 Replies to “Options for reforming Albuquerque Public Schools”

  1. The Quigley article was quite good. Centralized planning out of Santa Fe is probably inevitable considering that we have had single party Dem rule for most of the past 84 years.

    NM has enormous problems with its K-12 education system. I believe there are three major causes:
    1. huge sections of the population simply don’t care. For example, over the course of the last 35 years, only 50 to 60% of Chicano, black and Indian students have been graduating from APS – a catastrophe;
    2. opposition to fundamental change from the education establishment. The teachers, teachers’ unions, school boards and administrators oppose major changes to the status quo. Trying to set up charter school has been like pulling teeth, and
    3. single party Dem rule at the state level.Teachers’ unions are among the core constituency groups of Dem legislators and politicians. Dems are simply not going to do anything to antagonize the teachers. The teachers’ unions are opposed to fundamental change, so don’t expect it from the Dem legislators.

    In most countries in western Europe, government money follows the student to public or private school. This creates immediate competition, which nearly ALWAYS increases education choice – a good thing.

  2. Quigley’s article highlighted the differences between state control of New Mexico schools and the local control in my home state of Illinois. One result of local control was that suburban areas set up their own school districts and, in many cases, established a virtuous cycle of competitive school quality, local taxpayer support and high property values. It’s possible that the growth of suburbs in many metropolitan areas was partly driven by moving-van school choice.

    Smaller school districts are not necessarily better, however. The Chicago suburbs have hundreds of school districts, some with as few as one high school or five elementary schools. Yet each district has a highly paid superintendent, a platoon of bureaucrats and a bumbling school board.

    At one point the Chicago Public Schools tried to decentralize with a series of neighborhood school councils — which immediately fired most of the white principals and replaced them with black educators. The neighborhood councils did not last long.

    One potential solution for Albuquerque is state legislation to disband the school board and place the schools under the jurisdiction of the mayor (which would give more voters a voice in education). Another solution is to hire a non-educator as CEO with an educator as deputy.

    However, I agree that expanding charter schools is likely to have the biggest impact.

  3. Competition in the business sector generally has two major benefits: Keeps quality high and costs low. I believe the same outcome could be achieved in education with a voucher system. I realize the Teachers’ Union and the Dems. in Santa Fe would strongly oppose it, but I believe its time has come. It’s possilble with vouchers there would be such a large exodus from APS that there would be no need for them to split into two districts. Let’s have some competition!

  4. For starters, eliminate buyout provisions from the contracts of future superintendents. If the next superintendent gets canned or resigns in disgrace, that’s it – whoever it is packs their personal effects into a box, hands in their RFID badge and gets escorted out by APS Security. NO ∅80k as a severance package to “prevent a lawsuit.” Why should the APS Superintendent get this golden parachute when those of us Productive Class people who foot the bill for APS get nothing resembling such a deal?

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