Activism Is Good Teaching

Rethinking Schools
Winter 2015-16

By KATHERINE CRAWFORD-GARRETT, MICHELLE PEREZ, REBECCA M. SÁNCHEZ, AMANDA SHORT, AND KERSTI TYSON

It was a sunny afternoon in May 2015. Several dozen Albuquerque Public School (APS) teachers gathered around a metal garbage can outside district headquarters just a few minutes before the final school board meeting of the year. As local news cameras rolled, the teachers came forward one by one to burn their end-of-year evaluations. Like many states across the United States, New Mexico has adopted a value-added model of teacher evaluations, basing 50 percent of the overall score on student test scores. Whether rated as “minimally effective” or “exemplary,” the teachers individually and collectively made a powerful case for why their evaluations were arbitrary, unreliable, and deeply damaging to the profession of teaching.

As I watched from sidelines, I recognized Michelle Perez and Amanda Short, two teachers from High Desert Elementary, a high-poverty school rated “F” by the state of New Mexico. The event, which Michelle helped organize, occurred at the end of a tumultuous school year, characterized by drastic decreases in teacher autonomy and a growing culture of surveillance and fear. Michelle worked on the event because “these evaluations are not a reflection of a teacher’s abilities and should not determine our worth as professionals.” She wanted to create a way teachers could share their frustration with the public as well as with the local school board, who, for the most part, have been complicit in the policies mandated by the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED).

High Desert Elementary School is a Title I school with 100 percent of its students qualifying for free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch. The diversity of the school’s population is representative of the state: 5 percent African American, 30 percent white, 55 percent Latina/o and 10 percent Native American; 33 percent are English language learners and 29 percent qualify for special education. Students live in Section 8 housing, in motels along the interstate, and in homes close to the local university. Throughout their teaching careers at the school, Michelle and Amanda have noticed a decline in diversity due to decreasing enrollment among middle-class families, a demographic shift that can be attributed to the poor grades the school has received.

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