Over the years, the Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) has performed the same vacillations when it comes to its own most toxic asset: Rio Grande High School. Continually beset by high drop-out rates and low test scores (even back when nobody really gave a No Child Left Behind (NCLB) damn about test scores), Rio Grande has been a veritable Petri dish for various experiments in educational "fixing"
Over the years APS has switched principals, instituted some weird four principal system, and created and un-created so many new teaching programs I can't keep them all straight. At the same time, residents of the South Valley have thought about, talked about, threatened and urged feasibility studies around the idea of seceding Rio Grande and other SV schools from APS altogether.
It's politically easy to mess with a school like Rio Grande because RGHS is a "bad" school. And bad schools can be experimented upon with impunity. In fact, it's encouraged especially in a time of NCLB.
Superintendent Winston Brooks and the District's latest idea is to "fix" RGHS and nearby Ernie Pyle MS by changing principals, having all teachers sign a loyalty oath toward "making improvements" and possibly paying those signatory teachers $5,000 more. There's also vague mention of these schools becoming "International Baccalaureate" schools.
Will these changes make any difference? I don't know. We all do know a few things, however.
- One: There is no chance in Hell these, or any, changes at RGHS will be successfully fought. A bad school has no bullets in the gun. A bad school doesn't even have a rock to fight with. RGHS is "bad", and can be punched, kicked and scratched at will.
- Two: Any teacher with any sense is going to avoid teaching at RGHS like five-day, sitting in the sun potato salad. $5,000 huh. Well, if a teacher can get that much money, or more, a year just for becoming "National Board Certified", what do you think the average teacher will do? Write a bunch of seemingly important essays on their "practice" to get National Board Certified, or teach at some Petri dish high school like RGHS and get treated like a Science Fair experiment?
- Three: Any principal willing to work at RGHS deserves both cautious praise and uncautious admittance to an insane asylum. There's a bunch of reasons, but let's just close with just one. Very, very few people in education have any respect for the test scores of NCLB. Superintendent Brooks himself has derided the improvement requirements of NCLB, and has instituted smaller, realistically attainable, goals for improved student achievement. Yet when push comes to educational experiment shove, Brooks and APS end up using those same derided "poor test scores" and NCLB terms like "Restructuring 1" as the ultimate rationale for making changes at RGHS. Who among us thinks RGHS will "make scores" this year? What about next year? What about five years after that? As constructed, NCLB requires 100% student proficiency in Reading & Math by 2014. That's only five years away now. Who's gonna make that 100% goal? Nobody. And who's going to continue to play the District scapegoat for that and all the other problems of K-12 public education in Albuquerque? Rio Grande High School, that's who.