New Mexico is slated to receive about $512 million in stimulus money for education, but state officials didn't know much else as they waited for federal guidance. That guidance came late last week, as U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan outlined the application process and guidelines for obtaining American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds.
The government began accepting applications April 1 for the first round of stimulus payouts. After an application is approved, funding will be released in about two weeks, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
The money doesn't come without a price tag. States must commit to a new level of transparency and accountability before they can receive a dime.
"The first step toward real and lasting reform that will ensure our students' competitiveness begins with absolute transparency and accountability in how we invest our dollars, educate our children, evaluate our teachers and measure our success," Duncan said during his April 1 announcement. "We must be much more open and honest about what works in the classroom and what doesn't."
Under the new law, states have to show advancements in teacher effectiveness, improvements in under-performing schools and that graduating students are prepared adequately for college or a career.
One of the reforms that has garnered public attention is the requirement for states to link teacher and principal evaluations with student performance, then report the findings.
In this regard, New Mexico may be ahead of the curve. New Mexico already has a comprehensive system in place for evaluating teachers: the Highly Objective Uniform Statewide Standard of Evaluation.
The HOUSSE, however, is primarily an internal system and does not require a transparent report in its current form, said Farmington Municipal Schools Superintendent Janel Ryan. The state also has an evaluation system for principals and assistant principals, the HOUSSE-P.
"I think New Mexico is ahead of the game as for evaluations tied to student performance. It's a matter of the state finding a way to report it," Ryan said.
Ryan is concerned about teacher accountability becoming too much of a fear factor. Educators overly worried about test scores and evaluations may not meet the needs of all their students.
"Do teachers need to be held accountable? Absolutely. Do administrators? Absolutely," Ryan said. "My concern is you want your best teachers teaching those children with the most need."
The National Education Association, a federal teachers' union, doesn't agree with linking teacher quality with student test scores, said NEA-New Mexico Executive Director Charles Bowyer.
"An awful lot goes into student test scores that has nothing to do with what teachers are doing," he said.
That doesn't mean the union is against the coupling of teacher evaluations and student achievement. Teacher evaluations are integral to developing a teacher's instructional skill set, Bowyer said.
"That's the reason that we believe the type of student measures we've built into the New Mexico teacher evaluations are the correct ones," Bowyer said.
He added that the NEA also is against paying teachers based solely on their students' test scores.
The primary goal of the education stimulus money is to save and create teaching jobs by offsetting budget cuts. Duncan also hopes the money will lay a foundation for sweeping education reforms, such as the accountability and transparency measures.
States can apply for the second round of education stimulus payouts later this year. A third and final round of funding will reach states in the form of competitive grants via the "Race to the Top" program; about $5 billion will be doled out to states that demonstrate the most success implementing reforms.
G. Jeff Golden: firstname.lastname@example.org