In New Mexico’s public schools, teacher vacancies and retirements are on the rise, and some point to the college classrooms where teachers themselves study as part of the problem.
A report released Wednesday by researchers at New Mexico State University described the shortcomings in public schools as “harrowing.” As of September 10, New Mexico public schools (excluding state charter) had decreased education staff by 1,727; predominantly more than 1,000 of them are teachers. That is more than the 571 teaching positions registered at the same time in 2020.
The number of people in New Mexico participating in teacher education programs in the 2020-21 school year has increased, but the number of students completing them has decreased, according to the report.
At a session of the Legislative Education Study Committee Tuesday, leaders of teacher prep programs – both traditional and alternative – spoke about low professorial salaries and harsh requirements that discourage New Mexico from filling schools with willing, skilled educators with a demographic of the students public schools.
At the meeting, Rep. Andrés Romero, Albuquerque, D-Albuquerque, emphasized the need for better state-level data collection on what happens to those who attend teacher preparation programs: Do they stay in the profession for more than five years?
Dean Hansel Burley of the University of New Mexico’s College of Education, where enrollment was denied, said Tuesday that his school is unsure of what happens to teachers when they are licensed through the college’s teaching programs.
“We don’t have a good tracking mechanism that I know about after these students leave,” he said.
Of those who entered or completed a program last year, 60 percent were on an alternate licensing program – that is, they have their bachelor’s degrees and can catch up on their credentials quickly, sometimes while teaching.
According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, alternative educational pathways are associated with greater diversity compared to traditional curricula – but research by the Learning Policy Institute also shows that in northern New Mexico, those who complete alternative licenses are often inadequately prepared.
That lack of preparation could get worse this year as schools return to face-to-face learning after the pandemic, according to Tiffany Bracamontes, who coordinates two teacher prep programs at Santa Fe Community College.
“Some of that is definitely related to COVID-19,” she said. “The other [part] is that some of them are brand new teachers teaching in stressful situations with COVID requirements and they are overwhelmed by being teachers in the first year. “
As a result of the pandemic, Bracamontes said, she has seen enrollments cut in half in both the alternative teacher preparation licensing program and the bilingual early childhood education programs she oversees.
And while the autumn semester started well with 22 students enrolled in the alternative course, six dropped out.
She added that districts that advertise apprenticeships through alternative licenses can sometimes undercut the amount of work required to take classes in the classroom during class.
“Many prospective teachers don’t expect to have to take a few steps to apply for a teacher prep program,” she said.
When it comes to teacher preparation in New Mexico, there are two challenges: getting teachers into understaffed schools through the pandemic, and meeting the needs identified in the 2018 Yazzie / Martinez lawsuit – that of providing more comprehensive education for low-income, Native American and American English is a challenge for language learners and disabled students.
Like other colleges, Northern New Mexico College re-examined the school’s teacher education department after the ruling to bolster enrollment.
The department’s chair, Sandra Rodriguez, said Tuesday that the department had achieved better results by working with local school districts and supporting the cost of practice exams teachers need to take to obtain a license. Enrollment increased by 10 to 25 students a year, and they did better.
As of the spring, the school had 85 students enrolled in its various teacher preparation programs. In the past, there were no Bachelor’s degree programs in early childhood education, but in the last semester the department completed 10 graduates in this area.
However, Rodriguez said lawmakers must invest in topping up faculty salaries in teacher education programs if the state is to see further growth.
Rodriguez said the problem comes with competitive salaries as local colleges compete with school districts and educational organizations for qualified staff. An associate professor at Northern New Mexico College is typically offered $ 62,000 per year, similar to the starting salary of high-level public school teachers.
“Without recruiting and counseling teachers, we can keep what we have, but we cannot grow,” she told the Educational Studies Committee.
Elena Salazar, who coordinates New Mexico’s only alternative licensing program – Leading Educators through Alternative Pathways, or LEAP – on Tuesday drew attention to the potential obstacles potential teachers face when taking practical exams.
The program has helped place 400 teachers since it started in 2019, Salazar said. Notably, this year’s LEAP cohort has higher proportions of Hispanic, Native American, and black participants compared to the state’s current teacher demographics.
But of the 2019-20 cohort, 51 percent never passed the written practice exam required for the Level 1 Teacher License in New Mexico.
“We hope that you as a legislator can look for an alternative proof of teaching competence for license level 1,” she said during the hearing.
Bracamontes worries about that too. At SFCC, she sees that students who speak English as a second language and others with learning difficulties show teacher potential but fail their standardized exams.
On the way to the 2022 legislative term, the legislators, who sit on a subcommittee on teacher preparation, will decide which of the 12 identified areas they will seek funding to prepare more New Mexicans for teaching in classrooms.
These areas include topics such as license testing, data availability, and “Grow Your Own” programs.