Teacher vacancies and retirements are on the rise in New Mexico public schools, and some say college classrooms where teachers themselves learn are part of the problem.
A report released Wednesday by researchers at New Mexico State University called the shortcomings of public schools “mind-boggling.” As of September 10, New Mexico public schools (not counting state charters) were down by 1,727 educational staff; overwhelmingly, more than 1,000 of them are teachers. This represents an increase from the 571 vacant teaching positions reported in the same period in 2020.
The number of people in New Mexico entering teacher education programs in the 2020-21 school year has increased, but the number of students completing them has declined, according to the report.
At a meeting of the Legislative Education Review Committee on Tuesday, leaders of teacher preparation programs – traditional and alternative – spoke about the low salaries of teachers and the stringent requirements they say prevent the New Mexico to provide schools with volunteer and qualified educators from backgrounds that match the demographics of public school students.
At that meeting, Representative Andrés Romero, D-Albuquerque, highlighted the need for better state-level data collection on what happens to those who complete teacher preparation programs: do they stay in the profession more than five years?
Dean Hansel Burley of the College of Education at the University of New Mexico, where enrollment has declined, said Tuesday his school was not sure what would happen to teachers once they graduated in the part of the college’s educational programs.
“We don’t have a good follow-up mechanism that I know of, because after these students left us,” he said.
Of those who enter or completed programs last school year, 60 percent were in an alternative bachelor’s degree program – meaning they have their bachelor’s degree and can speed up graduation, sometimes while teaching.
Alternative pathways are associated with higher rates of diversity than traditional education programs, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics – but research from the Learning Policy Institute also shows that in northern New Mexico, those who terminate alternative licenses are often under-prepared.
That lack of preparedness could be exacerbated this year as schools return to in-person learning during the pandemic, in the mind of Tiffany Bracamontes, who coordinates two teacher preparation programs at Santa Fe Community College.
“Some of it is definitely related to COVID-19,” she said. “The other [part] is that some of them are brand new teachers, and they teach in stressful situations with COVID requirements, and they are overwhelmed with being first grade teachers. “
During the pandemic, Bracamontes said, she has seen enrollments drop by half in both the Alternative Teacher Preparation License program and the bilingual early education programs she oversees.
And while the fall semester started off strong with 22 students enrolled in the alternate path of licensure, six dropped out.
She added that sometimes districts advertising teaching jobs through alternate licensure might underestimate the amount of work required to attend classes while teaching in the classroom.
“Many prospective teachers don’t expect there to be a few steps to apply for a teacher preparation program,” she said.
When it comes to teacher readiness in New Mexico, the challenges are twofold: getting teachers into understaffed schools during the pandemic and meeting the needs identified by the 2018 Yazzie / Martinez lawsuit – which called for a more comprehensive education for low-income people, Native Americans, English-language learners and students with disabilities.
Like other colleges, Northern New Mexico College re-examined the school’s teacher education department after the decision in an effort to boost enrollment.
Department chairperson Sandra Rodriguez said on Tuesday that by partnering with local school districts and helping to cover the cost of Praxis exams teachers have to take to get a license, the department has performed better. Enrollment grew from 10 to 25 students per year, and they performed better.
In the spring, the school had 85 students enrolled in its various teacher preparation programs. While there were previously no students aiming for a bachelor’s degree in preschool education, the department graduated 10 people in this field last semester.
But Rodriguez said if the state is to see continued growth, lawmakers must invest in supplementing faculty salaries in teacher training programs.
Rodriguez said the problem involves 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, which is similar to the starting salary for teachers in top public schools.
“Without being able to get professors to help with recruitment and counseling, we can maintain what we have but we cannot grow,” she told the education review committee.
Elena Salazar, who coordinates New Mexico’s only alternative licensing program – Leading Educators through Alternative Pathways, or LEAP – drew attention on Tuesday to the potential barriers potential teachers face during Praxis exams.
The program has helped place 400 teachers since its launch in 2019, Salazar said. Notably, this year’s LEAP cohort contains higher rates of Hispanic, Native American, and Black participants compared to the state’s current teacher demographics.
But of the 2019-2020 cohort, 51% never passed the Praxis writing exam required for the Level 1 teacher’s license in New Mexico.
“We hope that as a legislature you can seek an alternative demonstration of the competence of teachers for Level 1 licensure,” she said during the hearing.
Bracamontes is also concerned about this. At SFCC, she sees students who speak English as a second language and others with learning disabilities show teaching potential but fail their standardized exams.
As the 2022 legislative session approaches, lawmakers who sit on a dedicated teacher readiness subcommittee will decide which of the 12 identified areas they will advocate for funding to help more New Mexicans be prepared. teach in classrooms.
These areas include issues such as licensure testing, data availability, and “grow your own” programs.