- Associated Press - Sunday, November 2, 2014

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico’s high-poverty schools are in dire need of hiring more teachers, according to a new legislative study.

A Legislative Finance Committee report released Thursday said a “new approach” that includes better incentives and hiring decisions is crucial to get more effective teachers, the Albuquerque Journal reported (http://bit.ly/1u8PFDc).

The study looked at education strategies in 15 schools around the state that are considered low-income and academically behind.

According to the committee’s report, schools with veteran and beginning teachers performed better.

Meanwhile, the report says struggling schools were disproportionately staffed with newer teachers who had low scores on their licensing exams.

Leighann Lenti, deputy secretary for policy and programs at the state Public Education Department, said officials agree with some of the report. But the study only looked at 3 percent of the state’s elementary schools, Lenti said.

The report’s recommendations to establish a statewide turnaround program for schools having a harder time also evoked skepticism. Lenti said there are already several turnaround initiatives in the state and each school has different characteristics. So, a one-size-fits-all program would likely not work, Lenti said.

The report described current programs as “costly, unsustainable, and difficult to maintain once the funding sources were depleted.”

Ellen Bernstein, Albuquerque Teachers Federation president, said getting top-notch principals who respect teachers and their ideas is what will draw more applicants.

“It’s about being treated and respected as a professional and having great administrators who support you. That attracts teachers,” Bernstein said.

Some school districts already offer their own incentives. At Albuquerque Public Schools, experienced teachers who go to Rio Grande High or Ernie Pyle Middle School - both considered high-poverty - earn an annual stipend of $5,000. APS spokesman Rigo Chavez said teachers at Emerson Elementary, which was studied in the report, got higher salaries if they worked an additional hour every day and five extra days a year.

The report’s other recommendations included getting lawmakers to earmark more funds for early childhood education, targeting early reading funding and providing ongoing aid in strategies to teach at-risk students and non-English speakers.

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