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New Mexico Teachers' Unions Could Complicate NCLB Waiver Renewal

New Mexico's teachers' unions are pressing the state to slow down implementation of its teacher evaluation system, which is slated to get up and running this year, according to published reports.

The clash could lead to a teachers' strike—and seems almost certain to complicate New Mexico's bid to get its No Child Left Behind waiver renewed. The Land of Enchantment was among the first states to get a waiver from NCLB law, so the dispute may well be a harbinger of what's to come in other states. States are slated to file their requests for waiver renewal in January and February of next year. 

According to the Albuquerque Journal and the Associated Press, New Mexico unions have expressed big concerns about the new system, including that it puts too much weight on student outcomes in determining a teacher's score. The AFT New Mexico is threatening to withhold its support for waiver renewal if the state doesn't comply with a list of requests outlined in a letter sent to Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera last week.

Among the AFT's asks: The state must replace its A through F grading system for labeling schools—a key element of its waiver—and it must take the federal department up on its offer of an extra year to get the teacher evaluation system in place. That's something U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan had offered most states that have already been granted flexibility from the NCLB law over the summer (the "waiver waiver.")

At the time of Duncan's annoucement, Skandera said she didn't think it was a good idea for the state to delay.

"We are committed to putting kids first," she said of her state. "Delaying the implementation of reforms proven to make a substantial difference for students would be a mistake."

Meanwhile, the state's National Education Association affiliate is thinking of taking legal action if officials in the Land of Enchantment don't comply with its call for delaying implementation. The AFT has already filed such a lawsuit, according to the Journal

When the "waiver waivers" were announced, a number of state chiefs expressed concern that Duncan was opening the door to big-time pressure and pushback from state teachers' unions, many of which have long been skeptical of the idea of holding teachers' accountable through their students' performance on standardized tests, particularly as states move to adopt the Common Core State Standards and related exams.  And now critics of Duncan's move can point to New Mexico as a poster child for that argument. 

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