Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Heart Break High - Albuquerque's Highland High School

An Important Note to Visitors from MeanMesa

This post has been certified absolutely clean -- that is, to contain no reference to Donald Trump or to the Donald Trump for President campaign. The Superior Excellence Award Certification is posted to the left. This coveted seal of quality certifies that the post content following will be purely a MeanMesa opinion article, and that the post's content will be free of any mention of Donald Trump.

You can proceed with the full assurance that all the material presented here can be read and enjoyed without any concern whatsoever that the narrative will suddenly descend to include contemporary political material.

A Few Observations About US "Public Education"
Nothing about this is particularly mysterious.

Yes, the provisions for a public education system are, in fact, an implied element of the United States Constitution, insinuated there in hopes of providing a perpetually "well educated electorate." The Founders, understandably, embraced the idea that an educated, informed, interested electorate might serve as a real advantage for keeping this fragile democracy "on the tracks" in its future years.

A look around the US on the date of this posting reveals the obvious advantages these Founders had hoped that  this idea of theirs might provide, but it also exposes the stark dangers which visit when the educational effort fails. So, just forget all of that idea about the necessity of a "well educated electorate." We are now revealing the full weight of the consequences which almost inevitably arise when the "electorate" is not well educated or, for that matter, even particularly interested

What began as a "good idea" has evolved into an ugly, modern hybrid of local [state] and national financing, unionized teachers, dynastic "academic" bureaucrats. This great idea has become a political football soaking up mountains of money while producing only the sketchiest, most irritatingly obscure results. Worse, the task of providing a "public education" is now viewed from the right as a cash burning monstrosity and from the left as an unfinished effort at social engineering. When the lunatics of the prevailing religion add their voices, what emerges, MeanMesa must woefully concede, is, in fact, utterly incomprehensible.

Just a Few Specifics About Highland High School
in Albuquerque, New Mexico
In the "Land of Enchantment," this school is not particularly "enchanting."

No doubt some of MeanMesa's foreign visitors are already quite perplexed about the US public education system. With even so much as a "passing perusal" of the system's performance statistics the "big picture" such an observation painfully composes is an incomprehensible, incredibly expensive and shockingly ineffective modern, social nightmare. If it happens to look this way to you as you view it from a foreign country, relax -- it also looks like this to us, too.

Importantly, there is no exceptional feature of Highland High School which might present some sort of striking contrast to the typical US public education high school. The school, at least by Albuquerque standards, is huge. 

Unlike many modern high schools, Highland High School is comprised of numerous buildings -- including plenty of resources and infrastructure for all manner of athletics, of course. The school offers a "high school" version of ROTC, and the campus sports a beautiful "Olympic-plus" sized swimming pool.

A quick inquiry into MeanMesa's trusty GOOGLE provides the statistics which can "round out" the high school's "big picture."

Highland High School

  • Highland High School serves 1,558 students in grades 9 - 12.
  • The student:teacher ratio of 15:1 is lower than the NM average of 16:1.
  • Minority enrollment is 88% of the student body (majority Hispanic), which is more than the state average of 75%.
  • Highland High School operates within the Albuquerque School District.
  • Albuquerque School District's 64% graduation rate is lower than the NM state average of 72%.
  • The student population of 1558 students has declined by 6% over five years.
  • The teacher population of 102 teachers has stayed relatively flat over five years.
  • 1,558 students.
Albuquerque [Public] School District - APS

  • Albuquerque School District's student population of 93,202 students has stayed relatively flat over five years.
  • The district's graduation rate of 64% has decreased from 95% over five years.
  • The revenue/student of $10,580 in this district is less than the state average of $16,798. The district revenue/student has stayed relatively flat over four years.
  • The district's spending/student of $11,518 is less than the state average of $17,733. The district spending/student has grown by 10% over four years.
[All data and following descriptive graphs courtesy of 

Don't become confused or impatient. This point of this post to to share a painfully personal, very specific and quite immediate account of the "story of Robert."

Highland High School, New Mexico Politics
and State Funding
The prevailing economy in New Mexico complicates 
-- but can not excuse -- 
this "whirling dervish" of American public education.

New Mexico holds -- intermittently with a collection of other poverty ridden states -- various places in the "poorest states in the country" lists. These lists are calculated using various parameters, but the picture is still pretty clear. [Most of the "lists" suggest New Mexico is roughly #43rd poorest. 43. New Mexico - Median household income: $44,803 Population: 2,085,572 Unemployment rate: 6.5% Poverty rate: 21.3% - source Daily Mail/census]

Complicating this funding environment even more is the fact that the State of New Mexico relies heavily on extraction taxes from in-state oil production to finance State expenditures -- focused primarily on public education. Naturally, with a Republican Governess and a GOP controlled State House along with a truly pernicious infestation of ALEC looters, each dollar of the "education money" has to run the typical, ALEC induced "tax cut gauntlet" before it emerges from Santa Fe and makes it way to a public school.

Albuquerque and New Mexico High School Graduation Rate
When considered collectively, New Mexico high schools can "boast" -- currently -- of around  a 74% graduation rate. When Albuquerque high schools are considered by themselves, they can "boast" of around 64%.

Nestled comfortably in these figures, Highland High School's graduation rate for this year was unable to reach even as high as the 50% mark. KOB4, local television news for Albuquerque, delivered the latest graduation statistics for Highland High School [June 2016 - KOB4 News]:

APS graduation rates down again

"The worst rate in the district belonged to Highland High School, at 49 percent. Del Norte and Rio Grande were just ahead of Highland.

APS officials say students with attendance or behavioral issues who are switching schools and falling off-track hurt the rates. There were also chronic absences and students who abruptly moved away."

Albuquerque and New Mexico High School per Student Resource

On the "business end" of New Mexico public education we see that Albuquerque Public School District is "pulling in" well over $10,000 per student per year. Generalizing this figure to the "process" underway at Highland High School, provides the following, rough estimate of what it costs to run the thing for a school year.

1,558 Highland High School students population X $10,580 revenue per student
 = $16,483,640.

After presenting two additional relevant interesting statistics we'll be through this posting's "science" section.

1. New Mexico ranked 49th in national education report
By Robert Nott
January 8, 2015
The New Mexican
[Excerpted. Read the original article here/SantaFeNewMexican]

New Mexico ranks near the bottom in yet another national report on educational achievement.

Education Week’s Quality Counts released its annual state report card Thursday, and New Mexico earned a D. The state ranked 49th in the nation, ahead of Nevada and Mississippi. The report includes the District of Columbia.

This is Education Week’s 19th Quality Counts report card on states’ educational standings. In the past few years, New Mexico has moved up and down between an F in 2010 — the year before Gov. Susana Martinez took office — to a C in 2011, 2012 and 2013, and a D-plus last year.

2. Near the bottom in education results,
but NM is 25th in per student spending
June 28, 2013 
New Mexico Watchdog

New Mexico’s public school consistently rank at or near the bottom in national surveys, often leading to calls for more spending.
But in the most recent national study by the National Education Association, New Mexico ranks 25th in the nation — smack dab in the middle — in state expenditures per student.
“It doesn’t really surprise me,” said state Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, a retired teacher. “It’s really difficult to compare states, such as New Mexico and, say, Massachusetts … But the idea that we can fix education by simply increasing money is not the way to do it.”
So, New Mexico is spending at a rate which places the state in 29th position in the country, but New Mexico's public education "effort" keeps rolling in at the dismal depths when compared to national averages. By this time it should surprise no one that local resistance to standardized testing nearly resulted in students and parents igniting themselves in self-immolation to not only protest the tests, but to demand that they be abandoned.

It seems that lots of New Mexican parents simply didn't have the intestinal fortitude to face the facts about the educational performance of their students.

New Mexico educational outcomes are undeniably wretched. The respective school districts and unionized teachers have frantically spelled out -- over and over -- exactly whom must be blamed. Of course this litany of moans and excuses generally proposes that all of this is the fault of students and parents. At this point MeanMesa could easily commence with plenty of geriatric ranting and raving about the situation statewide, but this post is about Highland High School, specifically.

Even more specifically, this post is about Robert, one of Highland High School's most recent collateral damage -- that is, Robert has joined the ranks of Highland High School's "walking wounded." He is eighteen years old, he is now a permanent resident of Short Current Essays Galactic Headquarters and he has officially dropped out of high school.

Moving From the Graduating Class of 2016 Into
the Graduating Class of Never
All this might actually be shocking if somewhat fewer than
 50% of Robert's graduating class mates hadn't also dropped out by this time.

Maybe we are all just expecting too much. After burning through an annual budget of more than $16 million dollars, perhaps a 50% graduation rate doesn't really stand out as such a "really bad purchase" after all. 

Robert's Story

Robert was a student at Highland High School when he "turned eighteen," left the bad home situation
MeanMesa, Ryan
and Robert
where he had been living and moved into Galactic Head Quarters as a permanent resident. At this point his high school grades were already in bad shape. While he was here, MeanMesa, upon occasion, personally assisted Robert with his "high school homework." There was little question that Robert was, indeed, a frighteningly sharp kid who was systematically being stripped of all interest in practically everything by the "academic professionals" involved in his "education."

The homework was a shocking experience. It was so agonizingly peurile that it would have normally been discarded before being presented to students in the fourth grade. 

Most of Robert's homework was intended to be completed during class. MeanMesa is certain that this took away much of the teacher's burden of lecturing on something or other in any possibly interesting manner.

Robert was, at least theoretically, a senior at Highland High School. However, nothing about these "homework" assignments seemed to be consistent with that level of education. Robert's assignments had no apparent "connection" to anything one might normally consider to be something -- anything -- routinely meriting study in high school. This "relevance problem" was so great that MeanMesa found it rather difficult to assist him with this work.

Right away there also seemed to be a sort of "unusual" attendance problem. In order to be certain that Robert was, in fact, attending school at Highland High School, the following routine was adopted. Both MeanMesa AND Robert would arise each school day morning at 6:15 AM, the old man would make breakfast. By shortly after 7:00 AM Robert was walking the few blocks to school. 

Very shortly after this began it was clearly time to consult with the high school counselor about Robert's horrible grades. This meeting was fascinating. During this consultation the school counselor presented Robert's school records, pointing out that he was severely behind for class credits.

However, upon a closer examination, it became clear that these "class records" had omitted all class credits from an entire year of Robert's schooling. 

Not a problem. The counselor strongly suggested that even when adding these missing credits to Robert's record, there would still be very little chance of his graduating on time. Additionally, during this "counseling meeting," MeanMesa was officially "elevated" into the position of holding "educational responsibility" for Robert's education.

As a result of holding this position, MeanMesa began to receive daily robo-calls from Highland High School's attendance office informing the officially "educationally responsible" individual that Robert had been absent from the school's daily classes. But...Robert had not been absent. Another "contact" with the school counselor informed MeanMesa that these messages didn't, in fact, actually mean that Robert was missing from class, but instead, that he had not "participated" to a satisfactory degree as interpreted by the class's teacher.

Being determined not to "take these erroneous robo-calls too seriously" paid dividends later. They continued for months after Robert had officially dropped out of school. We have finally managed to stop these automatic nuisances -- each one filled with another mindless repetition of every manner of inaccurate information -- this week!

A major part of Robert's poor scholastic performance originated from the fact that he no Internet access at his home prior to his move to Galactic Head Quarters. There were, apparently, some clunky old computers at Highland High School, but -- according to Robert -- the waiting lines made completing this on-line World History homework essentially impossible.

MeanMesa corresponded with the distant instructor allegedly conducting this Internet history class -- by email, of course. In "oil field jargon" this could be fairly characterized as a "dry hole." All that was missing from this experience was the sudden appearance of The Mad Hatter [Alice in Wonderland].

Meanwhile, the credits from the "missing year" didn't seem to be any closer to appearing on Robert's official transcript.

Returning to the "educational responsibility" meeting with the high school counselor, the central idea of rectifying Robert's disastrous record is also of interest. The counselor strongly suggested that Robert should drop out of school, take a GED test and attempt to get into a local community college.

Ech-h-h-h! Highland High School's 50% drop out rate suddenly began to make much more sense. We took her advice. Now, we're on our own. We are enjoying the far more promising and optimistic possibilities of the new plan.

Can anything make this work?
Can anything replace the lost time wasted by students attending Highland High School?
Diploma or not, what kind of futures do we expect from this effort?

As MeanMesa looks at the $16,000,000 annual price tag for keeping this thing huffing and puffing as it careens forward along its perpetually self-neutralizing roller coaster tracks, there is no way to avoid thinking of the thousands or millions of families in the world who struggle mightily to pay to send their children to school for even the most simple education.

The Secretary of Education in the Martinez administration made the point. MeanMesa listened to her on the local news. Her comment after being confronted with the recent state wide test results indicating 20% proficiency in mathematics and 28% proficiency in reading and writing?

"Proficiency levels below 50% are not acceptable."

Okay. Take minute. Think of the 1,558 students and the $16 million dollars annually. Think about the third world family trying to raise money to educate their children. Think about what's going on at Highland High School when you are paying your taxes next year.

Yes. Please just think about it.

MeanMesa has posted plenty on the subject of education reform. Spend some reading time if you like. Winter's coming in this part of the world, so a collection of posts about education may be just the ticket for those cold afternoons.

High School studies at Highland High [image]

No comments:

Post a Comment