Tony Monfiletto's Learning Story


Even though my parents were illustrious educators in my home town of Albuquerque NM, I never was a very good student. I went through the paces, kept a low profile in class, earned Bs and Cs, and just waited for football or baseball practice after school. I think I was good at sports because there was something on the line. I wanted to win and I wanted to be on a team that won. There was something so tangible about it. Your coach and teammates expected you to perform and working hard in practice directly correlated to winning on Friday night. Conversely, school seemed like practice, but there was no game. After high school, I went to college and struggled. However, I ultimately learned how to ‘do’ school and earned a graduate fellowship to study public policy. After a fantastic first job in Chicago working for a non-profit that was a pivotal player in school reform during the early 90s, I moved back home and took a job working for the New Mexico Legislature. I had gotten through two college degrees, worked in the most exciting school reform environment in the country, and now at age 26 I was in a place where I could actually make a difference! My first meaningful assignment was to re-write the public school transportation code for the state. Auditors from the Legislative Finance Committee had found that the system was ripe with waste and that there was little control over reimbursements paid to private contractors. I put my policy analysis hat on and recreated the funding system for schools so that it was focused on efficiency. The revisions I proposed made sense to me and the other analysts. Needless to say, they didn’t make sense to the bus companies (a pretty powerful constituency in a rural state like mine). The chairman of the committee seemed unconcerned about that fact and encouraged me to give him the legislation that solved the problem. I was at a loss to predict the outcome of our bill. Would good government or the special interests prevail?Much to my surprise, good government won and the bill passed and became law. I watched it happen, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out how it happened. No one other than the sponsor seemed to want it and the opposition was loud and overwhelming. It really did seem like magic. After the session I talked to some senior legislative staff about our success and they told me that, ‘the chairman never introduces legislation unless he has the votes beforehand.’ Participating in that experience and debriefing with my colleagues helped me understand the way things work and helped me become better at my job. It was not a mystery, and by digging deeper into this episode I began to develop intuition for the legislative process and a sense for the way to make change. It also taught me about the intersection between school (the graduate Economics classes that taught me about efficiency) and reality (how a bill becomes a law). In my case, school really was meaningful practice and it prepared me for a role on a team that competed and won. I wonder if we can rebuild schools to give young people an experience where learning matters because it enables them to be on a team that can accomplish a goal that they are passionate about.