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Editorial: N.M. must commit to real education reforms

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“We hear all the time that these are poor children, they can’t learn. Or these are black and brown children, they can’t learn. We get that pushback from people who are skeptical. But it’s not true.”

– U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan

The education secretary brought his annual Back-to-School Bus Tour to New Mexico this week, and rather than cite race, ethnicity or poverty as reasons for the state’s low K-12 academic achievement, he cited a lack of focus.

Duncan told the Journal editorial board Monday that the state has to stop playing a game of catch-up, has to stop sending children to kindergarten already a year to 14 months behind, has to stop preparing students for an economy that left 25-30 years ago, has to stop losing 10,000 students a year to dropouts, has to stop churning out graduates who need remediation.

In other words, has to stop surrendering to the soft bigotry of low expectations.

He said New Mexico instead has to commit to high-quality early education, has to reward teachers who take on the toughest assignments and deliver results, and has to replicate high-performing schools of any fashion. In other words, hold itself accountable when it comes to education.

It’s what proponents of education reforms have said for years as they have tried to get the New Mexico Legislature to require literacy by third grade, teacher remuneration based on student progress and targeted funding for programs that yield positive outcomes.

Duncan’s message mirrors that, with an emphasis on quality early education, teacher evaluations with multiple measures that compare like populations and track student progress from academic to attendance to discipline, and access for all students to a high-performing school, be it traditional public or charter.

Rather than bemoan the achievement gap, Duncan advises the state to close the “opportunity gap” and give every student the tools required to be part of a global economy.

While New Mexico has made some efforts toward that in recent years, Duncan says the real question is whether the state’s education system can become the fastest-improving and help lead the nation.

State taxpayers, employers and especially students are waiting for the answer.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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