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Editorial: NM must stay on track with education reforms

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There are common, underlying reasons why two out of every 1,000 New Mexicans files bankruptcy annually, why not even a third of residents have an associate’s degree and almost a third of students don’t graduate from high school on time.

And despite the conventional wisdom, those reasons have less to do with being poor or of color and more to do with not having the proper educational foundation.

Because according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (considered the nation’s report card), New Mexico’s Hispanic kids are worse off than Hispanic kids in other states. Its poor kids are far worse off than poor kids in other states. And even its well off, white kids are worse off than their counterparts in other states. And that presents a compelling argument that the system, not the types of kids going into it, is the real problem.

Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, a nonprofit that advocates for closing achievement gaps among poor and minority students, says she has been coming to New Mexico for 15 years and the state “has always blamed its demographics.” Until recently, she explains, she “always got back on the plane depressed” because there was never a sense of outrage that our children can do, and deserve, better.

To be specific, better than growing up to struggle, better than growing up to be broke.

In the Metro area, 2.8 of every 1,000 Valencia County residents file for bankruptcy each year, followed by Sandoval County with 2.7, Torrance County with 2.6 and Bernalillo County with 2.5.

Lack of educational attainment correlates with those numbers: Only about 23 percent of Valencia County residents have an associate’s degree or higher. Those numbers are 20 percent for Torrance County, 37 percent for Sandoval County and 38 percent for Bernalillo County. Keep in mind that Sandoval County is home to Intel and Bernalillo County is home to Sandia National Laboratories, so many of those degrees are imported.

However Haycock, a staunch Democrat whose group is funded by left-of-center foundations, says a sense of urgency has replaced the lackadaisical attitude she was used to encountering here. She says the fact the state has adopted a grading system to hold schools accountable, Common Core curriculum standards and the standardized tests that will measure achievement under those, teacher evaluations that have student achievement as a significant component, and an emphasis on high-quality early childhood education bode well for the future of our students and state. The fact the public and private sectors have joined forces on a status-quo shattering initiative like Mission: Graduate to get 60,000 new college degrees and certificates in the Metro area by 2020 illustrates what Haycock calls “productive anger” in the face of unacceptable results.

Credit also goes to the Obama administration, which early on advocated for education reforms and has stood behind them, this week yanking Washington state’s waiver to No Child Left Behind because its Legislature failed to factor student test scores into teacher evaluations. That will affect millions in federal funding and label almost every one of its schools as failing.

Haycock says delaying or abandoning reforms, as Washington state has, takes the system back to the place where “everyone is fine.” Even when they aren’t.

Like when they can’t read or do math at grade level (half of N.M. students). Or graduate high school (three of 10). Or get a college certificate (just 32 percent have an associate’s or higher). Or get a university degree (four-year graduation rates have yet to top 50 percent at any N.M. institution – and one is actually below 20 percent). Or manage their bills without filing for bankruptcy.

New Mexico has already seen incremental improvements in student achievement in the grades and subjects that have been targeted for reform. It is vital the state stay the course.

For its students now, and for their futures.

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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