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Editorial: State’s education plan gets well-deserved recognition

Kudos to the state Public Education Department: Two progressive nonprofits working to reform public education say that, of the 17 states that have submitted their plans to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), New Mexico is at the top of the list.

The two organizations – Bellwether Education Partners and the Collaborative for Student Success – brought together a group of more than 30 independent advocates, education experts and former state officials from across the ideological spectrum to review the first round of ESSA state plans submitted in April. The group’s goal was to serve as an external check on the federal peer-review process and to look at how far states are going to establish a system that will accomplish their visions for K-12 education.

Bellwether Education Partners is a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that works to reform public and private education by focusing on at-risk student populations. The organization strongly supports school choice as a means to long-term education reform.

The Collaborative for Student Success is a nonprofit organization that works to improve public education through a commitment to high standards for all students. It is a staunch supporter of Common Core State Standards as a way of ensuring that students are prepared for college or a career.

ESSA, the federal law that replaced No Child Left Behind with bipartisan support in 2015, gives states more power to control their education systems, including areas like testing and teacher evaluations. The U.S. Department of Education requires states to submit their plans to meet the ESSA standards. States have until mid-September to submit their plans. As of April, 17 states, including New Mexico, did so, and have received feedback from the federal education department.

Christopher Ruszkowski, acting secretary for the New Mexico Public Education Department, said in a statement, “Our students will be the ultimate beneficiaries if we deliver on what we’ve committed to in our plan.”

As you might expect, Albuquerque Public Schools continues to buck that plan, saying it sets high expectations that could be difficult to achieve. For instance, PED aims to boost the high school graduation rate from 71 percent to 85 percent by 2022. Making that goal even more challenging is the fact high school students soon will be required to post better scores on the PARCC test to meet graduation requirements; APS has steadfastly sought to de-emphasize standardized testing.

State Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque and a retired APS educator who chairs the Legislative Education Study Committee, called the report “fake news” and faulted the nonprofits for “telling us how we are doing in New Mexico without being here to see what’s really happening.” Stewart’s stock response to education-related problems, we would note, has been to increase funding.

Parochial viewpoints aside, it’s encouraging to see that PED’s plan for lifting our state from the bottom rungs of public education is being recognized by organizations seeking to do the same for the entire country.

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.