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New science standards allow flexibility

As an educator, it has always been clear to me how important rigorous academic standards and high-quality assessments are to guiding instruction in the classroom that truly drives student learning.

Because of this, I view the proposal of STEM-ready science standards as a pivotal moment for our state’s education system. It is an opportunity to include critical thinking skills and engineering that have long been absent from our standards. It is an opportunity to generate real scientific inquiry amongst our scholars. It is an opportunity to integrate science into English, math, and the arts – and vice versa. If you haven’t yet compared our outdated current standards to the new proposed standards, I encourage you to see for yourself just how significant these shifts are.

The major idea behind the proposal is simple – higher standards with increased flexibility. Teachers and families will continue to have flexibility and local control around materials, curriculum, and content to develop and lead instruction that is in the best interest of their children’s long-term success. Nothing in the state’s proposal slows down leading-edge districts and charters that have already adopted next generation materials and practices. Nothing in the state’s proposal limits a school’s flexibility in teaching above and beyond what the standards require. Nothing in the state’s proposal limits how local school boards or districts can incorporate community values. The standards are the starting point, certainly not the be-all, end-all.

It should also be noted that the proposed standards represent just one piece of a larger student-centered, STEM-readiness agenda for New Mexico. This includes adopting instructional materials next summer for the first time in seven years, incorporating STEM-readiness into School Grading to focus our energy there, expanding targeted investments for professional development and partnering with other states to build another world-class assessment. Taken together, this may be the most ambitious STEM-readiness agenda in the country – one that will drive improved student outcomes.

For those of you that see the bigger picture and have been thought partners, critical friends and insightful proponents of new standards – I thank you. By providing constructive feedback, you have grounded your efforts in the moral imperative of our state’s education reform efforts. You recognize that our children don’t often have strong advocates. I can tell that, for you, this is not a political issue, and I hope that others will join you in putting kids first.

Today, however, some claim to be seeking truth and social justice yet have consistently disparaged all other forms of measurement, data, accountability, evaluation and evidence on how to improve student outcomes, especially for our kids from low-income communities. For those taking that position or offering only misleading sound bites instead of taking constructive steps like scheduling a meeting or engaging in productive dialogue, let us not miss an opportunity to pull together and demonstrate a greater commitment to student success than public posturing.

As a former social studies teacher, no one appreciates more the democratic process of debate, discussion and deliberation – the ability of our citizenry to weigh-in on the vital issues of our time. And as someone who has worked for governors on both sides of the aisle, I see this moment as another chance for collaboration, for us to come together to advance opportunities for all kids while demonstrating respect for the convictions of all New Mexicans.

I will continue to maintain my idealism about this. Listening to those with different viewpoints – and then reaching out and learning from them – will only help New Mexico’s kids and our state’s long-term future. That is what we will continue to do here at the Public Education Department to keep New Mexico on the rise, and that is the opportunity still on the table for those who are interested in improving our system and achieving measurable student success.