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One-size-fits-all eliminates choice

We are at a crossroads in our city and in our state, particularly regarding the education of bright young minds. The stakes have never been higher. Our state’s education outcomes over the past 10 years show us that a one-size-fits-all approach does not work. Take for example New Mexico’s graduation rate. New Mexico has the (second-)lowest graduation rate in the nation. It doesn’t take much imagination to see the effect all these disconnected young people have on our city. It shows up in our crime rates, Medicaid rolls, teen birth rates, alienation and despair.

Fortunately, through innovation and community involvement, public and charter models have emerged in New Mexico to provide students and parents with options when traditional school isn’t a fit. And many of these models, like the leadership high schools, are built from the ground up with community and industry partners. These schools meet the needs of New Mexicans. However, the Public Education Department’s insistence on using a one-size-fits-all approach is threatening to eliminate these choices for families across our state.

This is particularly true when it comes to schools for students who have fallen through the cracks, have dropped out, or have not found success in a traditional school. PED would have us believe those schools and their students – who have overcome the biggest obstacle of reconnecting with an academic path – should be assessed with the exact same measures as a school that serves students who have regularly attended and succeeded.

In the case of ACE Leadership High School, which has painstakingly followed its graduates over the past seven years, we know that 97 percent of them are currently employed or pursuing higher education. In fact, 40 percent are in college. Many of these students have stories that begin with dropping out, becoming a teen parent, or long-term absence from structured schooling. But their stories end with high school diplomas, college attendance and career success. These are the stories not captured by an only data-point-driven approach to measuring scholastic success.

There are now 900 students being served in the Leadership Schools Network (ACE, Health, Technology, and Siembra). By 2021 the schools will serve 1,500 students, a significant majority of whom will attend because they are off-track to graduation or have dropped out.

Importantly, these schools, and their intentional approach to re-engagement are, in fact, successful. For example, 84 percent of Health Leadership High School seniors graduated in 2017, and 97 percent of those graduates were accepted into post-secondary programs.

Ironically, PED has agreed that we should be assessing these types of schools differently. In fact, PED has a working group focused on finding a different way to consider grading schools that serve disconnected student populations. This is, in part, why we find it both concerning and disingenuous for PED to question the effectiveness of such schools, using traditional school assessment measures as the justification for critique.

Despite ongoing successes, there is room to refine and improve, and we’re grateful for the chance to bring charter renewals for ACE, Health and Tech Leadership before a locally elected board of education that understands the needs of our community. We’re excited to share what we have learned about meeting the needs of disengaged students.

A one-size-fits-all approach to education and to assessing schools leaves out too many students and too many opportunities passed by. School choice should not be a choice for the few, fortunate ones who are already being served by the public school system. Real school choice must be robust, and must include options for those students for whose needs have not been met in traditional schools. Behind all of the numbers and statistics are actual young people whose hopes and dreams deserve more than to be distilled down to a one-sized-fits-all conception of what works. They deserve for their stories to be considered, and they deserve a path forward. PED should not threaten to eliminate choice for these students.

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