Now we must concentrate on closing achievement gap

For 13 years the Latino Education Task Force tried to get the legislative and executive branches to address the Latino education crisis. Latino students make up 65 percent of all students, and schools are failing to graduate more than half our kids. …

The achievement gap between Latino and white children was so vast that one expert said that at the rate we were going, it would take 104 years to eliminate that gap. We sounded the alarm years ago. We demanded immediate intervention. But there was none. Years passed and New Mexico inherited the crown of being the worst state to raise a child. Four years ago we finally turned to the courts for relief. The Indian community followed suit. And the court responded.

The recent landmark decision of Judge Sarah Singleton now mandates lawmakers and the governor follow existing laws and provide sufficient money and programs to correct this disgraceful condition. Singleton’s ruling means the state must now do something about N.M.’s most important crisis: the continuing failure to graduate more than half of our future workforce.

So, we have won a major battle, but we must now win the war. There will be more money for education. But more important is deciding how to spend the money. What has to be done to educate our culturally distinct Latino, Indian and black students that make up 77 percent of New Mexico students?

There are lots of ideas that are being fleshed out by a nonpartisan group known as the New Mexico Education Action Alliance, whose mission is the complete elimination of the achievement gap. They include, CEOs, Ph.Ds, GEDs, education, professional, young and old and grass-roots leaders who have been doing things for years. A few:

• To ask folks, especially media, to stop using euphemisms like: low-income, at-risk, limited-English, disadvantaged, etc. Those being devastated by our education system are Latino, Indian and black children. We need to speak out loudly and push for their specific needs. Let’s also put the magnitude of the groups in their proper context. Latinos make up 65 percent, Indians 10 percent, blacks 2 percent while white students make up 23 percent of N.M.’s 230,000 students.

• Where will the money come from? We don’t care. Find it. Higher taxes? From the business sector – especially from rich outside corporations that are not paying a fair share of taxes? Or from our $17 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund, which is among the richest in the country? Sure. Note: These are often called “rainy day” funds but Democrats and Republicans have grudgingly doled out crumbs to help New Mexicans, among the poorest and worst-educated in the country. A “rainy day”? During the last rainy day like like this, Noah built an ark.

It’s important that before a cent is spent there be an organized approach including:

• All stakeholders: parents, educators, unions, business and government sectors convened to produce a comprehensive plan to create new education paradigm that will completely eliminate the achievement gap.

• Fix our failing universities, which continue to churn out unqualified teachers. Higher education has escaped with little scrutiny for its failure to prepare teachers to educate three-quarters of New Mexico’s culturally distinct future workforce. New Mexico is unlike other states. Teachers need cultural competency skills and a relevant curriculum to educate our majority-minority students. Teachers should be fluent in two languages of the Southwest. Students should also command two languages and be allowed to go to college tuition-free.

To contribute ideas or to take action, contact armas@swcp.com.

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