As the head of New Mexico’s free-market think tank and a frequent critic of New Mexico’s K-12 system, many are surprised to hear that my two school-age children have been in traditional public schools throughout their educational careers. That will change this fall due to COVID-19 and the policies being imposed by the state. According to numerous reports, parents across our nation are doing the same.
This crisis, and our response to it, is an opportunity for policymakers to reconsider how education works in the state of New Mexico. As a reminder, New Mexico has perpetually found itself among the lowest-performing education systems in the nation. Innovative thinking, especially policies that redirect funding to students as opposed to bureaucracies, could have positive impacts now and in the future.
While we at the Rio Grande Foundation are often critical of the powers that be in New Mexico education policy, this is not the case regarding COVID-19 and the reopening plans. In fact, our usual criticism is a systemic one, and that is the situation here. The idea that one model of schooling makes sense for all students in normal times is faulty. Now, with such widely-variable views on COVID-19 and the appropriate response to it – not to mention the different educational needs for students of different ages and abilities – developing solutions that satisfy everyone is impossible.
For my family with elementary school-aged children, the combination of mask-wearing throughout the day and “social distancing” being imposed was a deal-breaker. And, while I support “virtual” or “hybrid” learning for some children, I simply don’t think the schools or educators are ready to deploy them on a large scale in an effective manner. We saw this firsthand in the spring when the schools suddenly shut down.