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N.M. Must Set 2013 Education Goals

Ringing in a new year is an opportunity to focus on the future and can provide the momentum needed to set new goals and challenge ourselves in a new way. As 2013 begins, New Mexico faces such a defining opportunity in education.

On the one hand, there is the aspiration of the state’s “Kids First, New Mexico Wins” plan, which provides a focus on school accountability, early literacy and higher standards for all students, regardless of ZIP code or family income, race or ethnicity. New Mexico also has ambitious plans to better identify, recruit and keep its most effective teachers.

On the other hand, there is the status quo.

For the first time in state history, New Mexico’s young people face the likelihood of being less educated than their parents. According to the Nation’s Report Card from the U.S. Department of Education, New Mexico fourth-graders rank 49th in the United States in reading and 48th in mathematics. The achievement gap between poor and minority students and their Anglo peers is enormous.

The higher education landscape is grim as well.

At a time when we must educate more students to higher levels than ever before, only one percent of New Mexico students who enroll in a four-year institution after high school actually graduate in four years.

By the end of the decade, more than 60 percent of jobs in New Mexico will require a career certificate or degree. But, today, only about 30 percent of adults in the state currently have such qualifications.

As we look ahead, what will it take to make New Mexico schools work better in 2013?

First, it requires will and resolve. We must refuse to accept the myth that some students can’t learn. We must recognize that what gets measured is what gets done and we must stand by testing systems that expose our education shortcomings even when that makes us uncomfortable.

Honest transparency about student and school performance provides educators with critical information that allows them to move forward with a compass rather than searching for solutions to misunderstood challenges and without understanding what is working for which students, where and when.

With compass in hand, state, district and school leaders must work to connect our best and brightest teachers with the kids who need them most and reward those teachers for their hard work.

The bottom line: when it comes to our schools, adults must face difficult truths, do the hard work required to rectify them and truly hold ourselves accountable for the results.

All of us — parents, teachers, school administrators, business leaders, and public officials — are in this together.

New Year’s resolutions, more often than not, are pledges we make rather than promises we keep. It can’t be that way with education.

The great promise of America has always been that each individual — with a dream, an education and an opportunity — can forge a path to a meaningful and prosperous life for themselves and provide their children with the tools to do the same.

Let’s rededicate ourselves to that promise in 2013. Our future depends on it.

Margaret Spellings is president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. This week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for a Competitive Workforce brought its Breaking the Monopoly of Mediocrity tour to Albuquerque.