NM's kids deserve proven school reform - Albuquerque Journal

NM’s kids deserve proven school reform

Another year, another 50th ranking for New Mexico in the Kids Count report. This doesn’t even take into account the impact of COVID, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s lockdowns and over a year of lost schooling.

The average child has lost five to nine months of learning, according to a report from McKinsey & Company. With high poverty rates and lack of broadband access relative to other states, combined with more lost classroom time than all but five other states, the picture is bleak for New Mexico’s youth.

Normally, this is when we hear “Thank God for Mississippi!” But at 50th, we can’t say that anymore. In fact, while the Magnolia State shares many of New Mexico’s deep-seated problems, in fourth grade reading, Mississippi is rapidly improving while New Mexico remains stuck.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the recognized “gold standard” for educational performance. It is implemented in every state every two years.

While all aspects of learning are important, fourth-grade reading scores are recognized to be critical. Before fourth-grade students are learning to read; after, they read to learn.

Back in 2013 Mississippi’s fourth-grade reading scores were comparable to New Mexico’s, with Mississippi holding a slight advantage: 209 to 206. By 2019, Mississippi’s fourth-grade reading scores rose to 219 while New Mexico’s barely budged to 208. Mississippi has opened up a growing gap between itself and New Mexico in reading skills acquisition.

What happened in Mississippi that didn’t happen here?

We talked to experts in Mississippi and heard about reform efforts that may sound familiar. Mississippi’s reforms included a 2013 law called “3rd grade reading gate” which included resources for early childhood reading and teacher training in phonics-based teaching. Mississippi also stopped social promotion with intensive intervention for failing students and adopted an A-F school grading system based on improving student outcomes.

If this all sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Mississippi’s reforms are based on successful reforms in Florida more than a decade ago under then-Gov. Jeb Bush. Florida’s reforms were also the basis for New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez’s reforms when she came into office in 2010.

The difference between Mississippi and New Mexico is that the former had the political will to implement the reforms while Susana Martinez and her Education Secretary Hanna Skandera had to fight tooth and nail against legislators and the unions. The Florida model was abandoned immediately upon Michelle Lujan Grisham taking office.

The Florida model may not work in New Mexico, but it would be nice to try. Unfortunately, New Mexico students missed a lot of class time relative to their peers in other states during the pandemic due to political decisions made by the current administration.

New Mexican children need a high-functioning school system now. New spending proposals aside, we can’t be myopic about solutions that have worked elsewhere. This approach has left the Land of Enchantment dead last in educational outcomes. We must be open to new approaches. Perhaps the governor could try her own version of the Florida/Mississippi model? Ojalá. (Hopefully.)

Opportunity for All Kids New Mexico, www.oaknm.org, is dedicated to reforming New Mexico’s education system.


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