Editorial: Gov.'s promised education 'moonshot' has yet to show academic results - Albuquerque Journal

Editorial: Gov.’s promised education ‘moonshot’ has yet to show academic results

Everyone knew it wasn’t going to be good.

Public education in New Mexico was at the bottom of state rankings before the pandemic, and that’s where it remains after.

Test results released by the state Public Education Department this month, the first complete results since 2019 due to COVID-19, indicate just over a third of students are proficient in language arts and a quarter are in math.

Which leads to the question: When is the governor’s promised “education moonshot” of four years ago going to lift off? Additional spending sure has — $3.8 billion in fiscal 2022 compared to $2.75 billion in 2018. But we are still awaiting positive results in this crucial launch.

Matthew Goodlaw, PED’s director of research, evaluation and accountability, puts it mildly.

“From a high-performance lens, these results don’t pass muster, and we don’t pretend that they do,” he said.

They don’t pass muster from a low-performance lens, either.

One of the core issues is New Mexico’s 318,000 K-12 public school students were already lagging behind their peers, and persistent achievement gaps are not improving.

That’s the case even four years after the landmark Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit found the state wasn’t following its constitution to provide Indigenous, English-language learner and economically disadvantaged students, as well as those with disabilities, the programs and services necessary for them to learn and thrive.

The new Measures of Student Success and Achievement test administered to third- through eighth-graders and juniors showed significant gaps in achievement among several subgroups of students. For example, only 24% of third-graders eligible for free and reduced lunch were proficient in language arts, and about 16% were proficient in math — significantly lower results than their N.M. classmates.

Test results at Albuquerque Public Schools, the state’s largest district, pretty much mirrored overall statewide assessment results.

APS officials acknowledge the “heavy impacts of the pandemic” but say progress will take time.

And we would say that while we appreciate that, our students get but one shot at each grade, and the pandemic generation of students doesn’t have any time to waste.

APS Superintendent Scott Elder says “we will use this information to set new baselines for student success and zero in on the challenges exacerbated by the pandemic to guarantee students get the support they need to catch up and excel.” That needs to happen ASAP. In contrast, Secretary of Education Kurt Steinhaus, the governor’s third education secretary, insisted “New Mexico has come a long way in serving the most underrepresented students.” But he acknowledged the obvious: “We have a long way to go.”

We certainly do have a long way to go. As NewMexicoKidsCAN Executive Director Amanda Aragon says, the new data only confirms what everyone expected. “The reality is that we are failing to prepare the majority of our students with the skills we know they need to succeed.”

The quality of our education system extends far behind the classroom. We frequently hear from business leaders how detrimental the state’s education system is to economic growth.

“(H)ere in New Mexico, we must commit to turning around low-performing schools, expanding our high-quality public charter schools, and better training principals to be transformative school leaders,” Terri Cole, president and CEO of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, says.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham campaigned on “a moonshot for public education” and made it a key point of her first State of the State address. She’s delivered on promises to boost teacher pay significantly, but the pay raises that made teacher pay levels in New Mexico competitive with other states came without any added expectations of teachers.

Moreover, on her third day as governor, Lujan Grisham scrapped the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers tests that allowed New Mexico to compare its results to a consortium of other states. She also discontinued using students’ academic improvement to help evaluate the effectiveness of teachers and with the Legislature threw out the state’s A-F school grading system, eliminating the public’s ability to more easily gauge how their neighborhood school measured up. And under her, the PED has seen a revolving door of leadership.

The governor ran in 2018 on improving education, and she may get a second chance at her moonshot if elected to a second term.

But three-and-a-half years in, these latest test results show little movement off the launch pad. They are proof more money alone didn’t improve education. And the vague response to the Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit — pages of goals with no explanation of how to reach them — is not encouraging.

The state has offered funding for programs lengthening school days and the school year. Unfortunately, most districts and schools have yet to opt in. At what point do lawmakers continue to make that type of needed change optional? And PED points to a reduction in teacher vacancies and state’s literacy training program for elementary school teachers as progress.

We can’t continue offering up poverty, drugs or the pandemic as blanket excuses for our schools’ poor performance. Yes, we have challenges — more than many other states.

But 49th or 50th just can’t be acceptable any more.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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