It is both encouraging and disheartening that back in 2014, Mississippi and New Mexico were in the same leaky education boat.
Both states have high poverty, high minority student populations, and in 2014 both had low student academic achievement scores. It’s encouraging that since 2014 Mississippi has moved from the bottom to closer to the middle of the pack nationally in elementary-school level reading and math proficiency levels; it’s disheartening New Mexico considered but failed to implement some of the same reforms and remains at 52.
Mississippi credits its improvement to multiple reforms that include ensuring teachers are actually trained in teaching reading and holding back third graders until they are proficient in reading.
New Mexico lawmakers consistently shot down former Gov. Susana Martinez’s proposed third-grade retention bills that would require extra support for struggling students in grades K-3 while mandating retention in third grade as a last and infrequent resort. But in 2019, state lawmakers moved forward on the other key reform mandated in Mississippi — that elementary school teachers be trained in how people learn to read, known as structured literacy.
Our new Public Education secretary, Arsenio Romero, has a track record of delivering results, specifically in Deming where education advocacy group NewMexicoKidsCAN says he helped transform the schools from a low-performing district into a “model for instructional practices and career technical education pathways.”
Under his watch New Mexico will continue rolling out Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS), required for New Mexico’s early-grade elementary teachers. It breaks down how people learn to read — stressing phonics, vocabulary and comprehension. But the state needs to take this further, requiring our universities’ education programs to include curriculum that better trains future teachers on how to teach literacy. (See House Bill 460 below.)
And rather than waste more energy belaboring the social evils of third-grade retention, here’s to Romero working to ensure there are multiple methods of remediation available and in place so the vast majority of students can read by third grade.
Because just 21% of our fourth-graders are proficient in reading, according to the Nation’s Report Card.
The Journal also supports streamlining the replication of successful public charter schools and providing more funding and support for principals, who are critical to a school’s ability to be successful and attract good teachers.
In addition, there are several essential reforms moving through the Legislature:
• House Bills 130 and 194 increase the minimum number of instructional hours. We believe HB 194, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tempore Mimi Stewart (retired educator) and Rep. Nathan Small, is the more honest option because it includes 80 hours of professional development for teachers and does not count those hours against student in-class learning time.
• Senate Bill 438, sponsored by Sens. George Muñoz, Leo Jaramillo and Siah Correa Hemphill (a school psychologist), would ensure more dollars get to classrooms than bloated administrations while also reducing burdensome reporting by at least 25%. Think New Mexico, the Santa Fe-based think tank advocating for a slate of school reforms this session, notes “the Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) found school administrations grew by 55% from 2007-2019, nearly three times faster than spending on teachers and student support, which grew by 19-20% during the same time period.” That hasn’t delivered results for our kids; getting funding to teachers, support staff and students should.
• House Bill 325, sponsored by Reps. Natalie Figueroa (a Spanish teacher), Patricia A. Lundstrom and Susan K. Herrera, would improve our school boards by improving annual training for the unpaid citizens who step up and are expected to know how to budget and help set policies for a school district. Think NM points out it would also tackle the nepotism that can infect our districts with unqualified employees. And it would require more transparency on candidates’ campaign contributions as well as make board meetings webcast so parents and taxpayers can see how a district is run.
• House Bill 460, sponsored by Reps. Tara Jaramillo, Tanya Mirabal Moya (teacher), Christine Trujillo (retired educator), Yanira Gurrola (teacher) and Joy Garratt (retired teacher), would ensure our new teachers are ready for the classroom by making their fourth year a paid classroom residency alongside an experienced teacher. In addition, it would ensure those teaching in our colleges of education have five years of classroom teaching experience, that the colleges are nationally accredited and curricula follows best practices, which includes evidence-based math and literacy instruction.
• House Bill 413, sponsored by Reps. Trujillo, Gurrola, Figueroa, Cynthia Borrego and Pamelya Herndon, would tackle class-load sizes, specifically for at-risk students to provide more personalized instruction. It would also restrict the use of waivers, which PED has provided routinely to allow larger class sizes, for all students. Unfortunately, there is no funding attached, making it little more than a plan rather than an action.
Mississippi has shown marked improvement with its literacy and third-grade reading programs. Granted, New Mexico faces an additional challenge in that English is a second language for 18% of its students. But that’s no reason New Mexico can’t attain similar gains if it continues to take the best of Mississippi’s playbook while including our own data-proven success reforms as those above.
Everyone agrees being No. 52 is unacceptable for our kids; this session it’s time we had the will to act like Mississippi and improve education in New Mexico.
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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