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Editorial: U.S. higher ed should ride UNM’s teacher sea change

“If they can’t do it under our standards, we shouldn’t put them out there with other people’s kids in a public classroom.”

– UNM Education Dean Salvador Hector Ochoa,

The University of New Mexico is in the process of strengthening its teachers’ college for both its students and the students its graduates will be entrusted with.

It has established a strong clinical program that has supervisors on site with student teachers. It has started tracking the performance of its graduates and will get information on those teachers’ performance from the state Public Education Department as well as the district that employs them. It will use that information to assess – and presumably adjust – its curriculum, practices and plans accordingly.

And it will, perhaps for the first time in the history of teaching how to teach, employ a system that focuses on the end result of its efforts: the students of its students.

That is vital in a state working hard to improve its K-16 public education system, where now:

• The public spent $2.75 billion on K-12 education this year and $848 million on higher ed – more than half the state budget.

• Just over 7 out of 10 kids graduate high school on time.

• Just over half of those that do graduate need remedial coursework in college; New Mexico spent $22 million on remedial education in 2013, according to a Legislative Finance Committee report.

• Just about 14.4 percent of 2013 graduates at the state’s flagship university got a degree in four years, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Ochoa, who started at UNM in July 2014, and his team have set up a “data-informed” system that manages both up (he has partnered with PED at the state level) and down (as well as districts including Albuquerque Public Schools) so his students are prepared to lead classrooms of their own. He sees New Mexico as a model, “what the United States will be one day in terms of our students’ ethnic diversity.” He wants his students to not only know, but experience, the fact that “one in 68 of their students will have autism. One in five will be an English learner. They will have two with a disability,” several from different ethnicities and many poor students. “It is very important that they have a much broader set of skills.”

And it is a sea change to have a college dean, as well as a university provost and university president, not only willing to acknowledge those hard realities, but make the necessary changes to ensure their students are ready to address and improve them.

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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