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N.M. Education Above Average in Report

By Hailey Heinz
Journal Staff Writer
       New Mexico's efforts to improve its school system got a nod this week in a national report that ranked the state 20th in "educational innovation."
    The "Leaders and Laggards" report, released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Center for American Progress and the American Enterprise Institute, gave New Mexico a "C" overall.
    Last year, "Leaders and Laggards" focused on student test scores rather than innovation, and New Mexico ranked 49th, better only than Mississippi and Washington, D.C.
    According to the report, this year's rankings look "not at how states are performing today, but at what they are doing to prepare themselves for the challenges that lie ahead."
    New Mexico was graded based on six criteria and did best in the technology category, in which it received a "B" and ranked eighth nationwide.
    But it got an "F" and was ranked 44th for removal of ineffective teachers.
    To determine that grade, the report cited a survey of principals, most of whom reported that personnel policies and unions are barriers to removing ineffectual teachers. Garcia said such policies are determined by districts, not the state.
    "Districts have their local policies, whether they work with teachers or give them another chance," she said.
    Ellen Bernstein, Albuquerque Teacher Federation president, said she doesn't think New Mexico deserved such low marks. She said principals have discretion to fire ineffective teachers as long as they show cause.
    "Is it hard? Yeah. It should be hard to fire someone," she said. "But it's not impossible."
    The technology grade, New Mexico's best, was based on factors like the number of students per high-speed Internet connection, whether a computer-based school has been established and whether teachers are required to show technology competence.
    Secretary of Education Veronica Garcia said technology has been central to her department's reform agenda.
    "We've worked really hard to have greater access to technology for all of our students," she said.
    New Mexico also received "B" grades in the data category, which measured how well states track and analyze student performance, and for hiring and evaluation of staff.
    The state was given "C" grades for financial management and for its ability to create a pipeline from high school to higher education.

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